Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gratitude

I wish to share with you how grateful I am for my many blessings.
Last week when I went to Jerusalem I visited the Garden Tomb. 



I sat next to the tomb and imagined what it was like for the disciples to place the body of their Master and Lord in the tomb. Despite their association with Him and the many times He told them, they still probably did not fully understand that this death was only temporary. It must have been amazing for them to see Him again alive. 
We too often face difficulties in our lives, and even though Heavenly Father often tries to explain to us that these trials are only temporary we often don't understand. Our Father in Heaven desires only to bless us.  There are great things around us, if we but notice them.

We have a few lemon trees, orange trees and grapefruit trees. Due to lack of water they all don't do so well. It has not rained here ever since I came home from my mission! If only England could send us some of it's water.  It has been nice to see the sun and I am not complaining, but I know our trees need water.  We often can't water them because we don't get running water very often.  One orange tree we have ends up with so many oranges. But, the oranges are so sweet and full of seeds. We picked them all, and are trying to use them.





My dog and cats love to watch us work in the yard. 



















My dog is so jealous of the cats. I can't pet any of the cats without Lassie jumping and requiring attention. I can't feed the cats without her attacking the cats and eating the food (if she likes it of course. She is very picky with what she eats). 

I have enjoyed the quietness of this place. I love my homeland. I love the beautiful weather we have had so far. It has been great to spend time with my sisters and mom. I feel closer to my sisters because I can spend time with them more than I did in the past.

I have finally adjusted and finally tired of doing nothing. I am going to start spending more time looking for jobs and looking for things to do. If any of you have any possible jobs, please let me know and I can email you my resume. I am looking all over the world, so I am not limiting my options.

I spent all week last week translating a book of sacrament time activities into Arabic. I feel it will be very useful to the Bethlehem group we have. We are going to start working with the children to help them be more reverent. If any of you have any ideas about some methods that work, feel free to post them on my blog.

I have been working on finding more hope for the future of the church here. I thought about it a lot last week. On Sunday, I had a dream where I was shown a verse in a book and told to read it. The verse said something like this: "If while in the darkness we cast our eyes upon the light, it (the light) will come." I got up at 4:30 am and wrote it down. To me, this means that even if you are in total darkness and can't see a light anywhere, focus on it, think of it and hope for it and it WILL come. There is hope in the world even though things may seem dark. Hope comes because the tomb that once had the body of Jesus in it, is now empty. Hope comes because Christ conquered all and because through Him we too can overcome all, and rise above sorrow and grief. He is our light, He is the light that exists in the darkness and always shines.  When we get to know Him our lives are never the same. Our lives are never dark. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Life in Palestine

I gave a talk in church last Saturday (yes, our group started meeting on Saturdays instead of Sundays). It is still strange for me to adjust to Saturday being the Sabbath instead of Sunday.

My talk went well, maybe not as I hoped, but relatively well. I basically taught the first discussion, which may seem strange for a homecoming talk, but that is what I felt I needed to do especially since half the attendants were non-members. My Sister Suhair came with me for the first time and really enjoyed my talk. 

I have been enjoying doing nothing. I am spending time with my family and resting (well, now I can rest after the cleaning is mostly done!). I think I may have to eventually start doing something productive like deciding what I am going to do with the rest of my life. But, I am very good at avoiding any form of decision-making (for those that know me).

My  brother Mazin took me with him on a tour the other day to Al-walaja. It is a Palestinian village north of Bethlehem. The Israelis are building a wall across the village and confiscating more of the land that belongs to the villagers there. The wall is not complete yet, but it will eventually prevent people for having access to their land. 

Here is a picture of the Wall (there is currently a door in the wall, strange huh? It will probably be closed when the wall is complete):



These are all the lands of Al-Walaja that they have lost or will lose with no compensation:



And this is the spring that the villagers won't have access to when the wall is complete:



Not only did they lose their lands, but some of the houses in Al-Walaja were demolished by the Israeli soldiers. As you can notice on this hill (I marked them in red):



This is the sad reality some Palestinians have to live with. My family in Beit Sahour are very blessed to live in an area where none of this has happened to us. 

