Friday, October 1, 2010

From A Mom

You think your words don't have much power, but they drive into my child's heart like a red hot dagger.

It starts off pretty innocently - you noticed back in the 2nd or 3rd grade (or maybe you caught on even earlier) that my kid was ...different. She looked like all the other girls in class, but there was something about the way she carried herself, the way she talked. It was different. And so you picked out a label and slapped it on her, little knowing how it would stick, how it would burn.

And so this once outgoing child, eager to make friends with everyone, begins to draw away, unsure if the next kid coming up to them on the playground will have learned the label as well. This little girl, who knows all too well she is different, becomes distrustful. She learns to be afraid.

Perhaps middle school will be better for my different child. More kids, more diversity. But her different-ness is more marked now and you have more power. Your words evolve as well, become more sophisticated. You learn the art of wounding and segregating. You pick up on other kids who are different and lump them all together. Losers. Weirdos. Homos.

My child comes home from school exhausted. Classwork is nothing. The labor of keeping it all together, surviving another day being an outsider... it's debilitating.

High school begins and now your vocabulary includes ideology, most of it picked up from your home, your parents, your friends. Kids are no longer just weird or gay, they ruin everything. They ultimately want to turn you into them, God is disgusted with them, their parents are oblivious losers and our country is going to hell because of them. You don't even understand what you're saying, but your parroting is slick and practiced.

My child's situation has a golden ring. She knows you're a puppet; an empty, insecure, misinformed child. She knows love - unconditional and extravagant. From her parents, her family and most importantly of all - God. She knows she's exceptional, not because of who God made her to be, but because God made her. Period.

But I know somewhere there weeps another different child. One whose parents are unwilling to understand, whose faith community condemns them and who feel completely isolated.

To that child, I want to gather you up in my arms and give you rest, assure you that life will get better and you will find many many people who will love you just as you are.
To YOU, the one who began in grade school with simple teasing words and today escalates to more; you who cyberbully, who taunt, who ostracize, who ridicule.... you diminish your humanity with your actions. Break the cycle, do not be your parents, your circle of friends. Be the one who breaks away free from hatred.

Dare to be that radical.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Today I helped my husband bathe his 95 year old mother. Yes, my mother-in-law.

That may not sound like much unless you understood a bit of our shared history.
Once upon a time, 30 plus years ago when we first met, the woman took an instant disliking to me. And that is putting it mildly.
Throughout my better half and my courtship, she did her best to make life difficult. At our wedding reception, she loudly proclaimed the marriage wouldn't last a year. And her yearly visits - for two to three months a shot - was my personal inferno.

Although I am certainly not perfect, it was challenging for me to understand why this woman took such an intense dislike to me. She criticized my looks, my education, my youth, my family. The way I dressed, talked, walked and mothered. I could do nothing right in her eyes.

But like I said, that was in the past.

The marriage (28 years and counting) endures, and this once tall, strong, opinionated, bossy and intimidating woman is no more.

Her Alzheimer's disease began about 10 years ago and slowly her essence departed, leaving behind a frail, sing-songy, uncomprehending being. She likes to play with small windup toys and can be entertained by looking at magazines without having any clue what it all means. She's confused easily by photographs and only recognizes my father-in-law and my husband. She sometimes calls me her caregiver, sometimes her daughter - even though she never had one. But every time she sees me, she hugs me, kisses me and is genuinely delighted to see me.

As a rinsed the shampoo off her thinning gray hair, I marveled at the ability God has to transform our brokeness into tenderness. This woman who had wounded me so deeply by refusing to accept me - much less love me- now surrenders her body to me so I can gently bathe her. The hardness of my heart, the wall I erected years ago to keep her out, has come down - brick by brick - with the toweling off of her body, the brushing of her hair, the cajoling to take her meds. I have been made tender once again through her vulnerability.

I have had moments of bitterness - why couldn't she have been this kind years ago when my daughters were young? And then I consider... perhaps it would require my steely resolve, hardened by her fire, to endure and understand her today.

She's 95. But she's really not. She's my mother-in-law. But not really. But then, I'm not who I was 30 years ago either...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Journey's Detour

There was no gnashing of teeth or rending of clothes.
No wailing or fits of anger.
But I have experienced an overwhelming sadness. No scratch that. It's not sadness really. But more of a desolateness. A desert time...

I met with the 4 examiners on Friday morning. Each one kind, gracious and welcoming. Basically, the "alternative" exam turned out to be the same written exam everyone gets, but the examiners got to ask follow up questions, clarifying questions, etc. Again, I reiterate, everyone was extremely kind. At the end of the 2+ hours, they all retreated to another room while I waited. After the first 20 minutes, I realized it was all over. I've seen enough Law and Order episodes to know that when juries deliberate too long, it ain't good news.

When they all returned, they had that peculiar expression on their faces - a mixture of sympathy and concern. I was done for.

I wish I could remember everything they said. All four took turns giving me their impressions and reasons why I wasn't "passed". But the message was pretty uniform and as I can best recall it it went something like this:
'Although it is plainly evident that you have a pastor's heart and any church would be blessed to have you serve it, you do not easily use the reformed language to express your theology.'
They then went on to give the example that I had not used the term "sovereignty of God".

All I could think of at that moment was, "but I talked about the omniscience and transcendence of God, I talked about God working in and through everything and everyone to ultimately bring about completion in the fullness of time..." Regardless, I had not delivered what they were they were looking for.

Two of the examiners, local theology professors, offered to meet with me and provide tutoring. Everyone commented on my call to ministry; according to them obvious, infectious and effervescent. And all encouraged me to not give up, to try again, to push forward.

And then we all prayed while I wept.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Exam - Round 3

At this very moment, at this singular second of my existence, I can most assuredly state... I hate my life. Four words I forbade my daughters to say; words that I found demeaning, trivial and so completely self-centered. But this is my truth right now.

In exactly 24 hours, I will be sitting for an oral examination of reformed theology. This will be my third attempt. Yes, you read that right. Third. That means I failed the previous two times, both written exams. Both times that I studied, reviewed and entered the examination process with confidence and faith. Both times that I received results that left me bewildered. Needless to say, any sense of self confidence has been shattered.

Each time before, I refused to consider the possibility of not passing. Of course I'd pass! This time - although I am trying to put my best face forward - I am all too familiar with the let down and the heart break.

I suppose I could come up with a bunch of reasons or excuses why I flounder at the reformed theology exam. But none of it means anything. I can't move forward in my call until I satisfy this last requirement: demonstrate my profiency in reformed theology to the ordination exam readers/graders.

I suppose if there is one small, tiny glimmer of comfort is that it is a group of human beings - fallible and insecure as I am - who sit in judgment of my ability. God remains silent. God already issued my call to ministry. There is no need for God to say or do anything else.

Perhaps God is just waiting for us all to catch up. Me -to remember which Confession deals with covenant or sacraments or stewardship -and my graders to uncover my deeper truths, ones that will serve God and not so much the examination paradigm.

