Over the Phone

phone

After a satisfying conversation with a dear friend, my heart felt the fullest it’s been in awhile. In a world of relationships, there exist gems like this one who have the prized ability to breath life into others- even over the phone.

Although God has lead us to different areas of the globe, the warm fuzzies tingling in my soul long after we hung-up indicated a closeness. There’s nothing like a divine phone call; God always seems to orchestrate them during the most needed times.

We volleyed the topics back and forth, asking questions that bared our honest answers. Being able to speak my raw thoughts aloud was reviving– I knew she truly cared.

This kind of friend is rare, and I’m amazed she’s one of mine. A gift to everyone she befriends, I’m so glad she befriended me.

We’re both drastically different people from who we were when we first met. And that’s a good thing.

It’s because we’ve both learned to step back and let God be our guide. With the Holy Spirit as our compass, the places he has brought us have resulted in changing us, transforming us, and growing us to be less of the old and become more of the new.

Having similar life experiences of mixed variety, my friend and I are able to better relate, encourage, and pray for the other with a spirit of common wisdom.

Within our separate stories, as well as through the other, I can speak for the both of us that we’re discovering the greatest lessons life can offer:

One, the realization of the grace poured out toward us.
Two, the mercy and affection of Jesus Christ our Savior.

May He continue to lead us in gratitude as we live where we are and do what we do.

Until we ring again.

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Minnesota Minutes

It seemed that as soon as I landed in California, it was only seconds later I was lifted off its turf and then brought back to earth (or water, rather) in the land-o-lakes.

Touchdown goes to Minnesota. Skol Vikings!

Yeah, my pride goes deep. Many a blog has already been dedicated to my adoration for my home state, especially to the Eden of the Prairies:) There’s nothing like returning to familiar territory filled with lanes of memories and friendly faces at every stoplight. It’s a big town with a small town feel.

If my week in California went fast, my week in Minnesota only went faster. Taking advantage of the waning minutes of daylight and dusk, again I recognized how much of a gift this short homestay was for both parties.

For the ones I left behind, my hope is that your encounter with me brought you greater understanding of how my life in Turkey is comprised of more fulfillment and purpose and joy than I could have imagined. Know that your support for me is supporting something so much bigger– I feel your prayers every day and I thank you with bottomless gratitude!

For the returnee, I was still pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Waking up in my family’s home, eating American food, hearing English everywhere I go… it was all so familiar yet so foreign. Then, walking out my sliding door into a yard beautifully arranged with flowers and plant compilations by my most creative mother, the only sounds being that of birds chirping, it was as if I had stepped into my own private park!

The moments of peace and quiet I experience in Istanbul are one-in-a-million, so this was the biggest culture shock yet biggest cultural treasure I felt when re-entering America. Driving down open roads with no other cars on them, tall trees forming sidelines and curving to form overhead bridges… I caught myself too many times with my eyes on the massive sky above me instead of the road in front of me!

However, being squished in the backseat between my two baby brothers who now look like they should be my big brothers was also a bit of a culture shock…

As well as the convenient conversations I could have with my parents instead of the process of figuring out skype dates between opposite time zones…

And actually feeling engulfing hugs instead of written messages ending in X’s and O’s…

And getting to run…

OR walk around my favorite lakes EVERY DAY with my favorite people and sometimes with my favorite iced caribou coffee in tote…

It was all surreal. But at the same time, it was all So Real.

I wanted to make every minute last for as long as I could.

So, for 24 hours of them, I kidnapped my mom and we took a quick escape out to the cabin.

Right as we pulled up to the door, the clouds burst open and gave us the concert of a lifetime. Sitting at a candlelit table, we stared out the panorama windows to take it all in; rain pelted percussions on the tin roof of the farmhouse next door, streaks lit up the sky, mirrored by the lake’s dancing surface, giant booms shook through the entire house, vibrating our very seats!

Bravo, Minnesota. Bravo.

Although my minutes with you were far from enough, thank you for the memories you keep adding to the already-full heart of this Minnesota girl:)

I love you and I miss you already. And don’t you worry, I’ll be back–if only to see another booming rockshow…

In the Flesh

Being pulled out of life’s rhythm to fly across the globe to see and catchup with my other world of people could have seemed too daunting or too risky: not worth breaking out of ministry or the guilt of wasting resources. But that’s not the way I saw it. Because for me, life is a gift. YOLO.

