Israel-in-Depth with Rod VanSolkema

June 22 - July 4, 2015

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The head was heavy. I never expected on this trip to hold my best friends brown head in my palm because she had lost control of her neck—because somewhere between A and B her entire body shut off completely.

There were commands from the nurses—Move the braid, add the cool neck towel, keep her ears uncovered, drop her arms and then cool the forehead, remove the shoes, feed her a bite & then another.

There was enough water in her system, three liters to be exact—not counting all the water we shoved down her throat after her body gave out. And yes, she had enough sport beans, so stop trying to over analyze the situation. Still, the very strength from her elbows, her toes—all those places you don’t think of as strong—had lost all function.

I want to be clear, it wasn’t that she couldn’t keep climbing. She climbed and unclimbed Mt Sinai just like the rest of us. She taught me on the stairs as we trained that we can do another, we CAN DO an eighth flight!

Rod stood at the front of the bus after all of this, and reminded us all, she is talented and strong and committed and prepared, and yet God—he chose this mountain, this day, this girl to teach the rest of us about Yeshimon.

It was in this place that we started the day, in the wasteland.

If you are wondering what YESHIMON is, it is a land you come to where you cannot make it without outside help...

Rod warned us of this right at the beginning, when we were young in our day, eager and ready and excited for the looming walls of the bare and electric rock before us. The sun was plugged in, warming the land for our journey, much to his joy. (He prayed for that sun so we could experience then entirety of this desert, and boy did we ever.)

The cliffs hung desperate and loud with praise, ragged and jagged like the fingernails of an overworked man. If there is green, it is hard and durable like metal spikes pretending to be cheerful. We took each step across the loose rock like we were walking ice, deliberate & careful. Every step required a prayer for strong ankles.

This YESHIMON was the place Elijah ran, desperate and depressed—begging God to let him die. We met a broom tree much like the one Elijah sat under for shade, as it cut at our ankles with its knives of thorns. This plant was named “the shade of the desert.” The desert, this place where God fulfills all need, and gives “just enough.”

“Why? Why the desert?” you ask. Because, God is here! We see Him here! Better than that, we NEED Him here and so this is why He brings us there. Not to hurt us but to give us a full full life. One we cannot experience without Him in His entirety. And so hardship is a gift and something we also cannot do alone. It is HERE he teaches us to rely on Him and on others for all of it. Every step. Here we learn that what we once thought was sweet really has no flavor at all once we taste and see that the Lord is good.

It is HERE in the desert the Israelites wander, reaching Mt. Sinai where Moses climbed like we did and met the Lord (Jesus) as a friend would meet, face to face. Or head in palm.

Rod herds us gently into the corners of the desert, each and every hand and foot put to good use to get the person behind us one step further. Falling in line like a snake—over, around, down—the rocks. A few of us leap like goats—some of us quaking like the shaking hand of an elderly hand. Each a necessary part of it all, this crusty beloved family.

Our temporary shepherd stops, deliberately spacing our rest so we can feed on the word, while the canopy of stone hangs in silence around us. It is now, when we are gathered, when the stones beneath our failing feet are silent—it is then that I can see and hear God.

He is watching us, gentle, quiet, listening.

And we proceed in our chatter, dried mangos, our urinating.

He is in all of it.

At last—we reach the top. Somehow we feel it is the end. Around us standing stones erect like chimneys saying “GOD, we will trust you,” “GOD we will move forward with you.”

The Sun, its stinging our legs, slapping them red while we learn how God loved us—hard and good into his arms, the place He’s beckoned us from the beginning. And like an independent child we twist and turn away from His embrace. Like a mustang we fight for ourselves—untamed for self reliance. Straining at the beautiful creation of fences He’s made of these vows He’s spoken like a love song over us to protect and guide and bless us.

And us, unaware that they are made in love we fight the fences—these sweet laws that keep us safe from wolves and we hurt and we hurt and we hurt in our protest

But, He marries us despite our straining and striving away. He married you. He married me.

He married and loves and admires my best friend and L as she pushes along with the imperfect leg and us through our divorces and our trembling and our depression and our anxiety and our grumpy lack of sleep selves. He still does.

And as Nate holds Janas hand, as he weeps with empty hands and a full mouth of prayer he turns his back on all of it to speak to God face to face, friend to friend—to tell God, “I will not forget, I will remember”

He chooses to be small even when more than anything in the world he wants to be large and able he realizes more than self reliance he wants the best for his wife, his bride. (such a picture of Christ) So, the young football players, the youth pastors, the men, the caboose, & yes the photographer too, carry her limbs over the craters and the three blonde nurses huddle
and rotate ankles and Mike waves and Jeremy calms. And Rod, the shepherd gets on his knees and carefully calmly whispers “Rest, Precious one. Rest on the inside.”

We share water, tears, prayer, highfives, saliva. We share a God. A Father.

He carried the entirety of this in his palm, watching, smiling particularly pleased with the little brown sheep.

Carving out ahead of us just enough time, just enough arms, just enough shade just enough manna, & just enough water from a rock.

We may have FELT like an Acacia tree, crooked and dormant like an old ladies back after years hunched over, but then our God, He comes like a WADI (a stream) and refills its
branches with food for camels and hard hard wood for places that God once lived.

And we find in our desperateness that that is what God is, a stream, Shade, arms—and what God is is what we shall be to the world.

And so, if even Jana thinks she is a burden or small or stupid we had an excellent opportunity to be a Priest today and be exactly what God is to her.

Shade, rest, water, a gate. To speak love over her And anyone who may be not strong enough to lift up their head.

- Chelsea Garter

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