Thy will be done.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Sleep Talker

I've been asked on a number of occasions what are the quotes I post as my Facebook status from time to time. I admit they can sound pretty random. For example:

"Accuse me of being Mr. Happy or shut up!" or this one,
"Can you dance like this? Ha! I didn't think so.. you and your lampshade!"
or how about this recent quip -
"Look at me, are you the singer? Just tell me. Singing? Stop it then. Stop your damn singing!"
These little gems are the nightly ramblings of my better half. For some years now (I'd say 10 or so) my sweet husband yells in his sleep, violently sits up in bed, curses, talks incessantly and yes, kicks, swims, flies or whatever other physical demonstration of his dreams happens to erupt.
For those who don't know him, I should explain that sleeping/dreaming Aleco is nothing at all like the waking one. When awake and conscious, my better half is a gentle, mild-mannered, courteous and peaceful individual. He's been accused of being too laid back sometimes and he certainly does not use foul language.
Enter the sleeping Aleco. I'm not sure I like this guy very much, but he certainly entertains me. From what I have been able to observe, this character believes himself to be a super hero, is convinced that squirrels are out to get him (probably due to the fact that waking Aleco has accidently run two over and still feels racked with guilt over their murders), and he can't stand pretty much anyone in his space.
Like I said, sleeping Aleco is not at all like waking Aleco and I can't help wonder what exactly his psyche is working through while he slumbers. Yes, he's particiapted in sleep studies and he's been diagnosed with sleep issues. Something to do with too vivid dreams and the ability to actually act them out while sleeping. Well, duh. I could have diagnosed that as well. Like the time he dreamt he was tackling an intruder and he flung himself out of bed, landing on the nightable and requiring a midnight run to the ER for stitches. Or another time when he dreamt he was with a group of skydivers and the person in front of him wouldn't jump and consequently he kicked me out of bed with a satisfied yell, "Now you jump, baby!"
Yeah, I don't really like this guy, but he doesn't last very long. As a matter of fact, when I open my eyes in the morning, it's waking Aleco who greets me with a warm smile and sweet kiss.
And that makes the nighttime adventure all worth it...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eagle's Wings

I lay in bed and a verse goes over and over in my head... "those that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:31 NRSV)

I'm tired.
I'm tired of waiting on others. Of waiting on others to validate my call. Of waiting on others to discern whether or not they should hire me. Of waiting for others to simply reply to my email or voice mail.
And I am not alone.
So many friends are in the same boat. Their resumes hanging out there, along with their hope. God has called me to ministry, there has got to be a place for me! Right?

So I consider the waiting, and I consider all those who have had to wait simply to live or be treated with equality. And I realize that this waiting is not just from decades past.

I think of my nephew who must wait for a society to see him as an intelligent, warm and engaging young man rather than crossing to the other side of the street from him because of the color of his skin....
My daughter who must wait for a society to deem her valuable enough to have earned the right to marry who she loves, for a church that welcomes her enough to invite her to serve rather than both a society and church that opens the door just enough for her peek in and see what she could have, if only she wasn't herself...
My brothers and sisters who are questioned daily if they belong in the country simply because of the language they speak and/or the color of their skin...

We are, after all, a people of the now and not yet. I remind myself of this over and over; in some ways, it has become a mantra.
Now and not yet.
We will mount on eagles' wings, and it will be in God's time. Perhaps not yet, but one time. Some time. And until then, shame on us for not working toward that goal.

Perhaps that is the call. Perhaps that is where the strength comes from - from waiting on God's time and in the waiting, being and doing with others who also wait.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Curve Balls of Life

A month ago I left my ministry position at MIPC without any assurance of what was to come. A few days ago, my better half joined the masses of the laid off. First reaction when he told me over the phone? (I was in LA at the time) I felt my heart drop down to my knees. But I kept my voice calm, chipper almost and after comforting him, I hung up and took a walk.

I wish I could say I walked along the beach. Or some beautifully manicured gardens. But I didn't. I walked down Wilshire Boulevard, eastbound, towards ... I'm not sure where. But my thoughts accompanied me at each step, with each turn.

"I trusted you, God. You called me away from one place to just hang me out to dry like this?"
All I could think of was the reality. My reality. Me unemployed and in search of a call. My better half unemployed. Period.

The further I walked, the further back I recalled similar instances in our almost 27-year marriage. Losing a job 2 weeks before our wedding day. Getting laid off when our youngest was but 3 months old, our oldest 2 year old and me a complete basket case.
Suddenly, I was the proverbial crazy lady walking down Wilshire; smiling to myself.

We'd made it each time. And each time, something remarkable had happened.

No, we never struck gold in the dollars and cents way. We've always made it by. But we seemed to grow stronger, my better half and I. Not only that, we learned to dream a little bigger, and take more chances on what could be. We learned to depend more on our faith and God's assurance, more than anything anyone could ever have promised us. We learned to tighten our belts and dig in our heels; we learned we were fearless in uprooting our little family and moving to the Pacific Northwest where we knew no one. We learned we could lean on each other; alternating between the cheerleader and worker bee depending on who needed what at what moment. We learned we are both determined and unafraid of hard work. We learned that in our marriage, there was and always has been three of us. Husband, wife and God.

"Ok, God, " my inner monologue continued as I reached Farmer's Market, way far from Wilshire and Crescent Heights, "I don't have a clue what's going on, but you've led us this far, I'll trust you have our backs for the rest of the way."

I'm no Pollyana, despite what my sister may say. I know challenges lie ahead of us and there will be days I'll shake my fist heavenwards and my better half will drive me bonkers (and I him, to be sure) but when all is said and done, I know deep within my heart that the promise made to Abraham and Sarah, the Blind Man and the Woman at the Well ... and so many before me is mine as well.
And I will cling to that blessed assurance.

Friday, July 2, 2010


I sit in my aunt's living room, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Just below is Pacific Coast Highway, "as seen on TV". This is an old view, and yet not completely. I grew up in this town, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, otherwise known as LA.

As a kid, my folks packed picnic dinners on summer afternoons and we hit Santa Monica beach. I grew up understanding that everything was supposed to be 20 minutes away, but the reality was that it took us 45 to get to wherever we wanted. I know the difference between marine haze, smog and overcast skies. I know that a Sig Alert means you better pull out all your secret short cuts. I can locate Tito's Tacos, The Apple Pan and Versailles purely by sixth sense.

So I guess you could say LA is my hometown. And yet...

And yet, I walk around and feel like a tourist. No, wait. Not even a tourist, I know my way around. I feel like a stranger. There are no familiar faces smiling out at me, there is no sense of home as I have come to understand home. I can't seem to find touchstones that remind me that I am me.

There was a time, when I initially left this town, that I referred to it with disdain in my voice. The memory of this place was painful for many reasons, and letting a scab grow over the wounds was the healthy thing to do.

But I have been healed. Restored. Made whole.
There is no need to look at this place with anything but new eyes. I know you, LA, yet you don't know me. Never bothered. And it's okay.

In the meantime, I'll keep marvelling at the crash of the ocean waves below me, gazing at that unfamiliar orange globe in the sky and enjoy what this city has to offer. And be thankful.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I'll refer to my day today as "visitation day". Paid plenty of visits; an old friend, my youngest daughter, the mother of a dear friend. And among that, gave a ride downtown to an elderly Japanese lady to catch her tour bus as she was going strawberry picking with a group of... elderly Japanese folks.
She was due to arrive at the Japanese center sometime between 4 and 4:30 and I was way early, so I drove up Jackson to 23rd where I know there is a Starbucks with overstuffed chairs and I have a good book that needs reading.

I'd just settled into said chair with a double short when an older African-American man in a wheelchair rolled over to me and asked what I was reading. I handed over the book and he made a note of it in a little black notebook with the comment, "I love me a good book, but I also love me a good film. Ever heard of Fellini or Kurosawa?"

We soon got to talking (how does that happen anyways?) and pretty soon I had scooted my chair to a large table where about 5 other older African-American men were gathered. My new friend, Louis, introduced me to everyone as fellow book and film lovers.
Among the men were 2 retired SPD officers, 1 retired bailiff and a couple of retired dockworkers. Louis wasn't retired, he proclaimed. He's always been an artist and "you can never retire from that". They all had a good laugh and I noticed Louis was missing most of his teeth. The whites of his eyes were yellowed. I couldn't resist.

"Why you in a wheelchair, Louis?" I asked.
"I'm dying."
The table quieted down and all we could hear was Al Green pleading for himself and Mrs. Jones.
Louis gave us the quick version.
Pancreatic cancer. Inoperable. He's also on dialysis and is HIV positive.

One of retired cops, a big tough looking guy, said, "Damn, Louis. You should be dead already."
Louis laughed. "Yep, yep. I probably should."

We talked more. We exchanged favorite foreign film synopsis, trashed Spielberg and Lucas for ripping off Kurosawa in their Star Wars trilogy and lamented the poor distribution of African and Middle Eastern films.

