Tel Aviv smelled like orange groves. The air was the same temperature as the surface of my skin – perfect, light. We rolled our bags to the bus and fought the jet lag with several rounds of Israeli coffee, two ounces of thick espresso at a time. As we walked from the bus to our hotel, we laughed, removed our sunglasses, widened our eyes. I sighed, exhaling delight and awe.
Most of my travel revolves around my singing and speaking schedule, so I wondered if I was simply caught up in the vacation-like feel of it all — after all, it was the first time I’d traveled anywhere without my guitar in five years. But the “vacation-ness” didn’t explain how a country that was objectively dangerous felt like a cocoon of peace and ease? The atmosphere juxtaposed weightlessness and gravity.
Lush rolling hills and gardenia bushes surround the perimeter of the Sea of Galilee. It’s more like a lake than a sea. If you stand at the north end, you can see all the way across the furthest distance. I’ve never been good with Biblical geography, but Galilee was minuscule compared to my imagination. I could hold all of it in my field of vision – two miles wide and five miles long.
Jesus spent the majority of His three-year ministry on and around this lake. What one Man did and said in roughly 10 square miles nearly 2,000 years ago has changed all of creation for eternity. His reach extended around the world and across millennia to me.
One day we stood underneath the shade of a tree in the Garden of Gethsemane as our tour guide told us the tree was more than 2,000 years old. It would’ve been there when Jesus prayed in the Garden on the night before His crucifixion. It would’ve been there for the tears, for the prayers of agony while His friends were sleeping, for the kiss of betrayal.
Being where He once was opened something inside of me – hints of passion and deep longing. That, too, caught me off guard, but this time I knew where to pin it. It reminded me of something I’d felt before, though it was much stronger this time.
When I was in college, my heart was knit to the guy who had slowly become my best friend. He fell for me too, but we kept our secrets separately. I, out of desire for him to pursue me. He, because he knew he would be flying around the whole big world to spend the summer as a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and he didn’t want to tie up our summer with distraction.
He told me his secret over the Chinese dinner we cooked together on his first day back for the fall semester. I didn’t tell him then, but I will tell you now, how I spent our summer apart: when I missed him, I did math.
It was 9,000 miles around the earth to where he was, but it was only 7,900 miles through the earth. Armed with that math, I marched through a field to the lowest part of the valley, and I pressed my face and chest to the ground, my heart beating into the dirt. It was the closest I could get to him.
Some days I drove past his old dorm – the room where he used to sleep and study biochemistry and pray (on his knees, no less!). He wasn’t there anymore, but just seeing the window brought a sense of comfort.
That’s how it felt to be in Israel. While God’s Spirit lives inside of me, Israel was the closest I could get to the physical, tangible aspects of my Savior. I began to miss Him more. I longed for Him in a way that pulled on me like weights on chains. I never wanted to leave.
On our last night in Jerusalem, I sat on the roof of my hotel and wrote in my journal:
Father, thank You for using my earthly mother and father to bring me here to fall more deeply in love with my You, my Heavenly Father. I feel like I understand You better after being here – like a kid who finally got to see the homeland her parents always talked about. Or the girl who finally met her boyfriend’s family. It means everything to me that You chose to share this experience with me.
Jesus, please come back soon. If I have to leave this place, You have to come back. I can’t be away from You. I know You’re everywhere, but this place and this nearness awakens an ache in me. Please. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.
Nothing — apart from knowledge of the Scriptures — has enhanced my relationship with my Father more than visiting Israel (and the latter has even enhanced the former). As soon as you have the opportunity, GO. Skip Hawaii. Forego Europe until next time. The effects of Israel will trickle down into the things in your life that have eternal value. If you dare, it will change the way you live and think and love.
(This piece originally appeared in Kiss The Wave: A Memoir on the Attributes of God,and has been altered for this format. You can purchase the book here.