To Women Living as Expats: it’s Okay to be Rude Sometimes

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Since moving overseas I’ve had many experiences I wish hadn’t happened. But they did.

Were they my fault? No.

Could I have prevented them from happening? Perhaps, though doubtful.

What emotions did I feel after they happened? Shame. Guilt.

But did I do anything wrong? No.

No. In most of the scenarios there was nothing I could have done differently to stop the experience from happening.

From day one in my new middle eastern city, the bronzed-zippy-Californian-friendly college girl disappeared and in her place was a dark-haired, eyes-straight-ahead, talk-to-me-and-I-give-you-an-icy-stare seriously rude woman.

Gone were the generous smiles and chatty small-talker. If you saw me on the street, you would hardly recognize me.

Why the sudden personality change? I realized that in this country, anything short of looking mean would only bring me unwanted and unsolicited attention.

Yet despite my efforts to be invisible, I am still a woman.

I am a woman living in a patriarchal society.

While the culture has gone through significant breakthroughs regarding equality and embracing modern women in the business world, its roots of male domination go deep.

I’ve had to report multiple incidents to my husband about being touched inappropriately while out by myself.

What’s even more frustrating is that it happens in the light of day without any invitation whatsoever. I could be walking down a sidewalk, riding the train, or waiting at the bus stop minding my own business, and then suddenly be a target for someone’s un-controlled advance.

I’ve stepped on feet, thrown hands away, and elbowed men in the gut. I’ve yelled shameful words and called attention to their disgraceful actions. But whats done is done, and they run away without any real punishment for their crime.

What’s worse is that it’s accepted.

I’ve seen men slapping and hitting their wives in a public park, spitting on them and being rough. The passer-byers just keep passing by. They won’t get involved in a man “controlling” his property.

Before I knew better, if I man started talking to me and touching on the arm, if it seemed innocent enough I would tolerate it for awhile for fear of being rude. I know several other girls who’ve told me the same story. They didn’t want to be mean because they didn’t know if it was normal or not.

Unless the man is related to you, it’s not.

In this culture, the only reason a man touches you is to gage how far he can go.

The man knows he shouldn’t be doing it; local women wouldn’t tolerate a touch from a stranger for an instant.

Don’t even let him start.

If a man says he’ll show you which stop to get off of at the bus, tsk at him and move far away to show how disinterested you are. Don’t give him any reason to start a conversation with you. Some men will jump at any excuse to be invited into your space.

But know this: even if you do your best to send stay-away-from-me signals, you’re still a woman– a foreign women who will be seen as prime material to be taken advantage of.

If it happens, holler and shame the heck out of them. Please feel free to even take your shoe off and hit them with it.

Most importantly, know that it wasn’t your fault. The feelings of guilt and shame do not belong to you; you did nothing wrong.

Go home, confide to your husband or roommate, have them pray for you and give you a hug.

Then remember, next time you go out, it’s more than okay to be rude sometimes.

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The Way Things Work

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When moving your whole life to another country, what it really means is you get to start over from scratch.
Your old bank accounts, electric company, gas company, water company… none of those work anymore. The convenient online setup options, nope, those don’t exist. Your name isn’t on anything yet. Nobody knows you. You don’t know anybody. You also don’t know how anything works.

So, first things first, establish yourself. Apply for residency in the country.

They way things usually work, in order to apply for residency, you need an address to apply with.

It would seem, then, that finding an apartment is first on the list.

Actually, before you’re able to call any realtors, you need to register your phone. But before you can register your phone you need a tax number. So you go to the tax office, get a tax number, pay the tax, then go set it up with the Cell Company.

Now you can call the realtors.

And the apartment hunt begins…

Once you have your apartment, the utilities need to be transferred over as well. How does one go about doing that? You take your sorry self all the way to the perspective Gas, Electric, and Water company offices, take a number, and stand (or sit if you’re lucky to find a chair) for an hour in a hot waiting room.

Your number blinks on the screen. In your best attempt, you extend your rental agreement and indicate you moved to a new place and therefore need to set up the utility. ” Of course,” they reply. “May I see your residence permit?”

In fragmented sentences, you explain how you just moved to the country and don’t have a residence permit yet, but are in the process of applying for one. “Can you just use my passport?”

