The Defiant Act of Putting Down Roots

As I sit here writing this, I’m on our balcony off the kitchen. The school kids are breaking for recess and kicking around a soccer ball, their shrieks coming from the middle school across the street. I have laundry pinned to the line – linens and pillowcases. The October noontime sun is strong enough to dry them quickly. The fall weather has come to Turkey but the concrete sides of our apartment building still radiate the heat of the day.

This month marks five years of living in Turkey.

In 2014, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket in hand, leaving behind the flat prairie lands of the upper Midwest, my family, friends, and most of what was familiar to me, and traded it for dry arid weather, a new community, and something called fairy chimneys (yeah, I didn’t know what they were either). What was supposed to be a one-year teaching gig in a foreign country turned into five.

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It’s weird and insignificant but one of the things I get joy from is looking at the weekly ad circulars with my husband. My mom sends them to us tucked into her care packages. It’s a silly ritual the two of us do together because it reminds us of home. Flipping through the Target and Kohls ads that have traveled across the ocean is a glimpse into life beyond Turkey. It means looking forward. Planning. We do the same with homes on Zillow and things on Facebook Marketplace. It shows that one day we might build a life outside of Turkey.

To us, it’s a strange little symbol of hope.

But what if we cannot, at least for the foreseeable future, make a home in the US? What if, due to politics and bans and greed and misplaced fear, we cannot leave where we are? How do we put down roots when we don’t want to?

Making a home amid waiting is tricky.

Look at this way: If I invited you to sit in a chair pulled up to a desk for the next six hours, what would you do? You have six hours so you’d probably open your laptop and get some work done. Maybe answer some emails. Watch a movie, work on a hobby, read a book. You’d be productive.

What if instead, I invited you to sit in a chair pulled up to a desk for the next five minutes? What would you do? It’s just five minutes so you’d probably stare at the wall. Drum your fingers on the desk. Gaze out the window. You’d wait.

Making a home in the midst of waiting is tricky.

Then what if, after the five minutes were up, I came back and said, “Sorry, sorry. Please sit for just five more minutes.” You’d wait again. What’re another five minutes? And again. And again. Until those five minutes have turned into six wasted hours.

It’s hard to make a home when you’re in prolonged waiting. It makes the heart sick.

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Marrying someone who has refugee status meant finding myself thrown amid bureaucratic limbo. It meant being at the bend and will of politicians who see others like pieces on a chessboard – to be moved, jumped over, kicked off – for their own advantage. The powers-that-be forced us to hit the pause button on life, to waste those five minutes over and over again, to live indefinitely in the temporary.

We don’t feel like we have much control over anything.

But what if there was one thing we could control? What if we could shift our mindset from a temporary-bags packed-we’ll be gone in five minutes- way of thinking to something more settled? Solid? Home?

Marrying someone who has refugee status meant finding myself thrown in the midst of bureaucratic limbo. It meant being at the bend and will of politicians who see others like pieces on a chessboard – to be moved, jumped over, kicked off – for their own advantage.

What if deciding to make a home right where we are was the ultimate act of defiance against the forces keeping us in the temporary? What if deciding to put down our suitcases and put down roots right where we are meant we have some semblance of control over our lives?

There’s a certain freedom in realizing we have a choice to make our current place home.  It won’t be forever, but for now. My arms are big enough to hold on tightly to our dream of one day moving to the US in one arm and cultivate rootedness in the other – even if it’s temporary.

Are you in a place where you are reluctant to put down roots?

Trying to make a home while living in a state of limbo is a messy thing. But we can thrive, strive, and take our unwanted situation and build on it. We can take the dirt surrounding us and press our roots down deep, just a little. And maybe something wonderful will grow.

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Home for me is pretty ambiguous these days. It’s transient. But being in this state of prolonged uncertainty for so many years has widened my definition:

Home is adding one more book to an already packed bookshelf.
Home is nailing picture frames to the wall (when we’re sure the landlords are gone).
Home is watching the potted plants grow and bloom.
Home is the two little painted wooden houses dangling on a string in the kitchen.
Home is a soft place to land. Safe, secure, welcoming.
Home is temporary; it changes, and flows, and exists through everything.

How would you define “home”?

Putting down roots in a place I don’t want to is sanctifying me, preparing me, and cultivating fruit in me. God’s not wasting this time. I don’t want to either.

I thought about trying to tie this all back to something about how, for believers, the earth is not our home because our eternal home is in heaven *insert cute little bible verse here*. But honestly? That’s not where my heart is at the moment. It isn’t easy to decide to let the roots start growing. It isn’t easy to juggle both the present and the future.

I still have that itch to get out of here. Believe me, Turkey is not home. But if I don’t embrace where I am right now and trust God is carefully holding my dreams, I’ll be terribly itchy.

So how do I embrace a life that is forcing us to be stationary? Maybe it has to do with the little things, like putting up photos, organizing knickknacks, and planting gardens. I don’t really know for sure yet. But I know for the health of my soul and sanity I need to keep pressing deep into the dirt and letting the roots grow, just a little, just for a while. I’m sure we will figure it out…right after we check Zillow one more time.

 

Home, But Not Really

Nope, no balloons yet.

