streams in the desert

Experiencing Israel in February versus May was like going to two different countries. The brilliant emerald green fields bejeweled with wildflowers bore no resemblance to the many shades of gold that characterized the entire landscape for my first visit. That time, whether we were in Galilee or the Negev, the color range was only as broad as warm beige to deep rust. I loved it, but the rainbow of color I got to see this time was simply beyond words.

But the wilderness around the Dead Sea looked just as I remembered: reddish-tinted rock mountains under a hazy-blue sky, reaching down to the crystalline edges of the Dead Sea. After several days in lush Galilee, this was an adjustment. I might even admit that I was underwhelmed.

But then I sat under the trees at Ein Gedi, an oasis in the middle of this wilderness - a place where the water runs crystal clear over a bed of smooth stones, cutting its way through the rough chalk mountains under the watchful eyes of many a cliffside cave. The birds were all but bursting with song over the sound of the humming brook.

And I thought of David, not yet crowned king, hiding there from jealous Saul. He was hated and hunted down for no legitimate reason, waiting for God to come through on His promise, afraid for his life.

So he wrote songs. Songs of pleading, lament, praise, and prayer.

The desert is a harsh place, and yet sometimes, hidden there in the rocks, God gives a lush abundance of Himself.

Galilee was beautiful, rich, familiar. But at the foot of the falls of Ein Gedi, I was reminded that God did transforming and eternal work there, too. I don’t have to restlessly search for the place that seems green and home-like because God is still working in the land that is lonely, monochrome, and difficult.

And the longer I spent in that wilderness, the more evident its loveliness became.


Psalm 57

For the choir director; set to Al-tashheth. A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows
And their tongue a sharp sword.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They dug a pit before me;
They themselves have fallen into the midst of it. Selah.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your truth to the clouds.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Comment

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

scenes from the holy land

Three days ago, I got back from a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I’ve been lucky enough to do twice.

This was my second time in Israel. The first time, I traveled there as part of my studies at Great Commission Bible Institute, and I fell in love. For reasons I don’t know how to explain, the Holy Land of Israel felt like home to me as soon as I got off the plane - familiar, somehow - and I started planning my return visit before I had even flown back to the United States.

I knew I’d be back one day.

I have a lot of ideas turning over in my head, responses to walking where Jesus walked for a second time. Hopefully some of them will reach a writable form soon, but for now I just want to marinate in the beauty of God’s promised land and the love He has for His chosen people. I don’t know how anyone could go to Israel without being overwhelmed by His faithfulness to a stiff-necked people, and enveloped in the reminder that if His love will never let them go, then it won’t let me go, either.

The first time I visited Israel, I was smitten by Jerusalem. It’s a loud and chaotic city with streets that are too narrow and stray cats hiding in every corner and near-constant interruptions in the form of blaring horns, shouting shopkeepers, and crowding tourists. A tangle of three major languages and a delightfully Middle Eastern disregard for structure fascinated my quiet, small-town, Western mind. And I find that it still does.

But this time I must admit that it was the region of Galilee that really won my heart. We happened to hit Israel’s magical and fleeting season of color before it all dries out - the greenest grass I’ve ever seen, speckled with brilliant red anemones, yellow mustard, and pink phlox, rolling for miles under a deep-blue February sky. Acres of oranges, lemons, and bananas were ripening in the Jezreel Valley while the almond blossoms left the air heavy with the scent of spring. It felt so exotic and so familiar at the same time - like a warm May day on the farm in eastern Washington, but on the other side of the world.

I don’t blame Jesus for spending so much of His ministry in the Galilee region.

Since this was my second tour of Israel, I set out not merely to take pictures of the things I saw (although I did that); what I wanted more was to be able to remember with all five of my senses. I wanted to capture how it feels - which is not easy to do with a purely visual medium. My hope is that the handful of photos below will at least give you a tiny glimpse while I’m mulling over some of the deeper musings of the trip.

And if you ever get a chance to go to Israel and see all this for yourself - go.

4 Comments

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

thoughts from a loud silence

I think I must confess the reason for my recent silence.

Some of you already know that longer gaps between blog posts usually mean that my brain has grown too loud for me to fully distinguish and organize my thoughts in the way that writing requires. I take these weeks of silence to reflect and try to give the noise its space by taking long walks in the fresh air and doing a lot of informal doodling, but often it takes weeks or months of this treatment before I can fully untangle all the different threads.

They’re still pretty tangled up right now, but one of them has begun to catch my attention.

I’ve found that it’s become harder for me to write about real-life struggles when I’m not confident that I can wrap them up in a pretty bow for you.

And so I err on the side of not writing at all - even though I’d like to - because silence seems more bearable than leaving you with a lament that I can’t genuinely end with a positive spin yet. Or worse, false joy.

But then I began reading a new book this week - Inside Out by Larry Crabbe - and this paragraph convicted me:

“Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then, we either groan or pretend we don’t.”

My soul aches - it always has, and it always will. It is always throbbing a little (or a lot) in the void that, if we were still in Eden, the tangible presence of God would fill.

And so does yours.

Morning.jpg

Following this thread through the deafening silence of recent weeks has reminded me that not all pain can be wrapped up in a bow. Not every heart-wrenching lament is fully processed into holy surrender overnight. Sometimes we must come to God with the untempered groaning - sometimes we must honestly lay out the anguish with Him, and with each other.

We’re not where we belong. We’re not who we were made to be. We’re being made new, but the process is excruciating.

We can pretend none of this is true and live in denial of our pain - we can try to cover it with good deeds, more consistent devotions, the praise of others, or whatever our drug of choice may be - but it’s still there. We either feel it or we spend our lives putting on an act - and then still feel it, in the dark of alone when there’s no one nearby to use as a buffer.

What if we could all be honest about this? Imagine if we could admit to each other our disillusion with life without fearing that the response would be “You must need to spend more time with Jesus.” Imagine if we lived with the expectation that this life is, and should be, disillusioning, but that this very fact is what gives us such delight in the anticipation of the life to come:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us. For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:18-23

I looked up that word, “groan,” in a Greek lexicon. It’s transliterated stenazo, and it means “to groan because of pressure of being exerted forward (like the forward pressure of childbirth).”

We are in pain, yes, but our pain is productive. It’s forward motion. It has a glorious reward, like the agony of birth.

It’s not meant to feel good yet, but it will.