Our Story, Turkey

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.

***

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.

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

4 Thoughts from the In-Between

Hope waits but does not sit. It strains with eager anticipation to see what may be coming on the horizon. Hope does not pacify; it does not make us docile and mediocre. Instead, it draws us to greater risk and perseverance.
– Dan B. Allender

And just like that the breeze in Turkey felt just a little cooler; the green, lush leaves seemed to look just a little crisper. We turned off the fan that had been continuously oscillating for three straight months. We got out our heavier bedsheets and starting wearing long sleeves before we hopped on our motorbike. One day it was summer and the next it was not.

“Another fall is coming” our souls sigh. Months come and months gone. Every day the reservoir of our hearts emptying just a little. Winter turned to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall. We flip the calendar again.

And in its inevitability, it seems the world continues its march forward while we hang in the delay.

In my previous posts, I’ve likened our waiting season to the wilderness, to a locked door, and to an uninvited guest. All those symbols still seem appropriate and maybe it helps just a little to pinpoint what we are going through with a label. That’s such a human thing, isn’t it? To slap on a sticker, fit it into a box. Maybe it gives something for our brains to grasp on to.

Whether a rude visitor or desolate wasteland, this season, in its simplest form, feels like living in the in-between. Somewhere in the middle of yes and no. Go back or move forward. Stop and go. Arrival and departure.

The in-between is the struggle to embrace the uncertainty with the thousands of prayers that remain unanswered. It’s where the tension of wanting to do something scrapes up against the need to surrender to God.

Right now, I am a full-time student of the in-between. I’m still enrolled (apparently God doesn’t give free passes or audits for this season of life). I had originally titled this post “LESSONS from the In-Between” but I don’t have any authority to speak on this season of life that I’m still smack dab in the middle of.

I’m also not going to pretend that remembering these things is easy. Honestly most days I struggle just to keep my head above the water. I go through weeks without reading my Bible and Sundays where I don’t open my mouth to sing. But I’m writing these out so that they can be etched into my heart and offer an anchor for those days when I’m overwhelmed by the lack of control. Maybe they will help you too.

1. We are not alone

One silver lining in walking through the valley of the in-between and the not-yet is that we are not alone. A simple truth I read recently during a Bible study was this: God speaks in promises. Isn’t that a cool way to look at the Word? God’s heavenly language is cloaked in the heartbeat of a Father who loves his children dearly. He promises to never leave us, even when the path is uneven and neverending.

His promises can be found sprinkled all throughout Scripture, and I have found myself clinging to Psalm 91 in particular. This Psalm was sung at our wedding, used to bring a family member into the Kingdom, prayed over a sweet baby girl during her baptism, and now, tucked tightly into my fists as we wait in this season. I’ve written out this passage over and over, cried out to God through these words, holding on and refusing to let go. God promises to be with us every step of the way and so I wrap myself in the Word as I continue in the in-between knowing that I’m not alone.

2. Look for the joy

I’m pretty sure there’s a saying that goes something like, “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry” that I find to be true, especially as we venture down this crazy road. When life is tough and it feels like our faith is shipwrecked, it is so important to look for the little glimmers of joy. And there are many. Oftentimes my vision becomes clouded by the worries, the impatience, and the uncertainty. It is then that I look to the little bits of light that are accompanying me in this in-between. And so, we take joy in going on hikes and looking in awe at God’s creation, reading good books, belly laughing out loud, baking yummy bread, and connecting over coffee and good conversations. I fully believe that one day, when we are out of the in-between, we will look back on these days and see that all these little things – baking and hiking and laughing – added up to way more than we realized.

3. There is purpose

It is so easy for us to slip into the mindset that our time is being wasted here while we wait to go to the US. We aren’t able to save a lot of money, build our retirement funds, or start growing our family. We are on hold, frozen in place, waiting for the page to finally flip over and a new chapter to begin.

The other morning I was reading through Luke 4 where, after being baptized and before the start of his ministry, Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness and is tempted by Satan. In the first verse, it states that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness (NKJV). He didn’t just take a wrong turn and end up in the desert by accident. It was planned and appointed by the Lord. The wilderness, the in-between, the waiting season was all part of the plan.