“No, I am sorry, we cannot do it without your permit.”

You leave the office, feeling both defeated and confused.

This can’t be right. You need an address to put on your permit application. How are you supposed to have an address if the utilities can’t be set up, because you need a permit to do so? Do you just live in an apartment without any heat or water for three months until your permit appointment?

Fortunately, your landlord empathizes with your dilemma and agrees to keep the utilities under his name until you receive your residence permit. “But don’t tell anyone,” he says, “because I’m not supposed to be doing this.”

Believe me, your secret is safe.

Next on the list, with your house taken care of, you can apply for your permit.

After filling nearly everything out, it asks you for your local health insurance information. Pause. You go to the bank and apply for the cheapest health insurance they offer. Yes, the bank. Weird, I know.

Unpause. You fill in your health insurance and click submit. It tells you your appointment date, 3 months from today. It also sends you a list of everything you need to bring with to your appointment, including a bank statement proving sufficient wages. Back to the bank we go.

The first two banks say you need a resident’s permit in order to sign up for a bank account. You gawk strangely at them because you need a bank statement in order to get your resident’s permit… Can you sense the frustration???

Well, third time’s the charm. Finally, at a third bank, they process you through no problem. But they do need for you to notarize your rental agreement for legitimate reasons.

You follow the red signs on the street for the notary and hand them your contract, explaining your need. “I’m sorry, ” they say. “You need to go to the tax office first and pay the house tax. This needed to be done within 15 days of signing the contract, but you’re too late. Go pay the tax then come back.”

At the tax office, nobody understands what needed to be done. They send you to 3 different floors before getting what you needed.

Back at the notary office, you hand them the tax receipt and they start making faces and tsks and call for backup. The manager hustles over and tells you the tax is too small. You didn’t pay enough. You need to go back and pay more.

“Will you write a note explaining what they need to do? We don’t know what we need.”

So she writes a note and attaches it. “But you have to wait until tomorrow. Everything is closed now.”

You head over to another notary office just to see if they say the same thing. They confirm: “You need to pay more tax.”

“You need you need you need…” Sheesh. All this for opening a bank account…

In the morning you head back over to the tax office. They read the note and consult with each other. Their conclusion: “No, this is not correct. You don’t need to pay any tax for the neighborhood you live in.” They also write a note back to the notary, explaining everything.

You take the note and head to a notary closer to the tax office in case you had to return again. This noter doesn’t even blink. Before you know it, your papers are stamped. Glad to see everyone’s on the same page…. not! Oh well. Relieved, you head back to the bank one final time.

Handing them your notarized documents, they finalize your new bank account. The only thing left is to transfer adequate wages and get a back statement for your permit. This also takes time and effort with your employer, who eventually agrees to give you an advance in order to show sufficient funds.

Next stop, the courthouse. The courthouse? The courthouse.

There you will get a translation and notary of your marriage certificate to prove your marriage in the country you’re applying residency. Which is necessary because all the other documents happen to be in your husband’s name, so you better be able to prove that you’re linked, or else!

Are you exhausted yet? I know I am.

Even so, this is just a small glimpse into the way things work around here. And this is literally just the beginning.

I’m Not Saying Goodbye

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Goodbyes are never easy, so I decided I’m not going to say goodbye this time. Instead, my parting embraces are now paired with a “I’ll see you again soon,” which is much more hopeful than a dramatic, definite goodbye.

This doesn’t, however, mean that there aren’t tears. Oh, there have been plenty of those.

Gone will be the weeks filled with daily, lengthy visits to impoverished neighborhoods where refugees hospitably welcome us into their homes. Gone will be the days of appropriately sitting on floors with my feet underneath me, drinking cup after cup of black tea because they so desperately want to honor me as their guest but have nothing else to serve. Gone will be hours of phone calls in determined efforts to find a way to bring these people and their individual cases to justice.

I’m going to miss this.

As the days are crossed off and I’m well into the single digits, the reality that this season is coming to an end has fully sunk in. Although the Lord has affirmed to Jesse and I that we will indeed be coming back here after we get married, still, it won’t be the same. My team will be different, my focuses will have widened, and my living arrangements will be with my new husband!

