28 March 2016
my jerusalem story
from the time i was a small girl, i dreamed of studying abroad at the brigham young university jerusalem center for near-eastern studies. all of my older siblings, one by one, came home from semesters in the holy land beaming with new light and brimming with stories of epic adventures, both spiritual and fun.
i distinctly remember one summer night, after my senior in high school, having a conversation with my sister saydi before we fell asleep while sharing a bed at bear lake. she was telling me, quite passionately, about her experiences at the jerusalem center. i recall a fire igniting within my heart as she explained the sheer joy she had experienced in her semester abroad, by then many years past. and i was determined to do all i could to make my dream a reality.
at that time, the jerusalem center was closed for students, and had been for several years, due to security concerns. there was no indication when - or even if! - the center would reopen. but starting that summer night, i began praying for an opportunity to study abroad in the holy land. and from then on, every single day for two and a half years, i sent a hope up to heaven in my nightly prayers that i would get to go to the jerusalem center.
the majority of students at wellesley college spend at least one semester away (usually abroad) from wellesley during their junior year. i chose to spend one semester at brigham young university in provo, utah and one semester in a different country through one of byu's robust array of study abroad programs. when i got to provo in fall 2006, the jerusalem center was still closed. i applied for and was accepted into a program in spain, but i didn't stop praying for an opportunity to go to the holy land. every single day.
one regular weekday, i was sitting on the front row in one of my classes, and the professor announced that the jerusalem center was reopening and accepting applications starting that very week for the following semester. my heart jumped and i immediately started crying! obviously i went straight home, completed an application, and kept on praying. i couldn't believe it.
i got letter in the mail with the jersualem center logo on it a few weeks later. none of my roommates were home. i called my parents, shaking as i held the envelope, and told them what had arrived. we were all so excited but also anxious as there were a lot of applicants for the newly reinstated and highly revered program. i told my parents i'd open it and call them back because the moment was just too intense! when i read that i had been accepted, i literally fell down on my kitchen floor and cried tears of joy (i know, extreeeeemly dramatic). one of my most earnest (and probably very most specific!) dreams had come true. (and although i certainly don't claim that it was my prayers that reopened the jerusalem center, my expressions of hope in prayer certainly deepened my desire and consequently enriched my experience in the holy land.)
so -- my expectations for my experience at the jerusalem center were sky-high before i departed for the holy land. i was convinced it was going to be absolutely the best thing ever. and here's the amazing thing: my actual experience blew my giant expectations away, an hundred fold. i couldn't have ever imagined how much i would love and adore and appreciate and relish the four months i spent in the holy land. it was the happiest time of my life (this chapter as the boy and i start our family is running very close to beating that joyous era out, though!). i made the best friends of my life, soaked up enormous amounts of new knowledge and beauty and perspective and adventure, felt my faith and character develop in beautiful ways, and grew up a lot. it was tremendously wonderful, truly supernal.
ever since the day i left the jersualem center, with tears streaming down my face (a lot of crying in this story!), i've had a new dream -- to return. and as this post is posting, i am in jersualem with my true love. another fervent dream come true. i'm really lucky and really thankful.