I had forgotten. That is my confession and my creed.
I had forgotten how lost and alone I was when, seventeen years ago, I boarded a plane with a friend to travel halfway around the world to study in Israel for a semester. I had forgotten how wounded I was upon leaving, how the previous year's hurts and disappointments had shattered my sense of security and suffocated my sense of God.
I had forgotten how, upon arriving, that lostness and aloneness remained for such a very short time because I was so quickly absorbed by and healed within a community of good and decent people.
I had forgotten how far God seemed from me for the first month or two. How I, as a student of religion, had in many ways reduced God to a topic of conversation; an endless Object of speculation and cynicism given begrudging respect, and always at a distance.
I had forgotten how one night God came near. How one minute I was studying Hebrew and the next I was stunned and overwhelmed by the depth of my need for Him. And not only of my need, but the vastness of His love for me. I had forgotten what it was to be lost and then found, and to know that even "lost" is a matter of perspective--how He had never misplaced or overlooked me, however much I had felt it to be so.
I had forgotten what it meant to be brought to life in the company of people who took God seriously. What it meant to know that those who prayed at the dinner table also sought God in the morning and at night. I had forgotten what it was for a 20-year-old woman to be gently and in some ways unknowingly directed towards God by peers who gently but knowingly practiced their faith in Him with kindness and wisdom and joy.
I had forgotten what it was to walk the ancient stone city and be spoken to not so much by the religious sites but by the faith lived out by flesh-and-blood women and men. I had forgotten what it was to be surrounded by the humble faithful, to have my cynicism and criticism quieted by respectful, wholehearted adoration of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I had forgotten what it was to meet Jesus in the beauty of the land where He grew up; where He healed, where He preached. The sacred sites themselves did not engender intimacy with Him, as it did and does with others. But sitting on the water's edge and hearing the light lapping of the Sea against the shore--that drew me near to the fishing, walking, calling Saviour Who chose this place to spend most of his three years of public ministry.
I had forgotten all of these things, and for nine beautiful days I learned again how to remember. I walked the same places, and was overwhelmed at times by memories of beloved people, so powerful they seemed at times to be resurrected to the present.
But of course, they weren't. Apart from my husband, the people who had helped form my faith and made Jerusalem home weren't with me and it was the past that seemed so alive, not the present. There was always the temptation to sink back in the past; to revel in it and treasure it to the point that the present seemed a shadow, a step backwards, a disappointment.
There was only one good Way to go: forward. Allowing and acknowledging grief that the precious season of my life, 17 years ago is over and, simultaneously, to open my heart in deep and endless gratitude. Gratitude for the time I had with the beautiful people who shared it with me (including the man who has shared everything with me since). Gratitude for the time I had now, as a proper adult and mother of four, to revisit a place of such joy and remember and learn again why it had been so.
It is enough. It is more than enough. Whatever uncertain, disquieting questions linger about my life at this stage, I know what I have been given, and it is enough. I remember now what I had forgotten: the richness of people and places and nourishment God has given me along the Way, particularly for those precious, powerful three and a half months in 1999 when I fell in love with Him.
I don't need to recreate it. It is enough to know that it was, and enough to know that He was, and is, and will be.