December 31, 2011 – Detained in Customs, Joppa, Tel Aviv

My great aunt Ann Smith, who is perhaps the most Godly and wise woman I know, once challenged me to

Live life with expectancy and not expectations.

That phrase is at the forefront of my mind often, but especially as I embark on an international trip or new experience. And as this pilgrimage of sorts through the Holy Lands begins, I am deeply expectant – expectant for the life-giving conversations and experiences and scenes that will flood me in these next few days, expectant to discover what is going to hit me most in the moment or when I return to the States or a year from now, expectant for the emotions that will encompass the experience of walking where Jesus would have walked, expectant for my soul to be filled with the culture and the food and the unique rhythm of these ancient cities through which my eager feet will roam.

And I don’t believe my great aunt meant that expectations were inherently bad – but perhaps they do more harm than good when we hold them too tightly and are unwilling to let them take the shape they were meant to have – when we are too busy allowing disappointment to hit us because something was not as we expected that we miss the beauty before us in an unforeseen form.

However the first dashed expectation occurred for me before I even entered the country. My passport ultimately caused an unexpected stir at customs due to stamps from Lebanon and Syria causing the customs authorities to detain my passport and place me in a waiting room for an hour and a half. If any of you have followed my tweets, you are aware that I don’t exactly have the best of luck when it comes to traveling, and generally if it can happen, it will happen to me. 😉 For instance, another member of our group had the same stamps in his passport and drifted through customs with ease. Haha. Thankfully my good friend, Andrew Lyon entered the picture after about a half hour of waiting – he probably saw the unsuccessfully masked concern in my eyes and waited with me until finally they let me into the country. Our Israeli guide, Kobi (short for Jacob), also eventually called the customs authorities and that somehow seemed to speed up the process of whatever background checks they were running on me. But once I crossed customs, deep gulps of the air of excitement began to fill my lungs after the span of short, worried breaths in the waiting room. (On a side note, with the mention of Syria, please join me in praying for my friends and The Church in Damascus as it is a very dangerous time there.)

Andrew and I joined the 28 others of our group, and as the hues of dusk began to fill the sky, our guide took us to Joppa (Joppa is the city’s Biblical name, Jaffa is the current name). We ventured through the streets with wide eyes as the story of Jonah and the big fish came alive. Kobi also had me read from Acts 10 in which Cornelius has a vision and sends men to Joppa to find Peter and bring him to Simon the tanner’s home. The brief venture through the ancient streets only whet my appetite for the days to come.

After checking into the hotel and having a lavish assortment of a buffet dinner from which to choose, Kimberly Majeski and I retreated to our room. We rang in the New Year with one of those unguarded conversations that fills your soul with the life that comes from being truly heard and understood – we shared about all this last year held and are both so thankful 2011 has been bookended with trips together to the Middle East.

And we look forward to waking up tomorrow and celebrating with our friends in the States (at 7am our time) as we watch the ball drop in NYC to the sound of my mom singing the Star Spangled Banner on Fox News!!

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