I went to Israel last summer. Wow.
God allowed me to live a dream not dreamed of. It was a God-sized dream, a dream that in my most improbable imaginings I had never thought of. And because it was God’s dream for me, it was just perfect. You know how sometimes you plan a dream vacation and get so excited and then the reality is such a letdown from what you had envisioned? Well my experience was the extreme opposite. Since I had no dream and no thought or imagining about this, the entire time was real, but surreal at the same time. Beyond anything I could have come up with to dream about. Everything was touched with God’s fingers for me to see. Because this was His dream for me, His wonderful gift for me to enjoy and touch and see and be continually amazed and in awe of His marvelous love for me. I imagine He enjoyed watching me experience this just as much as I enjoyed the gift. When you give children a gift you know they will love, their joy just comes alongside yours as you watch their faces and their eyes and their smiles and hear their laughter. I was that child who was given the very gift that I yearned for, but what is different here is that I did not even know I wanted it.
One year and 15 days ago, I returned home from this dream world, yet real world, with real people and real but different lives and culture, and indescribable beauty on so many levels. I returned home to my daily life world. I remember our last day there in that surreal real place. I sat on a bench and I wrote about how I never want to forget. I took a picture of that bench and I also occasionally refer to my words that day to help me remember the deep desire to keep the entire experience fresh, as a shiny, bright, new, and incredible treasure forever. To never forget what I learned, and to never take for granted all that Jesus Christ was and is and will be.
When I returned home, I wanted to look outside to magically see the Garden of Gethsemane in my backyard. I wanted the streets and the paths and the ancient ruins and the countryside and the desert and the Garden Tomb and everything to be at my fingertips, easily accessible, so I could change my backyard scene by pushing a button. Star Trek virtual reality. I resonate with Peter after he witnessed the Transfiguration with James and John. He excitedly said something like this:
Hey! Let’s just stay here! Let’s memorialize this incredible event! Jesus, you can have a tent over there, and Elijah, your tent is right over here, and Moses, yours is over that way. And me and James and John…we will just hang out here like forever and attend to your needs and visit with all of you all the time! (Luke 9:33, paraphrase mine)
Ummm…no. That’s not reality, just as my Israel scenes in my backyard would not be real.
So. I went back to work and I went back to my day in day out crazy busy life. Gradually, the day in day out routine became the norm again. Now a year later, I still treasure God’s dream for me and always will, but the incredible treasure has gradually lost its bright edges and has become less deeply etched in my mind. The beautiful memory will never lose its powerful impact, but the impact has changed in its formation. Now it’s a beautiful painting to be admired and remembered, a work of God’s artist’s hand in a breathtaking rendition of what was.
When the memory began becoming a memory, albeit one that will always stand out from others, I bemoaned the loss of the reach out and touch reality that it had been. I felt sad, and guilty, that God’s great gift to me, truly the experience of a lifetime, did not bring about the immediate life change I longed for. I went to Israel. I walked where my Savior walked, and our guide brought to life the people, the landscape, the culture of that time. I saw and experienced and understood His daily life and His miracle working and His suffering as never before, and never again. Shouldn’t I be changed forever?
I have finally arrived at the conclusion (God is so patient!!) that the resounding answer is yes. Of course I should be changed forever. But I was missing some vital steps in my equation to achieve this answer. And by the way I hate math as its logic is most always completely lost on me. Maybe that’s part of the reason my equation was flawed. 🙂 My initial equation looked like this: Trip to Israel = Life Changed Forever. Period. I would go on this trip and… Poof!! I would return an entirely different person. Actually, that would have been pretty scary. Yes, I know that God radically changes people every single day. But I also know that He works gradually as well. Ah. There is the missing piece of the equation. My revised equation looks like this: Trip to Israel + Numerous Other Ways God is Gradually Changing Me = Life Changed and Continually Changing Forever.
Gradual is the way God chooses to work in and through me. God gave me a detail crazy, methodical, loves-routine-and-predictability-does-not-like-change personality. So ever patient, He stretches me. Gradually, in varying degrees, and always lovingly. Here and there. Slowly. He knows me…after all, He created me.
When I look back over the past year, I see many changes. I know that if God had orchestrated these changes all at once, I would have been completely overwhelmed and my old familiar enemy of the Enemy, fear, would have been lurking so close, just waiting for me to allow the smallest opening so it could come in and take over and wreak havoc and spew lies all over the beauty of the new me. God knows me.
Looking back, I can see that God has grown me, used me, filled me, and yes, changed me. I am not the same person I was a year ago. But I am also not so different at the same time. I am the same sinful messed up human being in continual need of God’s grace. I’m selfish and superficial, where I long to be generous and digging deep. I am a continual work in progress.
God has stretched me a number of times, and looking back I can see amazing results each time. But still, when God stretches, I put up a pretty good fight at first. Stretching is uncomfortable at best and incredibly painful at worst, and it is not without its failures along the learning curve when I redirect my focus to myself instead of God. But if I just allow it to happen, God does God things.
God allowed me to live a dream not dreamed of. A trip to Israel was in His plan for me. The way it all came about can only be explained as God-orchestrated. But what I finally understand now a year later is that Israel was not the goal. Israel was not the top of the mountain, the end of the race, or the final words of the story. Israel was significant, but only a part of all God is using to bring about His changes in my life. Israel is forever beautifully woven by God’s hand, an added design of incredible colors and textures. It is perfectly woven into His tapestry, the life I live and strive to give back to Him.