Plus, the timing of this particular gift could not have been better.

I was brought out of the Turkey turmoil back to America for a wedding. Having already lived out of my suitcase for one week to avoid living in Protestville –the one I had packed into my suitcase during the anxious rush to flee– I again re-packed its random contents (praising God I had remembered my passport and bridesmaids dress,) and 18 hours later landed in the good ole USA. Ready for stability and support and love, a wedding was a perfect place match for a displaced soul.

However, I felt the love long before the wedding festivities even began. My sweet friend who picked me up from LAX knows me well enough to take me straight to Manhattan Beach inclusive of special treats from Starbucks:) With American sand between my toes and waves and wind twisting my hair into the ever familiar, salty, SoCal tangles, my smile immediately plastered itself permanently onto my face.

It was as if nothing had changed. Except so much had.

I was then dropped into the arms of another who offered me traveler’s gold: a glass of ice water, a hot shower, and a home. The evening passed by in a dreamlike whirr as old roommates (whom I will never stop calling my roommates) joined us for dinner. Plates were piled high with quinoa, garden tomatoes, carameled pecan salad, and bright red fruit.

My host delightfully outdid herself:) Brownies and ice cream followed a transition from the kitchen table to the front porch couch. There we sat under the stars… pinching ourselves at times in near disbelief of actually being in the same place after a year of being apart.

When I committed to two years in Turkey, there were no plans for any trips back to America. But then a wedding beckoned and a ticket miraculously slapped in front of me. I knew I could take the trip.

It was a gift.

Such a gift. The next two days with my roommates, forever to be known as the Core Four**, and other familiar APU faces deepened my appreciation and recognition of the gift I had been given. I was so encouraged to be able to spend time with my friends and see with my own eyes that they are all doing what they deem obedience to the Lord by seeking and surrendering to the path that He has purposed for each one of them. Not only that, but they’re pursuing it with joy and blessing; nothing made me happier than to see God’s favor poured out over their lives.

Then, being able to share my experiences and the work God is doing with people who I know have been serving alongside me with support was unreal. Looking at everything that has happened in the past year and then being physically brought back to the friends who lived, dreamed, planned, and prayed with me before any of it launched into action… Let’s just say what we know to be true but continue to learn and experience: God is faithful, and God is good.

And He keeps on giving.

The next day I drove 7 hours north with a soulsister to celebrate the event for which I flew across the ocean. As I stood witness to one of the most beautiful ceremonies I’ve been blessed be a part of, tears streamed endlessly down my face. Yes, emotions were obviously heightened by the continental jump I’d recently taken, then of course by the love story of this stunning couple saying I Do…  then add to that the love story of the girls standing to my left and to my right. Overwhelmed, I struggled to take it all in.

Who are these important girls that brought the waterworks, you ask? Well, we call ourselves the Fab Five, and our love story began five years ago. I must reminisce…

Although it wasn’t love at first sight, it was a love that took root from the first day of college that fateful week of choir camp. Growing stronger as we grew more sure of ourselves, we slowly began to lower our guards, and then boom! Out came our weirdness, our contrasting personalities, our ugly but beautiful selves, our fiery passions, and a supernatural bond of love. Going through four college years of developing together and individually, these girls have become part of who I am and I couldn’t imagine life without them. We’re all still very different and journeying our various paths, yet despite the long-distance and busy schedules, we continue to grow together.