Even the pace of life will change. Right now I know my role- I spent the last two years learning it. I feel comfortable with setting up visits and can easily overbook my week, for there’s never a lack of work to do! I’m working full swing, full time, full action.

When we come back in the spring, however, I’ll be starting back at language learning again. This time, it will be to once-and-for-all conquer the mind-boggling vernacular spoken in this land. Now I can get by, but choosing to live here longer means it’s time to get serious. I need to be able to fluently string together combinations of words and sentences to truly thrive and be faithful to our calling. I will be restless, but it will be worth it.

Many things will stay the same, and I will be eagerly awaiting to return to the normalcy of life I’m now accustomed to. The crowded streets I’ve grown to become a part of. Olives for breakfast. Dogs everywhere. Men hauling loads of melons through neighborhoods yelling out “Here you go, here you go!” Frequent walks down by the water to escape the city smog. Jumping unto moving transportation crammed with too many passengers. Winking at women and children, and holding babies that are not my own. Fresh vegetable stands on every corner. Hearing the call to prayer 5 times a day. Striking up conversation with the flower ladies. Walking everywhere.

So, my dear country, this is a parting hug to you. Thank you for these past two years filled with memories, lessons learned, and millions of people who crossed my path here on your cobblestone streets.

I’ll miss you, but this is not a goodbye. I’ll see you again soon!

Beating Burnout

“One thing’s for sure: if you decide to be courageous and sane, if you decide not to overspend or overcommit or overschedule, the unhealthy people in your life will freak out, because you’re making a healthy choice they’re not currently free to make. Don’t for one second let that stop you.”

I love having a full life. Does that make me unhealthy?
  
I love having a purpose for every day, packing it minute by minute to the limit…

Early morning runs in bright sunshine followed by coffee and soaking in the Word. Journaling and praying the words that washed through my thirsty spirit.

Planning curriculums and dreaming how my efforts will be received– the joy that will stem forth and the lives that will be influenced.

Riding buses to the outskirts of the city I still have yet to discover all of, following addresses to homes of people displaced from their real homes. Listening to hurts and needs, doubling the time when conversing via translators.

Strategizing next steps and available resources. Attempting to aid and redeem peoples’ broken lives.

Being used. 

Running errands on the way home. Picking through the vegetable stands. The colors. The people.  

The life. 

Getting dinner started. Creative in the kitchen. Playing music, rewinding from the day’s impact. Melodies warming my heart.

Catching up with roommates, washing the dishes. Responding to emails, glancing through blogs, scripting out my own. Meeting up with my pastor’s wife for coffee.

Pouring out and being poured into. 

Picking up a book before jumping into bed. Sending last minute texts to the world that’s starting their day as I’m ending mine. Striving to stay connected. Browsing Pinterest, scrolling Facebook and Instagram newsfeeds. Posting something for my ‘followers’.

Alarm on. Lights off.

There’s nothing wrong with my day. I really like it.

I have balance.

Work and Play. Hobbies and Exercise. Relationships and God.

But I confess, I am tired. 

How can this be? Why isn’t the balance balancing?

Because it never stops. Because it can’t be put on pause. If put on pause, the next day the list will be ten times longer. Plus, I’m dealing with people whose fragile lives keep on keeping on.

Or maybe it’s because the balance I’ve created for rest and stability has become something else. 

Control.
Perfection.
Expectation.

“In our lowest, most fragmented moments, we feel out of control- controlled, in fact, by expectations and to-do lists and commitments.”

Instead of letting my plans serve me, I’ve been serving my plans. 

But how do I juggle my time? My commitments? How do I give my very best to what the Lord has entrusted to me? I want to invest. I want to be seen as responsible. I want to reap!

Having an otter personality, I know I can’t only work, so I fill time with other things I value and need for my sanity… that’s good, right?  Then why isn’t it working? How come I’m exhausted in the midst of doing what I love and what brings me joy?

Fear and Shame.

“When things are too crazy, the only voices I hear are the voices of fear and shame. I stop being able to hear the voice of God, the voice of rest, the voice of hope and healing and restoration, the voice that gives new life to dry old bones. And instead I hear that good old song I’ve heard all my life: You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.

