thin places.


"The Celts believed that heaven and earth were only three feet apart; they also had a belief in "Thin Places", places where the distance was even closer. Places which were awash with the presence of God. Places which intensified and overwhelmed with the awareness of the glory and presence of God." 

Professor Seely described "thin places" to us the other day. I love the idea of it. It is something that I have always thought about, but to have such an accurate and descriptive term for those moments make them that much more real to me. Thin places are little gifts from God. They can't be planned for or expected. The only thing we can do is hope that our eyes can see, our ears can hear, and our hearts can feel when we encounter a thin place. 
Just thinking about thin places makes my heart happy. The other night I couldn't stop thinking about them. Thin places come in so many forms, at so many times, in so many places. For me, they are moments when you are perfectly present. Moments when time seems to stretch from one infinity to the next. Moments when you wouldn't want to be in any other place in the world than where you are at that exact moment. Moments when your heart feels a little tight because you are perfectly content. I think these thin places are little peeks into what Heaven will be like. 
When I think of thin places that I've encountered...I think of a lot of instances. In Jerusalem I've had a lot of "thin place" experiences. Although there are a lot of long days here, days of sitting in class or studying on a beanbag, with lunch and dinner being your only respite; there are little peeks of thin places in between it all that make this place unforgettable. Golden moments that couldn't be re-created anywhere else. Moments like singing a hymn together in a magnificent church tucked away in the Old City. Moments like talking late into the night with a friend, never wanting your conversation to end, and loving every part of them so completely that in that second you wouldn't change a single thing. Moments like sitting out on the terrace, and looking at the Holy City all it up. Moments like laying out under the starry sky in Bethlehem thinking about the birth of the Savior. Moments like watching a Jewish woman fervently praying at the Western wall. Moments like watching Jack Belnap reciting "Harry Potter in 99 seconds" and remembering everything that is good about being a kid. Moments like laughing so hard at the talent show that your abs are tired the next day. 
I know it's a random list. But that's kind of the point. Thin places come in all shapes and sizes. Spiritual moments, happy moments, funny moments. I could go on. But I just wanted to acknowledge a few of them. I believe the more we acknowledge thin places, the more we won't miss them. I hope we can all see the thin places that we are blessed with. I hope we can appreciate them. And most importantly I hope they can all bring us the joy that they are intended to. 
Additionally. A few photos from the last week. 

Western Wall. (ww)
 ww. Liza, Jenny, Ali. 
 ww plaza.
 ww Women's Section.
 Church of St. Francis.
 Blurry. But this guy was cool.
 Old City. 

 Holy Sepulchre. 
 Chacos on Chacos.
 Pretty Dani.
 Oooold Graffiti.
 Me and Ang.

 Rampart's Walk.
 Josh and his blurry ear.
 Our pretty house on a hill.
 Scaring people from the wall.

 Babes of Bethlehem.
 Brad, Josh, Jason.
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whats going on with gaza?


So, many may have read about the increasing tensions (well tensions + riots + rockets) that have been going on between Israel and the Gaza Strip. I just have a few comments on everything. 

First, wow, the news can be exaggerated. There are definitely pieces of truth in each of the stories. But, it has been hilarious to read what has been written about what's happening to us at the Jerusalem Center. Matthew Kalman, an established reporter came and spoke to us a few weeks ago about reporting in the Middle East. He used a term he called "parachute reporting", which describes people from outside the Middle East that essentially "drop in" and report on a story when they really have no idea what is actually going on. After living here for just over two months, I can see how skewed media has portrayed this area of the world. You have to live here, for an extended period of time, to really understand the people and the conflict that exists. 

We have been on lockdown for a few short periods of time, and certain areas of the city are restricted to us at certain times. We have also had two incidents where we needed to go into our bomb shelters. The first one shook me up a little, but I was never too scared. And the second one (that happened earlier this evening) didn't even phase me. We have the best bomb shelters in the country. Air filtration systems, plenty of room, and lots of food storage if we ever needed to stay for a while. The BYU Jerusalem Center Security staff and Administrator's have been phenomenal in making us safe and also feel safe. It's a little crazy to live in a place where you have to be prepared for incidents like these ones, but everything had been perfectly ok (for BYU Jerusalem students). The location of the Center is also safe. We reside in East Jerusalem, among the Palestinian neighborhoods, plus we can see the Dome of the Rock (one of the most sacred holy sites for the Muslims) from our windows. So, Gaza would not want to hurt this area because it is filled with their people. We have great relationships with the community around us, both Palestinian and Israeli.  

