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Monday, July 3, 2017

Petra, Jordan

Currently in Petra! It is so freaking hot! Yesterday I thought I was in a swimming pool all day haha. But so so blessed that I can't complain. Last night we went to Petra by Night which is this really cool light show that they do each night. They light paper bags with candles and mark the mile and a half hike in and then they have hundreds of lantern bags in front of the famous treasury where they then play traditional Jordanian music. At the end they have you close your eyes, make a wish, and then you open them and they have this amazing array of bright colorful lights shining on the monument. It was beautiful. I took a few pictures but as I sat and just observed the site and those there I realized that sometimes we are so busy trying to capture the moment that we forget to live the moment. A picture isn't worth anything if there isn't any emotion or memory that it helps evoke upon reflection. My goal is to just take meaningful photos and spend the majority of my time just soaking in this amazing experience.
Additionally it's the FOURTH OF JULY!!!! My favorite holiday!!! All I can say is I'm extremely proud to be an American!! There is nowhere else that I'd rather call home. As I drive through these countries it just makes me realized how extremely blessed and grateful I am to live in the USA and to the family that I do. We have a lot of advantages and blessings in our country.
I hope that you all take time to appreciate our wonderful country on this day of Independence and reflect on the men and women who have died to give these rights to us!
Well I hope you all have a splendid holiday and have a great week!!

Love,
Ash

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hello!

I know, I know. Long time no talk.   Life in the Holy Land has been a bit cray cray! First of all this past week was finals soooooo that should pretty much sum up everything. One word to describe this past week.... exhausting! Pretty much bombed my finals but hey I'm done. We've gone on cool field trips, had amazing food, and overall just amazing experiences (minus finals).  Some high lights of the past few weeks:
- Neot Kaudim (Biblical Gardens).  It felt like a camp out trip which I loved! We learned a lot about how the geography would have looked during biblical times, did some team building exercises, and made our own pita and lentil soup lunch over a camp fire.  Then a Torah scribe came and we learned about how they write their Torahs.  It was a great field trip!
- Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and it was AHHHMAZING!!! Loved it!
- Hezekiah's Tunnel and the brief rain that surprised us in the morning.
- Basketball Tournament!!! Juddhites 4 life! Never thought I'd see the day where I loved playing basketball but it was SO MUCH FUN! I didn't do completely terrible which was good. Also my friend Sydney and I made trophies for the winning women's and men's team.  Literally I was giddy when it came to crafting. I forgot how much I love crafting.  I couldn't stop beaming... and now my create bug just can't be treated.
- Guest lecture from 99 year old Elias Fenzielburg.  He is a Halocaust Survivor who survived 9 concentration/extermination camps.  His story is unbieleveable (as most of them are).  I was just so impressed with his pleasant and positive personality and outlook on life.  Obviously he went through terrible things but he was able to tell his story to us (with the help of translators) in a way that showed that he has grown from his past and hasn't allowed it to make him bitter. One thing that I love that he said is "I'm tired, but I'm not tired about talking about the Holocaust... this is my story."  Sometimes it is hard to talk about our experiences, especially the hard ones, but it is our trials and our stories that make us who we are.  And oftentimes we can use our stories to help others in their struggles.  How we choose to react to our trials and situations can make a great difference in our lives and the lives of those who come to know us.  We each can learn to better embrace the stories of our lives.
- The Festival of Lights.  The old city was putting on this cool light show which we got permission to go to. It was so fun!! Minus the crowds.  My friends Amanda and Nathan from my Hebrew classes back at BYU Provo are here (they and some others are staying for a week at the center because they just finished at a dig site up north).  It has been way cool to see them!!

Overall everything has been great.  Today was so busy.  Had church and then did some more crafting and then went with a group to the Garden of Gesthemane.  It was really beautiful and peaceful there.  Then I had to rush back to the center by 7 for my Family History/ Genealogy lesson.  I am the FH/Genealogy committee chair person and it has been such a blessing but so scary too.  It is hard being in charge of a committee where most people aren't super familiar with the subject.  And I am trying to make it as enjoyable and easy to understand as possible for those who come.  I am so so so thankful for those who come because I know that it isn't something that most people my age are interested in, but they should be.  I know that the Lord blessed me with this calling for a reason and I need to more fully embrace it.  I am really trying to magnify my call as best I can.

I feel very blessed and honored to be here with this group of people. I have learned a lot from them.  I hope to be more like many of them.  Overall I am just grateful for the experience of becoming. Becoming more like the Savior, and becoming more like who I am destined to be.  I also am wanting to focus on knowing. Knowing who I am.  Specifically who I am spiritual.  What was I like in the pre-mortal existence? Who is my spirit really?  And how can I get my body and my spirit to align more perfectly so that I can better learn to align my will with His?