Yesterday, my kind cousin Sameer happened to be at the church of nativity and discovered that I had a permit issued by the Israelis for me. A permit to enter Jerusalem which is valid only until Monday, Jan 20th. (these are permits that are often given to some Palestinian Christians over the holidays--Christmas and Easter). I was thrilled to be able to go to Jerusalem one last time. This amazing city of my birth that has become so diverse and seems so different than any other city in the world.

There was something different today as I crossed the checkpoint to enter Jerusalem. The gate was open! (see below)



They only open this gate 3 times a year or so (for Christmas celebrations). Palestinians can't walk through the gate of course, we need to cross through the main checkpoint (similar to an airport terminal). 
You see in the picture the wall that cuts across the main road (Hebron Road) which leads from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Hebron. The wall now blocks the road and this iron gate is always closed. It is only open for important people who come to Bethlehem, like the patriarchs of some churches (as it was today). There were armed soldiers all over the Bethlehem side. They were inspecting garbage and anything that looked suspicious (for bombs?). Anyway, it was strange...I parked far and walked between the soldiers and up this walkway that leads to the checkpoint.  



I crossed the checkpoint one last time...I don't know when I will be able to go to Jerusalem again...
Church at the Jerusalem Center was interesting. I didn't know anyone (well, only 3 people) since everyone was new, but almost everyone knew me or of me. It was weird, everyone thought I was this amazing person even without ever meeting me.  I felt like this celebrity that was meeting all these fans. In Relief Society, they said that they wanted to hear my story sometime and I told them that this 'sometime' may not come since I will not be able to come again. So, they had me speak right there before the lesson. I shared my experiences with the sisters and some of them even said they had heard of me from the book 'Women and the Priesthood'.

Anyway, I finally decided that since everyone 'thinks' I am wonderful, I am going to have to try to be wonderful. I am really working hard to improve the way I act and the way I treat others. I hope that someday I will be as wonderful as all these people think I am. 

Since our Bethlehem group meets on Saturday at 4:30, I went to church AGAIN in Bethlehem. Elder Price, our new area authority was here. He gave a great talk. Actually, we had almost everyone come to church today which was pretty unique. 





Saturday, January 11, 2014

And the story continues...

I am going to try to keep my blog going. I hope it won't get too boring though for you. I may post once a week or once every two weeks. We'll see.
The shock of being back is gone and now it feels like I never left. Not much has changed here. Driving has been a challenge the first few days. I only drove on the left side of the street once though (you should be proud of me). I had forgotten how crazy driving is here.
I went to Ramallah to visit some friends on Thursday and I started taking pictures and laughing because I had forgotten how people drive here.

So, this is one picture in the street. Note that people are NOT crossing. They are just walking in the street. And I am driving behind them going 2 miles an hour as they walk in front of me and don't bother moving.  Even the guy selling the tea.


I got to the round about and didn't know which way to go, left or right =) Would you, had you come to this round about!? Those people are normally walking in the round-about!


Here are some pictures of Beit Sahour where I live. So different from England. Where are the trees? Only olive trees...I miss the trees and grass in England.


The BARE hills of Judea:

 

My family celebrated Christmas on January 7th. It was nice to see everyone again. As time goes by I know less and less people from my family. It is getting so big. Over 2000 member or more...They all gather every Christmas in a big hall and celebrate and eat together...















Here is a picture of my brother Mazin with the oldest member of our family (well, according to her at least), Im Atallah. My  brother was so good, He sat all the time next to her and asked her about family history and took notes since she probably knows more than anyone.
















Here is a picture with my family. Brother Mazin, Sister Suhair, me, sister Samar, Nephew Ashraf, Sister in Law Jessie, and mother.







Monday, January 6, 2014

Going home

This may be a surprise to many of you, but I am home!! I wanted to surprise my family and that is why I didn't post anything about the date I would go home. 

