Babymoon

It came about this summer, through a stressful transition with decisions having to be made about our future, when one day my sweet husband turned the focus off of the unknowns and unto a known fact: I had always dreamed of traveling to Spain together.

So, why not go this fall? He suggested out-of-the-blue. He’d been thinking about it for awhile, even flirted with the idea of making it a surprise. But seeing my emotional state and knowing how I love planning trips, he dropped it on me like the life raft I’d been needing.

Fast forward 2 months– although we had just moved overseas and into a new apartment, 23 weeks pregnant seemed to be the perfect time for a quick get away before our work responsibilities (and my belly) became too heavy. It also happened to be right around our 2 year anniversary. Another great excuse for a romantic excursion!

We started in Barcelona: I’d never been yet had always longed to see Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia. But first things first, in order to start the trip off right we dined downtown for a traditional Spanish paella! I had to pass on the sangria for now…

 

There were sites in Barcelona I hadn’t even known we needed to see– the Bunkers was one of them. We climbed towards the heavens, arriving at an overlook of beautiful sea and city. The wind whistling all around us made photo opps and conversion difficult, and as it was all we could do to try and not fly away, I bet our laughter roared louder than the wind!

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Another comical account of our trip were the traffic lights. Not exaggerating- there were intersections every 100 meters, fully outfitted with stoplights. LOOOONG stoplights. If/when we took a wrong turn, we had to drive an hour on one-way streets to get to where we had started. Word of wisdom for all who travel to Barcelona: don’t rent a car.

Eventually we got to where we intended to go, including the Guell Palace where we simply gawked at Gaudi’s architectural genius for hours.

Once outside the city, however, we drove freely without stoplights, worrying only about stopping to pay tolls and savoring bites of gluten free goodies from Pastisserie Jansana.

Our GPS led us straight to the sea. We turned unto cobblestone and into a harbor of twinkle lights reflecting off the glassy water. It was even better than I had imagined.

In the morning, the sun rose over the mountains to reveal the quaintest of towns. Oh Cadaques, you were a dream.

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White-washed buildings. Blue doors. Cappuccinos by the sea.

Cliffside pathways winding their way to the lighthouse. Sunsets and star gazing on rooftops.

I can close my eyes and still smell the salty air…

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But our trip didn’t end there.

We made our way back down Costa Brava and went back in time to a quiet medieval village in Pals where we may have been the only tourists. We ate where the locals ate and frolicked through a maze of stone walls, caring only to be silly and free.

 

Continuing our journey through Girona, we spent our last couple nights in Begur. We wasted time exploring narrow streets and watching waves crash against the coast, idling however we pleased. We befriended spontaneity as this was our last foreseeable chance before the new babe changes our lives forever…

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Captured one final sunset from the castle heights, we held our breaths as bowing rays reflected gold across the countryside. We said hello and goodnight to the rising moon, reluctant to acknowledge the end of our Catalan respite.

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After a summer of crazy and a month of settling into a new life, by taking this time in Spain to pause, love each other, and let life slow down a bit, we finally felt like us again.

The us that I am so thankful for.

The us that is ready to soon grow from two to three!

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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.

Roadtrip to Trabzon

There was a grand adventure that happened awhile back, one deemed entirely worthy of telling. But, as my avid followers know and for which I regretfully apologize, my blogs have been few and far between, leaving gaping holes where stories should be. So, as I work to fill up those holes, travel back with me to Trabzon: a place and a trip I would re-live over and over again, starting now with this very blog.

The catalyst to adventure began with an itch; an itch to use up our vacation days and get out of the busy city before it gets busy again. Mountains sounded appealing, as did a little road trip. Putting two and two together, five girls and five guys booked a flight to Trabzon where we would then drive rental cars a couple hours into the Kackar Mountains.

And boy did we drive. And drive and drive and drive. We drove 4 hours to a rest stop where we decided to call our hotel reservation and let them know we’ll be there in about an hour or two. Jesse hung up the phone with a funny grin on his face, then told us the news: we still have 5 more hours to go.

Apparently the route we had mapped was a trail for herding cows. Oops. Unless we decided to wrangle and ride, the less direct and only other way to get to our destination was a curving 5 hours around steep mountainside roads.

Well, we said we wanted a road trip, so a road trip was what we got!

Gulping down buckets of hot, watery Nescafe, we got back into our sparkly white Fiat rentals and began scaling the twisting heights.

The sun set and the stars came out. Pitch black country skies twinkled brilliantly above us, the bright moon guiding our way round and around and around…

“Where’s the road? I don’t know. You go that way, we’ll go this way. See if you can find it, then meet back here.” Yeah, when directions are incorrectly mapped we were left with no other option. Eventually we found a visible road and continued on.

Tired and hungry and wild from sitting, we stopped to stretch our legs at sight of a tiny mountainside cafe. Was there a bathroom? Around the corner- here’s the key. Oh great, no light. Taking turns, we held up the iphone so the flashlight app could shine over the top of the bathroom walls pleasantly placed in a trashy alley.

Hungry, we inquired about food; our only dinner selection was called Bomba, and it was indeed as dangerous as its name! Grilled sandwiches with egg, chillies, mayonnaise, peppers, sausage, and ketchup. A bomb of greasy goodness whose fragrant presence traveled with us the entirety of the roadtrip…

Although our cars were filled with plenty of gas, it wasn’t the kind to make the engine run. When we stopped to fill-up the tanks, there happened to be some music playing. Of course, we casually started dancing. Entertained by the group of 10 Americans dancing outside of a gas station, the music turned up louder and we got indicating smiles from the workers inside. Pretty sure this would be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for this crew.

We called the hotel again to tell them our whereabouts, to which they kindly offered to find us a closer hotel to sleep at– the roads that were still ahead of us shouldn’t be driven at night. Thankful to not risk our lives more than we already had, we found our lodgings and made plans to head out the rest of the way in the morning.

Wow. Day one of adventure was a grand success, and it was only just the beginning…

 

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