I don't mean to downplay everything that is happening. It's definitely serious, dangerous (for the people here and in Gaza) and very real. But, just know that though things can be a little scary at times, for the most part we are all happy and healthy here on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. 

Today we went on a field trip of the Jewish Quarter in the old city. We stood on the steps leading up to what used to be the temple, which was an amazing experience. A place that we know Christ would have walked many times in his life. Even though things can feel a little crazy here, I am thankful for my experience at the Jerusalem Center. Thanks for everyone who has expressed concern, and I will be sure to keep everyone posted. 

Josh, Jason, Alex, Brad.
 Me and Ali.

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JC champs.

Here at the Jerusalem Center, we like to organize tournaments. Because what Mormon doesn't enjoy a good game of church ball? Anyway, last night was the championship for the boy's basketball tournament. We made quite the event out of it. A singing of the national anthem, announcers, warm up music, nick names like "the iron dome" and the "drain", player numbers, trophies made from tp rolls, and a crowd of girls + the Nickel's to watch. It was entertaining to say the least. We can still have a good time when we are locked in the JC and have the occasional rush to the bomb shelters now an then ;) 

josh's entrance.
 yes, those are snap off pants.
 national anthem.
 national anthem.
 1st place trophy, 2nd place medals.

 the crowd.
 half time show w/dr. nickel.
 kiss it brad barber. kiss it.

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merry christmas.


{from bethlehem}
two days ago we traveled to bethlehem, to celebrate Christmas in July! bethlehem is technically in the west bank, so we had to bring our trusty security personnel with us. let's be honest, mostly I just feel cool when I have security personnel with me. we left the JC around 10:30, and headed to birthplace of christ. we visited a few churches, the church of the holy nativity to name one (except it was undergoing a restoration process, so pictures weren't the best), and then walked around the town. we also spotted a banksy piece on one of the buildings as we were driving by on the bus...I was super sad I didn't snap a picture. so to deal, we bought a shirt with the banksy art on it in the city. I also bought a few olive wood figurines that I absolutely love. 
the banksy we saw.

 go utah jazz!

 security peeps.
 14 point star @ church of the nativity.

 where I bought my olive wood figurines.
 alex, our junior tour guide.

 shut. up.

 alex, josh, daniel, brian, jason, taylor, slater.

after walking through the city, we loaded up and went to dinner at the "tent" restaurant. then we drove to "mormon's" shepherd's field. we walked a short distance from the bus, to this little valley that was completely quiet. the field was exactly as I imagined it from reading the story of Christ's birth. we settled in on the rocks, and began a christmas program. it was simple. we read the story of Christ's birth, sang Christmas songs, and a few bore their simple testimonies of Christ. it was the most incredible experience I have had since arriving in jerusalem. I came to jerusalem to get to know my Savior better, specifically to gain a testimony of his physical journey on earth and to strengthen my relationship with Him. it was so clear to imagine, to remember, the small baby Jesus (our mighty God), being sent down in such a vulnerable state to such humble circumstances in the place that we sat. I was touched as I heard a few students sing songs of Christ. in the distance, you could hear the call to prayer (for the muslims), sirens and little explosions. all I could think about is how true and clear our songs of Christ rang amidst the worldly turmoil around us. I can testify that He lives. He is our God, and because of Him we can all have eternal life. Because of Him, we can have peace even when we live in a world that is full of turmoil. I know that he is our almighty Savior, and if we draw near to Him we will find safety and peace. 

after the program, we had 30 minutes to just sit and ponder. I laid down on the rocks, and looked up at the night sky. I felt completely content. very present and very aware of my Savior and his love for me. I can't really explain everything that I felt, but it was amazing. what was incredible to me is how we can feel the spirit in any quiet place. we have visited countless famous holy sites, where there are crowds and beautiful buildings. they are amazing to visit, and they bring a lot of value to learning about the past. but there is something special about the places that the spirit can testify to you, and I think that means something different for every person. 

it was the merriest christmas I think i've ever had. I know every time I think about the birth of the Savior I will remember my special experience on shepherd's field. it was the greatest gift I've received in the Holy Land. 

merry christmas! 
jason & josh.
 me and liza.
 gosh she's pretty.

 babes of bethlehem...literally.

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