I let the curtain fall back and silently tiptoe out of the bedroom. At half past six this time of year the sun takes its sweet time pushing past the horizon and with it, the hot air balloons. They won’t be hanging in the sky for at least another hour. 

In the coolness of the dark November morning, I grab a sweatshirt and two thick socks, hopping on one foot while putting them on, taking care not to bump into any plastic bins and cardboard boxes strewn about in the corners of the hallway. A mop, a broom, tape, and a bursting black garbage bag lay obediently on the ground just as they were left the day before in the frenzy of moving. 

In Route

After the US’s travel ban was enacted in early 2017, we pieced together a sweet and simple wedding here in Turkey and moved into a 200 sq foot furnished apartment. Nesting our new humble home was pretty nonexistent save for a few picture frames and house plants (that may have caused a few arguments). We conceded to living among someone else’s couches and dinner plates and made it work with a dorm sized refrigerator and a bedroom with no window.

This was all well and good because in the next two months — three tops — we’d be gone. This administration is crazy right now but they’ll figure something out. They can’t do this forever, right?

The oversized suitcases perched on top of our wardrobe served as a reminder of the state of our hearts. We were in route, a short stopping point along the way. Roots shallow and our minds in another part of the world. This is just a minor blip in the plan. No big deal.

It didn’t happen all at once, like a ton of bricks hitting my chest. It was more of a slow realization, a gradual drip of understanding that, yes, this was a big deal. And, now 18 months later, we’d probably be here a lot longer than we imagined. 

Temporarily Permanent 

As the brewing of the coffee slows, I fish a mug out from one of the cardboard boxes and lift off the week-old newspaper surrounding it, serving as a temporary protection while it jostled in a van across town. 

I glance at the inked headlines before crumpling it up into the garbage. “CRISIS AT BORDER”, “CALIFORNIA SHOOTING KILLS 12”, “FIVE MIGRANTS DIE AFTER BOAT SINKS OFF TURKEY”

My heart heaves a heavy sigh as it thumps with anger and disappointment. Our prayers aren’t working. Things are getting worse. 

I look around at the boxes and plastic bags – so many plastic bags that I’m sure they’re multiplying – dirty rags and cleaning bottles. Did we make the right decision? Our move shows that we are reluctantly planting roots and watering it with couches, kitchen gadgets, and bedding. Is this a surrender? 

Changing Seasons

It seemed appropriate that the last morning in our studio apartment was the first day it snowed here. It wasn’t much and it melted as soon as it hit the ground, but it felt like a silent signal of the changing seasons, those strange few weeks that squeeze themselves between autumn and winter.

We find ourselves saying “happy and sad” a lot in our conversations. Feeling the tension of juggling two opposite emotions. And we now feel the balancing act of wanting to push forward and move on coupled with the roots that are sprouting from the soles of our feet. 

While not yet Thanksgiving, the approaching holiday season is before us as is the coming of the birth of Christ. Advent. A time of looking forward with anticipation to the Messiah as the baby in Bethlehem. It’s a season where our hearts yearn for Christ to come and set things right – in our messy selves and in this broken world. 

I think there’s a lot to be said on how the God of the Universe sent his only Son into the world. Here, in this mess, to live and dwell among us. God’s heart is to renew all things. Everything he does is backed by his desire for redemption. As I read the angry, screaming headlines while unpacking our belongings in our new and less-temporary home, I know that Christ is here with us and will one day set things right. We all find ourselves feeling the tension of the already and not yet of the Kingdom.

New Rhythms

There’s something about moving that forces us to reevaluate and re-rhythm our life. With the plastic bins, painters tape and the sharpie scratched across, we are forced to throw out the things we no longer need and keep and treasure the things we do. There are new routines to figure out, like when and how often to do laundry (and to be strategic when washing when there is no dryer). 

It’s an opportunity to re-rhythm our hearts too. Throw out the bad, hold fast to the good. While we prayed a lot about the decision to move, I still felt shaky. I felt shaky even when we made the countless trips down three flights of emergency exit stairs, carrying mirrors and plants and boxes. I felt shaky when we closed the door to the tiny space that was ours for a year and a half.

This isn’t the move we have been praying and hoping for. We don’t want to move across town; we want to move across the world. This new apartment is more expensive. How are we going to pay the bills and the heighten electricity costs? Thoughts of uncertainty swirled in my brain. 

This morning though, as I stood in our new kitchen, looking out at a new and unfamiliar view, I felt the Lord whisper the beginning lines of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want”.

I shall not want. I will lack nothing. God, with his father heart, is my shepherd. 

“There has to be at least 50!” I’m back in bed with my husband now, second cup of coffee in hand and he’s counting the balloons from our window. The curtains have been pushed back and the lazy sun has begun to make an appearance. All at once, it seems, bursts of colorful balloons suspend low in the sky. It’s still dark enough to see the giant puffs of fire surging up into the hollows of the balloons. I curl up under the blankets thinking of the eager tourists braving the cold morning air, 20 clustered into each basket. 

Deciding to move was a huge leap of faith. It’s not what we wanted to do, but we trust that God is bigger than we can understand and we know that Christ is near. Our step of faith made however reluctantly won’t go unnoticed. Things will be made right.

For now, we will enjoy the view.