Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A lot of face time with drivers.
The Bible School arranged for this young man Tony to drive me. He came from Tirana on Friday, arriving early enough to set up shop for the school, staff and church folks. Haircuts and new “do’s” all round. At 7:20 am Saturday we hit the road. I didn’t know Tony. Still shaky from a day of Morocco-crud, I was ready to hunker in and sleep.
Tony was ready to talk.
In broken English, he shared a LOT of life. I wish I could write with his words, but 10 days after—well, here’s some of his story.
Albania is arguably the poorest country in Europe. There’s not much work. The national economy, and almost every family, survives on money sent home by those who leave the country for work. Many, many young men go to Greece to labor in the jobs nobody else wants. Think, on the social scale, of Mexican illegals in the US, or Turkish “guestworkers” in Germany, or Pakistani laborers in UAE, or Eastern European factory workers in UK.
Tony went Greece the first time on forged documents. Eventually he was arrested and deported, and lost everything he’d earned. Penalty: a three-year ban on any legal application to enter Greece.
Tony stayed in Albania until unemployment again grew intolerable. This time he went into Greece over the mountain behind Erseka. Gramozi’s top marks the Greek border, and it’s just three miles out of town, an easy place to cross, but a long, dangerous journey down the other side on foot. Again, after some time, arrest and deportation. Again desperation mounted until he decided give it one more try.
That third trip was successful. Tony stayed in Greece a long time, long enough to save 7,000 euro, enough to set himself up in business at home. Lonely and eager for home, he started on foot back over the border the way he’d come. But it was winter. Cold and weak from days and nights of exposure, Tony realized he would die in those mountains without help. He also knew that under Greek law a third arrest would mandate jail. Tony had reached the end of himself.
He prayed. He admitted the mess of his life, and his need for a savior. And not just a savior from the cold of the day. In his dark need, Tony threw himself on Jesus.
The rest is a blur. After he prayed, he turned to human help even though his exposed location and Albanian accent would give him away. He offered his money. A man took him in, gave him food, and got him into transport to the border post. Somehow Tony got through the checkpoints. Somehow he, and his money, made it home.
That was last year. Tony returned to Erseka a new man, grateful and transformed.
Last summer he married, and the new couple have set up a haircutting shop in Tirana. Things are going well, though they must work hard. Can’t let down for a minute. Tony sold his motorbike, and they bought the old Mercedes sedan I rode in. The school gives him some extra work driving visiting teachers like me, and the chance to do a few haircuts there.
Tony is involved in the church in Tirana, but there is pain around that. He tells me that his wife is Muslim—a heritage he shares. She came to church, but found it terrifying. All of which led me to ask how his marriage came about.
“My father cuts the grapes,” Tony tells me. His dad is a vinedresser, and one day he was hired by a man in Korçe. “This man liked my father very much, and they began to talk. The man told my father that he had a son and could not find a wife for him, and asked for my father’s help. My father told him about me and said he would make an agreement with that man—that if he would find a wife for me, my father would find a wife for his son.” And so it was. That man had a daughter. Tony accepted her, and they were betrothed. All that was years ago. Long engagements are the norm in Albania, where it is also a serious breach of honor to break off a betrothal. Ruins the woman’s reputation, and potentially her chance to marry anyone else. And so, even as a believer, Tony felt bound to keep his promise and marry her.
Now he lives with it, loves her, and prays. During our five hours on the road, she phoned Tony six or eight times. “Where are you? When will you be home? Please, drive safely and take good care of yourself.” A new dear one for which to pray.
As Tony told me all this I marveled at God’s amazing answer to the prayer of my friend Monika. Tony is her brother. I remember how two years ago her talk was consumed with concern for him, with anxious longing for him to know Jesus and to find his way. I remember praying with her for him. As Tony dropped me at the airport I felt I’d been treated with a window into heaven.
Airport waits and two flights later I was the last to leave the international terminal at Antalya. “Lord,” I prayed as I waited for my bag, “let it be Ramazan driving tonight. I like him. He’s a good driver, and he’s easy to be with. You know I’m tired and sick. Don’t think I can face a stranger.”
Alas, no Ramazan. In fact, no driver at all. I looked. I waited. I wandered. I hunted through my phone, files and computer for a phone number, but came up blank. It got later—9:30 pm in front of an empty terminal alone, and I don’t speak Turkish. “Take a taxi to the bus station? But will there be a bus to Kaş at this time of night?”
Finally I approached the taxi rank. “How much will this cost me? Will anyone even be willing to start for Kaş at 10pm?” We haggled in broken phrases, agreed on a price and a currency, and then he asked me to wait five minutes. Another taxi pulled up and this very young man hopped out to load my bag. “Is he even old enough to drive?” I wondered.
We set out. Very fast, then hard on the brakes, then crazy fast again. He was taking and receiving phone calls. Then, in halting words, he asked if his mother could come with us. “Sure!” It’s not the first time the car we’ve hired carries family and friends of the driver in the back. He pulled off into a neighborhood and stopped before an apartment block. A woman in peasant garb and headscarf came out, followed by a girl of about 12. Mom and sister climbed into the back seat. “Esalaam alaykum!” Mom clapped me on the shoulder with affection. I was surprised by the religious greeting, rather than the common “merhaba!” “Alaykum esalaam,” I replied. She pressed almonds into my hand, still warm from the roaster, and chattered away to her son as we careened down the road.
They didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Turkish. We chatted some with hands waving—enough for me to learn that she had always lived in Antalya, these were her only children, and that she had cancer. I understood enough of their Turkish to realize that she had never before been to Kaş and this was a huge treat for her from her son, whose love for her was apparent. It was pitch dark, a stormy, wet night. As we drove, he told her what towns and villages were coming up, and pointed out the window at passing scenes, describing in detail the beauty of the (invisible) view. She oohed and ahhed in amazement as the young man talked.
