Our Story

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. 

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

The Gift of the Wilderness | Finding Rest

My waiting season oftentimes feels like the wilderness. Vines wrap their tight fingers around my heart. Pine needles poke relentlessly at my sides. The sticky cobwebs of my mind muddle my thoughts. I am tired, out-of-breath, and ready to give up.

For me, this season has lasted 19 months. Twists and turns. Nerves unraveling. No appointments scheduled, no plane tickets bought. Every morning when the phone rings, we hold our breaths that maybe today is the day when the skies will clear and we will stop circling this mountain in front of us.

We have all been in a place of waiting, stranded on an island inhabited with more questions than answers. We have all cried out to God, praying that He would just answer that one fervent prayer.

Does your waiting season feel similar? 

God is whispering to our anxious hearts, “Dear one, not yet”. He beckons us to rest at his feet while he does his mighty work in us, preparing us for the days to come.

This overgrown place is the womb in which trust and hope can grow. It is here that God speaks and moves and restores. Like a slingshot stretched tautly preparing to launch, it is here he is doing the most. The God who was in the garden is also here in the wilderness.

Blessings Unwanted

The other day as I was standing on my balcony taking in the summer sunrise and the chatter of magpies, I felt the Lord whisper to me, “This season is a gift”. I almost cried when I felt those words dot across my heart like goosebumps on skin. How can you appreciate a gift when its contents are the last thing you want? I can think of hundreds of things that the Lord should grant. But, out of all the cries and dreams saturating my soul, this is what he gives me? Like a spoiled child at a birthday party, I shove the unwanted gift back and stomp and pout.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the one who looks for Him. It is good that one should be quiet and wait for the saving power of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:25-26

Sitting there that day, watching the morning sun stretch through my neighbor’s leafy grape vines,  I felt a new perspective opening up in front of my eyes. The camera lens finally came into focus, lifting up my drooping spirits.

Yes, I’d love to be in America working, setting up our new home, and planning for our future. To be close to family and friends. I would honestly give my right arm to be there.

But right now, I get to be here.

Not “have”, but “get”.

I get to be intentional with my time. I get to spend my days next to my husband, settling into life together as partners and teammates. I get to slow down and hang the clothes on the line, letting the rays of the sun bleach and dry. I get to walk through the streets of our town to buy fresh fruit and warm bread. I get to put on quiet music and wash each dish with my hands. I get to do things that nourish my soul like write and draw and read. I get to live simply and slowly. I get to wait and rest in this season.

But God Meant It For Good

“Do you think God really wants the best for us?” I leaned over to my husband one night before bed, feeling the constricting twists of anxiety.

My husband, in all the things that he has gone through in life, responded with, “I think so. Looking back on my life and everything that has happened to me, yes, I think God wants the best for us”.

And so I take heart in God’s track record as my anchor as I paddle through uncertain waters.

Waiting is tiring. It is exhausting to see the days and weeks and months slip by while so many questions are left unanswered. It is tempting in the midst of suffering to take things into my own hands, convinced that God’s timing is taking too long. If I were in control I would have hopped a plane out of the country months ago.

I don’t know when we will leave. I don’t know when this season will end. I have no date on a calendar in which to squeeze tightly. No countdown. But I know we are supposed to be here. I don’t know why and I’m not really searching for a reason. I don’t want to stay stuck in the reason and miss the revelation. 

I don’t want to spend my time here twirling my fingers and impatiently tapping my toes. Or let the darkness take over as I pull the covers over my head waiting for this all to pass. I don’t want to sit and wait to get out of Turkey when God is calling me to be here now.

Waiting really is a precious blessing. Oh, how difficult that is to write. But I know God is with me. I know He is working and He is keeping His promises. He knows what is good for me and will give it to me when it is good for me. 

God tells me this season is a gift. And while I’m not yet ready to shout that from the rooftops or tattoo it across my skin, I am choosing to step into trusting Him every day. It is not an easy truth to swallow and I do not say it lightly. I wrestle to accept it every day as I stand on our balcony in the soft, still mornings.

He is inviting me to slow down, to look to Him, to be quiet, and wait. I don’t want to waste this slow season, especially when I know that the Lord is doing so many things right at this moment.

