Our Story

If It Is Darkness We Are Having, Let It Be Extravagant

Sometime after the call to prayer but before any hints of daybreak, I feel her hiccup for the first time. The sliver of moon still glows and so does the green neon sign from the bakery across the street. If the windows were open, the smell of fresh-baked Turkish bread would be floating through.

What a wild thing to feel life moving inside your body.

In the quiet darkness of the not-yet morning and in the warmth of my bed, I rest my hand on the roundness of my abdomen, feeling the pulsing thumps. I reach over to tap my husband awake but his deep, slow breaths remind me it’s scarcely 6:30am and I decide to wait.

He had spent all last evening with his head next to my stomach waiting to feel the baby move against his cheek as he murmured a poetic string of Farsi to her into my shirt. “Is it normal?” he looks up, concerned he hadn’t yet felt anything. “It’s because your voice is calming her to sleep,” I reassure him.

It is a certain type of joy to grow any kind of life. It’s like spotting a wildflower bursting through the cracks of dried up dirt along the road. When life finds a way to breakthrough, it’s a beacon of hope, beauty shimmering in the hard places.

 ***

There’s a saying from some of the experts in the writing world that says to “write from your scars, not your wounds.” The idea behind this being that there is an importance in giving distance to our emotions and experiences before we share. It is vital to respect the process we must go through before broadcasting it to a wider audience.

But what if we don’t have the privilege to write from our scars?

We are still very much in the hard stuff of life right now. It’s unclear when the new skin will start to form over the hurts and the healing will begin. But perhaps wounds and scarring and hurts and healing don’t need to occur independently from each other. Perhaps it is sacred and important when writing transpires from each place side-by-side. Maybe it is good to hold space for both.

This blog is a place where I write from my wounds, despite what the writing experts say. I do it because I don’t have the luxury to wait for a scab to grow. The things posted here are raw. It’s what we are feeling in real-time. But a tension that comes when drafting each essay is to over-spiritualize the wounds, to end each piece with: this was a hard thing but then we had faith and God changed it! Because God hasn’t changed it. Because I haven’t gotten the thing for which I have longed. Because there is no guarantee I will get the thing for which I have longed. But there is merit to sharing the waiting and the wrestling and the wounds, even while prayers go unanswered.

Paired with the tension of choosing what to share publically and what not to share, is the juggling of both the difficulties and the little joys in our life – that little flower growing against all odds amidst the dust and dirt.

It’s an inhale of devastating news where the course of our lives takes a neck-breaking turn. It’s an exhale of seeing two pink lines appear on a pregnancy test. It’s in this space where joy and sorrow share the same breath. It’s in buying little white onesies and putting together a crib coupled with long drives late at night with tears as our only prayer because the edges of our world are starting to unravel. The blooming of life and the burying of dreams dance together.

***

The world’s weariness is powerful. It takes strength to push against it and shoulder the door closed. But when it slinks through the bottom gap of the frame and unpacks its bags, hope sits expectantly in the shadows.

Part of what makes hope so elusive is that it must be fought for. It isn’t easy or natural to hold on to it in the midst of difficulties because it slips and slides out of our hands as darkness screams louder.

But with the tiny joy of life growing and forming, hope becomes a beacon pointing us ahead, a lighthouse guiding the way forward.

As my belly swells a little rounder with each passing week, and our dresser drawers fill with blankets and pacifiers and diapers, here is what hope is: it’s looking onward. It’s clinging to that rope — our one and only lifeline — when we can’t grip the edge of the cliff any longer. It’s resting in that tension and believing there are always miracles tucked away in the darkness.

At the beginning of January, there’s always an uptick in blog posts and photo captions about choosing a word for the new year. But how does one determine a word that encapsulates the spirit of the next 365 days? We don’t have the luxury to plan for the next rotation around the sun – or even the next month. We live in the midst of small seasons, standing at the threshold of the ever-changing day-to-day and are face-to-face with life’s chaos. It’s unclear what tomorrow will be or how things will end.

We wish we had been given a tidier story, one where joy and sorrow don’t hold hands, one where dreams always bloom and darkness stays away. I wish we could look down at the healed over scars and think of all the lessons and reflections and gems we gleaned. But this story is messy and we still only have wounds. Joy and sorrow move in tandem. We can’t keep the darkness from entering our lives, but we can hold fast to hope. We can search for joys glistening through the world’s weariness. And I’ll still share here, despite the lack of scars, because it’s important and beautiful and holy to testify of God’s goodness in the midst of waiting for the coming healing.

I didn’t choose a word for the new year because I have no idea what it has in store. But I do know it’s bringing hope. It’s ushering in joy. It’s bringing quiet miracles like the rhythmic hiccups in my stomach in the early hours of the morning.

A baby. A wildflower. Life. It is joy untarnished by the darkness. And, in this new year, may it all be extravagant.

 

 

Title taken from Jane Kenyon’s “Taking Down the Tree” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon.
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.