Friday, February 25, 2011

Messing Up My Kids?

Our first summer in Turkey Jose and I sent our kids alone on a circumcision parade. Andres was 5, and Camille was 2.

The celebration was for a neighbor boy. The patio of the apartment building buzzed with activity. A team of men fried donuts, which they served to the crowd. Musicians played a drum and shrieking clarinet. On the curb cars lined up behind a 1960’s red convertible. Ten year old Necati sat on the back of the convertible with his white cape and feathered turban. Neighbor kids and cousins crowded into the cars behind him.

Someone turned to me and said, “Aren’t your kids going?”

“Can I go with them?” I asked.

“No,” he answered. “There’s not enough room.”

I hesitated. How could I send my kids with people I barely knew? I didn’t even know where they were going. But I was anxious to fit in with the neighbors, and I thought people would think we didn’t trust them if we kept our kids with us. Andres jumped up and down, excited to go. So contrary to my cautious nature, I loaded him and Camille into a car and stood back.

The musicians got into the red convertible with Necati and played loudly as the cars drove off honking. I began to panic. Was I crazy? What if I never saw the kids again? What irresponsible mother would send her children off with people she barely knew in a country she’d just moved to? My own mother would kill me if she knew about this.

Jose and I went into Necati’s house, and a half an hour later the parade returned. Someone carried a hysterical Camille to me.

“She started crying the minute the car took off,” they said.

By the time we calmed Camille down, Andres disappeared. He’d gone with all the neighbor boys and men into Necati’s room for the circumcision. The door was closed tight. I wanted desperately to get my son out of there, but there was no way I could barge in and interrupt. Ten minutes later the door opened, and Andres bounded out laughing. I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was o.k.

For me this circumcision story is a metaphor of learning to trust God to care for my children as we serve Him in Turkey.

When we moved here my greatest fear was that we were messing up our kids. After all, they didn’t have a choice in the matter. What were we getting them into anyway?

I still worry sometimes that growing up here could affect them adversely. They’re far from relatives and our home culture, but they don’t quite belong here either. Camille came home from the park the other day saying one of the kids called her a dirty Christian pig eater. “I think people talk about us, Mom,” she said.

Yet on another level I knew that God has called us here. He is faithful, and I can trust him with our children. The example of Abraham encourages me. He was ready to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord, but God provided a ram to save the boy’s life. Abraham had to fully release his son to God. He didn’t know the end of the story when he laid his son on the rock before the Lord. I want to have the same attitude of entrusting my children to God.

Since God brought us here, I know He cares for and blesses our children. For the most part they’re happy and well adjusted. They enjoy their friends and life in Turkey. God has taken our children under his wings. He has the best in mind for them, plans to bless them. All of his promises, which are true for me, are true for them also. He loves them more than I do.

If you have children, can you relate to struggling to trust God with them?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Planting Seeds in Turkish Soil

Seeds are a mystery. When a farmer plants a seed, he cannot see what is happening underground, and he doesn’t know when it will rain. We cannot know what God will do through the seeds we plant when we share His love with our friends. Nothing happens without the Holy Spirit watering those seeds. God is the one who makes things grow.

Do you ever feel discouraged when people don’t seem to respond to God’s word? I’m learning to rejoice in planting seeds, not worrying about the results, just trusting that God is at work, even when we cannot see. Here are a few seed stories:

God Uses a 10 Year Old Catholic Bible

I was surprised when our Muslim friend Ali got a Bible down from the bookcase 5 minutes after our family walked into his living room. It was our first visit, and he showed us his Bible before we even had the chance to bring up spiritual things.

“I read the whole thing,” his wife Miyase said. “It’s a wonderful book.”

Leafing through his Bible, we were able to share the gospel at different points through the evening, and we learned that Miyase had just discovered she has heart problem. She was understandably upset, so I offered to pray for her. She immediately called the children into the living room, and everyone sat around with hands turned upward as I prayed. I closed my eyes, and tried to focus on the Lord instead of on how I sounded to these Muslims.

The seed for our conversation was planted when a Catholic priest gave Ali this Bible over 10 years ago.

God Uses Movies

My friend Janet just told me a great story. Last Friday at 9:30 pm her neighbor came over to ask her about the passage she was reading in the Bible Janet had given her. It was John 3, so after they talked about it, Janet gave her neighbor a movie version of the gospel of John. The woman was excited to get the movie. She came back a few days later and said she loved it so much that she watched it twice and read John again. Now she wants to memorize the book of John.

Janet says, “After 3 years of loving on them, her heart seems open and receptive for the Word and Jesus. God never stops working!”

God Uses a Tract

Last week at the little salon down the street, I felt God prompting me to give a tract that I had in my purse to the hairdresser. I like this tract, which is titled “You are Special,” because it’s about God’s love, but I wasn’t sure I was brave enough to give it to the hairdresser I’d just met. She was attractive and friendly, chatting happily while she cut my hair.

“You’ll see how nice your hair is going to look,” she said. “I always try to find out exactly what my customers want; that’s how I keep them happy, and they come back.” She kept talking, and I started praying. Suddenly I was struck by how comfortable she was selling herself to me as a hairdresser while I had something even more valuable to give her.

So I took a deep breath and said, “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. You’re such a special, friendly person. May I give you this? It’s about how much God loves you.” She smilled as she took the tract.

This happened two weeks ago, and I don’t know how God is going to water that seed, but I pray for her every time I walk by her shop.

