"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning,
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
-Psalm 137:5-6 (King James Version)
To begin, a funny story: When I was preparing to go to Israel for the first and only time 17 years ago, my encouraging but slightly freaked-out parents did everything they could to prepare me for such a trip. My electrician father researched the receptacle shapes and power converter needs for life in the Middle East. My extroverted mother sought out the best phone plan that would allow us to call each other with as much regularity (and as little cost) as the not-quite-cellular-American infrastructure would allow.
Neither of them had travelled abroad beyond Canada at that point, so they didn't really know what other things I might need to be equipped for the adventure. To remedy this, they took me to the abode of experts who might know better: a fancy-schmancy travel store "over the hill" in Portland, where a VERY happy-to-clean-us-out salesman sold us a bundle of stuff: multiple luggage security locks, a personal handbag, a secret passport stasher, and a large navy blue rolling duffel bag.
This duffel bag, for reasons still unknown to me, had a miniature stuffed monkey keychain attached to it. I wonder now if that's what sold me on it. (Look, a cute little monkey! Hey, it's free with the bag, I should get THAT one!)
For reasons even more unfathomable, the stuffed monkey had a name, as all of the monkeys attached to this kind of bag did (I suspect it was a kind of Cabbage Patch Doll approach to beguiling sentimental customers like me).
As it happened, I liked a dark blue bag the best, one that a stuffed monkey of the same colour attached to it like other bags of the same make and brand. And this monkey's name was...
My parents teehee-ed over this to no end. "Maybe you'll meet your husband on this trip and his name will be Matt!" they joked, the salesman grinning in response and waiting for us to finish our purchase. I shrugged and grew red, trying to appear indifferent to such a possibility (I was a 20-year-old evangelical woman, so meeting my future husband was frequently--perhaps TOO frequently--on my mind.)
We paid for the bag(s), the locks, the secret passport holder, and left, content that I was as ready as I could be for my first real trip abroad.
Upon my arrival at the Jerusalem campus I learned that there were not one but FIVE Matts there (out of only 100 people altogether). Five Matts! This was too ridiculous and tempting to obsess on and overthink, so I mentally set aside the monkey and focused on better things: exploring, studying (on occasion), and spending hours and hours with some of the most interesting, beautiful people I've ever had the privilege of knowing.
And in that last, super normal and ordinary activity, I did fall in love. While I ate and drank and travelled with many truly fabulous people there was, ultimately, just one person I woke up wanting to see in the morning; only one whom I thought of last in the waning moments of wakefulness at night.
That one person was, of course, my Matt. The Matt I would pine for, first as a secret, unspoken crush and then as a publicly proclaimed and claimed boyfriend while we finished our undergraduate degrees. The Matt with the dark brown hair and the chocolate brown eyes and the deep, cavernous crinkles in his cheeks when he smiled. The Matt that, if such superstitions and oddball signs are to believed, a blue monkey keychain on a blue bag in a luggage store in Portland foretold I was going to marry.
In honour of our 15th wedding annniversary, Matt and I are returning to the land where it all began. Airline tickest proved affordable just when they needed to in order to make such a plan, and booking lodging in all the cities we plan to visit while there has afforded me an extra portion of joy.
Lots of people dream of going, or returning, to the Holy Land for the reasons that make it a precious place for faithful Muslims, Christians, Jews (among others). The three main monotheistic religions of the earth have all staked their claim on it at one time or another, and still do today with varying degrees of success. Our miracles happened there. Our prophets spoke and healed and brought back the dead there. We expect to meet God there.
But I'd be lying if I said it was mostly the claims of faith that make me want to go back, or historical sites, or even (as it was the first time) the chance to bear witness to what a resurrected People could do in a land they saw as their divine right. My reasons are much more plain and personal. Yes, the limestone buildings of Jerusalem glowing in the fierce, Middle Eastern sun are beautiful on their own. But they are also the buildings I walked past as I got to know the man who teased and challenged and listened me into love with him. Yes, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river have their own power over me because my Saviour swam and stood and walked in them. But, if I'm honest, the power is even greater because I swam in that lake and stood by that river with good friends, with remarkable souls, including the remarkable soul who asked me, less than two years later, to be his wife.
I am going back not just to the Holy Land sanctified by divine deeds and places of memory for the faithful but my Holy Land--a land sanctified by friendship and love and places of memory from the best year of my life.
The author of Psalm 137 warned himself against forgetting Jerusalem. For me, such a warning is almost laughable. I have never really gotten over Jerusalem. Which it makes it all the more wonderful that I am finally going back.