Monday, September 22, 2014

Interested in Making a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land? Here's Your Chance!

Have you always wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? Here is your chance.

As many of you know, I will be traveling to the Holy Land November 7-17, and we have a few openings. Yes, I would love to take you with me!

If you are interested, send me a Facebook message or email me. I will send you the flyer/itinerary. Ten days. Everything from Nazareth to Ein Kerem. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Mount Carmel to Mount Tabor.

It. Will. Change. You. Forever.


Friday, September 19, 2014

How I became a Travel Writer at Fifty

My sister was the traveler, and she was barely 25. I was the mommy of three and barely 24. We lived vicariously through each other.

She indulged the wanderlust when she accepted a teaching position at an American boarding school in England. She wrote home about Piccadilly Circus and Paddington Station. She scouted out London and planned my parents' dream vacation to England. She welcomed them when they landed, took them places.

I visited once, but by then my sister was back in the States for a few short years. David Clark and I had implemented a European travel program at the school where he taught social studies and I taught Spanish. I spent that Thanksgiving in London (though it seems like something completely different when you are in a country that doesn’t do Pilgrims and turkeys and Thanksgiving). Instead, I saw Poets Corner and Hampton Court Palace. I shopped at Harrods and stayed at the King Henry 8th Hotel.

And then I returned home to my three littlies. I had helped to get the student European travel program off the ground at Beckman High School, but before their first trip, I resigned my position and followed my first husband on a cross-country move. That was the extent of my travel. Where he went, I went. Many students and teachers enjoyed the program in the years that followed, but I focused on other things.

I thought the door to international travel was closed for me. One little dip. A few souvenirs. A memory of landing at Heathrow on the very day Margaret Thatcher resigned. But at least the students would enjoy international travel. At least I had gotten that program off the ground (along with David--what a pair we were).

My sister backpacked across Europe. Then she took a job as a manager of a science roadshow in New Zealand. My parents made another trip to see what their oldest was doing while their middle child wrote articles, taught students, raised babies, and completed degrees.

Who had time for international travel?

And then the balance shifted. My sister adopted two daughters from China (and had her passport stamped two more times), and then she settled in to do what I had done. Raise babies. She completed a doctorate, and I said no, graduate school is enough for me. She taught middle school, and then she went on to teach math and science education at the college level.

She is 51. I am 50. And now, I am the traveler.

My degrees in English opened the door for writing. The writing opened the door to syndication. The syndication led to a book contract. And all of it paved the way for my first visit to the Holy Land with the Israel Ministry of Tourism.

That's all it took. I had caught my sister's travel bug. The timing was right - and I was ready. I wanted more.

I wanted to see everything, to hold plane tickets in my hand and see new destinations listed on each ticket. I wanted a reason to have a passport and keep renewing it. I wanted to return from other countries and crave what I ate there so badly that I searched Pinterest for exotic recipes and put new things on my grocery list. Tahini. Za'atar. Babaganoush. Quinoa. Couscous.

I wanted to be the family member who gave interesting gifts at Christmas.

I wanted to prove to myself that fifty is an ideal age for wanderlust.

And I have.

Dreams have a way of coming true far more often at fifty than they do at twenty or thirty. Education
and experience and everyday life isn't aimless. It goes somewhere. It leads to more work, to beautiful grandchildren, to opportunities you never expected to have.

Life is a journey.

God leads.

And now is the time to see more of His grand world. To take it into my heart. The culture. The vistas.
The people.

A hymn by a Methodist preacher keeps going through my head these days. "This is my Father's world and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.

And as I hum the tune to myself, I make plans - to see as much of that world as I can.
“This Is My Father's World” The United Methodist Hymnal. Text: Maltbie D. Babcock. Music: Trad. English melody; adapt. by Franklin L. Sheppard.
This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.
This is my Father's world, the birds their carols raise; the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise. This is my Father's world: he shines in all that's fair; in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Former Protestant Makes a Case for Pilgrimages

We were visiting Washington D.C. the summer my dad received a phone call that a parishioner had been involved in a terrible farm accident. Leo Kraft sustained a crushed pelvis when a tractor ran over him. He was lucky to be alive.

Dad was the pastor of the small Presbyterian church where Leo and his wife Zoan worshipped. We cut our vacation short and returned home to the rural community where we lived so that dad could be with Leo and the family.

After weeks of recovery, Leo was finally released from the hospital and returned home. I remember
the day I was riding my bike down the street that passed in front of our house (the manse) and the Presbyterian church less than a block away. I noticed Leo and Zoan as they walked inside the church. It was the middle of the week, so it was odd that someone was going to church. We didn't have around the clock adoration time like many Catholic parishes do. So the only time people gathered at church was on Sunday mornings or for fellowship and scheduled events. If there was an event at church, we would have known it. We were the pastor's family, after all.

As I watched, Leo and his wife walked through the front doors and up the aisle, where they kneeled to pray. I felt warm inside. I knew what they were doing. They were thanking God for sparing Leo's life. It was a rare thing to see a Presbyterian doing something like that. They were usually "proper" and didn't do the overtly holy things I remembered from our years in the Wesleyan denomination (dad was a Wesleyan pastor before he became Presbyterian pastor). Wesleyans were always praying and hitting their knees in those Wesleyan churches.

As Protestants, we believed you could pray anywhere. One place was as good as the next. The church offered the whole community a place to pray, but praying on one's own could be done anywhere.

So why did Leo feel the need to hobble to the car in those first days following his release from the hospital and why did he slowly mount the front steps of the church when there was no easy access for one who was recently handicapped, and why did he walk with his wife to the front of the church and kneel when it must have been painful after all he'd been through?

It's simple, really.

Somewhere inside of us, Protestant and Catholic alike, we know that there are holy places - places set aside for our most fervent prayer time, places where we know God shows up and we can commune with Him.

Churches. Shrines. Grottos. Monasteries. The Holy Land. Lourdes. Fatima. Knock.

The cathedrals.

Marian gardens.

The bedside of a loved one who is dying.

A cemetery.

It is a Catholic concept - this going to a place because we anticipate God will meet us. Sure, Catholics believe they can pray anywhere.

But they also know that there are holy places where one meets God more substantially.

If there are unholy places - and there are - then there are holy places.

If one can expect the demons to dance in places where evil people do evil things, then we know there must be holy places where holy people do holy things.

In those moments when we long to come close to Christ, we know that it requires some kind of pilgrimage.

A journey.

A drive.

A flight.

It's like the Holy Spirit is sending us. Yes. It is a kind of divine sending and a divine visitation.

Pilgrimage. Perhaps it's a simple as driving to your church and kneeling before the Tabernacle. Perhaps it is as wonderful as planning a trip to France or Mexico or Rome or Israel.

Yes, we can bow our heads anywhere and encounter God, but somewhere inside, we all know that there is something holy about taking a journey with the expectation of encountering Christ when we reach that holy destination.