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From Bucket List to Life Decision: A Pilgrim’s Story

Select International ToursThe following article is posted with permission by Select International tours:

As you might imagine, we hear a lot of stories from pilgrims. Every so often, one stands out. When Elizabeth emailed us, her story stood out; WAY out.

 

Elizabeth on the Sea of Galilee

Elizabeth on the Sea of Galilee

I recently went on a pilgrimage with Jason Evert to the Holy Lands through Select International. While there, God called me to come back to work with His people…I have a flexible schedule starting in October and would love to be there for a few months.”

Elizabeth was so moved by her visit to Bethlehem that she wanted to return there to volunteer with our charity, Select to Give, for a few months! She had heard the call to serve the poor and marginalized children of the Holy Land while on pilgrimage. You just can’t ignore how amazing a story that is.

Even as a young child, the Catholic Faith was a major anchor point in her family. Her Grandmother had the family over often for Holy Family Club. Club meetings were filled with rosary making, crafts, and coloring. The common theme in all the activities were the stories and teaching of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and the Saints. The family marked the liturgical year with gatherings. Eating together every Sunday during Advent, on feast days, and during Holy Days of obligation.

Another anchor point in Elizabeth’s family was service. Her mother, a Special Education Teacher, taught her the value of serving the less fortunate. Elizabeth was sure that she was on a path to serve people with special needs too until she faced a severe illness with crippling pain. As she lay in bed waiting for doctors to heal her unknown condition, she was moved by the care she received and decided that she wanted to help kids like her, who were scared, sick, and hurting. So she decided to become a children’s ICU nurse. God had something different in mind.

Elizabeth was offered an opportunity to be an adult ICU nurse. She quickly found that the people she was caring for were also scared, sick, and hurting. She knew that she was there to help, but more importantly, she knew that God had placed her there to share His love for the suffering. So she allowed her faith to guide her and prayed for and with the patients and their families. “I am there to help them heal or to help them come home,” she said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Elizabeth was again called in a direction she hadn’t anticipated. The nursing shortage was significant and she was specially prepared to help. She had the needed skills, but she was also free to move without any firm ties to a particular place. She offered up the stability of a normal job to God and became a traveling ICU nurse. One assignment took her to New Orleans, where she stumbled upon Jason Evert’s Podcast.

During an episode, she heard Jason mention that he was taking a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land. “The Holy Land was number one on my bucket list,” Elizabeth remembers. Her job as a traveling ICU nurse allowed her flexibility in scheduling and the funds to take the trip, so she said, “Yes.”

It seems like everyone who travels to the Holy Land has a significant personal experience. For Elizabeth, it was a homecoming. “As a traveler, you make every place your home. Going there, I felt loved, seen, and known.” She felt so much peace in Galilee, but the calling to serve came in Bethlehem.

Elizabeth in the Church of the Nativity

Elizabeth in the Church of the Nativity

Elizabeth visited the Church of the Nativity and stood in line to touch the spot where Our Lord was born. Then in that small little place inside of a massive church, she distinctly heard God say, “Happy birthday, Elizabeth. Welcome home.” But God wasn’t done talking. The group spent more time touring and all throughout the day, Elizabeth felt called to “come home” to Bethlehem.

“Okay God; if this is what you want, give me a way.” She prayed.

The last activity of her pilgrimage day in Bethlehem was a Sharing the Bread meal with a local Christian family. This program, run by our Select to Give 501(c)(3) charity, gives pilgrims a chance to share a meal in the home of a Christian family from Bethlehem.  As Elizabeth’s group was preparing to go to this special dinner, a representative of Select to Give was telling them about all of the programs that the charity supports, including the Hogar Nino Dios home for severely disabled children. During the presentation, he mentioned that anyone could volunteer to help.

Here was a chance to use all the skills and all the blessings that God had given her. It was like all the plans she had over the years–the ones that God always seemed to laugh at–were finally lining up. The opportunity would satisfy her desire to help the special needs community like her mother. It would capitalize on the skills she had learned as an ICU nurse. It would require the depth of faith that her Grandmother had fostered in her youth. And the job she took in the world’s time of need allowed her the freedom to take a long volunteer assignment without the challenges most people would face. Perhaps God had her ideas in mind all along.

Alright, Lord. If this is your way, let’s do this.” She prayed. Then she typed out an email to Select to Give, offering to volunteer for three months in Bethlehem.

When you meet Elizabeth, you quickly realize that her willingness to serve is built into the fabric of her being. She truly loves to help. “There is a joy I get [working] with the disabled community…Mom always says they are God’s little pieces of Heaven.’ They give me more than I could ever give them.”  But what stands out most is her ability to trust God with major life decisions, especially when there are far more questions than answers. She has learned that God will always provide when He calls her to serve.