It was the fastest trip I ever made to Kaş. A combination of breakneck speed and delightful company. As I grabbed my bags and paid the fare in the middle of a dead winter night, I wondered whether they would drive around to see the town, wait until daylight, or head straight back. I even thought about inviting them to stay with me though my sick bowels and the unknown order and food-less state of the apartment checked me.
Don’t you love it when God takes people we see simply as the means from point A to point B and wakes us up to His image and glory in them?
Thursday, December 10, 2009
So far as I know, I am the only believer in town. We have an agreement, the four of us God has drawn to Kaş. Whenever any of us are present on Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s table.
I feel a tad awkward. I have the wine, and some bread to break. But it is strange to think of celebrating all by myself.
A medley of Christmas music plays in the background. Candles glow and reflect the colors and fabrics of my quiet space. The lights of Kaş twinkle in the night breeze beyond the window.
Handel’s Hallelujah chorus penetrates my reading. All of a sudden I know it is time. I pour the wine and lay the bread, then begin the music again.
“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”
I stand—I can’t help myself!
“The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ! And of His Christ!”
I break the bread.
“And He shall reign forever and ever. Forever! And ever!”
In this land of 3,000 friends of Jesus amid 75million who don’t know Him, I raise my glass. No awkwardness. Not alone. I am filled with joy, hope, and praise.
Şerefe! Here’s to You, King Jesus!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Seventeen men and women gather in our flat for a day of listening prayer. I look at them and realize we come from 13 nations on six continents. Another evening I notice that the eight gathered at our dining table represent seven nations and, again, six continents. Fragrant incense rising to the throne of God.
The four of us God has drawn to Kas gather on the third floor balcony of the villa dedicated-and-in-waiting. As dusk approaches, a rainbow arches down to the sea before us. As night falls a cloud pauses over the sea for an hour and lightning flash within it, contained and never going to ground. The breeze cools me and carries scents of eucalyptus and jasmine. The silence is perfect as we pass the bread and wine.
Though she is in breakdown, in crisis, this woman who has asked to talk wants to see Jesus in her frightening place. I am confident she will, and that she will find both healing and new growth.
I sit on the sofa with Curt at the end of the day. We put our feet up, watch TV and hold hands.
Cait comes tearing out of the kitchen with Eda chasing her. Cait slips and nearly falls. Dan cheers, and all fall into gales of laughter, rejoicing to be so loved and in love, to be together.
Several are gathered for a day of quiet and prayer. From my corner in the dining room I am drawn out of myself to intercession. My “job” seems simply to hold certain ones in God’s presence. Curt, who sits with God in another room. Jennifer, who dwells with us for a season. Curt says later, with quiet joy, “It was a good day.” And as I “hold” Jenn, a sweet fragrance fills my senses and remains.
The air is dry, cooled by the evening breeze. That hamburger fresh off the grill was a wonder. I marvel to find the dune where I lie cool. How can it be like that when the sun shines hot all day? I don’t see a single constellation I recognize, and I wonder when the moon will rise and what phase it is in. I could easily doze off right here. But Pawan is about and lonely. He finds me and speaks of his childhood when his grandfather would show him the stars and tell him that he would become a star one day. “Why did he tell me that, Madame?” I wish my brother Pawan could find the freedom to call me “Jeri.” Tonight I see that this adventure in the desert has left him raw with homesickness for Nepal. What a privilege to serve as mother for this young man who courageously makes his way so far from home.
Miriam and I share lunch in Port Townsend—right on the water of the Puget Sound-- and wax whimsical about what God might do with the old bank building we just looked at, the one Curt and I want to buy. A seagull drops his load, which kindly misses us—and our food—and lands on the chair next to Miriam. We laugh; we marvel.
I see the plate of fresh cookies. The smell of baking permeates the house. I look, but feel no compulsion to eat. Detached. Free in my inner being. I walk away.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The truth is, well, this bird landed on the windowsill while I was in the bath. So close I could see his grey-feathered detail even without my glasses. The reflective window glass meant he was oblivious to his watcher.
I marvel at the birds on our thirteenth floor balconies. We live in the busiest part of this desert city amidst heavy traffic, construction, dust and skyscrapers. It is hot—105-120 degrees. So humid that our windows sweat and our glasses fog the instant we walk out of the building.
I don’t usually get such a close look at these hardy birds. This guy had a bug hanging out both sides of his beak, and something on the windowsill really had his attention. He pranced back and forth and pecked the crevices. Maybe there were more bugs. Maybe it was just fun.
“Consider the sparrow,” says Jesus. Small, fleeting, of no economic value. Yet God’s eye regards him, and his days unfold according to God’s purpose and time.
“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near Your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” (Psalm 84:3)
Sparrows are content, cheerful. They don’t compare themselves to other creatures. They don’t accumulate a lot of stuff. They don’t worry about what has been or what will be. They don’t gripe, and they never ever focus on what they didn’t get done.
So—sorry, Curt. I made us late. My eye was on the sparrow. And I think Jesus may have been watching me.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
They seem to treasure each other and to keep very close. And they have this gentle generosity. In memory, I watch Alper carefully choose a necklace and give it as a gift to our daughter, take me to the post-office so I can learn to pay the phone bill, and meet me at the bus station the day I leave because he doesn’t think anyone should undertake a journey with no one to see them off and wish them well.
Alper and Tuğba don’t have much stuff, but they have dreams. They watch every lira as they carefully build. When we first met they had a tiny shop in a terrible location. And enthusiasm and hope. Before that, they had a table on the street. They had sold an old family carpet to get the seed money for that. This year they’ve moved to better space and the business is growing. They have their eye on some land in the mountains 20 kilometers or so away, and already they envision fruit trees under cultivation and the beginnings of a small house.
For the merchants of Kaş one day flows into another in the ceaseless rhythm of “the season.” There is no weekend, no day off, no long lie. Shops open no later than mid-morning and are still open at midnight. Alper has been opening by 8 am to catch the boat traffic. Many vendors sleep over the shop or in a back room, and exist in the narrow radius of the shop and the tea vendor.
