OK, so first things first. General Conference. It was the fourth mass-broadcast that has been done with all the students at the center. The first was our 5am BYU football game. The second was the AMAZING CES devotional by Elder Holland (which Katie and I accidentally missed half of and then rewatched in the Green Room just afterward). The third was the Presidential debates of last week, which were excellent and extremely informative to the Jerusalem Center electorate (and which made me develop some real sympathy for the poor guy behind the desk who's job it is to make the president and opponent shut up). Those broadcasts were all excellent, but Conference was something special. Everyone at the Center was looking forward to it for weeks like small children look forward to Christmas. We counted down the minutes until we could start the broadcasts (at 6-8 and 10-12pm over here). Then it finally came, and in the first five minutes...
Oh. My. Word.
The whole Forum burst into gasps and screams and tears the moment President Monson had the words out. We all kept exchanging blank stares, saying quite plainly "Did you just hear that?!" We've all talked about nothing else for the past three days. Most of the boys are RMs (save one), so its the girls' lives that have suddenly been turned upside down. I've been trying to remind everyone I meet who seems troubled that the decision to serve a misson isn't one that they need to make overnight and that they can take the time to pray about it and let that confirmation come in the Lord's way and time.
The entire conference was just amazing. Many students had their "lightining bolt" answers and promtings, as Katie put it. For others, like myself, the guidance was gentle and came slowly, piece by piece. Some talks felt like they were written for me, but even those who didn't taught me something. I loved that the story of Peter and the Savior on the sea of Gallilee. Even before Elder Holland used that story for His talk it was one of my favorites. I have always been touched by the intimate and tender love the Savior showed to Peter at that time when He didn't know what else to do than to just "go a-fishing" again. I am moved by Peter's love and desire to be with the Savior, so much so that he lept over the side of the boat to be with Him sooner. I read that story by the Garden Tomb and will do so again on the shores of the Sea of Gallilee.
Yesterday we visited the City of David--the location of the original Jerusalem. I went with a group a little early to go to the Western Wall and see the final part of Sukkot, what Ophir calls the "Wacking of the Willows." Everyone gathers at the Western Wall at sunrise and says prayers for bounty and rain, part of which (ceremonially speaking) is to take a willow bough (lulav) and beat it against the ground (note from Ophir: wacking your neighbor is optional). I was not with the group that left at 6am (I love my sleep too much) so I didn't see a lot of the wacking, but I did get the idea. It's so neat to see these things here in the Holy Land. It's been amazing to go out and be a part of the Sukkot celebrations this week.
After the willow wacking we headed to the City of David archaeological park to meet up with our classes. I took a great picture of Katie by the giant David's Harp at the entrace. We saw a somewhat corny but still informative 3D movie about the City of David, from its capture by the Jebusites to its destruction by the Babylonians. After that we went through the sites. We saw another trench site dug out by the irrepressable Kathleen Kenyon (really, this woman is awesome), which included a "step stone structure" that was probably meant to hold the side of the hill in place and keep it from eroding away (it may also be what the Bible calls "millo"). We saw the foundations of what may have been David's palace--or if not that, at the very least a massive government complex. We looked out over the Kidron and Tyropian valleys where they meet at the end of the Southern spur the city is built on.
But by far the coolest thing of all was Hezekiah's tunnel. This is the very tunnel King Hezekiah built back in Biblical times to channel water from the Gihon Spring into the city. It is the engineering marvel of the ancient world. Somehow, with none of the technology we have today, the ancient artisans were able to orchestrate two teams starting at either end of the mountain tunneling toward each other and meeting in the middle. Nobody knows how they did it, but the story of the two groups meeting at last was told in an inscription etched into the wall at the end (which we did not get to see because it has been removed and taken to a museum in Istanbul. We didn't see it there, either). Just as amazing is the fact that today the tunnel is still doing what it was designed to do three thousand years ago. And we walked through the whole thing, singing all the way.