There are so many things I want to do and learn that it can be overwhelming at times, but this week I have been reminded of the importance of staying organized, and making to-do lists.  Everything will work out.  I just need to not overthink it.

So yeah those are my thoughts!

Love,
Ash

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Kalime'ra!

I have been totally MIA.. sorry about that! First off... shout out to Carly HAPPY 21st BIRTHDAY!!! I hope she has a fantastic day!!
As a recap of the past few weeks... I was in Greece for two weeks and then the past two weeks have been SUPER busy with midterms!  Greece was AMAZING!! The food, the culture, the sights... everything was amazing. We had this cute little tour guide with crazy floppy hair named Lena who came with us everywhere. She was like a Greek history book, she knew details and facts about everything we saw (which was a lot!). And then our bus driver was named Achilles and had Fabio style hair haha. My respect for bus drivers has grown exponentially since being in Israel and Greece. It would be terrifying! My favorite places were Meterorea and Nafplio.  Meterorea had this amazing rock cliff formation that monks had built these incredible monasteries on top of. Then Nafplio was this adorable coastal town with eclectic shops and classic European looking architecture.  I had heart eyes for dayssss. And ohhhh the food! The food was superb.  I remember we went to one restarting after leaving Meterorea that was in the mountains.  It was this cute little cottage looking place that was a family owned restaurant. The view was incrediable and it was fun to eat while looking at the mountain goats climbing up the slopes. We had the typical meal course of Greek salad, bread with tzatziki, then some sort of cheese dish, then the main meal of some sort of meat with either rice or potatoes or chips, and then a desert.  The best meal was at this place and the little old lady who owned it came out to say hello.  We all cheered for her and she started crying, it was the sweetest!
I realized I'm not really one for endless hours of sights and museums.  I love learning the history and seeing the sights but I just got tired very quickly.  It is fascinating but I'd rather spend time getting to know the living culture rather than the dead. The coolest sight was for sure the Acropolis in Athens with the Parthenon and other major sites located there. Greece is for sure on the list of places to visit again!
Getting back to Israel has been crazy what with midterms.  Long nights with lots of studying! However on last Sunday we had the opportunity to go to Eilat and swim in the Red Sea. It was such a fun experience.  We had a four hour bus ride each way... luckily everyone was either too tired and slept or we entertained each other.  I was reading a very inspiring book called "Unbroken" that I was completely absorbed in so I could have kept driving for hours (well until I finished the book anyways ha). Everyone who can stomach war novels should read that book, it literally changed my perspective on some aspects of life.
For field trips we have also been to Jericho and to the Shephelah.  Jericho is the famous site for Joshua and the battle of Jericho. And the Shephelah is the general area of where the battle between the Israelites and Philistines took place. This is the battle where David slew Goliath.  It was cool to visit such famous biblical sites. Visiting Jericho was a really powerful experience for me. Not the ruins of Jericho itself but we went to an overlook that overlooked the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is the site were the parable of the Good Samaritan took place. I felt the spirit so strongly as we discussed that story and how we can and need to apply it in our lives.  I realized that Jesus Christ is my Good Samaritan.  He stops and helps me, even when He probably has far greater things to do.  Just as the hurt Israelite was probably unconscious and had no idea he was being helped, likewise sometimes I am so blinded that I may not recognize my Good Samaritan picking me up and placing me on his donkey to take me to the inn.  The Lord has paid my debts to be healed.  He provides me with wise and loving inn keepers who watch over my recovery.  He asks for nothing in return.  He is. I can't even finish what He is because He is all. I feel so blessed to have Him in my life and to be able to pay the price to become better acquainted with Him.
On a different note.. last night I went with a group of us to go see Wonder Woman. WOW was it Wonderful! I want to be her! She is my new woman crush, and of course it was even better that my man crush, Chris Pine, was also in the film.  Everything about that film was perfection in my mind! It was nice to be at a movie theater haha. If anyone knows my family they know we are all big movie-goers.  Afterwards we just ate at McDonalds which was at the theater... my favorite (not). Ha. Anyways I met this really nice Israeli woman name Siggy and her daughter Kim. I sat with them and talked with them for a good 30-45 minutes.  It was so fun to talk to some local people.  Siggy use to work here at the "Mormon University" years ago and she said she just loves the center and our church.  It was cool to talk to someone who knows a bit about our beliefs, especially since we aren't allowed to discuss them here. It was such a fun night!
Lastly, I had to laugh today because I just got called as the Family History Committee Chair.  I laugh because I worked for Karen Clifford, the Genealogy Queen. She is amazing! I learned so much working for her, and now Heavenly Father is telling me to actually utilize some of those skills haha. I feel very blessed and hope that I will learn a lot from the experience.