I want to remember Louis - a 60 year old man who looked 90. A man who's body has given in but with a mind that refuses to quit, interested in reading yet another new title, enjoying the latest Cannes nominees. A man who, I discovered, has been taken in by one of the men in the group and given a place to live out his last weeks or months because Louis has no family and his friend could not bear to see him ending up in a shelter. The man who offered up his home had met Louis only 2 years ago when he went with a church group to serve at a local shelter.

Before I realized it, my phone rang. The elderly Japanese lady was ready to get picked up. I'd been visiting with my new friends for over an hour and a half.

I gave everyone goodbye handshakes - until I got to Louis. I hugged him.
He blushed. "See you in heaven, angel."
See you around, Louis...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Me and Juan's Friend

God sometimes throws you a bone when you least expect it, but most probably need it. Badly.

My first few days of being unemployed have been filled with having coffee with dear friends, lunch with beloved offspring, quiet time and mundane errands. And a sudden rash of phone calls on my cell from a young man seeking "Juan".

My first impression of RG (I dubbed him such, as I don't know his name and he is Random Guy to me) was that he's a 20 something stoner. He sounds a little out of it, but not stupid. He's not a child, but sounds lonely.
He called my cell phone about 3 times in a row, each time asking for Juan. Each time I responded in a curt, "there's no one here by that name". By the 4th time though, his voice sounded familiar. Sort of like when you are in a crowd and suddenly a familiar face looms somewhere out there. I gravitated to that voice.

I thought I would be witty and had the following exchange with him:
RG: Juan?
Me: No such person here.
RG: What did you do with him?
Me: Cement shoes, buddy. He sleeps with the fishes.

He quietly hung up.

The following day he called again.
RG: Juan?
Me: Nope, still not here.
RG: You the lady said he had cement on his shoes?
Me: Nope, I'm the lady who said he had cement shoes and was sleeping with the fishes.
RG: Can I call him later?

He calls again today.
RG: Hello?
Me: Looking for Juan?
RG: Yeah
Me: What do you think I'm going to say?
RG: He's not there.
Me: No, he's not. This isn't his phone number, remember?
RG: Dude, I haven't talked to him in ages.
Me: Yeah, not looking good for you, buddy. Not today. Not tomorrow.
RG:I'll try later.
Me: Sure, why not.

And I hope he does.
I don't know who he is. I really don't need to know who he is. He's looking for Juan and has ended up finding me. I'm looking for myself and there he is - Juan's friend. I have a made up back story cooking in my mind. It has to do with a long time friendship between the two young men and one betraying the other. Juan avoids RG's desperate attempts for reconciliation.

For someone who has constantly been surrounded by people and is passionate about reaching out to them, RG is filling a huge gaping hole. Granted, he's only filling a small portion of it, but God, he's trying. And I am thankful for him and his random calls.

Call me, RG. We'll find Juan together...

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New Season

This morning at 10:30 am - when I usually would be going into a staff meeting at MIPC - I was sitting on a wood bench at the vet clinic. A small sack of dog poop resting by my side. So this is transition. This is change. One Tuesday you're gathered with colleagues discussing a lectionary text and planning for community building events and the next week your big task of the day is to figure out if your dog has parasites. (she doesn't, by the way)

Waiting rooms do give me time to pause and think. To review the past couple of weeks since the return from vacation. I've been feted and celebrated, affirmed and congratulated. I haven't been on such an emotional high from others' appreciation since ... I can't think of any other such moment in my life. As a friend mentioned at my goodbye party Friday night, most people have to be dead to hear friends talk about them in such a manner. I'm still above ground - I'm one lucky person.

It's a humbling experience.

But here I am, on the other side of a closed door. And like a person seeking the exit of a dark room, I'm feeling my way along the walls of my days. Scour the want ads. Not too many calls for spiritual leaders on Craigslist. Update the yellowing 15-year old resume. Make a list of all the housekeeping chores that were waylayed these many years - and dread having the time to actually do them now. Bemoan the absence of old black and white movies on regular tv, and hear myself actually muttering, "when I was young, you could have your choice of old Bette Davis movies on tv".

I'm reassured by friends and mentors that entering this new season will take a little time. I need to be patient and kind to myself, give myself the space and time to explore what might and will come next.
I first need to convince myself there is a next.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Full Circle

And so we are now home.
In typical Seattle fashion we were greeted with temperatures in the low 50's, drizzle and very gray skies. But I won't complain; looking out the windows of my home affords me all the lush greenery I can desire and clean air for my lungs.

Some footnotes Aleco and I came up with for our trip:
  • Best Hospitality Award goes to the folks at the Al Cazar hotel. Despite the very poor accomodations and rough neighborhood, this Palestinian family went above and beyond to make us feel like family. Homemade noodle soups, fresh cut fruit each afternoon upon our return from sightseeing, endless cups of mint tea ,spontaneous home cooked dinner just for us and wonderful frank conversations about life as a Palestinian Arab in Jerusalem. Isn't it predictable though? Those with the least give the most...
  • Best Inspiring View from a Bedroom Window - a tie. Casa della Querce in Tuscany and Hotel Reginella in Positano. Beautiful, cinematic and mesmerizing.
  • Most Sobering View from a Bedroom Window - Seven Arches on the Mount of Olives. From there, you can see the sweeping view of Jerusalem: the valley of Jehosaphat, the Jewish graves facing the valley in expectation of the Messiah's arrival, the walled Old City with the Golden gate sealed in one faith's attempt to prevent another's redemption.
  • Worst Drivers - Istanbul. Hands down.
  • Fastest Drivers - Italy.
  • Best Cheap Eats - Turkey. No matter where we went, we had fantastic meals and for little money.
  • Most Expensive Cities - tie. Venice and Positano.
  • Worst Service - Rome. One particular trattoria who's owner refused to return our change because she had forgotten to charge another couple (people we didn't know) for their salads. Uh, ok. We'll take care of the Aussie's salads...
  • Biggest disappointment - Kusadasi, Turkey. Yes, a seaside town but jammed packed with cruise tourists during the day and partying teens at night. Not our cup of tea.
  • Worst moment not blogged about - while in Israel I had bronchitis. Whoo hoo! But not letting it slow me down, I dragged myself to see the sights. Almost passed out in the Armenian sector of the Old City in Jerusalem. Drama in the Holy Land.
  • Biggest disappointment #2 - Vatican museums, especially the Sistine Chapel. Yes, 10,000 people visit the place each day. Do they all have to cram into the one space at the same time? Got so bad, paramedics were called in to help a woman who passed out with an irregular heartbeat. Thanks, padre.
  • Cheesiest Fun - last dinner in Positano at our favorite place, Mediteraneo. A friend of the owner played old Neapolitan songs on the guitar, had us all singing along and even complied for our request of Paolo Conti's Chip Chip song!
  • Most humiliating moment - getting balled out by the old Muslim man at the Blue Mosque.
  • Most spiritual moment - tie. 1. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 2. The Blue Mosque. 3. The Wailing Wall
  • Biggest Surprise - Turkey in general. Awesome country, wonderful people, completely underappreciated and underestimated.
  • Funniest Moment - ugh! So many! Aleco driving on pedestrian roads in Rome "Scusi, scusi!" And me trying to ascertain if a pastry in Istanbul had meat, not knowing the language and acting like a cow "moo, moo". The response was the baker's uncontrollable laughter.
  • Coincidences? I think not! Brad and Angelina with us in Venice. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet following us in Positano.

I'm sure we'll think of loads more in the days and months to come. But for now, this is where I'll leave it at.

A friend wrote and asked, "and what's next, Eliana?" Well, my better half will now undoubtedly spend hours upon hours after work sorting and editing the bazillion pictures and video that he took. I go back to work (for 2 weeks) at MIPC and in the meantime finish up my remianing certification requirements so as to find an ordained called position. Yes, prayers would be most welcome. :-)

Thanks for reading the blog. Better still, let's talk soon.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


This may very well be my last entry while on this trip. We've seen so much, met so many wonderful people and experienced wonderful new situations - I am sure that we will be processing this adventure for a long time to come.