This was evident as we spent a week together celebrating the marriage of one of us– best friends reconnecting as best friends do: with laughter and tears, late nights of both silly, nonsensical conversations as well as ones processing heavy decisions, and early morning runs so we can eat more food than the too much food we already ate the previous day and the day before that. Of course, being together in the flesh –braiding each other’s hair, dancing hand-in-hand, all of us sprawled on one hotel bed chatting our lives away, linking hearts with hundreds of hugs and prayers– is definitely the preferred context for friendship. But when we said goodbye there was peace and gratitude, each one knowing it wouldn’t be long before a text, e-mail, skype date, or snapchat would be in the making
again:)

I left California with a full heart, amazed at the people God has wrapped my life with and humbled at how well they love me every minute of every day. I don’t deserve it. But God is so good, and the gifts He gives are ever abounding and have a high tendency of coming in the flesh…

**And it seems apparently my friends and I make numerical titles: Core Four/Fab Five…
#priceless #beyondblessed

Returning Humanity

I close my eyes and all I can see are two tiny faces. At first they were quiet and shy, but it wasn’t long before they gobbled up the attention they had been starving for. Their eyes squinted in laughter, their mouths wide open in smiles from ear to ear.

A rare moment of joy.

Another face flashes before me. It’s of a woman. Her eyes brimming with tears as she sat and talked with me, her spirit gushing in an overwhelming reaction to real human interaction. Craving to connect with any sort of community. She broke down, all because I acknowledged her humanity. Because I listened.

A rare moment of connection.

As I am seeing more of the needs around me, I see the obvious lack of resources and physical aid, but I see another facet of life that’s missing. The absence of joy and connections that comes from relationship.

If you go around asking people what their most treasured possessions are, or what they’d bring with them if they were to be stranded on a deserted island, a typical response would be a special person. Humans like to be with humans. Solitary confinement is never something sought after, it’s a form of imprisonment used for criminals. We’d go crazy without community, we’re whole with it.

God gave Adam Eve. People are wired for relationship.

I greatly value the friendships I left behind in order to cross over a massive body of water; they’re always on my heart and often on my Skype screen or iMessage. It’s amazing how I can still feel connected and loved and supported. Dear friends, I appreciate you more than you know.

But now, close your eyes and imagine yourself packing your belongings in a single backpack; you’re fleeing the country due to its dangerous state. You do so without knowing where you’re going or if you’ll ever return. The friends you’ve shared your whole life with have also fled. You don’t have a clue to their whereabouts, or if they’re even still alive.

Fast forward- you crossed the border and have safely escaped with your life. Now what?

Now, you are face to face with a thousand foot brick wall. You look up and all you can see is discouragement and fear. Every insecurity possible is thrown at you. These trials, this moment, is one in which people are clung to the most. However, every relationship you’ve ever had is suddenly gone.

The women that used to come over for Tuesday night cooking club, the mom’s you complained about your children’s teachers with, your children’s Saturday play-date friends, they’re nowhere in sight.

The men your husband would watch a soccer match with on a Friday night after a long week of tilling the fields, gone –along with the fields they spent years and years learning how to cultivate in order to grow the perfect cucumbers, and along with all possibility of using their skills in agricultural trade ever again.

No. The only jobs available are not to grown men, but to children. Only 13 year old girls have a chance to make money in the factories. Their tiny fingers work faster and their minds learn quicker; their stamina greater.

So many hardships. Moral obstacles you’d never dreamed you’d face…

Up until three months ago you lived in a park without a roof over your head. The 12×9 cement box you’re sleeping in now resulted from a display of mercy from an older woman who spotted your pregnant friend in the park and invited your two families to take refuge in her spare room used for storage. All eight of you in one room with a leaky ceiling.

Open your eyes. This isn’t a scenerio. This is real.

My moments of loneliness, of challenge and depression can’t even compare with the refugee families I’m getting to know. To thing about the imbalance I feel when I’m sucked of of community, and then to see with my own eyes an imbalance a million times worse. The dominant side weighed down with injustice, denied human rights, invisibility, loneliness, loss of dignity and pride in being unable to provide for their family’s basic needs.

The scale remains crooked only because there’s nobody empathizing with them, coming alongside to share their burdens, to help shoulder the weight and support them in their struggle.

As I’m beginning to learn what it looks like to walk the journey with these refugees, I see what I must strive to do. First and foremost, to see them as people and give them back their humanity. To look them in the eyes. To hold their hand and acknowledge their hardships but not dwell on them.

To be a Friend.
To Listen.
To bring Joy.
To bring Life.
To bring Balance.