Well I hope you all have a great Shabbat on Sunday.  I love Sabbath days!!
Love,
Ashley

Saturday, May 20, 2017

We're All In This Together!

Hello friends and family!
This week was a pretty good week. I'm trying to remember everything we've done, there's been so much! For our field trip on Monday we went to the Negev.  We visited the Wilderness of Zin where the children of Israel wandered for 40 years.  We also visited Arat, Arad, and Beersheba.  It was really cool to be at these places after having read about the events that transpired there. Seriously it has been such a privilege to be here! My favorite part of the field trip was a hike we did through a small portion of the Wilderness of Zin.  Although it was so hot (we were hiking in like 90 degree weather..yikes) I absolutely loved it! I love just being in nature and getting some exercise.  It was very beautiful.
Classes are going okay. I feel like I do a ton of studying but I can for sure learn how to improve on that.  I feel like I do a lot of reading but I don't really retain the information.  After classes on Tuesday I went into the Old City a bought a beautiful scarf that is Bedouin made, and some camel sandals, and some treats for our flight to Greece tonight.  I'm really excited! I needed to get a scarf because on Thursday we had "Arab Night" we dressed up in "traditional" wear and had multiple events. We had two sheiks come and read part of the Qu'uran to us, and also prayed in front of us.  The reading of the Qu'uran and the Call to Pray made me tear up. It was so beautiful.  As I was listening to these two devout Mulsims share with us their sacred scripture I just felt the love that Heavenly Father has for them, for ALL his children.  I have really come to respect and love the Islamic culture and religion.  It really is very beautiful, and very similar to our LDS beliefs.  I also have really come to love the Hebrew culture more than I already do.  Although the Lord has designated only one way to return to Him, which everyone needs to hear, He loves ALL of us regardless of race, nationality, or religion.  I know He loves those children who have not yet heard the Word but still worship Him to the best of their abilities. How blessed we are to have to gospel of Jesus Christ.  I really feel that I need to be more devout in my own faith, just as my Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters are in theirs.
After listening to the sheiks we had a traditional meal that our kitchen staff spent literally all day preparing! IT WAS SO GOOD! I love Middle Eastern food.  They went all out, we literally had like 8 courses and they decorated the tables and everything. It was so fun to see everyone dressed up (including the faculty and staff) and we were all just laughing and enjoying each other's company.  Then there were some girls that came and taught us some traditional Palestinian dance steps.  It was really fun to dance with everyone.
The highlight of my week was being able to watch my little brother open up his mission call. Even though I had to wake up 1:45 am to video chat it was worth it ha! Though I can't say where yet because he is waiting to reveal it later (my mom told me like 30 times to not say anything about where he was going haha). Needless to say I am SOOOO proud of my baby brother, and really look up to him a lot. He has such a strong testimony, and such a sensitive soul.  He is going to be a great missionary. Love you Bubba!
Well tonight we leave for Greece.  We are leaving here at 2 am.  Two early mornings in a row ahhh. I am so excited to go to Greece but it is going to be NUTS we are doing a lot each day.  Last night we watched Hercules for our movie night and it was so funny. Literally everyone's inner child came out.  People were singing at the top of their lungs, and swaying back and forth it was hilarious!! Disney, Disney, Disney.  Well I think that is all I really have to say.  I hope you all have a great week!

Love,
Ash

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Marhabaa!

Marhabaa!
This week has gone by so fast! My days were all thrown off since we have church on Saturday here and then a free day on Sunday.  All week I thought we were a day ahead ha. Other than being sick this week was great! We went to multiple sights that overlook Jerusalem which was really cool. We went to Nani Samuel which has this old mosque and synagogue on top of a hill. The Crusaders called this place Mount Joy because it was the first place that they could see Jerusalem.  It also overlooks a field where the Israelites fought with the Gibeonites against the non-Israelite Kings.  Another of my favorite overlooks was from the south of Jerusalem called the Haas Promenade (Tayelet).  It was on this hill that Abraham would have left his servants when he and Isaac went up to Mt. Moriah to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  We read the story of Abraham's trial and the lessons he learned and that Isaac probably learned.  One thing I love is that God knew what Abraham would do but He wanted Abraham to know how faithful Abraham was. The last stop was at the Garden Tomb. That has so far been my favorite part.  We went at a really good time and there was hardly anyone there. It is right by the Old City in a pretty busy and loud area however the grounds at the Garden Tomb are really quiet and peaceful.  The peace there was similar to the peace I feel at church sights.  It was just very reverent.  After the tour all 83 of us gathered together and sang a few hymns.  It really invited the spirit.
Let's see... what else? Um... I got scolded by my father to leave the center and not just do homework all day and to go out to the city.  That was solid advice. Thanks Dad! The amount of homework we have on a daily basis is unreal! I mean I'm pretty used to reading a lot for my major but... I feel like we have 30+ pages of reading each class each day. Good thing I love to read, and thank goodness for study groups!!
I'm still struggling to figure out how to upload pics.  I have to download some app and the wifi here isn't good enough for it to download. I will probably just make a Facebook album.  Overall everything is great!
Much love!

