For my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, my dad wanted to take my mom to Israel. Many years ago, he asked: “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” I don’t think my dad anticipated her answer. My mom wished to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and my dad set out to make her dream come true. I guess that’s how people stay married for fifty years. My dad, however, wanted a family celebration—including my sister, brother, me and our spouses. And his plans didn’t stop at Israel. He planned a Mediterranean cruise of the Holy Lands for all of us. Now I have to re-phrase part of this scenario. The trip would include my parents, my sister and her husband, my brother and his wife, me and Kody Byers, my ex-husband, or maybe I should say my former husband, of nearly nineteen years. Through divorce we found friendship once more, and through friendship we found love again. And that’s where my relationship stood with Kody when we boarded our cruise ship for the opportunity of a lifetime. Seventeen days and six countries: Venice and Ravenna, Italy; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem, Israel; Cairo and Alexandria, Egypt; Kuşadası, Turkey; and Patmos and Athens, Greece. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined seeing the pyramids. I never imagined such a spiritual experience. And I never imagined the deep sapphire blue of the Mediterranean Sea.
On June 23, 2011, we ported in Kuşadası, Turkey, a major Aegean resort town and cruise ship port, the gateway to the renowned ruins of Ephesus, and a moment in time I will never forget. Our first tour bus stop: the house of the Virgin Mary, excavated in the 1800s based on the visions of a German nun. According to the scriptures, St. John tells us that Jesus, before dying on the cross, entrusted him with the care of His mother. After the death of Christ, St. John traveled to Ephesus to spread the gospel and probably brought Mary with him. Now you can believe me or not, but I felt the spirit of God at Mary’s house. Chills on my arms, a shimmer of tears in my eyes, and upon examination of my soul, I felt an emotional awareness. I don’t know how else to explain the sensation. We stood on holy land. Our tour guide explained that the spring water here is believed to be sacred, and there are three fountains: one for health, one for wealth, and one for love. Kody and I stood in all three lines, filled our water bottles, drank the water, and shared a kiss.
Next to the fountains stands a wall covered in thousands of paper prayers. Kody and I wrote down our prayers and left them for God on the wall. I thanked God for my family’s health, wealth, and love.
Our tour of Ephesus concluded in a Turkish rug store, where our tour guide invited us to support the Turkish economy. We witnessed silk cocoons transformed into raw silk, spun into thread, and dyed into every color on the wheel. A weaver pushed the yarn back and forth through a rug backing assisted by a tool to weave the rugs by hand. From there we were ushered into a show room. Next came the beer and wine. Then came rug after rug. Then came salesman after salesman. Kody and I narrowly escaped the Turkish rug store without committing to purchase. However, the rug store led directly into a jewelry store, where a sapphire caught my eye and whispered encouragement to Kody. The next thing I knew, the ring was sized to fit my finger. On the Holy Lands of the Aegean coast, Kody gazed into my eyes and proposed marriage again, and this time I knew without a doubt that our relationship would last forever. The sapphire symbolizes sincerity, faithfulness, and new beginnings. Mine will always remind me of my parents’ example, God’s presence, and the deep sapphire blue of the Mediterranean Sea.