This is where I secure my foothold: He is calling me into his goodness and mercy today and his steadfast faithfulness tomorrow.

Our Story, Refugee Stories

World Refugee Day in an Age of Zero Tolerance

“Today is ‘World Refugee Day’,” I say glancing up from my phone to my husband. We are still in our pajamas this morning, bed head and all. He hands me my cup of coffee and gives a sad laugh.

I tuck my toes underneath him as he settles in next to me on the couch.  He stares ahead silently for a minute before responding simply with, “We just have to put our trust in God.”

June 20th is what the United Nations has designated as World Refugee Day. “In a world where violence forces thousands of families to flee for their lives each day, the time is now to show that the global public stands with refugees,” it reads on their website.

Funny enough, today in Turkey is also the day where all refugees in our province must report to the police station for their weekly fingerprinting. Were you aware refugees had to check-in via fingerprint every seven days? My husband’s and my week is planned around this one event. After coffee this morning, he quickly left in order to avoid the large crowds gathering at the police station.

Today is the day my mother-in-law arrived back from an out-of-town trip (planned strategically so as not to miss her fingerprinting). Before she left, it took two days and multiple trips to the police station in order for her to obtain permission to even leave the province. Did you know refugees had to get permission to leave their province? Although armed with the correct papers, she still boarded the bus with an uneasiness settling onto her shoulders.

Today especially, I am ever conscious of the weekly fingerprinting, the jumping through hoops in order to leave town, the fear of traveling outside the city in case an officer stops and demands the proof of papers and identification. Refugees who are in limbo are forced to bow to being treated almost as prisoners while they wait to move forward with their lives. 4 1/2 years my husband has had to do this. What do you think that does to someone’s self-worth and dignity?

World Refugee Day comes just over a month after one of my husband’s acquaintances tried to leave Turkey. After threats of deportation and threats over his religion, he made the dangerous decision to put his family on a boat to cross into Greece. This painful choice — that was not really a choice at all — led to the tragic death of his mother, nephews, and cousin.

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”
-Warson Shire

World Refugee Day comes one and half months after the U.S. enacted a zero-tolerance policy at the southern border where those who are seeking asylum are being separated from their children.

It comes at a time when politicians and leaders are using the Word of God to defend unjust, disgraceful policies.

This day comes when the Pew Research Center came out with a sobering statistic: nearly 1 out of 100 people are displaced from their homes. That is 65 million people displaced worldwide.

But with this rise in refugees and asylum seekers and an increase in people fleeing their homes from unimaginable violence, comes an uptick in keyboard warriors, people who sit in front of their laptops, coldly typing things like, “do it the legal way” and “get in line like the rest of us” and “but, but, but, it’s the law.”

A Call

For those living in America or in the comforts of a safe, stable home, to those with a job, family nearby, and a place to worship openly, to those who have no idea what is it like to raise your children while bombs are exploding in your city, or what it is like to fear your government, please listen.

Stop angrily typing for a minute and look around yourselves. Or better yet, look beyond yourselves.

Our elementary school history lessons have prepared us for a time like this. If you ever wondered what you would have done during the Holocaust, during the Japanese Internment Camps, or during the Civil Rights Movement, now is your chance. Like then, are you able to see evil as evil now? Unjust as unjust? Today will you stand on the right side of history?

An Apology

To my refugee and asylum-seeking friends, to those fleeing religious persecution, gang violence, domestic abuse, and to those only wanting a safe and peaceful life, if not for you but for your children, I am sorry.

I am sorry wealthy countries are slamming their doors shut to keep out those who were not lucky enough to be born inside the walls.

I am sorry you are judged and treated like a prisoner because of the passport you hold and the shade of your skin.

I am sorry you jump through every hoop possible, dance the dance required of you, do everything possibly right, and still, you are unable to find safety.

I am sorry Americans think it is a simple and straightforward process to flee your home and family.

“No refugee chooses to be a refugee. We do not choose to upset our lives, ripping out our hearts and souls, leaving all that we knew and loved for the unknown.”
– Hoang Chi Truong

I am sorry people have used the Lord’s name to justify the horrendous things happening.

I am sorry people have placed a policy enacted by a fallen man above your inherent worth as a child of God.

We see you.

We hear you.

We cry for you.

We want you safe.

And we want you here.