We arrived yesterday to Positano on the Amalfi coast. My better half had been talking this place up so much; he had visited it as a child and then again as a young adult and couldn't wait to show the place off to me. Truly, Positano is one of the most exquisitely beautiful places I can ever imagine. God was truly generous when designing this place.
To get here, we took the long way round so I could better appreciate the Costa Amalfinata. That means that for 2 hours or so dear husband drove our little Fiat on a two-way road with precipices, hairpin curves and all the time sharing the road with tour buses, mopeds and cyclists. Let's just say that my former nasty habit of biting my nails returned.

But the views are spectacular! We finally arrived at our hotel and climbed up 5 flights of stairs to get to our room (this was just the beginning of climbing) and entered our room. We have a balcony that overlooks the town of Positano including the beach. You couldn't ask for a better view!
To get from the hotel to the beach and/or town center, you have to walk down the mountain, either using stairs and stairs and stairs or down a one-way road. It's exhausting, but the place is so utterly breathtaking, you forgive the screaming pain from your bunions and thunder thighs.

This afternoon we walked down to visit the little church in the center plaza and walked in on a wedding. An American couple was tying the knot with a handful of people in attendance. We joined in congratulating them; I then went and spoke with the priest. I was intrigued. He was definitely not Italian. Turns out he's Nigerian and has been assistant priest in this town for many years and began a mission project with a Nigerian village. I loved that. Positano is a wealthy place; tourists flock here. Tourists with multo euros. I'm glad some of it is making it back to a place with simples needs like clean water.

It's been very interesting to me to see my better half in this environment, particularly on this Italian leg of our journey. We've been married so long and lived so long in the states that I forget he is more European than anything else. He feels at home here. Confident. At ease. He figures his way around, he picks up the language quickly. I admire him.

The church bells are ringing for mass. Gonna try to convince dear husband to join me in attendance. Afterwards, we'll have dinner and watch the sun go down.
Tomorrow we return to Rome and prepare for the long trip home.

As we sat on the beach this afternoon, we vowed to one another that this month-long trip needs to have taught us, or at least planted significant seeds in our lives. This experience cannot just have been for the month of May 2010 and then lay forgotten unless we pull on the bazillion photos we've taken. We vow to slow our lives down - even if just a bit. We promise to be calmer, not be so anxious, take each day as it presents itself. We promise to continue enjoying each other's company and learn from one another. We vow to not wait another 28 years for an adventure such as this.

Until I see you again...

Monday, May 24, 2010

From Tuscany to Rome

I wrongly assumed I would be finding internet cafes everywhere I went, or at least wifi so I could peck out my entries on my trusty iTouch. Not.

We left Tuscany yesterday morning and drove to Rome, leaving behind the lush rolling hills of vineyards and olive groves for the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Before departing, I should say that we spent our last day seeing Siena which is absolutely gorgeous. At the risk of incurring the wrath of certain family members, I have to admit that I prefer Siena to Florence. There I said it.
It's a more intimate city; it's scale and proportions inviting. Even the churches we visited were more accessible. I loved the main piazza where the Palio takes place in August. A huge group of university students congregated in the middle and spontaneously began running from one end to the other, chanting and dancing in unison. So much fun to watch!
But on we went to Rome and, as I said, the big city.

Turkish drivers are daredevils, but the Italians are speed demons! The cab drivers in particular have no fear for either their own lives or yours, and dare you to cut in front of them - regardless if you're driving or you're a pedestrian.
But my better half got us into the old city and we found our B&B (it's actually a lot more like a penzione) right off the old Pia city gate. It's a tiny place, but clean and comfortable in an old building in a relatively tourist-free zone.

Yesterday we decided to drive around in our little Fiat (a little bigger than the old 500 for those who know about cars) and were able to cover a lot of ground. Sunday is a bit emptier in Rome than other days. The coliseum was terribly impressive, if nothing else because all I could think of was of the horrors endured by so many for the so-called pleasure of others. As I touched the walls, the verse "if these stones could cry out" ran through my head.

This morning we rose and took the bus to the Vatican as we had "reservation tickets" for noon. There were thousands of people of lined up to enter; their waiting time easily about 4 hours. We were able to move to the "quick line" and make it in on time. We walked the entired Vatican Museums for about 3 hours - this included the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Cathedral. Breathtaking and heartbreaking. What incredible beauty in the artistry of the Vatican's collection, and how it could potentially solve so much of the world's needs.
I also haven't been around so many priests and nuns since my St. Augustine elementary school days. And yes, I am still intrigued by the priests and terrified of the nuns. Go figure.

The cathedral had the effect of making me go numb. There's just so many gold-plated crosses and marble Madonna's you can ingest before shutting down. Yes, beautiful. Lovely. Invaluable. And? I'm probably just your run of the mill ex-Catholic turned reformed Protestant...

The other thing that impresses me is the amount of people and how international they all are. Gazillions of Spaniards, Germans, Aussies, Japanese. You name it. And all of us being herded through the Vatican like sheep.
As we left the Vatican, a big old thunderstorm rolled through with some heavy rain - desperately needed in this hot and muggy city.

Anyway, after our Vatican visit, we lunched and then made our way to the Fountain of Trevi, a place I'd been wanting to visit since I first saw Marcello Mastroiani in La Dolce Vita. Romantic place, despite dear Marcello being dead quite a while now. ;) Yes, we tossed the proverbial penny in the fountain to ensure we return to Rome, hopefully with our daughters in tow.

We also climbed up the Spanish Steps and took in the Roman sunset from there. It's been wonderful to be able to accumulate various mental pictures of sunsets in different places; each so lovely, each so distinct.
It's now 9:30 pm and we need to find a place to eat dinner. Alex has been eating enormous amounts of food, plus enjoying desserts like there's no tomorrow. The gelato here is extraordinary!

Tomorrow morning we set off for the Amalfi coast and a little place in Positano. I have been promised there will only lazying on the beach and swimming these next few days before we return home. Hmm... we will see as I am after all travelling with the adventurous Mr. Maxim.

Hopefully more later....

Friday, May 21, 2010

Of Wine, Art and Roads

Ahh, beautiful Tuscany!
We are staying in a small town just at the bottom of Montelpuciano, in a converted farmhouse part of Italy"s agriturismo. The views are spectacular. We"ve rented a little Fiat which my better half loves to race along the Italian country roads. I just close my eyes and pray.

Today we spent the entire day in Florence. There is no way I can possibly do it justice - I just don't have the words to describe- Needless to say, it is everything you always hear and read about. We saw the entire Uffizi gallery of art, trekked up to Monte Belvedere across the river to see the city at sunset and just had dinner at the most wonderful little restaurant - a trattoria that served up some pretty fabulous vegetarian food.

Last night we climbed upto the top of Montelpuciano (no cars allowed there) and had dinner at a little wine room. My better half succumbed to temptation and ordered a glass of the local chianti. I have the photo to prove it! It was delicious. We may indulge in sharing another glass of wine before this trip is over. :)

Tomorrow we drive to Sienna and perhaps we"ll make it to Assisi. I can see why artists flock here - you can"t see an ugly vista no matter where you look. Everything is a work of art already.

The internet cafe closes in less than 2 minutes, so I must go.
Until the next time...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Venetian Wonder

A friend recently said to me, "you either love or hate Venice, there's no in between". He predicted that I would fall into the love category. How right you were Dirk!

We left Istanbul with its 13 million people (and seemingly all trying to be in the same spot at the same time) and flew into Venice yesterday afternoon. We've traded in calls to prayer for the peeling of church bells.

After our flight, we took a bus then the Vaporo (water bus) to the northwest corner of the city where we are renting an apartment for the next 3 nights.
What a great apartment! Two bedrooms, living room and kitchen and a huge bathroom. And all located in a residential, non-touristy area.

The apartment has canal front on one side, and on the other is a shared courtyard/garden. We have been laughingly calling this place the honeymoon we should have had 28 years ago. But better late than never!