What a surprise, then, when Alper and Tuğba invited us to their place for a Sunday afternoon. “We work very hard,” said Alper. “And that is good. We don’t mind to work hard. But it is not good for a person to work all the time. We need time to rest, and we need time to be together. So we close the shop on Sunday and have a day off. People think we are crazy, but we do it.”
Ecclesiastes is a provocative book. Chapter 3 became well-known in the late 60’s when Joni Mitchell recorded a song based on its wisdom: “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven….”
Ancient literature shows us a time when humanity understood life as an endless wheel circling round and round. Birth, life, death, birth, life, death. Day after day after day, with no beginning and no end, no progression or purpose. In Genesis we have the first recorded human understanding that time is linear, that there was a beginning, that there is progression, that there is purpose and an end-point. Ecclesiastes 3 speaks to this, I think, in its description of seasons and cycles of time as part of a larger purpose “under heaven.”
That writer goes on to say, in verses 9-11, “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on people. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Not only is God the author of linear time that is progressing towards the fulfillment of His purposes, but He has set some whisper of understanding in the hearts of human beings—who are, after all, created in His image.
Alper and Tuğba give me a glimpse of this as they make an utterly counter-cultural choice that manifests God’s image in them. At creation, Genesis records, God set a pattern of six days of work and one of rest—a day to step back and enjoy the fruits of labor, to fellowship, to celebrate, to be refreshed. A day that is an act of faith in a good and powerful God who is willing and able to keep the world turning and provide for our needs without our help. A day that many among those who call themselves the people of God ignore. Somehow these two grasp it, and choose to risk celebration.
O Lord, bless them! Increase their fruitfulness, even as You sustain their relationship with one another. And as Alper and Tuğba savor this simple revelation, would You show them ever more of Yourself and give them the inner freedom to choose to embrace that, too.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Five times each day: before sunrise, around lunchtime, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, and evening. After years in the Middle East, I barely notice. Lately, though, I’ve given more thought to the awareness of God’s presence that a pause for prayer might bring.
In April, friends took me to a Benedictine monastery in Northern Ireland where monks gather to sing “the hours” several times each day, using the Psalms as their source. Shortly before, I’d browsed a book at a friend’s house in Baku. The author, a pastor, talks about that rarified morning time of reading and prayer—and the emptiness of how little its blessed insights impact his intense days. From his own search for a more penetrating awareness of God’s presence, he suggests a personal practice of “hours,” and even proposed a schedule and format. We talked some about it with our hosts. They found the idea overly ritualized. It put them off.
But my hunger is similar to that pastor’s. It’s not that I don’t pause for prayer during my day. We pray grace at meals, and at meetings and studies. I pray for directees and others who come to talk about spiritual things. I throw up “arrows” of prayer when surprised and uncertain what to do. I lean into God when I’m stumped and barren in my writing. But this pause simply to give God worship, this pause that is active as it requires one to interrupt the flow of work and move to a place and position for prayer, or even to gather with the community, this is different.
I’m “nudged.” In Kaş last month I decided to respond by intentionally interrupting whatever I was up to each time the mosque call began. I would go stand on the balcony, as though standing next to Jesus as He brooded over the town, and pray for the community until the call ended. An experiment. A learning.
First I learned how rarely the familiar call penetrates my awareness. I never hear it before dawn, and probably only notice about half of the other times. At the beginning of my experiment when I did notice I would go, stand and look, and find lots of things for which to pray: people I care about, situations and events of the day, the peace and prosperity of the town, the possibilities of the gospel, the timing of our move there. I watched people scurry by below me, to the grocery store, or to their cars, or into the school—people alone, people with friends, people buzzing by on scooters. I saw how they, too, seemed oblivious to the call. No one stops work to head for the mosque, or even pauses in their conversation. A big change from 20 years ago. I began to pray for the imams who make the calls, for God to touch their broken, frustrated hearts.
Later, as the “new” of my experiment wore off, I found that I could be aware the call had begun, but unwilling to be interrupted. Whatever I was focused on took precedence over prayer, whether it was an exciting discovery of just how to express a complex thought, or a conversation with another person, or solitaire on the computer. Sometimes I didn’t want to go to the balcony because it was hot. That brought me to some shame, and some repentance, reminded of how easily our human agendas overtake and consume us so that we fail to respond when God interrupts.
Then came days when I could no longer think of much to pray for, save to repeat what I’d already prayed. To say anything began to feel like babbling. I would stand and wrack my brain for something fresh. I decided it was time to stop talking and listen, and look. The sense that I was invited to stand and brood with Jesus increased.
“For My house will be called a house of prayer for all people.” Isaiah 56:7 jumped off the page at me. My heart went to the Gőkseke house, for that is our vision: a welcome, and space available, to anyone God might bring to pray, to lean in to Him, to seek and explore the reality of His presence. Isaiah’s context is a prophecy that strangers and foreigners, not just returning exiles, will find a spiritual home with the people of God.
I hear Isaiah’s words in another way, too. Our “house” is God’s house—wherever in the world He may place us. That image of Jesus standing and brooding over Kaş, and drawing us to stand and brood with Him—oh, the deep, deep love. In a town where no one knows His Name He is present, He is protecting, and He desires to be known and to bless.
O Lord, thank You for the certainty that You look out over Kaş, for the humbling realization that You drew us there to watch and love with You. Grant, please, that we, in all our fallen frailty, would act worthily. We long for Your presence to so permeate our days that Your life spills out to the bits and the few that we touch. By whatever means, increase Yourself in us.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
There is no church in Kaş, so each Sunday evening we gather with whatever believers are around to share table fellowship. Sometimes at Ken and Eva’s flat, sometimes at ours. Sometimes it’s just Curt and me, or even just me. Whoever—we celebrate the presence and promise of Jesus among us, the One who is enough.
