Our Story

Finding the Rope When Life is Shipwrecked

I’ve never been one to be afraid of the ocean.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. There was that one time, as a 4-year-old where I lost one of my new water shoes while playing in the low tide, sucked off of me by the slurping waves of the Atlantic. With one foot bare and one foot covered and feeling sorry for myself, my mother assured me a nice fish probably made her home out of my shoe. It was scary to have the ocean take something away from me.

And, albeit not the ocean but deep water nonetheless, there was that other time where I had to jump off the diving board at swimming lessons in order to graduate to the next level. It ended up being 15 minutes of me teetering at the edge of the board, knees knocking, clutching onto my lifejacket. The bubbly lifeguard, named Cinnamon of all names, was treading below coaxing me to jump off while a line of impatient shivering kids stood behind me. The deep waters were an enigma, unknown and dark.

Yet there is always something so peaceful about sitting at the edge of the ocean’s shore, toes caked with sand, the waves lazily lapping up and then receding. Or grabbing a blanket and a friend and sitting before the water after the sun has sunk for the night, talking about the stuff of life and not being able to see where the shore meets the water and the water meets the sky.

Or when I wade out into its body, taking a deep breath, plugging my nose, and plunging my entire self into its cool water.  Slowly going further and further out until my toes barely brush the rocky bottom and realizing, in a reassuring sort of way, just how small I am compared to the expansive water.

I’m drawn to the power, mystery, and beauty of the ocean but also frighten by those same reasons.

Wherever You Will Lead

Remember that popular song we all sang so confidently in 2013? “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon your waters, wherever you will lead me…”. This was back when I was in Bible college and my biggest worry was if I had time to grab a coffee before class or if I could make my measly part-time paycheck last so that I could buy… more overpriced coffee, probably.

I sang these terrifying words so boldly without realizing what I was actually singing, without understanding the journey God would have in store for me in just a few years, where my faith would be stretched in all directions.

At this point, in 2013, the Lord had already begun calling me away from the safety of the shoreline. I had left behind my three-fourths finished teaching degree to pursue Bible training – completely the opposite direction of where I thought I was going. And then a year later, I was beckoned even further into the unknown waves, literally across great bodies of water and into a foreign land.

The Ocean of God

I’ve been feeling like God is similar to how I view the ocean: beautiful, sure, but also powerful and mysterious and honestly a little scary.

God’s beckoning us into the deep waters can actually be really alarming despite what a trendy song lets on. As our feet stop brushing the sandy floor beneath us and our legs and arms begin to tread, things can look dark and uncertain fast.

Deep waters don’t feel like a fun day at the beach building sand castles. It feels like the waves are swirling and crashing and the water is blinding and choking and we’re doing all we can to keep our head above the waves. With the chopping waters getting higher, we desperately try to move towards the promise of the land we cannot yet see.

When the travel ban was put into place in early 2017, the little hold I thought I had on life was ripped out like a rug from underneath my feet. My prayers sounded like Jesus’ disciples on the boat while the storm began to brew. “Teacher, don’t you even care that we are all about to drown?” (Mark 4:38 TLB).

This same accusation darts across my mind when I stand before the literal sea in Turkey. Staring out at the Mediterranean I can’t help but image the thousands of families who had no choice but to board their sons and daughters and aging parents on illegal plastic boats, paying traffickers an exorbitant about of money, not knowing how to swim, just to find a safer life somewhere else. And the very waters that swirled around my ankles became the cemetery of those souls. God, don’t you even care?

medupdate-for-pbn
IOM|Mediterranean Migrant Arrivals Reach 88,736 in 2018; Deaths Reach 1,839

Looking for the Good

I’ll be honest for a second: I like to end my posts with something positive, something encouraging and spiritual. But with the season I’m in, I oftentimes have difficulty really believing those things I write.

I’m having a tough time squaring God’s goodness with the crazy things that are happening in this world. It’s hard to believe that the Lord has a perfect sovereign plan in all this mess. It’s hard to believe the Lord is good. Life on earth seems so broken and unjust and…sad. Does God really care that so many of us are drowning?

Treading in the deep waters, unsure of what will happen next, I search desperately for some word of truth or encouragement to grasp onto. When all God’s promises woven throughout scripture seem to be made for the next world, what can we grab onto while we are here in the dark? Hey, Jesus, can you throw us a rope down here? Hellooo?

I know God doesn’t promise a pain-free life nor does he promise to strike down every evil leader (ahh, wouldn’t that be nice?). But I know that the Lord promises to be with us through the deep waters. Not out of the deep waters, but through.

From my viewpoint, things look out of control, swirling, crashing, and chaotic. And yet God can see the bigger, complete picture. There is a reason for all of this. He knows how all the puzzle pieces will fit together, how these knots of string will be worked out. God’s in the business of making beautiful things out of the messiness of life.

Float; You’re Not Alone

The Mediterranean Sea is so packed with salt that you’re able to flip onto your back, lace both hands behind your head, belly poking up, and, without much effort at all, float.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm 29:10-11

Just like Jesus in the boat with his frightened followers, God has the power to calm any storm, to part the waters, and stop the rain. Yet more often he commands us to be still through the storms and to trust in him. 

