Waiting for the Sun to Rise

Every night during the month of Ramadan (or Ramazan as it’s called in Turkey), our town is awakened by the steady beating of a drum. Dressed in traditional Ottoman attire, the drummer weaves his way up and down the neighborhood streets with a stick in one hand and a drum in the other. A ritual dating back hundreds of years, the drum’s purpose is to awaken the locals to begin preparing for sahur, the last meal eaten before the sun rises. The neighbors begin to stir and kitchen lights slowly click on, giving off a dull glow behind window shades.

The beating gets softer as the drummer moves on to the next neighborhood. I let the curtain fall back to its place and crawl into bed. The nights are warmer now so we sleep with thin sheets and open windows. The dog next door barks in reply to the sound of the drum. I flip over my phone on the nightstand to check the time. It’s 2:30 am.

The other evening, after we had finished washing dishes and cleaning up dinner, my husband and I walked by the river running through our town. Each picnic table was occupied with multi-generational families. Savory smoke swirled out from miniature charcoal grills. Everyone sat perched in front of their plates waiting for the call to prayer to signal the start of iftar, the highly anticipated fast-breaking meal when the sun finally sets.

Ramadan brings a communal change in rhythm. The days are quiet, still, and sleepy until the late morning when neighbors begin emerging from their homes to tend to their gardens, climb into cars, and roll buggies on uneven sidewalks to the markets. The nights are alive with meals eaten with friends in the late evening. Children kick balls and ride bikes with the moon as their flashlight. And a drummer announces the approaching sunrise.

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The other week, we were crowded around a circular table where waiters placed in front of us hot plates of chicken kabab and refilled our water glasses. After hearing a little of my husband’s and my immigration worries, our friend placed his fork back down on his plate, rested his hands in his lap and said, “Hard times always have a destination.”

Usually, when hearing spiritual platitudes by those who are anxious to say something encouraging, my eyes glaze over and my head nods in a polite response. I give the encourager a gentle smile; they’re trying to be supportive.

This time though, the words landed a little differently in my ears. Like the falling shapes in a game of Tetris, each word effortlessly locked itself to the next, one on top of the other. As they were released into the air, I felt something in my heart whisper, “Grab onto this. Remember it.”

We’ve spent the last year feeling like we were walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Our days felt like they were decorated more with sorrow than joy. Hope seemed elusive and dwindling. My Bible remained buried in the nightstand, like a too heavy bowling ball, the unturned pages made of lead. I wrestled with the promises written in scripture. Why doesn’t God make things right, right now? Here’s his chance to do something big and miraculous, but he’s quiet.

I’ve felt huge swells of doubt rise up in me. I’ve asked questions and received no answer. I’ve cried out and heard my laments bounce off the walls and return back to me.

Hard times always have a destination.

Those six words spoken across the table over lunch felt liking tiny dots pulsing inside me, an ember of hope pushing back the encroaching darkness. They punctuated my skeptical heart, one by one.

I thought about the Turkish drummer, banging loudly in the middle of the dark night. His sole purpose is to alert the town of the coming light, to wake up, to begin preparing the feast. Each knock of the drum shouts out the message, “The sunrise is coming! The sunrise is coming!”

We may be walking through the valley of the shadow of death right now, but God promises to lead us to green pastures and to fields of peace. It may feel like endless midnight but the sunrise is coming.

There is a purpose in the darkness. I may not know what the reason is right now, but I will one day. Consider all the activity that happens when the sun sets and the world becomes dark during Ramadan: meals with neighbors, children playing, feasting, and spending time with family. There is life to be lived in the darkness. There is growth, refinement, and cultivation.

God is certainly not the author of the bad, but he paints beauty out of it. The rays of the rising sun will one day scatter across our valley, sending the dark scurrying away, and things will make sense. All those tattered scraps will be woven into something beautiful.

Not now, but soon.

While we wait for the morning to finally come, we firmly hold on to God’s promises and his goodness.

Beautiful things grow in dark places and dawn will always overcome the night.

When Peace Kisses Righteousness

There’s something about the Advent season that’s so cozy to me. Maybe it brings back memories of growing up, arguing across the dinner table over who gets to light the wreath-encircled candles and who gets to blow them out. It brings visions of coming home from school, letting the backpack fall to the ground as another numbered paper door is peeled back revealing a tiny piece of candy.

