While I was in the Holy Land, many Scripture verses surfaced in my mind and heart as I stood in the places of the Old and New Testaments. But, the one I found myself recalling most often was Psalm 91:
For you have made the LORD, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.
For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone. (Ps 91:9-12)
Why this one?
I have to confess that it was less an expression of spiritual or historical meaning and more a plea for help. In Israel, I had to conquer some of my greatest fears or, rather, God informed me that he was about to conquer them for me, whether I liked it or not (I didn’t, at least at first). When you’re traveling with a group in a foreign country, you basically have no choice. Either you keep up with the pack, ruin the day for everyone else, or get left behind. I didn’t want either of the latter options, so I stuck with the former.
Practically speaking, we covered some pretty rough terrain in Israel, so there was a distinct possibility of striking our foot against a stone, which in some cases meant you might take a serious tumble. Figuratively speaking, it was a reminder to me that God had brought me to Israel for a reason – many reasons, in fact – and he wouldn’t go through all that trouble unless there was something truly great in store there for me.
There was, and I followed his lead.
The first step was to chuck my camera shyness. When you’re in a group of journalists with cameras, you’re bound to have your picture snapped not a few, but a multitude of times. Additionally, when you’re trekking through the desert, you must dress for comfort, not fashion. You wear what works, not what looks good. You also leave behind any notions of makeup or hair styling. Not only is there no time, but it’s useless with the heat and exertion. Hence, my colleagues saw me in phases of disarray that formerly were reserved only for family on our up-north vacations.
Water, water everywhere! It wasn’t, but it felt like that the day we sailed on the Sea of Galilee. My husband loves to tell the story of my riding in the row boat with the family on a rather shallow lake and insisting – tearfully – that we stay within ten feet of shore the entire time. After that, he took the kids out on his own. As you may have gathered, I’m not a fan of water, especially large bodies of water.
But when we reached the shore of the Sea of Galilee, I had no authority to tell the skipper where to steer the boat. Trust me, at that moment I would have welcomed one of the aforementioned stones to strike my foot against! I took a deep breath, climbed into the boat, and let the fear grip me.
For about ten seconds. Then the beauty of the Sea, its Scriptural significance and the grace of God caused me to feel completely calm and grateful for the gift.
I wish I could say I was as calm at Masada as I was at the Sea of Galilee, but I wasn’t. Still, I made it, all 1950 ft. above the parking lot, first in the cable car and then around on the mountaintop. I will write about Masada in future articles because it is an amazing site with a rich history, but for now it’s enough to explain that Masada dates back to the times just after the Macabees and became Herod’s stronghold in the first century B.C. It is huge, and it is high!.
Within about, oh, five seconds, my mantra was, “lest you dash your foot against a stone…” Slowly, though, I needed my mantra less and wanted to take in more of the awesomeness around me. Of course, I had some help. Yes, God’s grace upheld me, but so did the generosity of my colleagues who encircled me so I could stand in the middle of the cable car (away from the windows, thankyouverymuch) and who walked ahead of and behind me through the more challenging sections (“Look to your right, not to your left when you pass through here, Marge, and you’ll be fine.”). For me that day, God’s angels came in the form of United States journalists.
In years to come, I will look back on all the astounding sights I saw and the incredible experiences I had, and I will rejoice in God’s goodness. On a deeper level, I’ll look back on what God did for me, within me, while I was there, and I will rejoice in his power and might.
He was indeed my refuge, and no evil befell me and I know now that his promise will hold true in the future as well.