A few weeks ago seven of us gathered on the highest balcony of the Gőkseke house. Cait was there, and so were friends Stephanie and Josh. Ken and Eva, too. Ken shared from John 15, where Jesus calls Himself vine and us His branches. Branches produce grapes through the life that courses and radiates from the vine.
As Ken talked, I noticed an old bit of vine that clung to the railing. It was deader than dead, brown and brittle with these minuscule dried-up grapes. Our gardener had taken the plant the summer before, but because the house was shut up he couldn’t get to the balcony.
I gazed at those tiny, dead grapes and wondered what my “fruit” looks like to Jesus. Me, thinking myself in a lofty space, intertwined and sturdy with a panoramic outlook, when in truth sometimes I cut myself off from Jesus in my spirit. Pride, self-interest, or just habits of fitting in, complacency. So that no supernatural life courses through me, and my proud, self-manufactured “fruit” is dead, dead, dead.
A few days later I went back to the house with my camera so I could show you that dead vine. I climbed all the steps, and struggled with the stiff lock on the balcony door. I looked. No vine! The gardener had been back, this time with a key to the house. No doubt glad to finish, he had torn away the branches and consigned them to the burn pile.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the Gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in her, she will bear much fruit…. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:1-8 (excerpts)
I couldn’t take the photo of the dead branch, but perhaps this one of this year’s tended vine with its budding new life is a better image to contemplate.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Then we left town. Alper and crew put in a hot, hard week, and then phoned Eda to come check the job. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach when she emailed photos. Other than trees EVERYTHING was gone! Our alluring romantic space was now eye-strain stark in the sun. How had our desires been so misunderstood?
The winter passed. Every time I thought about Gőkseke the same sad feeling rose in my gut. “It’s just a garden,” I told myself. “Renovation will probably be easier without the growing things. We can plant it again.” Still, it hurt.
Ten months passed before we saw the place, and Alper, again. By then weeds had overtaken the cleared spaces and things looked worse than ever. As we walked the lower courtyard to plan an ongoing gardening contract, Alper described his efforts of the prior summer. “We tried to save the garden,” he said, “but the weeds were too entwined with the good plants and everything grew in and around the fence. We couldn’t separate them, and so we had to take them all.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted, the weeds also appeared. His servants asked, ‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together, and I will sort it out at harvest.’” Matthew 13:24-30, paraphrased.
O, Lord, what wisdom! We just don’t have the skill or the knowledge to separate those who belong to Your kingdom from those who don’t. So we risk destroying everything when we try. You choose to allow all to thrive until You are ready to do something entirely new. Even then, you promise skilled harvesters and leave us free to simply love. Thank you for enabling me to hold my tongue over the winter. I am humbled. Bless Alper in all his work, and especially as he creates and tends the new garden with his careful, joyfully hard-working patience.
Monday, June 8, 2009
These days when I stop by we are more likely to discuss world affairs or Turkish history than the carpets that we both love. Sometimes our talk turns to our families and personal stories.
“How is your son and his wife? Will they come to Kaș again this season?” Dan worked in Kaș last summer with a local outdoor adventure company. He and Eda are well-remembered, Dan for his height and wild red bandana-bound hair, and Eda because she looks so Turkish yet doesn’t speak the language. “Where are they now?”
“They are in Abu Dhabi.”
“Abu Dhabi? They live there, too?”
“Sure. They both have jobs there, and they live with us.”
“They live with you? Really? But you are Western. I didn’t know Western families ever stayed together!”
Recep comes from a traditional family in Konya. Though he has summered in the Kaș carpet shop since his late teens, he returns to the family home and business when the season ends. He lives with his parents, and his married brother’s place is just across the courtyard. The whole family share meals together at one house or the other, and Recep’s way of telling me this speaks of deep love and belonging, and community.
Recep isn’t the first Muslim to express amazement at our family life. Just three months ago, Aneela visited our Abu Dhabi flat. Though from the UK, her family origin is Pakistani. She couldn’t get over the “family feeling” at our place—the photos all over the frig, Dan and Eda’s engaging presence, and the safety others there find in our kitchen and around our table. “I didn’t know Westerners cared family like this!” And to think—she’s lived all her life in the UK. Another visitor stands out to me because Aysha is a Muslim convert from Wales who married a UAE national, and yet she expressed the same amazement to find a non-Muslim family together and loving it.
It’s not hard to see how someone from another culture could think we Westerners care little for family, given our TV and movies that make it around the world. But are our homes so closed to those “unlike” us?
Dan and Eda live with us for a lot of reasons. Eda comes from rural Albania and a culturally Islamic heritage. Before she and Dan married she’d rarely been out of her local area, and never out of Albania. In her culture it’s appropriate and normal for the wife of the youngest son to move to his family home. Her family was comforted, when she married in a faraway land, that she would part of a new family in their normal way. Early on, she and I spent our days together learning from each other. She learned to shop in a supermarket and cook with recipes and American measures, to host a crowd, and to manage household help. I learned to appreciate her depth of character, and to love her as a daughter, and I’ve learned a lot from her about the dignity of her culture.
The thing is, Dan has taken some flak from Western peers (and imposed some on himself) because he and Eda don’t have their own place. In their eyes, to live with us suggests failure and dependence. Our daughter, Cait, suffers some of the same as she lives with her grandfather, my dad. Her choice is a huge blessing because Dad grows more and more deaf and finds it ever harder to walk or drive, or focus on the myriad pieces of detail necessary to live on his own. Dad and Cait love each other profoundly, and they bring one another great joy. They take care of each other. Still, it hasn’t been long since she expressed that self-questioning angst: “I’m the only one of my friends who still lives with family.”
The West values independence and self-sufficiency. The East emphasizes community and family. Our children, caught between East and West through life experience and chosen relationships, are in the middle. Yet in the part of the world where Curt and I live, all of us find we have gained respect and credibility, a voice, in a way we did not imagine by these life choices.