Pondering on this season for a moment, one of my favorite names for Jesus has always been Prince of Peace. The second week of Advent is traditionally the time we meditate on this: Christ the babe, bringer of Peace.

But when I look around, when I read the headlines across my screen, when I hear stories of those close to me struggling, peace is the furthest feeling in my heart.

The other day, my husband got a call from a desperate man who had lost his family (like, literally lost, as in could not find them) while trying to cross from Afghanistan into Turkey. Traffickers confirmed to the 400 fleeing people that the coast was clear, and yet when they moved, the border patrol flashed their lights and sirens and everyone scattered in a panic.

He’s been searching for his lost family for three years.

What does peace mean when the world is a mess, people are separated, and there’s war, famine, and comfortable apathy across the globe?

What does peace mean when my family is spread out over three different continents? What does it mean when my husband has held the title “refugee” for five years?

When I get overwhelmed by the blackened headlines and tragic stories of those who live just a town over, my view of God narrows quite a bit. Those Christmassy words: hope, peace, joy, and love become blurry before my eyes.

I listen far too much to the nightly news, irritating sound bites, political panels, and op-eds. I wring my hands, at a loss of what to do with the sheer magnitude of the refugee crisis. The migrant caravan at the border. Police brutality. How the Church seems to have lost sight of the gospel.

I tend to gather all of these things in my arms and then inevitably buckle under the weight of the racket.

But if I stand still for just a minute, raise my hand up to the noise, I know God is whispering something to me and, ever-patiently, waiting for me to stop and listen to his voice.

Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven. The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps. Psalm 85:10-13

Through a gentle whisper, I am reminded that our Savior has already come into this mess of a world, ushering in an intimate greeting between peace and righteousness. Two things that seem so opposite, wholly embrace. And up springs love and faithfulness too, linking arms. Jesus Christ coming as a babe to Bethlehem is the fulfillment of this.

Oh, how we yearn for eternal, divine peace.

True peace, heavenly peace, peace that exceeds our understanding, is found only in Christ Jesus. This child, born to a teenage girl and a carpenter, made heaven and earth kiss. The mysterious love of God reached down from above and became fully human so that we can experience his peace. This Prince of Peace is the bringer of Peace. He came and he is still here with us. Heaven and earth have embraced.

So like most days in our life, I hoist happiness onto one hip and sadness onto the other – two companions that are always with me. We will string up dried orange slices like we do every year. My students will cut out white paper snowflakes while dancing to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”. We’ll put up our humble little Christmas tree (it’s somewhere between Charlie Brown’s and Clark Griswold’s). There’ll be phone calls across the ocean to family. My mother-in-law will hum “Silent Night” as she makes tea in the kitchen. Hymns will be sung in a cozy living room. Every evening before dinner we light a candle (labeled as cinnamon scented but proved to be completely false upon purchasing and lighting it #expatproblems).

And yes, somewhere in my heart there’s the ever-present feeling of homesickness, of praying for stability, for that one phone call to come through. The wondering of how this is all going to work out (will it ever work out?). There’s the burden of the brokenness and the chaos and the injustice of this world sitting in there too. Joy and sorrow, hand-in-hand.

True peace, shalom, is what we all long for. This has and will happen through God’s only Son. His kingdom is here now, working and moving and restoring. I know this and I cling to this. It is also not yet. And we yearn and anticipate for its full completeness.

This Christmas season, may we all know the promises of true peace and righteousness given to us through Jesus Christ.

The Prince of Peace has come, he is still here, and he is coming again.

Why the Heck Are You in Turkey and Other Frequently Asked Questions

With a year of Turkey under my belt, I’ve noticed a lot of the same questions begin to crop up from time to time. Although there may be more, here are a handful that I could come up with. Enjoy!

(but first some pictures…)

1. Okay, so, what exactly are you doing in Turkey?
My Instagram tends to only show pictures of the crazy landscape, cats, coffee, and my face. But in between all that, I teach! I am a homeschool helper for a family with four kids (ages 4, 7, 8, and 10). Simply put, I come to their home every day and we do homeschool together. My days are filled with learning about birds in science, trying to get through math without tears (or maybe that’s just Auntie Sarah), teaching piano, building forts, hugging, laughing, and learning. It’s busy and exciting and exhausting and full in all the best ways possible.