“I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can see something of the future he has called you to share. I want you to realize that God has been made rich because we who are Christ’s have been given to him!” Ephesians 1:18

While I still can’t completely reconcile God’s good plan with this messed-up world, I’ll cling to what I know: there is a lighthouse out there somewhere, planted in solid ground, pointing the way forward. I will swim until I find it, all the while knowing I’m not swimming alone. 

And this: There is a calling on and a purpose for each of us and the things we go through.  When God draws us out into the deep, unknown waters, it may be his way of drawing us closer to him. Seek him.

Oh to have that sort of faith. To really believe it, to understand it and stand under it and to be certain that without a doubt, the Lord is right next to me.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

In His name,
Sarah

Our Story

The Uninvited Waiting Season

I remember once seeing a magnet stuck to a fridge that said: “If you want God to laugh, tell him your plans!” While I don’t necessarily agree that laughing at our hopes and dreams is in line with God’s heart toward us, I do believe there is some truth to that refrigerator aphorism. I’m reminded of Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Eight years ago, in the thick of college and in the thick of a desolate North Dakota winter, I was driving to my part-time job at the city’s public library. I had plans to work my full Saturday shift then meet up with friends for dinner once I was off. I jumped into my car, running late. My shift started at 9am, which is basically the devil’s hour for 19-year-old me. Hearing the hard snow crunch beneath my turning tires and waiting for the heat to kick in, I approached one of the three intersections I had to pass through to get to the library. My light was green and I crossed the intersection dreaming of what to order for dinner that night and listening to Justin Timberlake’s “Carry Out” play on the local Top 40 radio station (hey, judge me all you want, it was 2010).

As I was in the middle of the intersection, my mind literally went blank as I heard the awful crunch of twisting metal and the crack split across my windshield. The vehicle going perpendicular to me failed to stop at their red light, T-boning my hood, sending my car lurching into the boulevard.

Plans, whether short term or long term, can be wiped away in a blink of an eye. It causes everything to come to screeching halt. The plans that were written down suddenly disappear in a split second.

I feel that so heavily now in the season we are in. This uninvited waiting season. We had a plan, didn’t we? We had a plan and it’s not working out. It’s not supposed to be like this. It feels as if I’ve been thrown off a merry-go-round, left with my head spinning, trying to regain my balance.

But we are here. The waiting has shoved itself in through the door and parked itself on our couch. It’s here to stay and we are learning to make the most of it. By the grace of God, even though we thought we’d be somewhere else right now, we are learning to live in this waiting season.

We can make plans and lists and to-dos all we want. We can research and highlight and post-it note to our heart’s content. Yet, at the end of the day, God’s plan prevails. The Lord is the one who establishes our steps. I don’t believe God sardonically laughs at our plans, yet I believe he wants us to humble ourselves to the point where we give over our hopes and dreams to him, trusting that he will do what’s best and what’s good.

I can so easily clutch my hopes and dreams of being a family in America tightly to my chest, eyes squeezed shut, turning my shoulder away from God. But the Lord, in his ever loving kindness, draws me to him and gently calls me to lay my plans at his feet. He tells me to trust him.

The other day, while my homeschool kiddos were finishing up their work, I sat down in front of a piano and began thumbing through a tattered church hymnal. Flipping over the vintage red gilded pages with my left hand and lazily playing the melody of familiar songs with my right, I came across a hymn we sang together with our guests on our wedding day. The words of this old tune held a lot of meaning as we sang along with our loved ones, but after a year these words seem to take on a heavier, more real meaning to us:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

Last weekend, we had some crazy wind storms blow through Cappadocia — like doors rattling, windows howling kinda storms. I looked up on my trusty weather app and it said we were experiencing a “moderate gale”. Reminded of the lyrics of this hymn, I further investigated. A moderate gale is described as difficulty staying upright (my 5 foot 2 self had trouble standing in one place when taking out the trash that night) and branches breaking off of trees.

I certainly feel difficulty just standing upright in this season of life. It feels as if the waves are 30 feet high and we can no longer keep our head above the water. Life will never go perfectly as planned. I feel that now more than ever. But because of the difficult stuff of life, the hard spots, and the dark periods, I have never felt more confident in my Father’s love for me. Oh yes, we can rest, really rest, on his unchanging grace. 

I don’t know when this waiting season will finally get the hint and packs its bags. I don’t know what next year will bring, let alone tomorrow. But whether it’s beauty or heartache, I know that Christ is my Cornerstone. He holds all things together while I hold fast to him.

Our Story

Plants, Bans, and Faith in the Dark

January 27th, 2017

This date became forever marked as a time when lightness and enjoyment became harshly juxtaposed next to uncertainty and insecurity.  It was the opening scene for the following 12 months of feeling both joy and sorrow.

We reached our highly sought after destination, finally. One bus ride to a nearby town. One longer bus ride to a larger city. One bumpy, rickety city shuttle to the larger city’s center. 10 minutes of walking on the uneven pavement by a row of smelly fish stalls with shouting men. Then we arrived to paradise in liquid form. The place where my taste buds had only dreamed of going.