Select International Tours is excited and honored to help Elizabeth to serve in Bethlehem beginning this month (December 2022) and will cover Elizabeth’s roundtrip airfare for her volunteer stay in Bethlehem. There will be other expenses, including food and lodging. Elizabeth has set up a GoFundMe page and is accepting donations. If you are moved by her story and would like to help, please consider giving by clicking HERE.

We are so excited to follow Elizabeth’s story over the next few months. Please watch our social media accounts and blog for updates. We know that God has amazing things for her in Bethlehem and beyond. Please join us in praying for Elizabeth and the work that she is doing in the Holy Land.

After this, I don’t know where I’m going.” She tells me. But somehow, we’re sure God has big plans for her life. And while she cannot see the future, she knows who is in control. “When I just give it to Him, my life is abundantly blessed more and more.”

Are you ready to see what God has in store for you on a pilgrimage?

 

Editor’s Note:  Although Select International does advertise on our site, this is not a paid-for ad, but a great testimony that we wanted to share with our readers.
Select International does tremendous work not only in organizing pilgrimages but in helping give back to the people living in the Holy Land through their charitable organization Select to Give.
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Pricked by a thorn on the Mount of Beatitudes

 
By Denise Bossert

I was on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, organized by Select International Tours. Another pilgrim, Terry, was sitting beside her husband at the outdoor Mass we attended on the Mount of Beatitudes. She leaned into Chris’ side and felt the joy of praying the Mass with him, the enormity of hearing the words of the divine liturgy on this mountain where Jesus Christ proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount.

Then, Terry suddenly reached up and swiped at the back of her neck as though she had been stung…….it was no bee.

When I looked behind her, I had to smile. The branch she had just swept away was from the Zizyphus Spina Christi plant, a tree believed to have been used to make the Crown of Thorns that was placed on Our Lord’s Sacred Head before the crucifixion.

The significance of that moment on the Mount of Beatitudes and the grace of being pricked by the thorns of that plant in the middle of Mass still resonate with me. Yes, it was a grace: it is a grace to share in His Passion, just as it is a grace to share in His Resurrection and triumph over death and sorrow, and little pricks of pain from countless things that trouble us.

The Mount of Beatitudes is an essential part of any visit to the Holy Land
The Mount of Beatitudes is an essential part of any visit to the Holy Land. The Sermon on the Mount comes alive here, where it was preached over 2,000 years ago.

A little thorn on an obscure branch on a hill where the gospel was proclaimed and is still proclaimed today.  This tree was most likely the one from which the Crown of Thorns was made  The Zizyphus Spina Christi bush was most likely the one from which the Crown of Thorns was made. It grows wild here on the Mount of Beatitudes and elsewhere.  The thorns were not big, like those we imagine or see in Hollywood depictions of that day. They were little. So sharp. Like needles, but so small that one has to look closely to see them. The first time I visited the Holy Land and walked along that Mount of Beatitudes, I paused to snap a little branch from one tree as we descended the mountain and approached the Sea of Galilee below.

The thorns pierced me three times, drawing blood. It was painful, but I had to laugh at the irony of it. Such a little thing, this thorn.

Such little things to cause such pain. And there was a little joy in knowing I was sharing in a very small way in the pain my Lord had experienced. I treasured that little thorn. It is now between the pages of my Bible – resting in the crevice of a page that tells about the Passion and a crown of many thorns.

As we approach Lent, I am thinking again about the Mount of Beatitudes and the Zizyphus Spina Christi plant.

I am thinking about our thorns, the countless sufferings we embrace and consider a share in His great suffering.

I think of Our Lord, who walked down that same mountain, passed thorny plants such as these, and yet had His eyes on the path that led all the way to the Cross of Mount Calvary.

Oh, my Jesus. Let me take up your suffering and wear it with you.

Let me see each prick as a grace.

And let me say what you said.

Thy will. Only Thy will.

Denise Bossert:

Denise is a convert to the Catholic Church. She is the daughteDenise Bossertr of a Protestant minister. In 2005, she converted to Catholicism after reading books by Carmelite saints. Her syndicated column called Catholic by Grace has been published in 63 diocesan newspapers. She has also written for Catholic magazines and appeared on EWTN’s Journey Home and Women of Grace. She is a Catholic travel writer and pilgrimage leader with Select International Tours and Cruises. Her first book is entitled Gifts of the Visitation and explores the Blessed Mother’s journey from Nazareth to Ein Kerem where she remained with St. Elizabeth for three months prior to the birth of St. John the Baptist. Website: denisebossert.com

Denise Bossert, Catholic columnist & author

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