2. How did you find out about this opportunity?
Maybe this sounds contrived or corny, but it’s truly only something the Lord could have orchestrated. Who knew homeschool helpers were a thing?? Not me. And I especially didn’t know of its existence when my life took a sharp turn in a completely different direction during college – academically speaking and otherwise. After three years of pursuing an Elementary Education degree (and just three semesters away from graduation), I found myself starting completely fresh at a little bible school in Minnesota. Many of my prayers during that season started out as, “Um, hi, God. I know you’re always in control but what the junk are you doing??”. BUT THEN I was connected with a couple who were alumni of the same school and were looking for someone to come to the other side of the world to help teach their kids. Teaching in Turkey? Sign me up! Isn’t it amazing how God uses every experience (and half-finished degrees) in our lives? Even seemingly “wasted ones”. Sometimes it’s only in retrospect that we can see just how much the Lord is in the details of life. It’s only when we look back that we see this perfect composition of the Father’s plans for us.

3. So are you, like, fluent in Turkish now?
The other day I walked into a local office supply store on the way back home from school. Behind the counter was a little boy strumming (a word I use very loosely) on a kid-size guitar. When he saw me, he began confidently counting to ten in English. I took that opportunity to wow him with my skillz and counted back to him in Turkish…and that’s about as advanced as my language learning goes. I wish WISH WISH I had more time to learn but with teaching full time and my life being primarily focused on four American kiddos, intense language learning doesn’t exactly fit into my schedule at the moment. I’ve picked up “survivor Turkish” and feel comfortable enough getting around, ordering food, taking the bus, and greeting neighbors. Maybe someday the opportunity will present itself for me to learn more Turkish… Inshallah.

4. Cool. So what’s the food like? Is there NORMAL food!?
Lots of lamb. Lots of kebabs. Lots of rice. Lots of bread. And yogurt over everything. It’s a little bit Middle Eastern, a little bit Mediterranean, and a little bit Balkan all spun into a yummy Turkish cuisine. As far as my daily diet goes, yes, there are ~normal~ grocery stores here and weekly bazars with lots of fresh fruit and veggies, although pre-packaged, ultra-preservative packed foods are pretty non-existent (shout out to you, Easy Mac). Tonight, for example, I made myself quinoa and stir-fry veggies (and maybe a mug of hot chocolate).  However, let’s take a moment of silence for all the bacon I cannot eat.

5. Do you ever feel unsafe?
Aside from questions about food, this one is probably the most frequently asked – and most often from the middle-age mom demographic. I’ve held off writing on anything related to this topic for a while because the things happening in this area of the world are so much more complicated and difficult than I can wrap my head around, let alone have the words to form into a blog post. In short, yes, I do feel safe. I live in a lovely, little, uneventful town tucked away in Cappadocia. The feeling of being in danger rarely, if ever, crosses my mind. Regardless, Turkey needs lots of prayer – prayer for God’s guidance and peace and healing. We are living in such an important time in history. Please, keep yourselves awake to the events happening in the world and your hearts focused on God.

6. How long will you be in Turkey?
A year? 3 years? 100 years??? Good question with no exact answer. For now, I’m trusting the Lord and enjoying the ride 🙂

Are there more burning questions you have? Like, what’s up with all those awkward-shaped rock things? Was Star Wars actually filmed there? What continent is Turkey REALLY on? Ask away! 

Twice the Turkey Talk

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I’m definitely deserving of a big curly blue 1st place ribbon for being the least dependable blogger on the planet. But, for the last three months I’ve been enjoying time at home with family in North Dakota, which, I think, is a perfectly acceptable explanation for my absence.

Transitioning from living life on one side of the world to the other is all kinds of emotions and weird feelings, no matter what. To ease the awkwardness, this May, I was able to spend a week in London and Paris with my sister before our transatlantic flight back to the US (also, how posh does it sound to say “I’m meeting up with my sister in London”??). It was both of our first times in either of the cities, so we hit up all the tourist spots, looked for One Direction (okay, maybe that was just me), made each other pose for Instagram selfies (oops, just me again), ate bread pudding, and couldn’t stop thinking in British accents for a week after our trip.

