Our Story, Refugee Stories, Turkey

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.

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.