Is it even possible to be tired-er?
On Friday morning we skipped town - with grandparents! - and headed for Jerusalem, where our favorite middle-east-based relatives were awaiting our arrival.
Ainsley was loaded up with antibiotics to treat a nasty cough and a double ear infection. Aidan's palate expander decided to fall out of his mouth just as we were getting ready to leave. This qualifies as an orthodontic emergency, I believe, but what could we do? The orthodontist was closed, and anyway, people were expecting us at the border at 10 am. So we went anyway.
We made it to Jerusalem and hung out with auntie C and the cousins until dinner time, when we walked to a really nice restaurant, where - are you ready for this? - all six little cousins behaved.
The next morning we awoke early and went to Bethlehem. So odd to cross yet another border: through a gate set into a gigantic grey cement wall and into Palestinian Authority-controlled territory. Razor wire everywhere. Signs warning that Israeli citizens are not allowed to pass. Guns - on both sides of the wall. Such a sad, sad state of affairs. That massive wall is a stark reminder of how bleak life can be in that small corner of the world.
Bethlehem itself was... underwhelming. I don't know, but guess I expect, when I visit a place like this, to be moved somehow, or to experience my faith on a different level. But instead, I find the skeptic in me emerges. I want to know: how, specifically, did they determine that this is the exact birthplace of Christ? How do they know the manger was propped exactly there? How? I don't understand, and yet I'm glad to have been there, and to have seen for myself the birthplace, and the Shepherd's Field.
There is an old church built at the site of Christ's birth, and I tried to explain to the girls, who were a bit restless, the significance of the church. I told them that we were very close to the spot where the baby Jesus was born, and that if they listened very carefully, they would hear Jesus in their hearts, and feel God's love all around them.
Ainsley cocked her head and then exclaimed "I hear him, mama! I hear da baby Jesus cwying!"
But it was only baby Thomas, her cousin, crying in his carrier.
So then we talked about the baby Jesus for awhile, and I asked, "Can you imagine? Here is where Jesus was just a tiny baby, and his mother loved him very much."
To which Ainsley responded, "He was a just a tiny baby, so he used to cwy and cwy, and he picked his nose a lot."
We're going to hell, aren't we?
Add that to the fact that Kyra repeatedly asked where God was - here? Or maybe here? Or in this pillar? And is God an animal or a person or what? I quickly ran out of satisfactory answers.
There was a enormous line of people waiting to go down the stairs into the tiny cave under the church, the cave where the baby Jesus was said to have been born. We waited with the rest of them, but it was unpleasant and almost scary trying to make our way down those steps with people shoving us from all sides. As we reached the stairs and looked down, we could see a crowd of people, maybe 15 deep, throwing elbows as they tried to get to the front of the cave. Our tour guide implored us to wait our turn and go two at a time - "don't be like those people," he said, gesturing at the madness below. It was ugly.
Shepherd's Field was nice. It was strange, though: in the Bible stories of my youth, I somehow pictured that the distance the wise men had to travel was very, very far. In truth, they could have made their trip in 20 minutes or so of brisk walking. Odd how the image I had was just all wrong.
After a great lunch and some souvenir shopping, we headed back into Jerusalem and went to a little holiday party. So the kids got to see the birthplace of Christ and sit in Santa's lap, all in one day.
Yesterday morning we went to church in the Old City before driving back across the border to Amman, where we took Aidan to the orthodontist and brought both Shay and Ainsley to the doctor (Shay now has a ferocious cough). And today, it was work as usual...
Tomorrow is another long day of work and school meetings and holiday prep. I refuse to believe Christmas is in just a few days. I haven't wrapped, or shopped, or baked... But I have seen the birthplace of Christ, and I have taken my children to see it for themselves, and we read the Bible story about the birth, and so I suppose you could say we are ready. Ready to celebrate Christmas in a way that just wouldn't be possible elsewhere.
During the church service in the Old City, the children were asked "how many of you have been to Bethlehem?"
Every single child in the room raised an enthusiastic hand.
This is something that would never have happened if we had stayed home in Virginia. This is something that makes this Foreign Service lifestyle worth living. This is something for which I am grateful this holiday season.