O Lord, thank you for Cait, and for Dan and Eda, for their love for you, for us, and for one another. Praise You for touching this world through their choices. Please, continue to guide them on their unique paths, with fruitful work and ever-deepening qualities of character and faithfulness. And for Recep, Aneela, Aysha and others, bless them, protect them and their families, and direct them in the ways You have for them, too.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Our kitchen cabinets and closets are hand-made, as are our dining table and chairs. Sűleyman began with rough sticks of pine that he planed and laminated into panels himself. He beveled edges and trim pieces with simple hand tools, and did the decorative design in the table and chairs with a small awl. I drew pictures and jotted measures, and he interpreted with craftsmanship and simple creativity.
This kind of custom work would be outrageously expensive anywhere else. Here it’s just one of the ways you get basics, one of the ways a local guy willing to work hard with his mind, heart and hands can support his family.
We love visiting Sűleyman’s workshop. Set into the hillside beneath his Gőkseke home, one wall is completely open to the sea. The place is piled with sawdust and works in progress. Tools are few and basic, and a few photos of his pieces are tacked to the back wall. When we pull up Sűleyman’s face crinkles with delight. We talk in body language and my pigeon Turkish. Invariably patient with changes and misunderstandings, his eyes sparkle when I admire his workmanship and he loves Curt’s photos that capture the process and the human face of his furniture.
As I watch Sűleyman labor over a piece, I’m touched by his obvious love of the wood and the way it responds to his touch. I admire his quiet spirit towards his crew, and the way he frees them to do what they are good at, giving them respect and dignity. Both of his adult children have turned up when he needed extra hands to install things. His labors have allowed them university degrees and professional jobs, but their admiration, pride and love for their dad glows as they work together.
Jesus was a carpenter in a small town . I think he and Sűleyman would have gotten on. Sűleyman helps me to imagine the hard work of the carpenter shop. I think about the job-to-job nature of Sűleyman’s business. The work he’s done in our place represents close to two months of his life. I hear this past winter was a lean one. The shop can be a hot, sweaty place. Misunderstandings can lead to waste of time and money. Yet the wood is a living thing, and the most utilitarian piece can embody great beauty under a loving hand. I think about the family right there above the shop, and the community of fortune that draws a 25-year-old nurse to spend two days holding tools and nails while she and her dad chat peaceably.
Jesus was a carpenter in a small town. Watching Sűleyman, I’ve come to think that it was a good school to learn about beauty, ingenuity, people and family, patience and hard work, and human need.
Oh Lord, bless Sűleyman. Thank you for the beauty and simplicity of spirit he has shared with us. May we be Your sweet fragrance of life to him and to those he loves.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
We’d considered Albania, Italy, the south of France, Morocco, Oman and the UAE. We’d been in Turkey six days and hadn’t even come close. But I’d had email contact with an English fellow who made Kaş sound worth a visit.
As we cleared the last curve and saw the town spread down the rocky hillside to the sea below we both caught our breath. It looked, well, like the dream. The road wound down to the now-familiar harbor. We located the estate agent’s office, ready to go.
“Not today,” he said. “You really should get the feel of the place first.” “But we only have this afternoon and tomorrow!” we pled. “Go. Walk around. Talk to people. Tomorrow, if you still want to, we’ll look at houses.”
So we wandered the town’s heart, stopping to talk with shopkeepers and artisans, remarking on the absence of hawkers and mass-market tourist junk, the pleasant music and easy converse floating from coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Curt took photos: the ancient sarcophagus at the top of the delightfully-preserved old streets in the pedestrian area, and the pelicans and boats in the harbor.
We looked at a lot of places the next day. We saw a gorgeous new villa with infinity pool overlooking the sea, and a weird old place that ran straight up and down a cliffside with a tiny terrace at the bottom. One villa had a huge barn-roof, and three really ugly new houses just in front of it. Another was almost right, but not enough rooms and the only access to the pool was through a bedroom.
We arrived at the last place sweaty, weary, and disappointed. Access was down a narrow, weedy track in the highest part of Gőkseke village. Behind the iron gate a vine-shaded rock stairwell led straight up the mountain-side through an weedy, overgrown garden to a tower of a house almost covered with vines and bougainvillea. Junk everywhere, and three little dogs yapping and growling.
As we wandered the disheveled five stories, it felt like we had entered God’s dream. Five shady, quiet balconies overlooked the Mediterranean and beckoned us to rest and to pray. Olive trees in the rocky, unspoilt side-yard whispered to us of the Mount of Olives, and called up images of oil and lamps. Vines invited us to abide in the True Vine. We leaned our arms on the third floor balcony railing and felt we had come home.
We bought the place the next morning.
Since that day in late August I’ve had ample opportunity to revisit our decision and to wonder whether, reality suspended, we momentarily lost our minds. I’ve lived through periods of blind panic. The place has title problems. We knew that and went ahead anyway, choosing the risk. But I’m a lawyer. Shouldn’t I have known better? Since we bought, the world economy has cratered. The dollar is much stronger, so if we had waited, maybe we could have paid less. Turns out renovation costs more in Turkey than the cheerful estate agent said it would. It might have been cheaper to build a place from scratch than to remodel this one. We bat around names for the place. Curt favors something peaceful and romantic like “Fair Haven.” I call it “House of the Cracked Pots!”
One anxious day when I was feeling certain we are complete fools, I leaned into Jesus and began to muse over images of real estate investment in the Bible. My self-critical mind turned first to Proverbs, to wisdom and stewardship images of shrewd understanding and principled management.
But then actual purchases of land rose in my mind. I can think of four that God deemed worthy of record.
In Genesis 23, Abraham buys a cave at Machpelah. Though God had promised him the whole of Canaan, he’d lived for years as an alien stranger and still possessed nothing when Sarah died. He wanted a place of his own to bury her. Given the climate, there wasn’t much time to haggle. In a formal meeting with the Hittites he refuses to use one of their tombs, and insists on giving the full asking price for Ephron’s field. That cave was Israel’s first foothold in the promised land. Generations later, Joseph honored Jacob’s deathbed request and carried his bones from Egypt to be buried alongside his ancestors.
