Of Milk and Honey

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that my trip to Israel is over. After the countless hours of fundraising, preparing spiritually/mentally/physically, and earning money through garage sales, selling coffee, babysitting, yard work, making my CD, and desperately looking for any spare change on the ground – my trip to Israel is over.

It didn’t hit me right away. It was hard leaving my team at the airport and coming back home to a place that felt almost too big, too unfamiliar. But, a few days went by, and I began to re-adjust to life here in America. I didn’t have the feelings of Post Israel Depression nor did I even really think about Israel because I had too much on my mind as I was preparing for another vacation to Pennsylvania. I didn’t have time to process what I experienced. I was happy to be back with my family and even though it was a little weird re-adjusting, I felt fine. At least, so I thought.

Okay but then, it hit me. Hard.

I was attending a Messianic Jewish conference in Pennsylvania when I felt as if I got hit by a truck. It was during the worship session on the very first night  when all the emotions, the feelings, and the memories began to just flood in.

In Israel, I got to see where Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) walked on water in the Sea of Galilee. I got to pray where Yeshua prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. I rode a camel, laid beneath the stars in the deafening silence, and stayed at a Bedouin camp – ALL in the Negev Desert. My faith in the Bible grew as I saw where Yeshua talked to thousands on the Mount of Beatitudes (and yes, it is possible that he talked to that many at once) and where I saw the cave at Ein Gedi in which David wrote Psalm 57. I went to Mt. Precipice, I saw where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and I took a cable car to the top of Masada. I went to Capernaum and saw the ruins of the synagogue where Yeshua taught. I prayed in a prayer cave like Elijah and I saw the Valley of Armageddon. I saw the beautiful Golam Heights. I was immersed in the Jordan River. I walked around and prayed at the walls of Jerusalem. I prayed at the Western Wall and I danced with such joy as we all welcomed in Shabbat. I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust memorial) and I got to dig in archeological caves where we found artifacts dating all the way back to the Maccabees. I visited orphanages, hospitals, and worked on a pepper farm (as well as many other service projects). The hotels were warm and cozy, the food was impeccable, and the scenery was jaw-droppingly (if that’s even a word) beautiful. I shared the gospel and who Yeshua was with several Israelis. And the people there were beautiful, free, and brave. When I was in Israel, I felt apart of that country, apart of the people.

I was home.

Yet, that whole paragraph above doesn’t even cover HALF of all that I experienced in the land of Israel (here is a video I made so you can have a visual of some of the stuff we did in Israel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b65HgkJDeuY )

Yes, I did all those things. And it was one of the best experiences of my life. But, I think my most favorite experience of the whole trip was experiencing God. Being in Israel, I learned more and more about who God is and why the land of Israel is SO important. God has been faithful countless times to His land and His chosen people and I know for a fact that He will ALWAYS be faithful. The God who created this earth, who breathed life into us, and who is the beginning and the end is MY GOD. This God, MY God brought His people back to Israel. My God, YOUR GOD claimed (in Isaiah 66) that Israel will become a nation in one day – and sure enough, that happened in 1948. There are several other prophesies in the Bible that just show how Israel is living PROOF that God and His word exists and that He keeps His promises.

But, God isn’t just in Israel. While I truly believe, as Rabbi Kevin says, “places matter”, God is everywhere. He’s there when you are driving, when you are at a party, or when you are taking your dog on a walk. He’s in the trees, in the wind, in the flowers. Point is- He is all around us. And He’s keeping His promises, big or small. Our God is the Name above All Name, the King above All Kings, and He is a faithful, loving friend.

I slowly begin to process all of what I experienced, but there is still another part to this story.

If some of you don’t already know, I am a Messianic Jew. What does this mean? Well, for me, I was born Jewish and I believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is God’s son, that He died for our sins, and that He rose from the grave. And I believe He is coming back. A lot of people ask me the question, “Well, how can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?” I’ll first start off by saying that Jesus was Jewish. He was born of a Jewish mother, He celebrated the Jewish holidays and feasts, He went to synagogue and kept other Jewish traditions as it says in the Bible. For me, I was born Jewish, I follow the Jewish traditions, I go to synagogue, I celebrate the Jewish holidays and feasts, I celebrate Shabbat, I had a Bat Mitzvah, etc. And, I believe in Yeshua.

Of course, not everyone accepts this. That’s okay, we are entitled to our own opinions and beliefs. Growing up, I used to not understand what it means to be a Messianic Jew. It was hard for me because I didn’t know how to explain it to my friends and I was always afraid that they would think I was weird. I started not to care that I was Jewish. I became embarrassed and ashamed because I was different.

But then I went on this trip and it literally changed my life. I realized that before this trip, I wasn’t embracing a huge chunk of who I am. And that “chunk” is called Messianic Judaism. God has called each of us, Jewish or Gentile, to a specific purpose and calling. We are all born in Messiah, one in the Olive Tree. God chose me to be Jewish for a specific reason. It is a part of my calling. And when I was in Israel, I began to see how special it is to be Jewish. I began to love my Jewish identity. I began to find the person God called me to be. I began to love who I am.

