How Travel Grows Our Gratitude by Lisa Harper
From my earliest memories, travel has opened the proverbial doors of my life wider to adventure; it’s opened my arms wider to God’s image bearers who don’t look, talk or even have the same belief system as me; and most importantly, it’s opened the eyes of my heart much wider to how transcendently powerful yet mercifully accessible our Creator Redeemer is. I think Paul says it best at the beginning of Romans 1:20: “Since earliest times men have seen the earth and sky and all God made, and have known of his existence and great eternal power” (TLB).
I was talking with a dear friend recently about how I still feel like pinching myself over how Jesus restored the years I’d served up to locusts. He provided on a silver platter and allowed me to become Missy’s mom through the miracle of adoption in 2014. I went on to tell her that if God never gave me another gift, it’d be okay with me because He’s already spoiled me rotten. She wisely told me that was terrible theology—that the Bible doesn’t reveal a quota on our Heavenly Father’s blessings—and I know she’s right, but sometimes I just feel gobsmacked by the grace He’s already lavished on our little family. Which was certainly the case three and a half years ago when I got to take Missy to Israel on a trip with Lifeway and Inspiration Cruises & Tours.
Because we were coming off another international trip to Australia, Missy and I arrived in Jerusalem a day and a half behind everybody else on the tour, so the first holy site we were able to join the group was at the Jordan River. And not the lovely, touristy setting on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee part of the river either, but the spot below the southern shore where the Jordan bottlenecks before it flows into the Dead Sea. The spot where that stream—arguably the most symbolically significant water in the entire Bible—is muddy due to agricultural runoff and perhaps just a teensy bit of sewage, according to recent reports by advocates for clean water!
Partly because she was exhausted from the 23 hours of travel it took to get us there, and partly because it was cold and rainy, but mainly because that brown water looked so nasty and uninviting, Missy began to backpedal regarding an enthusiastic proclamation she’d made months before about wanting to be baptized in the Jordan. However, when I told her that even though it wasn’t the picturesque site, most tourists get baptized in when they visit the Holy Land, it was the very place the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness; and it was the very place where God sent a supernatural Uber chariot to whisk Elijah into heaven; and it was also the very place John the Baptist baptized Jesus, and God sent a dove fluttering down to seal the deal as divine while He bellowed, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11, CSB)—she reluctantly said, “Okay, Mom.” I’m still pinching myself over the fact that it became the very place I got to dunk my daughter, too!
The following day I experienced another better-than-I-could’ve-dreamt moment when Missy and I approached the Western Wall and placed a slip of paper on which I’d written a prayer into a crack. You probably know the significance of the Western Wall (often called the “Wailing Wall” in non-Jewish settings); it was originally part of the Temple structure erected by Herod the Great, and since the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, it’s the only segment of that sacred structure left where Jews can gather to pray. Therefore, it’s customary for them to come to the wall to grieve the downfall of the Temple and the Holy City and to pray for their restoration. The tearful laments of the devoted are usually uttered with their foreheads pressed against those giant Herodian stones and are often accompanied by the act of placing small prayer scrolls in the cracks and crevices of the wall to commemorate their petitions.
The first time I had the sober privilege of placing a small slip of paper inscribed with a prayer into the Western Wall was in 1998 on a trip with Kay Arthur, but I can’t remember my request. The second time I gently poked a plea in between those ancient stones was the day before Yom Kippur—the highest holy day in the Jewish calendar—in late September of 2000, and I vividly remember that request. I was approaching 40 and still single, but I felt like God had healed much of the shame and relational toxicity that had reigned in my heart since childhood. So I decided to be as brave and vulnerable as I could, and I wrote a prayer thanking God for my healing and asking that if it wasn’t too late I would love for Him to please give me a family of my own.
A thousand praises were dancing in my heart in light of His extravagant grace as I approached the Western Wall for a third time on April 1, 2019, while holding my daughter’s hand, 19 years after asking Him for a family. But there were only two words written on the prayer I let Missy nudge into a tiny fissure: Thank You. Somehow that short phrase said it all.
Whether it’s a walk down the block to visit an elderly neighbor or an international trip to Israel, I can tell you from experience that getting out of your comfort zone will expand the horizons of your heart and fertilize your gratitude!
Want to join Lisa in Israel? Click here for the details.
 Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. p. 1724.