I think it would be fair to say we walked most of the city today. We visited several beautiful churches, including the Basilica de San Marco and the previous cathedral of Venice, San Pietro - built in the the 900's. I have to say I actually preferred the older cathedral. San Marco is sooo way over the top. Beautiful but in an almost (dare I say it?) vulgar demonstration of wealth and opulence. On the other hand, the older San Pietro is majestic and unassuming, in a way. My better half became obsessed with the nearby bell tower which is scarily leaning to one side. He took numerous pictures and pondered endlessly on its architectural future. I say it'll eventually just tumble over.
My favorite church thus far has to be the Madonna dell'Orto (Madona of the Garden). Simple and lovely. And so appropriately, there was a sculpture of Madonna and child with a simple prayer for those who need to make big decisions. Guess who lit a candle there... ;)

Which brings me to the heartbreaking beauty of this place. Will my grandchildren be able to visit this city as adults? Will it still exist? Or like other ancient cities, be claimed by nature? Venetians don't like to talk about it. They've been here for eons and have survived all sorts of floods. But the city is sinking. No doubt about it. And yet, in this tragic circumstance - in its crumbling buildings and murky canals - there is such beauty, such joy. It's almost like Venetians live each day to the max because God only knows what tomorrow will bring.

We visited the Plaza di San Marco and braved the crowds. We walked along the chic streets lined with Dolce & Gabana, Mizzoni and Prada stores. Gabi - you would love this. Cutting edge fashion. Made me feel about 125 years old and frumpy beyond words. But good grief! This city is expensive! At a local grocery store, they were selling clear nail polish for 8 euros. That's like 11 bucks. I don't know how people do it here.

The churches have overwhelmed me in their beauty and artistry. I marvel at the exquisite paintings, sculptures and detailed tile mosaic work. And remember how our Protestant ancestors took it upon themselves to destroy so many of these architectural and artistic masterpieces for piety's sake. Talk about cutting your nose off to spite your face. How can we reformed types reclaim some of this sacred art and beauty in our worship spaces once again without sacrificing our focus and priority on Word and Sacrament?

Tonight we dine in a little place near the apartment and tomorrow we tour further afield by the Vaporo (boatbus).
More to come....

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Istanbulıan Last Day

Another wonderful day ın Istanbul and although we dıdn't get to do all the thıngs we wanted to (ıncludıng seeıng Sam), we had a great day. We vısıted the Egyptıan spıce market - what a scandalous assault on the senses! The colors, the smells of the spıces! And although I've never been a fan of the sweet Turkısh delıght, we had the handmade stuff at the market (stuffed wıth chopped walnuts and rolled ın pıstachıos) and ıt was really good. We also saw vendors advertısıng Turkısh Vıagra - walnut stuffed fıgs.

We took the boat tour of the Bosphorus and ıt was magnıfıcent. Loads of boat traffıc (and folks here command theır boats pretty much the way they drıve - yıkes!) but we got to see the presıdentıal palace and so many other stunnıng buıldıngs and sıtes. We ended the evenıng by havıng dınner under the Galata brıdge after the boat tour.

We're pretty exhausted and got way more sun than we bargaıned for - sunburn alert for yours truly. :/ We'll now focus on packıng our bags and gettıng ready for tomorrow's early flıght to Venıce.

After travelıng together 24/7 these past two weeks, I suppose ıt only faır to comment on what that's been lıke. Dear husband and I hadn't really done thıs wıthout chıldren or ın-laws ın tow sınce our honeymoon 28 years ago, and we have been pleasantly surprısed to see how easy ıt ıs to not only be together so much, but to travel and be ın vulnerable sıtuatıons together.
We're quıte dıfferent, thıs man and I. He's eager to see as much as quıckly as possıble, snappıng photos and vıdeo often. He'll walk uphıll on cobblestoned streets for a couple of hours ın search of a partıcular vıew he was told about, or a cafe he read about ıt. You get the pıcture.

Then there's me.
I don't feel compelled to see ıt all, but rather soak the envırons as much as possıble. I want to sıt at a cafe (any one where the locals hang out wıll do) and people watch, eavesdrop and journal. I was to wander around old, make that ancıent, buıldıngs or sıtes - read about them, and then ... yes, soak the atmosphere ın.

The ınterestıng thıng ıs that despıte these dıfferences, we enjoy each other's company. We temper and challenge each other. We fınd ourselves more and more fınıshıng each other's sentences and wıll sıt together ın peaceful sılence only for one to speak what the other was thınkıng. Weırd. Gotta wonder ıf we're startıng to look alıke as well.

We're grateful to God for thıs blessıng. For havıng fallen for each other more than 30 years ago, taken a chance on each other and then fallıng for each other all over agaın. We know we're lucky and don't forget thıs ever.

Well, enough about that.

Soon we wıll say goodbye to Turkey and we have loved every mınute of ıt. Thıs country goes on our lıst of "do agaıns".

More later... and then ıt wıll be ın Italıano!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Of Mosques, Bazaars and A Slıce O' Heaven...

Greetıngs from Istanbul. formerly known as Constantınople!

A full and very rıch day ın thıs complex and vıbrant cıty. We started out by vısıtıng the Sultanahmet Mosque (also known as the Blue Mosque), the huge structure commıssıoned by the Ottoman Sultan back ın the 1600's. Wıshıng to outdo the nearby Holy Wısdom Cathedral , the Sultan requested of the archıtects huge domes and a layout very sımılar to the Dome of the Rock ın Jerusalem. Havıng just seen that structure last week I can report that the Sultan got hıs wısh.

It's a workıng mosque, but vısıtors are allowed to tour at certaın tımes of the day. We may ın just ın tıme and decıded to stay for the noonday prayer. Thıs huge square of a buıldıng (wıth beautıfully ıntrıcate mosaıcs and staın glass wındows) quıckly began to be fılled up. Men arrıved and ımmedıately took theır place closest to the east facıng wall/wındows. Women, covered from head to toe, could eıther go upstaırs to the balcony or for the more modest (a lot of the older women) they could gather ın the back of the buıldıng behınd screens.
We sat quıetly to one sıde, well beyond the men and to one sıde of the women behınd the screen. Shoes off, the only other requırement was that my head and shoulders be completely covered. Rıght before the call the prayer, an older man walked by us on hıs way to hıs place and turned and scolded me ın Turkısh. He really got worked up and kept motıonıng me to go away, to the back where the other women were. I dıdn't get - there were other tourısts sıttıng by as well. Wısh I knew what the old man was sayıng, but agaın all I dıd was smıle stupıdly. Good thıng he couldn't read mınds...
The prayer servıce ıtself lasted about 20 mınutes - a lot of "Praıse God. God ıs all." and wıth each phrase uttered by the Iman, the people would eıther bow, prostrate themselves on the ground or stand. It was ımpressıve to see the entıre cavernous room worshıpıng ın unıon, wıth all completely focused on the Iman and theır response.

We quıckly left as soon as prayers were over - dang ıf I was goıng to run ınto the crochety old guy agaın. And we went to the other sıde of thıs huge square to vısıt Hagıa Sofıa - Holy Wısdom Church. Orıgınally buılt by Constantıne ın the mıd 300's, the cathedral was burnt down by rıoters twıce. Go fıgure. Durıng the LA rıots, mınımarkets and electronıcs stores were targeted. Wonder what that says about what we rıot about....

Thıs beautıful structure was a church untıl Suleman decreed ıt be turned ınto a mosque ın the 1400's. Although they dıd a pretty good job of coverıng up most of the frescoes and tearıng out the altar, pulpıt and basptımal pool (to be replaced wıth mosque necessetıes), the place ıs enormous and stunnıng. Breathtakıng actually. There are huge gallerıes both on the maın floor as well as upstaırs where church councıls were held. I know, I'm a total nerd, but I found that thrıllıng. Oy! If those walls could talk! The marble steps have been worned smooth and rounded by the comıngs and goıngs for these past 1700 years.