Shout-Out Stephie

This post is a shout-out to my dear friend Stephie… Although we’re currently living on two different continents, she has continued to play an influential part in my life. Her primary goal in life is to shine for Jesus, and I couldn’t be more blessed than to share life with someone whose character genuinely reflects her deepest desire!

I’ve known Stephie since elementary school, but our friendship really blossomed in high school– it was then that we really began living life together. From the little things like writing notes we exchanged in between classes, borrowing clothes, shedding light on boy drama, to sharing in more significant life lessons and studying the Word together…  As we both matured, so did our friendship.  She is such a treasure to me; I am so blessed to have such an amazing woman of God to call my soul sister.

As I was preparing to leave the country this summer- Stephie never failed to support and encourage me when obstacles arose. Whether it was an early morning breakfast date or home-brewed iced coffee and a quick walk, she was never to busy to make time for me and my latest dilemma. The wisdom she sheds upon my life comes doesn’t come without experience: I have seen her go through her own trials and am impressed by the way she is able to handle them with grace and prayer and positivity. She is honest about how, yes, life can be hard and often disappointing, but doesn’t let that stop her from clinging unto who she knows she is in the Lord.

Yes. A reason we get along so well could be our similar personalities… The social realm is her playground. Her extroverted and positive personality outfits her entire being with exuberance. She has a contagious smile and a confidence that makes everyone who is around her feel special. She is quick to catch when something is wrong and is quick to encourage and comfort- offering empathy and prayer and wisdom. Her heart for teaching fits her giftings perfectly, and her time spent mentoring and discipling young girls is changing lives. Stephie is wise beyond her years.

Steph is a driven person. She takes on a lot of responsibility all at the same time. And, as an achiever, it works. She’s a walking display of strength- always filled with energy and enthusiasm for whatever task is set before her. I’m amazed at the self-discipline she practices daily, both with her intense workouts and with her ever-growing spiritual walk. I greatly admire her dedication to the passions God has given her.

In everything I do, Stephie has always offered me her full support.  And I will always do the same for her. I believe in her because she believes in herself, seeking her strength and joy first and foremost in the Lord. She desires to use her giftings for His Glory, and it’s no secret to her friends and people who know her that her life is all about Him.

Over the years I have seen Stephie’s heart transform more and more into one resembling her Father’s heart for the world. For whatever is next in her journey, she’s more than ready…

My blessings to you, Stephie, as you graduate college this year and leap into learning even more about yourself, about the Lord, and about His plans for your life. I am so proud of you.

XOXO

A Plate of Cookies

It’s comforting to know that a plate of cookies holds the same universal message. When one looks down and sees hands extending homemade goodies piled high, generally the feeling received is one of warmth, kindness, and friendship. After working some serious overtime hours in the kitchen during Christmas, my mom and I would always create plates of assorted holiday treats and go door-to-door passing them out to our neighbors and friends. Upon hearing our knock, the door would open, smiles exchanged, invitations inquired, and conversations shared. Hearts were blessed and stomachs tastefully filled.

Would I have gone door-to-door without the plate of cookies? Most likely not. See, I have this strange fear of being received empty handed. It’s as if I need an excuse or peace offering, something to hide behind. A reason to be standing outside your door other than “Hi, will you ask me inside so we can connect and get to know each other better?” Yeah. Not so much.

So, I bake cookies and present them as my plead for friendship. It’s like a secret password. A magical spell. I have yet to have the door slammed in my face when holding this symbolic offering. Really-who can turn down cookies? Well, I know Americans can’t. Time to test it out on the Turks!

With the confidence sourced from our freshly baked ginger cookies, my roommates and I climbed to the 3rd level of our apartment complex, took a deep breath, and knocked. Will it work? Thankfully, the traditional plate of cookies powerfully transcends time and culture; not only did 3rd floor accept our gift, but 2nd floor did as well! We were invited inside for tea and conversation with our Turkish neighbors!

Three hours later, we scaled back down to our 1st floor dwelling with happy hearts and new friends. Ironically, we didn’t even leave empty handed. On the plate where the ginger cookies used to be, Turkish treats now resided! Never will I doubt the power of a cookie plate. We emptied it only to have it be filled. Hmmm. Do I sense a metaphor here?

🙂