But that voice is a lie. And it’s a terrible guide. When I listen to it, I burn the candle at both ends and try to light the middle while I’m at it. The voice of God invites us to full, whole living– to rest, to abundance, to enough. To say no.” 

No to the coffee date. No to the visit I know I cannot emotionally handle another of this week. No to the morning run. No to the skype date I know would be wonderful but not living to its intended purpose.

This season, I’m not going to try for perfect.

I’m not going to meet every expectation I have for myself.

I’m not going to force a schedule to appear noteworthy and well accomplished.

Instead, this season I will be courageous to honor the story– “the silent night, the angels, the miracle child, the simple birth” with every choice I make.

Shauna Niequist (the author whose writing is in quotations throughout this blog entry) reminded me that I am so much more than what I do.

Who I am and how I live is found when I take myself out of my detailed days, looking to the big, yet simple story of everything from God and everything for God.

Freedom through Christ. Freed to live for His glory.

Bringing heaven to earth. Gaining glimpses into His kingdom purpose.

“Either I can be here, fully here, my imperfect, messy, tired but wholly present self, or I can miss it.”

Well, I definitely don’t want to miss it!

Lord lead my life. Lead my days according to your plans, for your glory, in whatever way you desire to use me. Help me to surrender the details, the programs, and the souls. To live in the freedom instead of the burdens. Serving with joy and the mercy and grace I’m victim to because of the cross.

Vitamin Visitors

If my life were monitored on a chart, the records would show I’ve been in a stabilized dip these late summer months, battling sickness and all that drags me down because of it.

If then, on her rounds, the nurse had come to check on me this past weekend, she would have declared a miracle, seeing my chart to finally indicate an upward direction, and a steep incline at that!

What has caused this sudden influx? How on earth did this miracle happen?

I’ll call them my vitamin visitors.

Okay, they have names- the lovely Kayla and her husband Richie.

Kayla told me that before they came to visit me, her and Richie had prayed for the visit to be like a vitamin boost, and that’s exactly what it was: a steady dose of a vitamin called “just what I needed.”

These cool kids were taking a “2nd Honeymoon,” visiting family and touring around Europe. Somehow Istanbul inched its way into their itinerary,  lengthening their travels to include 5 days with lucky little me!

I had a blast touring with my two tall towers, pulling them along with me unto trams and metros and buses and ferries, where they clearly stood out yet somehow strangely looked to very much belong.

Willing to try new foods and say impossible words, comfortable in the uncomfortable, content to not know everything while at the same time asking questions I’d never heard composed before, Kayla and Richie brought along the best attitudes travelers could possibly have, thus allowing even more potential for the positive experiences and crazy adventures that bound our time together.

Sharing with them a country that I have fallen in love with merely moved me to fall even more in love with it, especially when they echoed a similar response and delight to the people and the culture I presented to them. Both by their reactions and their words, they affirmed everything I know to be true as well as providing other insights supporting the heart and mentality of why I do what I do where I am and with who.

Being able to give them a peek into my life –snapshots of the fun, the work, and the relationships– meant more and stirred up more than I had anticipated. Kayla and Richie have witnessed the college years of my life, the good, the bad, the growth, and the steps involved in moving to Turkey. So, to continue my friendship with them to include what God is doing in my current season of life, well, it felt right.

It served to fill an aspect of living here that is more of a struggle because of the distance and separation my world underwent when I said goodbye and flew across the ocean… That of encouragement, accountability, and of deep honesty- the type that only friends with roots can truly fill.

To the Browns: thank you for the sacrifices of time and resources that you gave up, for pausing your lives to simply come be a part of mine. Even thought it was brief, it was perfect; exactly the vitamin boost I’d been deprived of.

I miss you already, but am overflowing with gratitude for how you continue to be that blessing in my life, one of heaven-sent friendship which will still be in motion for the thousands and thousands of years we have ahead of us…

God is good, and almonds have husks! 🙂

Seeds to Share

I was on the hunt, searching for the perfect raw ingredients to put in my granola mixture.

However, when walking down the sidewalks of my city’s narrow streets, sometimes I can’t help but feel as though I am a mouse, trying to navigate my way between the tall walls of buildings creating walls around me. The visible sliver of daylight forcing itself between the gaps mocks me, telling me my feat is impossible– that I’m a mouse at war with the world. I mean, even Pinky and Brain eventually admitted defeat.