After that vısıt, we decreed enough for houses of worshıp and we set off the Grand Bazaar. Wow! The place ıs huge and you can fınd anythıng there. Truth be told, I found ıt overwhelmıng. The merchants weren't as aggressıve as we had expected, but the vısual and audıo stımulatıon ıs so over the top. Carpets, jewelry, spıces, fabrıcs and so much more! We walked what seemed lıke 2 mıles and the underground bazaar contınued as far as the eye could see. What a marvel - and to thınk that thıs has been goıng on for thousands of years...

When we returned to our hotel, we were wıped. My better half decıded to nap. I went for a Turkısh Bath and Massage.

Oh. My. God.

I had no ıdea what I was ın for and I thınk I may have fınally found my drug of choıce.
You sauna. Then you take a cold shower. Then the attendant scrubs you down lıke you're the sıde of tour bus, then you hıt the steam room and then comes a massage. By the tıme I was done, I could have just floated back to my room. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I better fınd somethıng lıke thıs back home or else...

So ıt's now 2am. Those that know me and my dear husband know we are not nıght owls. But thıs cıty does ıt to you. You set out for a walk and there's so much actıvıty you can't possıbly belıeve ıt's as late as ıt ıs. But ıt ıs.
Tomorrow we plan on vısıtıng Topkapı Castle among other thıngs, as well as seeıng Sam and Aslı. It'll be our last day ın Turkey as we set off for Italy on Monday mornıng.

More to come...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Istanbul Arrıval

WıFı and ınternet have been horrıbly spotty whıle on the road, so I was only able to post a saved entry from two days ago. I'm sure my mom ıs concerned... I'm okay, Mom! ;) It's also my dad's bırthday today and I'm not there to gıve hım a hug. If you're readıng thıs my frıends, send a good wısh my super cool dad's way.

It's almost mıdnıght Frıday nıght and we just got back from havıng dınner. Thıs cıty does not sleep! We're stayıng ın an area called Pera ın the cıty - very cool, lots of actıvıty, musıc and ıt's all maınly local people out and about. The streets are congested wıth people out walkıng - young couples, famılıes wıth kıds (why are these chıldren not sleepıng? Yıkes!) and groups of hıpsters. Everyone walks around, stops off at one of a multıtude of cafes on the street to have çay (tea) and eat, talk and just hang out.
The cıty ıs ıncredıbly beautıful and ıncredıbly dıverse. You can see folks who would look rıght at home at BelSquare Mall and others who are dressed more conservatıvely and tradıtıonal. There ıs also a sıgnıfıcant gypsy populatıon and they are quıte dıstınctıve ın theır dress. They are usually sellıng fruıt or ın some cases, beggıng. An ınterestıng group of people I hope to learn more about ın these next few days we are here.

I'm too tıred to make much more sense, so I'll leave ıt here.
More to come - my love to all...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ephesus and More

We set out yesterday from Capadocıa and drove for 13 hours untıl we arrıved late last nıght at Kuşadası - a few short mıles from Ephesus. Our drıve across the Antolıan plaıns was absolutely stunnıng. We were surprısed at the vastness of land; fıelds and fıelds of lush green wheat set agaınst rollıng hılls, majestıc mountaıns and pıcturesque vıllages.

Men and women, dressed very much lıke theır great-great grandparents dıd, labored ın the fıelds usıng hand tools and most rıdıng a horse drıven cart. Every so often, a tractor would drıve along the sıde of the road - a man at the wheel and about 4 or 5 women sıttıng atop. Here ıs where I have felt the most frustrated not knowıng the language. There have been so many ınstances where I wanted to badly to talk to strangers on our journey. What are they growıng? How long have they been doıng ıt? What ıs theır lıfe lıke? So many questıons and ınstead, I am mute and just smıle dumbly.

About the roads. What an pleasant surprıse! Both the hıghways and country roads were paved and well cared for. Small nuısances weire not accostumed to: traffıc lıghts every so often (huh?), donkeys pullıng carts ın the slow lane (that's really really slow!) and pedestrıans crossıng from one sıde to another (death wısh? no, just lıfe ın the countrysıde).
Rest stops are a full affaır - çopşıs they are called - and they offer a full cafeterıa of food, shoppıng, very cool bathrooms and whıle you eat, some guys outsıde wash your car for free. Very cool.

In many parts, ıt seemed as though tıme had stood stıll. We passed by many brıck makıng "factorıes", as most homes ın the vıllages were made of the red clay. Poorer homes were sımple mud structures. We saw beautıful lakes - theır colors as dıfferent and vıbrant as you can ımagıne. One was a blood red lake, ıts edges whıte from the ıntense salt ın the water. Another was yet the most perfect aquamarıne, lıke that color you always loved from the 64 Crayola box.

Thıs ıs a truly beautıful country. And by the tıme we arrıved ın Kuşadası, we knew we have to come back to Turkey some day.

Kuşadası ıs a port town, lots of actıvıty, nıghtlıfe and tourısts. Cruıse shıps now stop here every day, loaded wıth folks from around the world makıng the trek to Ephesus. We are stayıng at a lıttle hotel or pensıon up the hıll - narrow cobbled streets, wıth tıghtly fıttıng homes and apartments. From our room, we can see the ocean and a good sweep of the town.

Thıs mornıng we set out to Ephesus ın the blazıng sun. But the journey was pleasant, especıally when the breeze pıcked up. There are hundreds of thıngs I could mentıon about thıs ancıent cıty, but I thınk for now I'll share a thought that kept runnıng through my head as we walked about.

Most hıstorıans/theologıans agree that after Jesus' death, John brought Mary the Mother to lıve ın Ephesus and thıs ıs where she dıed and presumably ıs burıed. Knowıng the bustlıng nature of the cıty, ıts cosmopolıtan ways, huge dıversıty ın both culture and belıefs - I could not help but wonder what that transıtıon must have been lıke for thıs women who had just recently endured such great grıef. Were the people kınd to thıs stranger? Dıd they take her ın as she was - a mıddle-aged woman from Nazareth? A Jew? Someone who most probably had been targeted by Jewısh and Roman authorıtıes? Could Ephesus - where Paul wrote hıs generous letter offerıng the Good News to all, salvatıon for Jew and Gentıle alıke - have been the ıdeal place for a woman lıke Mary?

After walkıng the ruıns of Ephesus twıce, we drove up the mountaın to a town called Syrınce, sometımes referred to as the Ephesus of the mountaıns. After the cıty of Ephesus had become flooded and was abandoned, a group of Chrıstıans set off for thıs mountaın and started a communıty. Whıle there, we vısıted an old church - St. John - begun by a group of monks and sustaıned over the years by theır wıne makıng. Hmmm... stewardshıp ıdea?

The church was made entırely of rock wıth a low step lınıng the ınsıde for worshıpers to sıt, but apparently the usual mode of worshıp was standıng so the maın area of the church ıs vacant, wıth the exceptıon of ıts only accoutrement - a baptısmal pool. What attracted us to the place was the laughter of chıldren. When we entered, a group of local chıldren were playıng what seemed to be a form of freeze tag ınsıde the church. They were runnıng around, touchıng everythıng (there are frescoes stıll on the walls you can faıntly see) and laughıng loudly. Although I dıdn't understand a word they were sayıng, I couldn't help but smıle. My better half saıd softly behınd me, "Let the lıttle chıldren come to me..." What a wıse dude that husband of mıne ıs...