Several hundred years later, Boaz bought some land, Naomi’s land. By then, Israel had possession of Canaan, and had divided it among tribes and families. Under the Law, if there were no direct descendants left to take title to family land, it could be redeemed by a next-of-kin, but with a catch. The land came with the dead man’s wife, and any children born of that union were deemed to belong to the dead man so that the land would stay in the family. Naomi was old, and her husband and sons were all dead. Her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, had moved to Israel with her to share her sorrow and desperate poverty. Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, but another guy was in line for the land—and the woman. Seems like Boaz already had plenty of land of his own, and no need for Naomi’s, but he had to buy it to get Ruth. So in Ruth 4 we see him buying the land, along with its “baggage”—a title problem that meant his own children would be deemed the sons of another and the land would revert to that man’s family. All for the gracious love of an alien woman who would become one of the four women named in the line of Christ.
Fast forward to David. God calls him the man after His own heart, but David still did stupid things and angered God from time to time. 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 record a census he ordered, and makes it clear that everyone knew this was a huge offense to the Lord. The repentant David is given a choice of judgments, and throws himself on God’s mercy. Seventy thousand die of plague, but at the threshing floor of Araunah, the Lord relents. David is commanded to build an altar there. Araunah, after encountering the angel, urges David to take the site and the animals. But David insists on paying full price to buy the place before he will worship, refusing to sacrifice in a way that costs him nothing. That bit of land would become the site of the Temple, a pivotal piece of land for both Jews and Muslims yet today.
Lastly, in the dark days just before Judah was conquered by Babylon and carried into exile, God directed his prophet Jeremiah to buy a field. Jeremiah 32 finds Jeremiah in prison and Jerusalem under siege, but he obeys this crazy command that no doubt made him look even more like a collaborator. After the deed is sealed away, Jeremiah wonders what God could possibly be doing, and God gives His promise to restore His people and to bring again a day when land would be bought and sold in a prosperous Israel.
Economies and investments. We evaluate a house or a piece of land in terms of financial return, or a safe and pleasant place for a home. These few purchases God thought noteworthy represent pure worship, investment in relationships, and radical acts of obedient faith. Abraham believed God would give him the whole land, and Jacob clung to that promise when he died in exile in Egypt. Boaz desired to marry to a foreign woman of faith and noble character, and was willing to incur the cost and take on the baggage that came with her. David owned his sin with a costly repentance and refused to take advantage of his God-given kingship to avoid the price of sacrifice. Jeremiah made a ludicrous purchase in a costly act of sheer faith.
All these are kingdom investments, and God’s economy knows no scarcity, no downturn. My anxious fear of loss, of appearing foolish for following what I perceived as God’s dream, and my temptation to second-guess our timing, is met and satisfied in His “do not be afraid.” “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:32-34.
I don’t doubt we could have heard wrong on that sweltering hot day. We may indeed have been foolish. But I think I’m beginning to grasp something about God’s economics, and I can trust Him with my feeble efforts to follow. Joyfully, truth is I’ve still never visited “House of the Cracked Pots” without a profound sense of peace descending on my spirit.
Oh Lord, we do continue to ask you for resolution to the title process in Gőkseke. Today we ask for that to happen soon so that we can begin the renovation, and start welcoming the world there.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The kitchen is shiny new, completed after we left last June. But yesterday I noticed the cupboard under the sink is already a mess. Gas bottle, wadded grocery bags, cleaning stuff, garbage bin, an old dishpan. Stuffed, not stored.
I’m picky about cupboards. I get a little crazy when people misplace things. I’ve never told anyone before, but whenever I come home from a trip (usually in the middle of the night) I can’t settle until I go through the kitchen and put things back where I think they belong.
Still, here it is--pristine space already overfull and scrambled.
Have you ever been a guest in a home that whispers peace and rest? No distracting clutter, no untidy projects lying about. Nothing to hint what your host is reading, whether she has a hobby or a load of unfinished paperwork. Sometimes as I’ve moved from guest to friend, into that space where I am welcome to help in the kitchen, or to poke around and help myself to what I find, I discover the spacious outward order has been achieved by hurried heaping and closing the door. Or that doors hide jigsaw puzzles to be oh-so-carefully unpacked and repacked just to find a coffee mug, an iron, or the vacuum cleaner.
People can be like that, too. Outwardly calm, apparently at rest and full of spacious joy, while inside all is jumble and clutter. When we arrange our lives so that we are always in a hurry, leaving no margins to reflect and unwind the jumble to look for God’s Presence, His order in it all, our calm is worn like a mask to cover confusion, thoughtlessness, and an untidy intellect.
More often with me, I just cram too much in--too many projects, too many people, too much information. Good stuff, and I may keep it all compartmentalized and organized with lists, time-lines, journals and disciplined regimens of so-much-of-this-or-that-each-day. I can even be admired for my management skills, or for the sheer quantity I can pack in. But the result is the same. An inaccessible complexity obscures clarity of vision, unhurried listening, deep reflection and attentive prayer. I’m present, but I may not be truly available—to my Lord, or to the people He places before me.
O Lord, teach me the way of an uncluttered spirit—inside and out. Remind me to bring stuff to You to see whether it belongs in my cupboard before I dump it in. Discipline me to leave space—margins—to reflect on the jumble of my days, and to notice what good stuff I’m tempted to cram in so as to bury the best stuff, the building of Your Kingdom and the dwelling in Your presence so that I mirror that gracious spaciousness that is real, truly hospitable, and life-giving.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
No new blogs in a long while and now one that is unsettling. Are you ok?
I am. My April 14th post unsettled a few, including my husband. Smile. I knew it was "risky," but it reflects the acedia I live with in this longed-for season of freedom.
And if I often dwell there, a few others must, too.