Ash :)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Shabbat Shalom!

Shabbat Shalom from the Holy Land! Wow I've only been here for like 3 days and it's incredible! I wish I was absorbing everything faster than I am, but there is so much to learn and so much to do! The center has really been beating into our heads the rules to follow to keep us safe and how to best be respectful to the various cultures here. I can't tell you how many times we've been lectured on groom and dressing standards haha.  It's probably for the best though, seeing how we want to be respectful and good representatives of not only BYU but also the LDS church.  In Israel the center is known as the "Mormon University," which I think is hilarious.
The first full day here we were able to walk through the old city.  I loved all the sights, sounds, and most of the smells ha.  I loved seeing all the cool shops and all the different foods and spices.  It is like nothing I've ever experienced before.  I wasn't able to take any pictures that day but next time I go to the old city I will. And I for sure have some good shopping to do there in the future.
Yesterday was one of my favorite days so far. Mostly because we started our classes! My professors are amazing. I think my favorite class is going to be my Old Testament class. I got teary eyed at some of the things we learned about. One thing that really resonated with me is that the Lord will ALWAYS keep His covenants to us so long as we do our part. Then in the evening we went to the Western Wall to welcome in the Shabbat with all the Jews.  It was so inspiring and awesome to see the devotion of these brothers and sisters of ours. I loved seeing the people go to the wall and place their hands upon it and give it kisses as they rocked back in forth in prayer.  The wall is covered with hundreds of papers of individual prayers of people from all over the world, and of various beliefs.  Then in the back a couple yards from the wall there were young Jewish girls singing and dancing together in celebration of the Lord's Day. It really struck me how joyful and sacred their sabbath day is to them. It put me to shame knowing that I have a lot to work on in my own sabbath day observance.  Today is Saturday but it is the day that we celebrate the Sabbath here in the Holy Land.  For Sacrament Meeting we sat in the auditorium room that has these huge windows that overlook the JC gardens and the city.  The spirit was so strong as we listened to the testimony of the saints who are here visiting from all over the world, with the city in the background.  One cool thing is that I was able to see one of my dearest friends dad and brother who are here on a tour group trip, Perry and Gannon Montoya. It was so cool to see such familiar faces in a foreign land. After church I took time to be by myself and to write in my journal.  I also took a cat nap in the gardens which was so nice.  There is just so much peace to be found here at the center.  The city of Jerusalem itself is crazy! The cultures here are so fun but it is busy like any other major city. There are cars with their horns blaring (people here are horn crazy!), tons of shops, vast amounts of people, and lots and lots of tourists. I loved going to the Church of the Holy Seplechre and seeing all the different Christian faiths gather.  It touched my heart to see these christians kneel and kiss this stone slab that some believe Christ's body was laid upon and prepared for burial after being taken from the cross.
There is still so much to see, experience, and learn and I am so grateful that I am able to take part in it.
Also the food is amazing here, and the people I am with are great.  I'm still trying to find my way here and find where I fit in but overall it has been a great adventure! I love you all and hope you are well!

Love,
Ashley

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Walk With Me

In preparation for this trip I often thought about what the Lord wants me to learn, and give, personally on this trip to the Holy Land.  This past week I was working on a little calligraphy project for one of my friends as a good bye gift.  I used her favorite scripture which is Moses 6:34 where the Lord says to Enoch "walk with me".  In his October 2014 General Conference "Ponder the Path of Thy Feet" President Monson said
"...physically walking where Jesus walked is less important than walking as He walked. Emulating His actions and following His example are far more important than trying to retrace the remnants of the trails He traversed in mortality." (For the full address click here)
I love that! So my theme for this trip is to walk with Christ, not just where He walked but AS He walked. He is the perfect exemplar. I am so so so grateful and blessed with this opportunity to visit the Holy Land.  I hope that I will learn the lessons the Lord would have me learn, and do what He would have me do.
Currently I am at the Paris airport waiting to get on my connecting flight to Tel Aviv.  I haven't been feeling too well today so it's a miracle that I am staying as positive as I am haha. All I can say is that I am so ready to get to the Center and to shower and go to bed... then tomorrow hit the ground running!