I miss Israel, my home, more and more every day. But, I’m excited to begin this new chapter of my life – to fully embrace my Jewish identity and to discover all the great things God has in store for me. Thank you GOD for giving me the opportunity to go to Israel, for showing me who I am and for teaching me new things every day.

My life is forever changed.

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your vindication,
    and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
    a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
    or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,[a]
    and your land Beulah[b];
for the Lord will take delight in you,
    and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
    so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
    so will your God rejoice over you.

I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
    they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the Lord,
    give yourselves no rest,
and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
    and makes her the praise of the earth.

The Lord has sworn by his right hand
    and by his mighty arm:
“Never again will I give your grain
    as food for your enemies,
and never again will foreigners drink the new wine
    for which you have toiled;
but those who harvest it will eat it
    and praise the Lord,
and those who gather the grapes will drink it
    in the courts of my sanctuary.”

10 Pass through, pass through the gates!
    Prepare the way for the people.
Build up, build up the highway!
    Remove the stones.
Raise a banner for the nations.

11 The Lord has made proclamation
    to the ends of the earth:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
    ‘See, your Savior comes!
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.’”
12 They will be called the Holy People,
    the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
    the City No Longer Deserted” 

– Isaiah 62

what’s your definition?

identity – the fact of being who or what a person or thing is (noun). 

identity. it’s something we all struggle with. we know what the definition of the word “identity” means, but how do we apply that word to ourselves? how do we know who we are, what we are?  this leaves us with the question we tend to continually ponder throughout our lives:

who am i?

to be honest, i still don’t know how to answer this question. it’s one of the questions i try my best to avoid if at all possible. because, to be honest, who really am i? i’m emma leitson, but that’s just my name. i could list my hobbies and my talents, but those are just my hobbies and talents. that’s not who i am. yes, those things do make up what i like to do and what i’m good at, but those do not DEFINE me.

let me ask you this:

if you found your name in the dictionary, what would be your definition?

i have thought about this question for a while now. it’s definitely not an easy question to answer. but, if i had to answer it right here and now, this is what my definition would say:

Emma Leitson- child of God (noun).

so, here’s the next question: what does it mean to be a “child of God”? i have been praying about this ever since God gave this phrase to me a few months ago. i can’t exactly give you a definite answer from MY words, but i can give you a definite answer through GOD’S words as it says in the very first book of the bible, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). He created you and me; we are alive because of Him.

when God gave me the phrase “child of God”, it made me realize that i have absolutely no idea who i am. and that completely broke me because i’ve been going through life and i haven’t taken the time to figure out who i am. but this is EXACTLY why god gave me the words “child of God”: so i can figure out who i am through Him.

it’s funny (as in amazing) the way that God works- the campus ministry i attend called “Freshley” had a miniseries that was actually called “child of God” (and yes, my jaw completely dropped when i found out what the series was called). here are 5 key points of some of the things (from the miniseries) i learned about what it means to be a child of God:

  1. God will always love you no matter what: you cannot make him love you any LESS or any MORE than he does right now.
  2. He has given you an identity through Christ as it says in John 1:12-13, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” 
  3. The Lord allows unpleasant seasons for His holiness and righteousness – we have to go through seasons to be children of God.
  4. You are in the family of God (and how freaking cool is that?). You are loved by the One True King, so STOP and use that love to show the world what God’s love is like.
  5. BE INTENTIONAL. Open your eyes and your heart to God; allow him to completely work through your life without any hesitation or doubt.

i have learned so much these past months through prayer, teachings, and conversations and i am BEYOND grateful for that. of course, the journey of learning more about who God is (and who i am as well) is FAR from ever being over, but here is the main point i’m trying to make:

You are loved by the greatest love you will EVER receive. 

His love is a love that is overwhelming and surpasses all understanding. it is a love that contains grace, joy, and hope. it is a love of truth and perseverance. it is a fatherly love.

and this is when it stuck. this is when i began to grasp what it actually means to be a child of God (and honestly, it’s quite simple): God is my father. a sweet Father filled with compassion, wisdom, and grace. He loves me more than i can even comprehend. no matter what i do, no matter what i say – he holds no record of wrongs: he LOVES me and i could not do anything to change that. He is always pursuing and he will never, ever, ever, EVER stop.

okay so back to the question:

who am i?

i am a child of God: i have been born again in Christ. i am apart of his family- i am His daughter who has been fearfully and wonderfully made. i am loved by the sweetest and the highest of names. i have a purpose because of Him. i am set free. i am His.

these next 4 years

“college will be the best 4 years of your life” – everyone. 

false.

i’m finishing up my first semester here at UGA. to say the least, i have grown in more ways than i could have imagined and it has only been 5 months. but growing & finding out who you are isn’t always easy. in fact, it’s quite difficult.