After years of tight schedules, constant deadlines, and structure (complete with lots of community, feedback and strokes), solitude and freedom to choose my day can weigh heavily. Apparently I really LIKE the tyranny of the urgent, and all the reassurance of how much I am needed that comes with it. Smile again.
Kathleen Norris' latest book, Acedia & Me: Monks, Marriage, and a Writer's Life, gives me language and some understanding of this lethargic space that is my really good life. O, to throw off this indolence and choose Jesus’ presence and companionship in all the moments of my days.
Monday, April 20, 2009
In the fallen world of Today, those who believe Jesus inhabit the “already/not yet” of rebirth. New creations, spiritually alive, indwelt with His Spirit, but in decaying, earth-bound bodies. Still bound to sin’s presence, still wooed by her siren song. However much we love Jesus, however real our experience of Him, we drag deadness around with us. It touches everything we do and are. No pure motives here. No untainted agendas, either.
The days following Easter manifest the mystery of a body to come--not just Jesus' resurrected body, but our own. Bodies that will no longer blunt our spirit with weariness and rebellion.
Our bodies are sacred, and Easter opens a window onto a mysterious but endless vista. The best part of us will cheat the grave. Our weary bones, heavy flesh, and addled brains already hold the seeds of that resurrection.
 Heb 3:12-15
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Got out of bed.
Read the daily reading. Prayed over it. Prayed for B, about whom I am confused and feel meaningless. Texted S about our promised coffee together, though I have no energy or desire for it.
Stretched and exercised a little. It made me feel nauseous. The feeling remains.
Took up again the Lenten fast I trashed yesterday.
Showered, washed my hair, and made the bed.
Nearly 11am already. I present myself for the writing assignment of the day.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Moses encountered a bush all aflame, and yet not consumed. The "not consumed" part is what made it remarkable. That and the part about the voice of God....
The living bush was not consumed, but I wonder if the dead parts burned up and fell away?
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Moses, in Exodus 33:15-16
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
An ordinary desert bush.
But within, a flame alive with the Energy of the Universe,
yet not consuming the fragile bush.
Holy ground—so please, take off your shoes.
An ordinary city home.
But within, a Spirit alive--the Energy of the Universe--
yet not consuming the fragile hosts.
Holy ground—so please, take off your shoes.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Rain has fallen since then. The sparse plant life is greener, and Dan worries about bugs as we check out a campsite. Just below the surface the sand is cool, and some of the subqa is water-logged.
From the road everything looks the same, but the moment we head off the shoulder into the wilderness we experience the difference. Dan goes first. His Pathfinder’s wide tires don’t even penetrate the surface, and only light tread marks record his passing. We easily crest the first steep rise and swerve effortlessly to avoid the pit beyond it.
Then Curt makes a power-run at a sand hump, an abrupt-but-low hill best conquered by bashing. We make it up, but (shock and “oh, my!”) it jars like we hit a wall! Another couple of minutes and he is high-centered on the peak of a sharp crest, one tire spinning useless in the air. Later he will go airborne taking a crest too fast—which may be some people’s idea of fun in the dunes, but miles into wilderness at the edge of The Empty Quarter in a three ton Landcruiser, well, NOT a good idea….
The sand is hard. Today it doesn’t give way and absorb our blows. We can’t brashly bash our way through confident of a soft landing. Nor can we scoot through by side-slipping tight passages, since the damp sand binds our tires and could cause us to roll.
This untouched area is a favorite, a spot we return to again and again. Always before, though, we nibbled at the edges and treated a radius around our camp as our giant sandbox. We conquer and slide down the steepest places over and over like a merry-go-round ride. This trip we decided to camp deeper in the wilderness, and made riskier plans to thread our way overland to a far-away road we spotted on Google Earth.
The sand’s new firmness encourages us. We can travel further faster and climb higher with less chance we will become hopelessly bogged down.
Unless, of course, we break something.
I ponder the same in relationships with living beings and the sand begins to speak to me of the Father God.
Many encounters, and we’ve known softness. We’ve bashed and played and experimented. Last time I learned to mix gentleness with confident power-engagement to get me out of the bottom of a steep slide. Yes, we’ve stayed close to the road in case we get hopelessly stuck, but we never feared real damage--until today. It was easy to think we’d come to know this desert.
My fellowship with God can be just like that. I am playful child, now experimental, now angry and bashing, now just plain stuck and in need of a gentle yank, all the while gaining confidence and trust. Certain I’m safe, that there will be no real damage. And coming to think I know this Eternal Person who loves me.
Today we meet firmness. Abrupt. Jarring. We could crack something, or break off whole pieces, or smash. We might learn in breaking them about things we don’t need anyway--we pitched the snazzy low front bumper and shiny chrome exhaust-pipe covers years ago. Maybe we’ll need repairs. But the firmness is full of fresh possibility, a new side of the desert. We can learn and adapt and go where we never imagined, to a destination discovered only through risky exploration. We can move faster. We can choose to embrace this new desert-face.
God is not just a soft, pliable daddy who delights to watch me play,
Oh, Lord, grant me the courage and the amazing grace to embrace You increasingly in the fullness of ALL that You are!
Monday, February 2, 2009
Sunday, January 25, 2009
The house is quiet, but a walk from room to room counts a dozen or more people reading, resting, scribbling in journals, praying. Christians leaning into the Lord Jesus in a space set apart for them this day.
We are hosts to a silent retreat. Men and women spread in comfortable chairs, or on cushions piled in a corner. Others stand gazing out the window or into a painting. Nadeek is not a participant. He is here to serve, to make sure the juice pitcher is full, the fruit bowl is replenished, and the dishes get washed. He works for us.
I work, too. As retreat leader, chief cook, and hostess I have plenty to do. Still, Nadeek’s undivided attention arrests me.
I am here to serve, a guardian of space, peace and the silence conducive to focus and meditation. Yet within all that I have my own agenda. I, too, desire as much holy solitude as I can carve for myself. So I come and go from my space in the study. My attention is divided.