But I stick out my nose in pursuit and dart around obstacles, the majority of them being other bodies coming at me from all sides.

I’m too focused on the finish line to care… if I was a seed where would I be? I dodge into one shop. Nope. Dead end. I backtrack and re-route. Another dead end.

The next shop I enter fills my hands with seeds. Great. Except they’re not the kind I wanted.

Discouraged and with seeds slipping between my cracked fingers, i head back into the maze, munching on my near luck.

My next attacker comes at me, but instead of going around her, I stop. It’s a small girl asking for food and do I have anything to give? I smile. Buyurun (here you go), pouring out some seeds into her tiny cupped hands.

I head forward, slowed by the event, head on a swivel. What to do with the seeds that I’ve been given?

There, sitting on the curb is a gypsie teenager. I sit down beside her. She looked up, surprised and caught off-guard as I spoke, asking if she would like to share my seeds, for I simply had too many! Tentatively, she opened her hands to receive, watching as seeds trickled from my hands into her dirt-covered ones.

Continuing through the maze, I made my way to the finish line and found my so-desired seeds. However, what I delighted in at the end was not my winning prize, but the fact of being able to give what I had.

I had been entirely bummed when the shopkeeper had filled my hands with the wrong seeds. No! I don’t want these! But later, I realized their purpose; they weren’t for me but for the two girls I shared them with.

It was a good reminder to not let my surroundings change my attitude.

To not be so set on one plan that I miss out on the plan and the route God wants to put me on.

Even when it seems like a dead end, and especially when people begin to appear as obstacles instead of stopping points.

To look at where I am and what I have with gratitude and expectance.

To receive gifts, then to seek give them away.

To see that there are always seeds to share.

Cutting through Iron

While attempting to have a quiet time this morning, it was all I could do to not pull my hair out at the noisy construction that is still going on across the street.

Ever since that fateful day of November 30th, the day a bulldozer demolished the entire apartment complex next door, we have not lived in peace. They’re building from scratch, starting at the foundation and working their way up… A project that seems to be taking an eternity!!!

I eagerly look forward to rainy days and holidays, knowing that only then will there be a pause in the racket-causing-activity…

IRON(no pun intended)ically, the passage I was reading this morning happened to be about cutting through iron. A screeching sound I am altogether familiar with and am subjected to 24/7.

As I read, some perspective truth rang high above the noise…

Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. So He subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. 

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. 
He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, 
for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” Psalm 107:10-16

As I took in the Word along with the noise, it suddenly became all too real. Construction is necessary and Jesus was more than just a carpenter; he was an iron-cutter. THE Iron-Cutter.

He came to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed… to set the captives free. (Isaiah 61)

To break the choking chains of gender-based violence, unjust stereotyping, abandoned babies in third world countries, separated families, and homelessness.

Rape in the workplace, religious traps, fear of revengeful pursuers, and war.

Poverty, substance abuse, eating disorders, and shame.

Running from murderous threats and prejudiced law enforcement.

Ignorance and apathy.

Idolatry of Self, of intellect, and of science.

We are detained and entangled because of our sin. Stumbling in the deepest, darkest, broken-down apartments, our sin takes us captive, chaining us to the condemned, cockroach infested pits.

Our only escape is our Carpenter– the Construction worker of all times and before all times.

To cry out to Him is to be saved.

He cuts through the iron shackles, breaks down prison gates, and sets His people free.

It is a deed that was done one time by one man for all men, but it is a constant undergoing of construction.

Daily are people being set free. Daily are iron bars being cut through, and once the chains are broken, the project begins. Truth sparks transformation, overseeing every stick of dynamite explosion that rebuilds lives. The old is destroyed and a new foundation is set, hence more hammering and sawing and construction in order for the Holy to take residence.

The Carpenter is at work. Both here, and above. 

… I go to prepare a place for you, if I go, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:3)

As one who has been freed, there is a lot of work to do before He comes back. Millions of people are yet enslaved, crying out for freedom.

So every day I hear iron being cut through, so every day I go.

Reminded that my unshackled hands are tools to be used, carrying the most important blueprint: news of the Ultimate Iron-Cutter.