Tonıght Thursday we sleep ın Kusadası and ın the mornıng set off for another 9 hour car rıde to Istanbul.
Untıl then my frıends - peace, peace and more peace.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I have been remıss ın bloggıng because my dear husband has been ıntent ın our partıcıpatıng ın some sort of race to the land of Turkey. I keep expectıng to hear the Amazın Race host to say, teams must now use every means of transportatıon from Israel to Turkey ın 24 hours, or they may be elımınated.
We left Tel Avıv on Monday and flew to Istanbul. From there we took a subway and a lıght raıl traın to get to the ferry to cross the Bosborus (check spellıng for me someone!) whıch connects the Black Sea to the Medıterrean. We needed the ferry to get to the traın statıon, but drats! We mıssed the last ferry. So we hopped a cab to the statıon, barely ın tıme to catch the overnıght traın to Ankara. We boarded wıth a bunch of rowdy Italıans, but eventually all slept untıl we pulled ınto Ankara, where we walked to the car rental agency (no small feat, my frıends) and drove to Goreme. (Google ıt, kıds)

Thıs ıs a breathtakıng place. Vısıtıng thıs place makes our entıre trıp worth ıt. Composed of lımestone rock formatıons, there are thousands of caves wıthın them. They were used by the Hıttıtes ın battle and by the early Chrıstıans to hıde and later worshıp. All these nooks and crevıces used for both nefarıous and sacred reasons, ang they contınue to stand naturally ın the scenery and best of all, are most all ınhabıted by local Capodecıans.
We were fortunate enough to spend the nıght ın one that has been converted ınto a hotel. Sadly, my dear husband has not been able to upload photos onto thıs blogsıte, but we hope to get thıs fıgured out by the tıme we get to Italy. Sleepıng ın a cave was amazıng, curıous and surprısıngly comfortable and cool.

We just fınınshed breakfast and now set off our lıttle Renault west bound, en route to Ephesus. Looks lıke a 10 hour drıve. Gıve me patıence, oh Lord....

Turkey ıs a revelatıon, I can,t waıt to see more of ıt!
Sorry about the weırd typıng, Im usıng a Turkısh keyboard (şee what ü mıss oüt?) and ı'm havıng to hunt and peck each letter.

More to cöme from the road!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reflections on Leaving Jerusalem

We had breakfast this morning atop the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city. Spectacular view. My better half asked, "now that we're about to leave Jerusalem, do you feel this was an important place to have visited? Has it made any significance to your faith?" The man knows how to ask a loaded question over a cup of tea and toast.

The answer turned out to be more complex than I would have anticipated.

I grew up in a faith environment where items, locations- and traditions associated with both -were essential to belief. Having a cross around your neck was only has powerful as who had blessed it or where it had come from. I remember a nun at my elementary school proudly passing a rosary around ("carefully, children, just look, don't touch!) that had been given to her by the super nun of her order, who had gotten it while visiting Jerusalem and had it blessed by a priest who had taken it to the church of the Nativity. It was so precious to her. All I remember was that the beads were plastic.

The fact that I have been fortunate enough to visit holy sites this week is inarguable. But the sites themselves say more about humanity to me than anything else. The sacred is all around; the specific place where Jesus ascended or Abraham almost knocked off his son has become irrelevant to me. I don't need the geographic accuracy to undergird my belief. This grotto looks remarkably like that grotto, and it's but 50 feet away.That these things happened is the story of my people, of my God and of our history together. That my brothers and sisters throughout history have found it necessary to build shrines, altars and edifices to commemorate the story says more about our longing for the sacred, our desire to be connected to the ongoing story and yes, our possessiveness of both the story and of God. This has been our glowing achievement and our bitter selfishness.

We cannot package God. The Israelites learned this in the wilderness, and yet here we are in 2010 doing our very best to do so. Jerusalem is a holy place, not because God is here (because God is in all places) but because it calls me to remember that I have chosen to place more value on my relationship with the sacred and God's creation, and less on what we humans have designated as sacred.

That said (I told you the answer would be a convoluted.. oh wait, I think I said complex. Oh well.), visiting Jerusalem has given me profound insight into setting our story - God and God's people - in context.
I get the water thing. When it's 94 degrees out and you feel like your bones are bleaching in the sun under your skin, a sip of cool water is life itself.
Jerusalem is hilly, it's a pain in the butt to walk up and down over ancient pathways, stubbing your toes and ending up with filthy feet at the end of the day. Riding into town on a donkey would have been swell.
Hospitality is more than saying welcome. It's switching rooms so you can have a better breeze, making you homemade soup because you have a cold, it's calling your friend to lend you his laptop so you can blog your silly stories, it's exchanging phone numbers and being told we'll keep in touch and really believing it, it's offering to drive you to the airport so you don't have to spend more on cabs - all things our hosts at Al Cazar offered.
And finally, I see hope. For a people who have been nomads and homeless; for the bedouins who are slighted, for the silent Hasidim who walk without seeing you, for the Muslim girl putting on her first chador-a rite of passage- for the Christians waiting for the Golden Gate to one day be unsealed.... there is hope in Jerusalem for the return of the one who will set all these free. And I am one with them. I hope.

A Few Random Things

Thoughts running through my head as we prepare to set off this morning to visit the Dome of the Rock...
  • everyone and their momma smokes here. From the young hip kids in their tight jeans to the women covered head to toe in black. And they smoke everywhere - on busses where it says "no smoking" to inside elevators.
  • there are cats everywhere! Some are like regular household cats, but there are many that are larger feral looking types. They slink around the alleyways, make a mess of the trash containers and in the late evening make a row. They are on rat patrol and do a fine job at it.
  • hommous can be consumed at all hours of the day for any particular reason and can be served alongside any dish. Case in point - walked by a sushi restaurant that advertised "tuna hoummous roll". Uh, no thank you.
  • muezzein do not synchronize their watches in order to do the call to worship, therefore you can have the call begin at one mosque at 5 am and make the rounds to the others in the area so that the call is over half an hour later.
  • weddings rock here! We've been staying in a working class neighborhood (Wadi Al Joz) and this weekend there were 3 weddings. There were fireworks, horns blowing and everyone in the neighborhood was invited. We got to see the festivities - a huge group of men dancing in the couryard of a house. Don't know where they women went to party, but these guys were having a great time. I asked a young man about his wedding experience - he's been married for 9 years. The first thing he said is that it takes years to save up for it - he spent over 250,000 sheckles (about $80,000) for his. He told us he and his wife met twice before getting engaged, both times accompanied by both sides of the family. On their third "date", he proposed. Then they all met once more time for wedding planning. Then they got married. Sacha and Gabi - please take note.

We're getting ready to head off for the day, knowing this is our last full day in Jerusalem. Tommorow early afternoon we take a flight to Istanbul, then board a train to Ankara, with a stop at Capoedecia on the way. Hopefully wireless will be available.... so until then....

Friday, May 7, 2010

O Not So Little Town of Bethlehem...

We just returned from a day long excursion to Bethlehem. All I could think of along the way was the distance Jesus had to walk from that area to Jerusalem - no wonder he stopped along the way and healed, taught and fed. We were on bus and it was hot and dusty and a little boring. Glad he had so much to keep him occupied.

The Church of the Nativity was of course the highlight; the actual cave dwelling of Jesus' birth is small, but the church structure built around it (beginning in 365 AD and then updated in the early 1020's) is quite something. An area of the floor has been broken through to expose the original Constantinian tile inlay flooring - extraordinarily beautiful.
We also visited the shepherd's fields and the Milk Grotto - a cave thought to have housed the holy family as they fled to Egypt.

To get to Bethlehem we drove through checkpoints and saw a new Israeli settlement - hundreds of small white dwellings built inside a hillside. Bethlehem itself is quite steep and high up on a hill. Each person we spoke to there was anxious to know how we felt about their town - the Palestinians are very proud of this city. Proud and protective.

Which reminds me of last night - our wonderful hosts here at the hotel Al Cazar invited us to dinner, prepared by their family members. "Authentic Palestinian food!" they exclaimed as they brought plate after plate of yumminess. Roasted chicken with lemon infused potatoes, homemade houmous and pickled cucumbers. And so much more...

We finally convinced our hosts (owner Nader and his cousin Yusef) to sit and chat with us. What an honor to hear their stories. Yusef, although 2 years younger than Alex, looks about in his mid 70's. He has lived his entire life in a refugee camp on the road to Bethlehem, and has managed to put his 5 sons and 1 daughter through college "because God is good". Nader proudly introduced us to his twin (boy and girl) 5 year olds and his 14 and 16 year old daughters. Both older girls have been awarded scholarships to participate in a student exchange program in the states. He admitted to being a little different in that he insists his daughters get all the education they can get - here or elsewhere.