It was great. We all wore watershoes and headlamps and got soaking wet. The tunnel was dark and low, but because I am so short I hardly had to bend at all (hooray for the short genes!). Sister Judd lent me a flashlight, which was marvelous (she also lent me sunscreen earlier--I love having moms around to look after all us crazy kids). As we moved through the cold water and dark stone, a few students started singing Amazing Grace near the back of the line. The music made the tunnel feel eerie, the music ehoeing on the walls making me think of the tunneling teams three millenia ago straining to hear each other's voices. Then somebody else started singing "Eeeeeee, eeeeeee, the Lion sleeps tonight!" which made it less eerie. Sister Judd and I joined in with "As I Went Down to the River to Pray" and "Lead Kindly Light." I did a little of "The Lord is My Light," and towards the end we all did our "We're the Lucky Judd Bus" Cold Play refrain. The music echoed around the tunnel and was as fun to hear as it was to sing. We paused to admire "the seam"--the place where the two teams met--and on a few occasions we turned out our lights and foraged along for a little ways in darkness. It was quite an adventure--I most definitely want to go back.
I managed to Skype my family on Sunday night, which was marvelous. I have missed them so much--it was a great blessing to see their faces and show them the view from the Terrace and assure them that I was well. It was especially good to talk to Daniel, who now has to tackle the question of a mission sooner than expected. Regardless of when he decides to go, it will be awesome to prepare with him this summer.
Today was a free day, and thank Heaven for it. I woke up this morning only to be greeted by a bad anxiety attack. Good morning! What a way to start your day! I walked around outside for a while, sat on the grass, read my conference notes, prayed some, and tried to get my stomach and breathing to settle. Eventually they did, and I was also blessed to have Katie around after breakfast to listen to me talk it out a little and to give me a much-needed hug. My day went uphill from there. I did some homework (though not nearly as much as I should have). I had a picnic lunch with Katie and Jackie (an absolutely amazing Navajo polotician and world-changer to be--and also a great friend) out on the terrace--right by the doors under the eaves because it was starting to rain.
Later on we walked over three miles to the Israel Museum (we have free passes and an ANE assignment there). The walk was great--I got to see a lot of West Jerusalem I have never seen before. The museum was also amazing, though we didn't have nearly enough time. We got to see a display of manuscripts and artifacts found with the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, and also a manuscript of the Old Testament books written not long after the second destruction and thought to be the most accurate copy in the world. We saw a huge replica of what Jerusalem would have looked like during the Second Temple Period (complete with gilded Temple of Herod). We walked through huge rooms of Chalcolithic (copper age), Canaanite, Egyptian, and Israelite artifacts. The bad news--we didn't get through our ANE checklist of things to see. The good news--that means we will just have to come back and see the rest later! Hooray! We walked another over three miles back to the center (stopping off for Mango nectar at the 7-to-11 on the way) and got back just in time to watch the sunset.
So here I am blogging. I still haven't finished my homework, but I am OK with that. FHE was a bunch of fun. There were mashed potatoes at dinner, which made me happy. I wore my retro shirt today because my friend Tom and I promised that we would both wear our retro shirts so we could get a picture (and it was a very good picture if I do say so myself). I discovered that the electronic piano in classroom 2 has an organ setting, so I can now do my organ exercises and have them sound right. I danced the Batchata and Marenge (Latin dances) out on the terrace in the cool night air with one of the guys who was teaching some of the girls as well as his FHE group.
It feels as though my anxieties of the morning have vanished. My home teachers gave me a blessing, so I am feeling spiritually uplifted and strengthened as well. I will be forever grateful for worthy, willing, compassionate home teachers who were willing to put on white shirts and ties and help me feel my Heavenly Father's love. It had a rough start, but it has been an amazing day.
I love you all! Thanks for reading my crazy thoughts and ponderings and adventures. Thanks for all your love and support--I feel it all the time, even here on the other side of the world.
PS--Look at my profile picture there on the right. See that smiling flower? Meet Mr. Sparkle.