A journey back to faith and happiness
Posted in , Feb 4, 2011
Take the trip or lose the deposit. That was my choice.
I’d signed my husband and me up for our church’s tour of the Holy Land secretly hoping it would save our marriage. I thought going together to see places that were so rich with meaning would renew the meaning—and the romance—in our relationship. But we didn’t get that far. A few months before the trip we got divorced.
Could I really afford a sightseeing junket now? Did I want to travel with a busload of people I hardly even knew? The others were mostly older, long-married couples, and being with them would only make me feel more alone. But our pastor and his wife practically insisted that I come.
“I’d have to have a roommate,” I told them one Sunday, “someone who could share expenses with me.”
“We know just the right person,” the pastor’s wife said. They introduced me to Kelly Bass, a petite blonde in her late thirties, just a couple of years older than me. Kelly’s husband had to stay home to run their business, so she was glad to room together. “This trip sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?” she said.
Kelly and I sat together on the plane. She had her Bible with her and had done lots of reading about what we would be seeing: Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Dead Sea, the Wailing Wall, the Sea of Galilee. I envied her faith, but more than that I envied the way her life had come together. She saw the trip as a pilgrimage, a kind of spiritual preparation for her next adventure, starting a family.
“I want to use this time to really grow in my faith,” she said. I didn’t tell her that my dreams for the trip had already been dashed. Someone so happy with her marriage, so excited about her future, couldn’t possibly understand how hopeless I felt.
Our first stop was Jerusalem. Our guide took us to the marketplace downtown. Walking the narrow cobblestone streets, looking at the old buildings awash in the bright Mediterranean sun, I kept thinking about how this was where Jesus and his disciples had walked. A hundred Sunday school lessons seemed to come alive. Was it in a house like that that Jesus had hosted the meal where he broke bread and blessed the wine? Was it down this street that people had waved palms and spread their cloaks before the Messiah?
Kelly and I went into a jewelry store and wandered off to separate counters. I bought a small gold cross pendant with a smooth green stone in the center—a Jerusalem cross, the sales clerk told me as she fastened the necklace around my neck. Just then Kelly came up and said, “Look what I just bought.” The exact same cross.
We wore our matching necklaces to dinner. Afterward, back in our room, we stayed up late talking. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to have a roommate.
Each day brought a new marvel. In the Garden of Gethsemane our guide pointed to a gnarled olive tree that botanists believed was two thousand years old. Kelly grabbed my arm.
“Jesus might have knelt under this tree,” she whispered. “How he must have anguished here!” It was as if she were reminding me, He understands. He felt alone and abandoned too. But I hadn’t confided my heartache to Kelly…
At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem we crouched to get to the grotto where Jesus was born. In the Dead Sea, Kelly and I were lifted off our feet in the buoyant salty water. We burst out laughing. I felt lighter than I had in months.
Still, when it came time to write down our prayers and slip the papers between the ancient stones of the Wailing Wall, as is the custom, I couldn’t do it. Kelly went right up and tucked her prayer into a crack in the wall, but I hung back. My prayers for my marriage hadn’t been answered, and I couldn’t quite believe I’d be heard now, even here.
That night we stayed at a kibbutz on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The inky darkness settled as Kelly and I lay in our twin beds, and I finally told her how devastated I was at my divorce, how desperately I longed to be a wife and mother and how I didn’t think those dreams would ever come true.
“God has something wonderful in store for you,” Kelly said. “This isn’t an ending, Stephanie, this is a beginning. This is why you’re here on this trip. Your soul knows.”
Kelly’s words were on my mind when we got to the Jordan River the next day. Was it really true that I’d come here for a reason? Our pastor read to us from the Bible about Jesus’ baptism along these verdant shores.
“Does anyone want to be baptized to reaffirm their faith?” he asked. I hesitated, then stepped forward. He took a handful of water from the river and sprinkled it over my head. “Baptism is the outward sign of an inward change,” he said, making the sign of the cross on my forehead.
God, with you I am never alone, I prayed. You know what my dreams are. I trust them to you.
I’d come to Israel as a tourist, but I left as a pilgrim, spiritually transformed by the journey. I had taken the Holy Land into my heart.
Five years later I met a wonderful man. My now best friend, Kelly, was the matron of honor at our wedding. Nine months later I gave birth to our daughter. I gave her the middle name of Faith because that’s what I rediscovered on my trip to the Holy Land. Take the trip or lose the deposit? It was the best money I’ve ever spent.
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