We've had ornery cab drivers who tried to charge us 2 and 1/2 times the normal fare (wish you could have heard my better half unleash his Romanian haggling skills) and drivers who have gone out of their way to stop at significant highlights so we won't miss seeing something.

I guess I'm saying this just to emphasize that the people here are remarkable. Both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs - hospitable and gracious, stubborn and good humored. We just keep looking at each other and saying "this is truly a wonderful and chaotic place!" We are so blessed.

Soon, the sun will set and Shabbat will begin. Everything will close and all will slow down. I like that idea...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo en Jerusalem!

Before I recount our day's adventures, let it be known that I am using a Hebrew keyboard and have to assume I'm hitting the correct keys for English. Please excuse typos and etc...
Okay, that out of the way, onto the day's activities.

After breakfast we set out to the Old City, starting off at the New Gate and making our way around the Christian quarter. We began there because I was antsy to get to the Church of the Sepulcher. After meandering around a gazillion wonderful little alleyways, looking at a bazillion trinkets, we arrived at the courtyard in front of the church. Despite being inundated with tourists (and mind you, some wearing matching caps following a leader waving flags... ugh), stepping into this place was breath taking. Somehow or another the air felt electrified and all we could do was gaze - up, down, around. Sparrows flew around the courtyard, dive bombing into the crowds, then swooping up in to the many archways and balconies.

We entered the church, and immediately saw a large stone slab where about half a dozen huge glass lanterns hung above it. People swarmed over the stone, laying crucifixes, rosaries and icons on it and then kissing the stone. It is believed that this is remaining paving stone of the location where Jesus was crucified on Golgotha. Regardless of its historical accuracy, seeing this dark cavernous place where the multitudes of faithful threw themselves onto the stone in hopes of a blessing... well, it was emotional. What can I say?

We then moved on the interior of the church , which actually is about 8 small chapels under one roof. And deep within is the most sacred of them - the site of Jesus' tomb. Everywhere we looked, people were kissing walls, stones, lighting candles, venerating ancient paintings and wall drawings. Nearby, a local priest waited for anyone interested in entering the confessional. Didn't see any takers while we were there.

We continued onto the Jewish quarter and found the Wailing Wall. We were walking hand in hand to it when a soldier said "women on the other side". Alrighty then. Alex joined the men, where the wall is much longer and actually goes inside a cave type shelter (he told me all this afterwards - I did not infiltrate) and in there he says was a sort of synagogue with men chanting, wailing and praying out loud. On the women's side, the wall is shorter and there is no covered area. I made my way to the wall, and although I was just going to take a close up look, found myself touching this wall, the last remaining structure from the Temple before the Romans destroyed it. Yes, I prayed. I even wrote a prayer down and folded it tightly to stuff into a crack. And following the tradition of the women around me, walked backwards out of the area, never turning my back on the wall. "Turn your back on the wall, turn your back on Yahweh."

Exhausted and slightly sunburnt, we took a rest before heading to our special dinner at Arcadia. The restaurant is located in a wonderful neighborhood in West Jerusalem; lots of pedestrian activity, beautiful little residential alleys and courtyards to explore. Once again, we were struck by the vast difference between East and West Jerusalem neighborhoods, and the similarity we drew with our experience of Tijuana and San Diego.
Huge thanks to the Bolger Family for their touching and wonderful gift of dinner at Arcadia. The restaurant is an ancient structure in an alleyway, small and prepares very delicious fare using only local organic sustainable products. The staff was incredibly friendly and gracious. Our waiter, Dan, now considers Mark Bolger a personal friend. :)

Been a long day. Gonna go to bed and settle in with a bed. Good night all, thanks for reading and until tomorrow.... Shalom!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wednesday in Jerusalem

Near our "hotel" is a mosque and the call to prayer woke us at 4am, and then again at 5am. Maybe the first call was the warm up for those who hit the snooze alarm.
But i cannot articulate how incredibly moving the chant/song is. The man's voice is clear and plaintive. After hearing this, how could one not want to turn to God? The longing in his voice echoed the human desire to belong, to have meaning and purpose. I am jealous of these people who have such a tangible audible reminder of our raison d'etre.

Before breakfast we took a walk down the 99 steps nearby and circled the neighborhood. I am acutely aware of being a woman in this environment, particularly with the strong Arabic community here. I walk behind my husband. Holding hands is frowned on. But by far the most difficult thing I have to keep remembering is that when I approach another man, I must cast my eyes down. I tell Alex, "but I love to look at people's faces!" I am humbled by the lackadaisical attitude I've always had about being equal.

Breakfast is hummus, olives, yoghurt and mint tea. The owner now calls to us, "Good morning, honeymoon!"

It's almost 9:30 am local time- we're setting out to the Old City, to walk the ramparts and walls.
Tonight we dine at a very special restaurant, courtesy of Mark, Elaine, Izzy and Anna. So more to come...

Shalom Jerusalem! - Tuesday arrival

It's understood that religion and politics are a matter of life in Israel. This was proven true to us the moment we boarded the sherut (shuttle) from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A small micro bus packed with 10 adults plus the driver, we made our way from Ben Gurion airport on sleek freeways where everyone was driving way too fast in my humble opinion.

An older lady, sitting behind us, pointed out highlights on the hour long ride. She shared her story with us; at the age of 5 she and her family was shipped off to a concentration camp. By the time she was 12, she had been in 3 camps and was the only survivor of her family. Through the years, she lived in different countries (including Bucharest) and finally made her home in Jerusalem.
She had strong opinions about Obama, the limitations put on Israeli expansion and when she heard we were staying in East Jerusalem in the Palestinian Arab area - she frowned. I think we disappointed her.

Our shuttle drove in and out of way too narrow streets; traffic was unbelievable and the people here love to use their car horn! After leaving the tidy streets of West Jerusalem and dropping off all the other tourists, we drove into East Jerusalem - and what a contrast! We both immediately saw similarities to the landscape in Tijuana, where our church builds homes. Rugged hills, houses practically on top of each other - some better constructed than others - and human congestion. We looked at each other and smiled - we feel at home!

We left Seattle at 9;30 am on Monday and arrived at our hotel Al Cazar at 6:30 pm Tuesday evening - we were wiped. Our room is very modest, although Alex is trying to get us a slightly larger one with a balcony. He told the owner we were on our anniversary honeymoon which made the old man smile. We'll see what they can do.

Dinner was an impromtu picnic in our room- olives, pastries and mineral water from the local Palestinian quickie mart. We're exhausted.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Neuroses Number One

My better half was looking over my shoulder and asked, "why Pen and Ink?" I gave him the look one masters after decades of marriage.

The reason is because I am somewhat obsessed with pens. I either love them or hate them, but there is no intermediate ground. Ball point? Hate. Medium point? Oh yeah, really hate. Erasable ink? Perish the thought. I'm like this whether I'm writing a letter, filling out a form or just signing my name on a check.

Give me a real ink pen, with a needle point. I'd love a fountain pen. Perhaps one day when I can afford the kind I really like.

Until then, I'm the neurotic person searching through the drawer of pens, desperately seeking the "right" one because otherwise what I write will be meaningless. Forgetable.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Counting Down

I've set up this blog so I can journal about our upcoming trip to Israel, Turkey and Italy. How effective I'll actually be is still to be determined...

I'm also in the midst of leaving my job/ministry of 14 years. This transition has it's schizophrenic tendencies. One day I'm elated at the prospect of having absolutely no idea what I'll be doing after June 13th, the next day I can barely function from the anxiety. I'm doing my best at being hopeful, confident and faithful... just doing my best....

So there are boxes to be filled in my office and a suitcase that needs to be packed at home. A month long vacation requires a different way of thinking when it comes to packing a carry on. That's gotta be easier than cramming 14 years of life into 6 cardboard rectangles. Right?