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Spending the summer in the Upper Midwest was restful, healing, and the perfect amount of time to feel refreshed and recharged for school again in the fall. In addition to my own classes that I’m taking online, I spent time at the lakes with my family, drank way too much kombucha (and Starbucks, but that goes without saying, obvs), may or may not have gotten something permanently inked on my body, went to lots of farmer’s markets and flea markets and weddings and showers, and just enjoyed life at home.

Now I’m back in Cappadocia for a second school year, which is why I’m finally updating, because – hello – that’s the point of this blog. After four flights, 24 hours of travel and no sleep, weird airplane food, and equally weird airplane bathrooms, I am now one-out-of-two suitcases unpacked in a little town nestled in central Turkey. It’s currently 2:30AM because, jet lag. And also because, upstairs neighbors.

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People ask me a lot if leaving home was hard this time around. It’s always hard. It’s hard living in two places at once and always having someone you miss no matter what side of the world you’re on. It’s hard trying to balance embracing certain things in a new culture, while feeling homesick for things from home (Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Angry Orchards? Driving? Garbage disposals?). That’s the life of a traveler, isn’t it? But when the hard stuff begins to harsh my mellow (it’s totally cool to still say that phrase), I remember that the good stuff outweighs it, by far. Like being greeted by eight little hands pulling my airplane-weary self out of the shuttle and towards the door of their home. Or four little people demanding my undivided, completely laser-focused attention on their planned out piano performance of a medley of Frozen songs – complete with a spotlight operator and an interpretive dancer – to celebrate my return, despite my fast-approaching jet lag and dire need for a shower. It’s at any given moment having one child braiding my hair, while another is telling knock-knock jokes inches from my face, while I use one free hand to battle against another with plastic swords, and my other hand painting someone’s nails. It’s teaching crafts, language arts, and etiquette classes to 25+ area homeschoolers once a week during co-op. It’s seeing ideas finally click, light bulbs go off, and eyes light up when obstacles are finally overcome. It’s coming back to my apartment after a full day of teaching and feeling exhausted in the best possible way, with my heart full in the best possible way.

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This past summer at home seemed to go by entirely too quickly and feels like a distant dream (although, to be fair, North Dakota’s existence is pretty hard to prove anyway. A myth? An urban legend? Part of Canada?). Turkey feels so familiar and, of course, the States feel so familiar. Yet, both places feel worlds and worlds apart. Both fall somewhere under the definition of “home”, both have loved ones, and both have hard stuff and good stuff. Funny how that works.

Thank you, beautiful readers, for your continued support and prayers over this last school year. I’m so eager to begin a second school year in Turkey and watch the amazing ways God will move.

The Sum of My Ordinary Adventures  

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 preset But first some news…  Here’s some maybe-not-exciting-for-you-but-exciting-for-me news: As of now, my URL no longer contains that pesky “wordpress” in it! This little corner of the web is officially OneFootOnBoth Dot Com – much less of a jumble-y mouthful to pronounce. I have now taken a stride towards becoming a real, legitimate blogger. Okay, okay, I use those two descriptors pretty loosely. Real, legitimate bloggers probably update more than once every 800 years and have readers who are not just their mom. I might have a little way to go before reaching that status.

“Why would you shell out 6 big Washingtons just to change the little letters in the white box?” you probably didn’t ask. Well, this little blog will be around a little longer than I originally planned. Because…*cue the imaginary drumroll*

…I have officially decided to return to Turkey in the fall!

After a quick jaunt across the ocean where I’ll enjoy some time in the Upper Midwest for the summer, I’ll be back in Cappadocia for a second school year. The kids here are great, the weather is great, and Starbucks is now only an hour away, so, obviously, it was an easy decision to make. I would so appreciate you, readers, joining me in praying as I prepare to transition home in June and prepare again to head back to Turkey in the fall.

Alright, enough about the nerdy blogger stuff…

If you read my previous post, you heard about the great time I had with two very special visitors. It was a fun post to write up because I was able to recall the situations my parents and I got ourselves into, comical language barrier conversations we had, crazy tour guides, delicious food, and the quality time we got to spend together. In the wake of the two-week whirlwind around the country, life has returned to the ordinary. It’s kind of like being ejected into the calm, quiet waters of a pool after plummeting down a swirling waterslide. The waters here are calm, quiet, and, well, very normal. How do you write interesting blog posts when life is ordinary? What’s there to write about when there are no motion-sickness-inducing taxi rides? No overly friendly store hasselers to escape from? No shuttles going the wrong way and no sprinting through airports? What happens when life is going totally okay? It’s easy (and more interesting) to write about the action-packed, the uncomfortable, and the unbelievable. The great task, however, is writing about the ordinary, the safe, and the seamless.