My mother kept asking me to come home for Christmas (My family celebrates Christmas on January 7th). I finally decided to grant her the wish. We had a new couple come to serve in the office and they arrived on December 14th. So, I had spent some time training Sister Cates and felt that there is no reason for me to be there any longer. 
The last few weeks have been crazy with me trying to pack and also do what needs to be done in the office. But, I finally feel comfortable about leaving.

For the first time I feel good about going home. I know that it is where Heavenly Father wants me to be at this time. Many have asked me what I plan to do when I return and my answer is, I don't know. I plan to spend time with my mother and my family and serve wherever I am needed. But, I am not making long-term plans yet. 

It has been an amazing year. I don't know how else to describe it. I grew in ways that I didn't think were possible. I have felt the spirit stronger and more frequently and it has been great. My faith grew and my testimony grew.

My mission president released me on Saturday. He told me that it will be effective as soon as I am on Palestinian soil.  

I left at 8:30 on Sunday and got to Jordan in the evening. It was hard to drag two big suitcases. I thought my arms are going to fall off. We passed over Palestine and I wished I could land there, I would have been home by now resting in my own bed. But, since Palestinians are not allowed to land in Tel-Aviv, I have to go to Jordan. 

My district president told me to take off my badge once I get on the plane. I took my badge off and felt naked. Then when I got to Jordan and was looking for the bus to go to the hotel, the bus driver asked where I was going after I spend the night at the hotel. I said 'to Palestine'. The guy next to him looked at my badge and said 'no she's not going to Palestine'...That is when I realized that my coat badge was still on. I was wondering why everyone was staring at me. To avoid further questions as missionaries are not allowed in Jordan, I took it off.

The trip on the bridge was not as bad as I thought. I gave a lot of tips and so many helped me carry my suitcases.  I made it home in 5 hours from Jordan. My friend asked: "if you had enough money, can you pay a taxi to take you all the way from Jordan?" Ya, you won't understand the bridge crossing until you actually cross it I guess. At one point on the way, we all get off the bus and leave all our bags on the bus. Then an Israeli soldier goes up on the bus and looks under all the seats. What is he looking for? People? We are all outside, bags? there is lots of them. Don't get it...

My mom was shocked. She looked at me not believing her eyes and said 'what are you doing here?' The surprise to my sisters did not work because I found out that I lost my drivers license and did not want to drive and surprise them. So, I called...They all thought it was the best Christmas gift I could have given them. Sheesh, now all those gifts I filled my suitcases with were useless!? I could have brought more clothes. I gave away 10 boxes and a suitcase full of stuff...But, really it was stuff that I wore for a whole year. I was so sick and tired of my clothes.

I was hit with reality as soon as I got home. Things are So different here. People are so different. I have been away for so long that I had forgotten. There are no trees, I miss the England grass and trees already...People here have so many challenges that others may not be aware of. And cars drive on the RIGHT side of the road. Oh my, I never thought driving on the right would be scary...But, I will adjust in a day or two =) Ok, I am going to get some sleep. I have not slept for two days...I'll write more another time...

My homecoming talk is on Saturday at 4:30 pm in the Bethlehem group...all are invited.

Here are some pictures I took the last few days in England.


Sunrise at the temple the day I left:



Below are some pictures from my farewell.
I realized I never took a picture with President and Sister Millar when I arrived. So, I had them go to the visitors' center and we took a picture together. 




Sister Adams prepared a nice farewell dinner for us. It was nice to spend time with everyone.




We had a small gathering at the Visitors' center afterwards and had desert. Sister Walmsley and sister Stewart sang for us and it was amazing as usual. Everyone was crying (as the Carpenters and Sister Namutamba were leaving as well).

The Porters took us out to Charlie's Choice one last time. I had to take pictures there to remember the place.





The Adams took us out to the Thai lounge one last time as well. I had their dumplings as a starter and they were amazing!



At the Visitors' center with the nativity display...