During my third year of university, I had the chance to go on a study abroad to Israel. While each semester of school helped me to grow and develop, that semester changed me more than any other. One of my favorite parts of studying there was the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked…literally.I could dedicate 100+ blog posts to my experience there, but I’ll try and limit myself to a particular thought train.
Spending two weeks on the beaches of the Galilee, going in the pyramids, dancing and singing at the Wailing Wall on the Sabbath, and climbing the ruins in Petra were all amazing experiences, but they aren’t what changed me. It was my fellow students and professors and their wisdom and knowledge they shared about the Savior that helped my testimony in Him grow, and in turn, changed my heart.
While there, I purchased a nativity carved out of olive wood. Olive trees have a special meaning to Christians since the Savior uses them to teach in the bible and He performed the Atonement in a garden full of olive trees, the Garden of Gethsemane. Each year I pull out this nativity and think about all it represents. Not just what it represents for me personally, my time in the Holy Land, but also what it literally represents, the Savior’s birth.
This is the first year I’ve had my own home to set up my nativity in. It’s given me a reason to reflect what I will want Christmas to mean, and feel like, in our home. I could probably rival Buddy the elf when it comes to Christmas spirit (I’m one of those people); I love all the traditions and festivities that come with the season. But when I teach my children about Christmas, I want them to remember the true reason we celebrate.
One woman, each time she related experiences she had during a visit to the Holy Land, would exclaim, “I walked where Jesus walked!” She had been in the vicinity where Jesus lived and taught. Perhaps she stood on a rock on which He had once stood or looked at a mountain range He had once gazed upon. The experiences, in and of themselves, were thrilling to her; but 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. When Jesus extended to a certain rich man the invitation, “Come, follow me,” He did not intend merely that the rich man follow Him up and down the hills and valleys of the countryside. We need not walk by the shores of Galilee or among the Judean hills to walk where Jesus walked. All of us can walk the path He walked when, with His words ringing in our ears, His Spirit filling our hearts, and His teachings guiding our lives, we choose to follow Him as we journey through mortality. His example lights the way. Said He, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
My kids will probably be sick of my Jerusalem stories by the time they get old enough to read this, but I hope they can see from my actions and faith that it’s not about where you’ve “walked”, but how.