people always say

“college is the best 4 years of your life”. they say its 4 years of fun. 4 years of independence while still not having to worry about “adult” responsibilities. it’s 4 years of meeting friends of a lifetime, of meeting your potential husband/wife, of becoming who you are supposed to be. you have endless opportunities and you literally begin a journey of finding who you are.

 what people don’t say

about college is that it is also 4 years of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual breakdowns. constantly, i am surrounded by so many incredible human beings who seem to have their life all put together. daily, i struggle to find my self worth. i begin to push myself down and my insecurities start to show. people say that you’ll meet your future husband/wife in college, but what they don’t tell you is how much pressure is behind that statement. people don’t say that it’s okay to not know what the heck you’re doing. they don’t say it’s okay if you are unsure about your major, the university you’re at, or life in general. people don’t say that you should prepare for heartbreak, brace yourself for the large amounts of stress, and learn how to accept your failures.

i thought i had it all together but, a month into college and i was  completely wrong. my phone calls consisted of me crying to my mom and saying things like, “i feel like i should be doing more. i’m just not enough”, “i hate college. i want to move back home”,  and “how do i know God is real?” i was emotionally unstable. i began to hate who i was. i wanted to be like the girl who had the perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect personality. the girl who got all the attention and who everyone liked. i was spiritually unstable.  though i was constantly surrounded by Christian friends, i still doubted if God was really there. i cried out to God and yet, i felt nothing. i felt so small and so alone. i felt like a failure and i was worth nothing. i missed my friends  back home, my family, my pets, my whole life that i had left behind.

okay- so i know you’re waiting for me to have this dramatic change in the story where something happens and now college is AWESOME and i’m so much happier and blah, blah, blah. well, that’s not exactly what happens. yes, i now realize that college is actually incredible. it forces you to grow and find who you are. but- i could not have survived those difficult weeks if it hadn’t been for my decision to pray and ask God to help me. i would sit in my dorm room and continually ask God for guidance and for peace. even though sometimes i felt as if He wasn’t listening, i continued to trust in Him. and of course, God was faithful. He began to work wonders in my life. i was truly captivated by Him as He began to change my life and “make me new” in Him. He blessed me with a solid group of friends who fully desire Him. i started to feel more confident not only in myself, but in Him. to this day, i crave my quiet times with Him. i absolutely love reading His word and resting in His presence. i thank God every day for the periods of loneliness because those are the times when He brought me to Him. i learned how to wait and fully trust in Him. and, when i did, he brought more blessings than i could have ever hoped for.

college may or may not be the best four years of your life. to me, (at least at first), it wasn’t. college defeated all of my expectations, yet God surpassed them. college sometimes made me feel small and alone, yet God made me feel significant and loved.

However, college is a time that forces you out of your comfort zone. it’s a time that you WILL meet those special friendships, you WILL become more independent, and you WILL have opportunities to grow to your full potential. and that is all WONDERFUL.

But, know this:

college is an experience and it can either be a great experience or a terrible one. its your choice to decide how to live those 4 years.

As for me:

i choose to make these next 4 years a great experience. i choose to not let my mistakes, failures, and struggles hinder me. i choose to take every opportunity and circumstance as a positive one. i choose to understand that whatever happens these next 4 years (good or bad) has a purpose and a reason. i choose God. i choose to live as Jesus lived. i choose to fully trust in Him, even in the midst of doubt and confusion.

i choose to have high expectations, but to not be disappointed when some of those expectations fail.

that being said,

i choose to not allow “these next 4 years to be the best.”

rather, i choose to allow “these next 4 years to be great.”

risks

“Think back to a situation in your life where you had to decide between taking a risk and playing it safe. Which choice did you make? What was the outcome of your choice? Would you have made the same decision looking back on the experience or would you have made a different decision?”

So I’m sitting here thinking about an answer to a question for my future and all I can think about is my past… And unfortunately the past involves you. I pushed you to the back of my mind along with all the other risky, tense situations in my life because I don’t want you to be out in the open. I wanted to stack you up in organized piles that appeared to be ok, but inside them is organized chaos. You are that exactly. Just chaos. You’re the risk that holds me back, you’re the lesson that I have to learn; and I tell myself over and over again that I’ll learn one day but it’s really hard to admit that I took the risk and things turned out the way that every person fears: They ended up in failure. I thought maybe we had a chance. Even if it was a slight chance, it’s a risk I was willing to take. I thought you maybe took the risk too; the risk, the chance of us. You seemed to care, but did you? Or was everything I thought in my head completely and utterly wrong?

When the texts stopped coming, I thought perhaps you were busy. When you posted that picture with that one girl, I thought maybe ya’ll were just friends. And that’s just it, my thoughts were eating me alive trying to justify everything in my favor and make things seem right for me and you… for us? But there was no us, there never was an ‘us’. What was the choice that I made? I consciously made the choice to let go of all my insecurities and try for once. What was the outcome? It was an unfinished, unfair, sorry excuse of a relationship that lasted less than a blink of an eye but marked me for far too long. Would I have made the same decision? Probably.