I’ve been keeping up (more or less) on my journaling, and just a quick flip through the worn pages shows quite ordinary sentences splattered across it – sentences that contain the everyday and the mundane. I tend to seesaw between left and right brain dominance, but in many of my posts the left hemisphere qualities manifest themselves in the form of lists. So here is a list of ordinary, safe, and seamless sentences describing life lately:

  • I pass the same little girl on the way to school each morning. In fact, I’m able to judge how early or late I am by where we cross paths. We usually don’t really acknowledge each other, but the other day, she ran up to me with a dandelion in hand and a big smile across her face. I accepted the yellow flower, saying “thank you so much!” over and over again in my awful Turkish, and stuck it behind my ear.
  • Along with a smattering of dandelions framing the sidewalks, comes an abundance of every other wildflower and blossom. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed spring until I moved to Cappadocia. Unfortunately, where I’m from in the States, we don’t experience this season. In North Dakota, one day it’s a blizzard with white-out conditions and then – bam! – the next day it’s 80 degrees. And that’s how Midwesterners get from winter to summer. But with spring in Turkey, the trees are filled with so many pink and purple blossoms, and the grass is sprinkled with daisies, clovers, and poppies. We’re studying Botany for science at school, so we have a blast taking nature “hikes” around the yard, pretending to be scientists, and examining all the pretty plant life that surrounds us.
  • Another fun part of homeschool is our Friday tradition of walking to the bread shop across the street to get simit and poğaça for lunch. Each child has a specific job during these expeditions. I keep a note of who does what each week on my phone so everyone gets an equal chance doing each job. It’s all very serious business. Job number one is The Talker (the most coveted job), job number two is The Money Giver (a very important role and not to be taken lightly), and the third job is The Bread Carrier (no one’s favorite, but, hey, we all have to pay our dues). I’ll save my spiel on simit for another time because you can just scroll down a little and read all about my adoration for the little rings of delight.
  • I frequently visit a coffee shop in Göreme, a town nearby. Because Starbucks is not so close (I should probably stop mentioning Starbucks…it’s not like I’m obsessed or anything, OKAY!?…), this particular cafe is a great place to escape and get some work done. The baristas are starting to recognize me, which I find equal parts embarrassing and flattering. I also may or may not find the old school Snoop Dogg blaring overhead oddly comforting during bouts homesickness.
  • Living here you have to be ready for pretty much anything to happen. It’s not unusual for the electricity to go out or the water to shut off for a few hours or days. Sometimes if I’m really lucky I might even get a heads up from our landlords, which gives time to jump into the shower or charge laptops and phones. It’s normal to have my external battery pack charged and have jugs of water stashed away. Seriously, if we ever experience a zombie apocalypse, come to my house (if you’re not a zombie yet, obviously) and I’ll hook you up.’
  • Being out in public means being ready to dodge any potential Turkish marriage proposals. No matter how beautiful the flower napkins are or how impressive the complimentary fruit platter arraignment is, just say “No”.
  • With tourist season in full swing, the buses are stuffed full, which means getting cozy standing nose to back with lots of strangers, hearing lots of languages, smelling lots of…smells, and observing lots of confused Westerners.
  • Look out the window and you’ll see that Cappadocia traffic can consist of a Mercedes Benz tour bus, a horse, a Coca Cola truck, and a tractor all in a line at any given moment. On one side of the street you’ll see a group of covered ladies with their vests and shawls wrapped around their shoulders, toting their produce home from the bazar, and on the other side you’ll see groups of tourists wearing shorts and tank tops, snapping pictures with their selfie sticks.

Sometimes great adventures can make for great writing. But life isn’t always outrageous debacles, hilarious mishaps, or peculiar sights.  Sometimes topics for writing are a little less conspicuous. Sometimes in the ebb and flow of daily life there can be found completely ordinary adventures that, when written down, make for extraordinary memories. Readers, thanks for following my ordinary and extraordinary adventures these past six months. I can’t wait to have you along for the ride next year too.