“I lift up my eyes to You, to You whose throne is in heaven. …As the eyes of a maid look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He shows us His mercy.” Psalm 123:1-2.
I see myself as servant. Yet Nadeek takes me aback. How flawed is my understanding of genuine servanthood. As a creature of the West, where individual trumps community, I see “service” is an activity of the moment. “My time” is to be maximized to get in as much “me-time” as I can around my responsibilities to others.
Nadeek is from Sri Lanka, a child of the East. He turns “servant” into a dignified profession as he gives me a lesson in humility. I asked him to help out with lunch and dishes. He is otherwise free to disappear into his own pursuits. I don’t see “enough” for him to do. Nadeek, on the other hand, sees this set-apart day as filled with opportunities to bless in quiet ways and has set himself as guardian. Most of the day he will stand invisible, but empty cups magically disappear, tea and coffee are ever replenished, the kitchen serving area is spotless. The smallest needs are intercepted before they have a chance to become disruptions.
Suddenly I stand on holy ground as witness to the heart and soul of a true servant. Nadeek could be out about town, resting, or pouring over his beloved sports page. But his master has something going, and he can’t imagine not being there, alert to faces and body language, giving full support to my agenda as he attends those I’ve taken in today.
“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify Your name forever.” Psalm 86:11-12.
With gratitude to my teacher, Nadeek.
Wow! The plans I make in that rarified space of air travel between one world and another today meet the crunch of real life where laundry and dishes must be done, mail opened and business paperwork addressed, and no one has been to the grocery store for two weeks. Where traffic and lines undermine every schedule; and conversations, in person or cyberspace, fill the margins reserved for the writing of profound thoughts.
Pick up house/unpack
Arensens for dinner
Follow-up e-mails: Gordon/Holta
And, please God, can I work on the book a bit, and blog???
Saturday, January 17, 2009
His back is to me, but the sense is companionable, me with Bible and journal in my morning chair, Jesus in contemplation of the city.
“Why are you looking out the window?” it occurs to me to ask. “Because I care about this city.” An obvious reply.
And so we dwell there in quiet fellowship—Jesus lovingly brooding, me turning over this fresh sense of inclusion. My prayer of late has been so focused on my “stuff”: failure and guilt as I cling to two specific ways of emptiness I love while He whispers, “Let them go.” Today I see something wonderful. Jesus, there at the window, so matter-of-factly includes me in what He is doing. He brought me to Abu Dhabi, and I, too, often gaze out that window with compassion, or drive the streets with anger over development that chases wealth for a few while destroying quality of life for so many. With Jesus and through Him I am moved to receive the people who inhabit this place. He includes me as companion, as instrument, as incarnation.
Yes, the “stuff” remains, and I need to give attention to ways I resist His voice, and stay with Jesus in it until I break through to surrender. But that’s not all of Jesus, or all of me, or nearly as big a block in our companionship as I’ve made it. He sees me differently than I see myself: as one of His own, as with Him in His ministry, as a co-lover of those He loves. His perspective is life-giving.
And it may even make it easier to loosen my grip and let go of the “stuff!”
Thursday, January 15, 2009
“Compassion” is a word of love that is much more than warm feelings. It means I am moved to the core to DO SOMETHING, to get involved.
“A resolution that is a fine flame of feeling allowed to burn itself out without appropriate action is not merely a lost opportunity, but a bar to future action.”
(with gratitude to the author of Sacred Space—whoever you are…)
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Curt started by asking if anyone knew what he did in his work. As I think about it, I suppose all their other teachers are pastors or missionaries or somehow in full-time employment in the church. Curt’s an oil guy. He works the upstream (subsurface) side of things—the side of the industry that gets that dark green stuff up out of the ground--and he loves his work. That came clear as he described to the students some of the excitment of getting a six-inch pipe and drill bit through several miles of rock to reach the deep places of trapped oil. “Miles” and “barrels” and “millions” and “billions” peppered his sharing.
Translator, students, staff—the collective mental gasp registered on their faces. “This is a testimony?”
Curt went on to speak of the people he works with: UAE nationals, Egyptians, Jordanians, Sudanese. Men and women. All Muslims. He talked about ways he and his colleagues share their lives in the workplace, and how much he enjoys his co-workers and the challenges they embrace as a multi-cultural team. I didn’t know that some of them call him “the preacher.” Curt also talked some about the people who come to our house, and the food, games, conversation, studies, movies and prayer that happen in our living room.
As Curt and I travel and occasionally get to teach or preach in the US, Europe or Asia people often ask what mission board we serve with. They look so disappointed when we tell them that an oil company brought us to the Middle East.
So often we think of “ministry” as something “missionaries” and “pastors” do. Or something we “normal people” do in our spare time under the auspices of some church program. Something with a title and a job description to validate it. “Youth worker.” “Sunday school teacher.” “Board member.” And don’t we elevate in degrees of status or hierarchy those who make their living from the church over those whose income derives from “secular” work?
Yet the human calling, from creation, is to fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1:28.) To live in this world God made and to care for it, use it, steward it, tend to it.
We are spiritual beings, but we are also physical--of the earth and earthy. This earth God put us in charge of is full of possibilities, but it needs to be creatively, enthusiastically tended if it is to supply human need—especially as we live out the other charge to multiply and fill it up. To be a farmer or a scientist or a doctor or a water-quality inspector or a day-care provider or a bookkeeper or a civil servant or a mother—OR AN OIL GUY—is a HOLY calling.
Curt’s testimony vividly illustrated his self-understanding: “I am a full-time Christian!” No distinction exists between his “secular” and his “sacred” work. It all belongs to God. Whether he is planning a new well, engaged in dialogue about faith, exploring the back alleys and souks, or playing a game in our living room, if he is there because Jesus opened the way and gifted him to be there, and if his heart is submitted and attentive, God will be glorified and His Kingdom will be advanced.
And that’s COOL!