You never know what God will do through the small seeds you plant. Have you planted a seed of kindness or shared God’s love with anyone this week? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Overwhelmed by the Fast Lane

Fast Lane Life

 Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life? Like you’re racing down the fast lane? Sometimes life seems to speed up on its own.

Here’s what fast lane life looks like for me: One Sunday after breakfast with our weekend guest, my husband took my daughter to skating lessons while I cooked for our 12:00 house church meeting. I was just about to jump in the shower at 10:30 when the doorbell rang. Out of town visitors had arrived one and a half hours early. I was in my pajamas.

I ran down the hall to my son’s room. “Andres!" I said, “Open the door for them! I’ve got to take a shower!”

I raced into the bathroom, locked the door and somehow emerged 15 minutes later with clothes and makeup on. I made tea and talked with our guests until my husband returned. Other friends arrived at 12:00, and we had a great meeting. Afterwards I served soup and snacks and made tea. Everyone left by 4:30, just in time for me to make tea a third time for a couple who came at 5 for marriage counseling with my husband and me. After two hours of marriage counseling, my brain was fried, but my children, who had hadn’t had quality time with us all day, wanted to talk!


The fast lane is that state of mind when we are racing from one thing to the next, wondering how we can make everything fit in to our overloaded schedules.

Last week I was feeling overwhelmed by life and ministry. We believe God has called us to church planting, which involves visiting people, making new friends, and seeking to share the gospel. Only I still have a real life too. I home school two kids, juggle extra-curricular activities and run a weekly speech club. Of course I have to cook, clean, do laundry and get myself to the grocery store. I went to bed one night thinking, “How on earth can I do all of this and still find time to work on church planting?”

One Thing

I woke up early the next morning with the same thoughts and shuffled into the kitchen to make coffee. I sat down with my Bible. A familiar verse struck my eye:

One thing I ask of the Lord,
This is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
And to seek him in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

As I thought about these verses, my anxiety began to melt away. I sat quietly in God’s presence and sensed His Spirit touching me. Slowly, peace filled my heart and mind. Everything came into focus. Life was not as complicated as I made it.

I don’t have to figure out how to fit everything into my day. All I have to do is make my relationship with God my first priority. He will order my life according to His plans as I seek Him first. I can trust that He will guide my steps as I walk through each day, living in His presence. If I seek God first, everything else, home schooling and church planting, will fall into place. That morning God transformed my thinking in just 20 minutes, and I had new peace and courage.

Of course it’s easy to forget this on those fast lane days when life spins out of control, but I know where I can go for an attitude adjustment.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Turkish Delight: Life-Changing Lessons

Last weekend I had another Turkish moment.  I was squeezed in with 13 people at my neighbors’ table, savoring her delicious chicken noodle soup, awed by the spread in front of me:  stuffed grape leaves, okra in olive oil, carrots in garlic yogurt, and some ten other dishes. Everyone was talking at once, a soccer game was blaring on television, and the kids were running around the house.
“You haven’t eaten anything,” our hostess lamented.  “Have some of these spinach pastries. All of this food has got to be eaten!”
After dinner when the ladies retired to the kitchen for Turkish coffee, I smiled to myself, remembering again how much I love Turks.  I came here to share God’s love with them, but they have changed me in the process. The longer I’m here, the more I appreciate what I have learned from them.
If you came to have coffee with my neighbor, she would surely offer you some Turkish delight.  I have a different offering for you this week:  little tidbits of Turkish style wisdom. These are life-changing lessons Turks have taught me.

·         Make Relationships a Priority

Turks live in community. Friends and family talk to each other almost daily and see each other often. (We Westerners would probably call this co-dependency.) At my neighbor’s dinner gathering, two of the couples had also gone to breakfast together the same day.  The women visit each other every Thursday.  They are lifelong friends who live in community.

·         Be Available to your Friends and Open to Interruptions

Many Turks will drop almost anything if friends call and ask, “May I come over right now?” As a Westerner I program and schedule my life down to the last hour, and I have a hard time putting aside my plans for friends who call to ask, “Are you free now?”  I wonder how many serendipities I miss when I’m not open to interruptions?

·         Make Room for Spontaneity in Your Life

Once my husband and I had plans to have dinner with a younger Christian couple. One hour before our dinner guests were set to arrive, my close friend Esra called.

“We haven’t had water in our apartment for 3 days. Can we come take showers at your house?”

I thought for a minute: Not only would our quality time with the couple be ruined, but I would need to then feed Esra’s family as well.  I asked her if she had any other options and explained that we were expecting guests, but I’ve wondered what lovely chaos would have resulted if I’d said, “Sure, come on over!”

·         Practice Hospitality

Turks can teach us the gracious art of hospitality, whether it’s offering a dish of nuts and dried fruits or a 5 course meal. The important thing is opening our hearts and our homes to friends.

·         Make Time for Slow Food and Slow Life

My favorite slow food is sarma.  It takes me 3 hours to make the filling and stuff the grape leaves. I tell myself, “I have three hours to enjoy cooking. I don’t have to hurry through life.” But I haven’t really learned this lesson because I only make sarma twice a year!

·         Respect Your Elders

When was the last time you kissed an older person’s hand?  Turks do it all the time.

So that was my box of Turkish delight for you. These are some things that make me love Turks.
If you have travelled or live overseas, what have you learned from your hosts?