God is not wasting this time. Perhaps he is preparing and training you and me for something in the future, something just around those mountains that stretch and loom over us (oh, I can’t wait to update this post when I finally figure out the things God has been preparing us for!). I have no idea where tomorrow will lead or how many more unexpected turns there are, but I know that I am growing right here, changing, stretching, refining. And the story God has for my family is far from over.

4. Keep going

This in-between won’t last forever. I repeat that statement to myself, almost like a rhythmic mantra, throughout the day to steady my heart when I feel especially anxious in the waiting. It’s temporary. Walking through the valley, treading through the wilderness is temporary. I will not always be in this place. Even when I’ve grown weary of the twists and turns and living in suspended animation, I know this won’t last forever. There will be relief. Somewhere on the calendar, God has circled the day that we will move from this in-between. But for now, I will continue on, draped in grace and strength.

Keeping walking. Keep hoping. Keep going.

 

In Him,
Sarah

Our Story

When It Feels Like God Isn’t Good

It was inching closer to 9pm on a Sunday when my husband announces to grab a sweatshirt, “we’re going out!”. I’m used to his spontaneity, so I happily shrug on a sweater and we bound down the stairs to our motorbike.

Are we getting coffee? Going to the local festival downtown? I pester him with questions until he turns over his shoulder and says, “you talk too much”.

We head the opposite direction of town. Once the burning of the city lights and whining of the traffic are behind us, he turns the bike into a now deserted soccer field. The motor is cut and the gravel crunching beneath the two tires stops. Without a word exchanged, we simultaneously look up at the sky above us.

Out in the rural spread with no masking streetlights, a blanket of sky is peppered with tiny white dots, like a ginormous sheet of black fabric draped above our heads and little pin sized holes poked through. As our eyes adjust, more and more stars appear.

We stay seated on our bike, necks craned upward, quieted by the holy, mysterious sight.

What happens when God doesn’t seem good?

Lately, my go-to phrase, muttered angrily under my breath is, “Satan always wins”.

This world is hard and messed up and full of sin and confusion. I think of all the Sunday school memorized verses about God’s goodness and how he protects and provides and always wants what’s best for us. Yet, between clenched teeth, as I mutter those three angry words, it seems like those feel-good verses should come with some fine print or at least an asterisk.

Does God really care about that scary diagnosis? Does he care about her miscarriage? His job loss or their divorce?

Where is God’s goodness when he didn’t protect her as she walked home alone? When life is stolen from a womb? When 69 million people don’t have a place to call home?

And where is God now as we are waiting for this one dream to materialize? Does he really hear us? Does he really care that we are slowly exhausting our energy and our hope? Is God really bigger than the evil-infused earth?

The world is one soggy mess of grief, pain, and sadness, isn’t it?

With scary headlines and cynical twitter feeds, clinging to God’s goodness feels elusive and almost…naive. The doubt, the anger, the fear creep into our hearts. Sorrow has punched us in the stomach and the waves seem to only get higher. Why try so hard to find God’s goodness when it’s so obvious this world isn’t good?

I won’t pretend to know why God lets bad things happen or why it seems like Satan always wins. I won’t pretend to wrap up this post in a pretty little bow filled with good feelings and shoulder pats because I’m still very much wrestling with all these same questions.

But what I do know is that Satan hasn’t won. I do know that we already know the end of the story. That Jesus, on that day on the cross, won. He has full victory over this broken, messy world.

And I do know this: that God does care about our pain. He does care when devestating news is on the other end of that phone. He is there when our knees buckle and tears fall. He hears our prayers and knows our longings and dreams.

My trust is imperfect. My hope is half-hearted. But it’s a start, right?

God spoke to us, as we were staring up his creation in the late summer sky.

The breather of stars, who holds the sky in his hands when it feels like it’s crashing down, sits with us in this mess. He throws his arm around our shoulders, pulls us in close and whispers, “I know”.

“When I get to heaven, I’m asking God why he created the stars,” My husband says in the quiet night, still sitting on our bike.

I think maybe the One who holds all things together, the Victor, God who works all things for good, made the stars just for us. With one giant breath he spread the stars across the universe so that when we look up from the swirling waters and see those tiny pin-pricked holes shining down, we know that God is with us.

With all the dirt and evil and brokenness in this world, we can look to him, weary, blurred-eyed, and exhausted and trust that he sees us and he knows. His plan is to redeem and restore.

We can trust (imperfectly) that he has already won.

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