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

Photo by Scott Schwartz
Our Story

Strength Found in Surrender

“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8

Today… I ache.

I ache when I read the headlines each morning.

I ache for this broken country and this broken world.

I ache for the broken immigration system.

I ache for our president and his decision to limit the number of refugees to 45,000 (45,000??).

I ache for the millions of people whose lives are literally hanging in the balance.

I ache for the families and loved ones who are separated and will continue to be separated for an uncertain amount of time solely because of the passport they hold.

I ache – a lot – for my husband and our situation.

I ache for our dreams that we want so badly to happen.

Last night, after hearing some discouraging news, he and I both found ourselves beat down, broken, tired, and worn out. Sitting with our backs against the wall, elbows pressed to our knees, faces heavy in our hands, we realized we cannot go through life and this situation relying on our own strength any longer.

There’s a well-meaning but tiresome saying that has been floating around for years – God will never give us more than we can handle. And it would be encouraging if it were true – oh, I wish it were true. Yet, God DOES give us more than we can handle. When the burdens of life seem far too heavy to shoulder and we finally come to the end of ourselves and to the end of our human strength, this is when we have no choice but to surrender to Him.

This is the place where we both find ourselves now. It is hard and overwhelming.

Yet, oddly enough, I think it’s a good place to be.

Looking at the insurmountable mountain in front of us, we realized just how weak we are. Looking at our hands, scratched and muddy from trying, trying, trying to climb up the craggy cliffs, we realized just how helpless we are.

But we serve a God who divides the waters. We serve a God who breathes life into dry bones. We serve a God who walks on water. We serve a God who was crucified and just three days later walked out from the grave.

My husband and I have a mammoth mountain in front of us, absolutely. It’s impossible. We need a miracle. It looks foggy and we can only see a few steps ahead. But praise God, Jesus’ name is bigger than the president’s. Praise God, Jesus is on the throne, not our president. The Lord is bigger than the government and walls and bans. He is far above borders and policies and numbers and statistics.

Yes, God does give us more than we can handle. He does this so that we might come to the end of ourselves. He does this so that we might rely solely on Him and His strength and His power. He does this so that we walk up the mountain with our hands wide open.

God will intentionally give us more than we can handle and at the same time inject His strength and peace and wisdom into those heavy, too-hard-to-handle situations.

As I’m writing this, my husband is making tea (“so our home feels cozy”) and reassuring me that Jesus is good. We need only to trust in Him.

So this is what I cling to.

 

Refugee Stories

Stories of Refugee Women

I was sitting at a dining room table with mismatched chairs shoved behind the couch in the cozy living room. Chicken legs were bubbling in a pan on the stove. The savory spices tickled our noses as it wafted throughout the rest of the apartment. The television in the corner was on low, providing quiet background noise to our lesson. I sat with her – Zahra. We had laughed when meeting for the first time at how similar our names were. We muddled our way through the textbook’s chapter on Socrates, summarizing each paragraph as we went. I think I was as lost as she was when it came to crafting an essay on classical philosophers. But we pushed through. We giggled a lot. Her children crawled onto my lap and wove their fingers into my hair. We complained about Minnesota winters, clicking our tongues at the falling temperatures. She talked of taking night classes at the community college and how difficult it was to balance her courses with caring for her family. She talked of home home in Somalia and now just home in America.

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Hayat (left) and Yamama are cousins who, with their families, fled Syria to live in Lebanon. (UNICEF)

Swiping her index finger across the screen of her phone, she began telling me about her family. As each new picture appeared, she described her children – three grown sons, two already living in Europe and one living with her now in Turkey. Soon a picture appeared of smiling women gathered closely together. “My church in Turkey”, she explained. “In America, in America, in America”, she said, pointing to the faces of the majority of the women.  “Do you hope to go to America too or back to Iran?”, I asked. Reaching beneath her turtleneck, she pulled out a golden cross necklace with “GOD” gilded across it and gently brushed the piece of jewelry with her fingers. “America. We cannot go back home because…” – her voice trailed off as she drew a line forcefully across her neck with her thumb – “…you know…”. With a half-hearted laugh and a shrug, she left the sentence incomplete, the unspoken violent words hanging in the air.

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Somali girls study English in a school Daadab refugee camp, Kenya. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Sitting in the tent with fire-hot heat pumping out from the soba in the middle, we were motioned to sit back on the pillows placed around the tarp walls. Two women – just girls really, 22 and 24, and both married at 14 – brought in tea for us. Children tumbled through the tent opening, socks soaked from the cold December rain. One of the women, breastfeeding her newborn baby girl, told of her flight from Syria. She was 7 months pregnant, her oldest son on her hip. She walked 5 hours straight, carrying her family through checkpoints and across borders, fleeing for her and her babies’ lives, all alone. Holding her children close, she expressed concern about both of them not getting the nutrients they needed to grow because she was unable to produce enough milk. The incredible trauma she experienced stopped her body from producing the sustenance to keep her children healthy. Her son was 2 years old and still not walking.

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The United Nations refugee agency says Macedonia has begun allowing only people from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to cross its southern border from Greece. (Giannis Papanikos/AP)

These are three stories from three different women from three different countries. These are three snapshots of moments where it became glaringly clear to me, like a punch in the stomach, that these women were, well, humans. Suddenly, the numbers and statistics and headlines crumbled before me as I looked into their faces. All three women yearned for a stable life, to provide for their family, to make sure their children were happy and healthy. They only wanted stability, safety, and certainty.

I encourage you to find your own punch-in-the-stomach realization. Look for those moments. Standing in line at Target, make a silly face at the precious babysitting in the cart in front of you. Smile at his mother as you pick up the toy that was dropped. Say “salaam alaikum” to the Somali women you see at the grocery store. I guarantee it will elicit a giggle from them – and you. Bring cookies over to the new next door neighbors and explain to them your city’s bus route. Volunteer to be an English tutor through your local resettlement agency and you’ll find yourself in a similar situation as I did, studying Socrates, laughing, and seeing the humanity in refugees.

When you find your own punch-in-the-stomach story, spread it around to anyone who will listen. Do not stop sharing it. Our obsession with safety and security in this country cannot snuff out our capability to empathize, to be merciful, to connect and feel and hurt for those who are suffering. Our government may have made the decision for us to not welcome refugees at the moment. But that should not stop us from welcoming those who live right next to us.

In Him,

Sarah