Starbucks.

Okay, okay, okay. Understand me for a minute. When you’re an expat and you live an hour away from any good coffee shops, Starbucks just feels like heaven on earth. The clouds part, the angels sing, and that smooth jazz plays over the speakers as you taste that first caramel macchiato you’ve had in months.

We continued to chat and sip on our overpriced, caffeinated drinks, enjoying this new season we were in and the new glint of sparkle on my left hand. Like the products of our generation that we are, we scrolled on our phones, reading out loud statuses posted by friends and turning our screens towards each other to share funny pictures.

But then he stopped. His eyes fixated on his screen. His brow furrowed. I waited for him to share as his phone vibrated with notifications.

There’s a travel ban. And I think it includes me.”

Are you sure? Does it affect refugees? Can he even do that? How long will it last?
A flurry of questions with answers only slowly becoming clear in the following days.
Yes. Yes. Maybe. 3 months, but probably longer.

What I Speak to You in the Dark

If you’ve read any of my past blog posts you’ll know that this season is a dark season for us. It’s a difficult place to be, in the dark. It feels that any hope we so much as slightly touch crumbles before our very eyes. Last week the latest travel ban was lifted, praise God, and the refugee immigration process started up again. Just this morning, however, we learned of a new immigration policy proposed that could set the immigration process back another six months.

An unmistakable heaviness breathes over our apartment as we rise to make the bed and our morning coffee. Up and down, up and down. Hope then disappointment. Rinse and repeat.

We have spent so much time in the darkness screaming out to God, “If you really loved us, you would open the door for us!” We’ve spent so much time shaking our fists, begging, and crying out to the One who is good and in control. He is in control…right? Yes. Yes, He is. He is good and He is in control.

Oswald Chambers certainly doesn’t mince words on this topic when he writes, “Pay attention when God puts you into darkness, and keep your mouth closed while you are there” (if he were around today, he’d probably say “just shut up and listen for a second”).

In the midst of my screaming and crying, I’ve felt a small tug on my heart to be still. God is speaking, if only I’d stop for a moment. The more still I am at the foot of the cross, I’ve felt less and less like I should pray for deliverance from our situation. Here’s the thing though: my circumstances haven’t changed. We’re here. No phone call has come. No plane tickets have been issued. We are so disappointed. Yet feeling disappointed means we are still trying. We didn’t surrender. We still care. And I know God’s beauty is somewhere in the darkness, even if my eyes are closed to it yet. I know that it will shine brighter than the night time we are in. I know He is weaving a beautiful story here, even if we can’t see it yet. He is teaching us to be faithful in the dark. But it is still such a hard place to be.

The One About Plants

One of our first big marital conflicts was about, well, plants. Houseplants, specifically. But, of course, as these things go, the argument about plants wasn’t really about plants.

One of us wanted to purchase indoor plants to cozy up our first apartment together in Turkey, to make a short-term, one-bedroom feel more like a home. The other saw it as superfluous. It took a lot of conversations (okay, fights) to understand why.

To buy something as unnecessary as a potted plant was to admit defeat. Filling our apartment with things that weren’t needed was to accept that we were staying here. It was a symbol of us giving up getting to the US. We are here in Turkey, and this is now our home.

Plants = permanence, permanence in a place we did not want to be permanent.

To buy houseplants or picture frames or throw pillows, for that matter, was a signal of a white flag. Our hands are raised. We surrender. We give up.

To avoid being extra cheesy, I’ll skip over the whole ~bloom where you are planted~ spiel. However, I do think there is something to this symbolism of plants in our marriage. Oftentimes, when I am finally quiet before the Lord, I can hear that still small whisper telling me that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. It’s an uncomfortable, tension-filled thing to hear. It’s actually the exact opposite of what I want to hear. It doesn’t make sense right now, but I trust that it will.

January 27th, 2018

Flash forward a year later and we are still here.

The last 365 days brought on a flurry of pieced-together wedding plans, a white dress that was meant to be worn in America shipped across the ocean, wedding day dreams slightly remodeled and expedited to fit into the new reality of staying in Turkey for much longer than anticipated. We endeavored into our newly married life by enduring travel ban after travel ban (three, to be exact), courts blocking, and judges denying, for one year. 

But God touched our hearts with the realization that that white flag was placing too much power in places that don’t deserve power. Power in news announcements. Power in bizarre and arbitrary immigration policies. Power in the President. One look at the headlines would reduce me to tears.

He is challenging me to, just be still.  To be still when my gut reaction as I’m drowning is to grab onto anything that will keep my head above the water? To be still when my impulse is to call an immigration lawyer, change our apartment, write emails, make phone calls, etc. etc.?

All of those headlines and awful comments from heartless people? They are nothing compared to the mighty and powerful God who loves us and works all things together for good. A loose cannon president? Ever changing policies? Absolutely nothing is too hard for God.

Yes, we are in the dark. It’s a hard place to be. But God is speaking. He is moving pieces around that will one day fit all together. We need only to be still and listen. God, help us to do that.

In Him,
Sarah