Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cradle

Where to begin? Perhaps with Çiğdem in our entry. "Çok güzel bu beşik! Ama, Momi, neden burada?" Good question. Why would I have an old handmade cradle parked in a corner near the front door?

Or I could start with Yasemin and Halil. As they gather coats and bags to leave at the end of a visit Halil points to the tiny wooden Mary and Joseph and asks his daughter whether she remembers their story from last year. They, too, admire the cradle and I tell again how we wait in this season for Jesus to come. How we remember that he did come, and that we look for him to come again. We speak of the similarities in our Jesus traditions, and once in a while the heart question is asked: "So, Momi, what is the difference between the Muslim Jesus and the Christian?"

Or with Cait, who wonders how to care for friends in her choice to leave Santa out of Lia's world. Or with a friend (unnamed because I don't know how far she has shared her pregancy) who posts a FB question about how her believing friends talk to their children about Santa and Jesus.

"And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14) And angels sang and invited shepherds to worship. And a star appeared and drew those who could read the skies to find a child in a manger and offer their riches. God entered into human history and communicated good news. 

I see lots of blogs and articles about how to master the craziness, how to keep time to wait for and with Jesus, how to resist the commercialism and hyperactivity of the season. From my perch I wonder why the writers and the readers don't just simply stop. But I can talk, can't I, for I live on a Turkish hillside overlooking the Mediterranean in a village where people have barely heard of Christmas. My neighbor allows me to see that before we talked about it she always thought Noel was the Western name for New Years, which is more and more celebrated just as we in the West do Christmas. In the cities at least, and via TV the whole country sees it. Trees, gifts, lights, Santa--all of it. Commercial interests have noticed that Christmas is a money maker, and big shopping malls here look much like those in the US just now. It doesn't hurt, either, that we live just east of the birthplace of St. Nick and just west of the ancient town where he served as bishop 1,600 years ago. Santa is Turkish. Did you know that?

I can talk, but I struggled with all the same stuff when living in my home culture. Over time we did many things to simplify and refocus, but Christmas worship always began for me only after Christmas Day, when everything went quiet and I could rest and think and pray. Other expats write blogs and articles about how much they miss all the trappings of Christmas and about what they do to make things more like their passport homes and about how hard the holidays can be. I rejoice in the freedom to quietly watch and wait for Jesus.

When Jesus entered our human world, forgiveness, love, salvation, reconciliation and power were conveyed. In all kinds of ways. As we represent the incarnation, we think about what will communicate Jesus to our friends and neighbors. As well as what might obscure him. The issues aren't so different from anywhere else, but here we have a blank slate. Last year we put up two nativities. One very beautiful one lent by a friend celebrated the rich beauty of God's gift. Another small wooden one children could play with demonstrated his accessibility to all. We strung a few lights on the balcony and gave a string to the neighbor boy to put on his house. And we hosted a meal between Christmas and New Years and used the little figures to tell the story, prayed for our guests, and ate of the bounty of this place.

This year we've added and subtracted. We have only the simple nativity. Mary and Joseph wait for the baby while shepherds watch their flocks in a nearby field. The angels watch and the wise men are still far away. Baby Jesus is in a drawer until Christmas Day. Advent candles have marked our private journey, and I found an old cradle in a junk shop and fixed it up. It is handmade, so we talk about the simplicity of a family long ago. It is empty, and we explain that we wait for something. It is in a corner of the entry to our large house, a house designed for guests, and we tell about how many people had to journey to their home places because the government required it, and the house was overfull. But the young couple were part of the family and a place was found for them and made as welcoming as the host could make it.
Rustic, and not particularly skilled craftmanship. I picture a young father without much money lovingly preparing for the arrival of his firstborn.

A little vegetable oil rub took care of a lot of dirt and brought warmth to the wood. 

Yes, I've seen these cradles and the support is twine woven back and forth.

My sailing knots come in handy.

Simple. But chosen because of how it makes it easy for us to tell the good story, and to express how important it is to us. Props to augment our limited language skills, nothing showy or expensive to distract, and each bit rich with context. 

Though Santa comes from just up the road, we ignore him. We did with our kids when they were small, too. How could we teach them that both Jesus and Santa were real even though they never actually saw them, and then later admit that Santa was a myth? How could we glorify a figure that encourages greed and self-focus at a time when we remember how God gave the ultimate self-sacrifice as His gift to humanity? How could we let our children think that we might not always be truth-sayers to the best of our understanding?

As always, if people are to experience our story, they must be made welcome. At feasts, and in the in and out of everyday. Knowing our love and delight whenever they can be here. 

I love this. Which is not to say that I would not hang a wreath on the door and put up a pretty tree with loads of lights, or join the choir to sing the Messiah, or otherwise join the festivities of another place. Where these things communicate goodness and truth and family and love. For this place and this time, though, I am grateful. And Jesus is here.

Noel Beşiği

Çarşamba günü biz Noeli kutlayacağız. Bu bayram Hıristıyanlar için İsa'nın doğumu hatırlıyoruz. Amerıka'da özel ağaçlar, güzel ışıklar, ve başka çok şey ile evler süsleniyor. Hediye veriyorlar ve özel tatlıları yapıyorlar. Bir kişi Türkiye'de yılbaşı için aynı yapıyorlar.

Noel burası bizım için farklı, ve bunu seviyoruz. Aynı burası Yılbaşı için her şey ticari Noeli de Amerika'da. Çok reklam, pahalı dekorasyonlar ve hediyeler, fazla yemek ve ıçecek var. Ve İsa'nın doğumu önemli değil. Unutulmuş.

Burası bizim için Noel sade ve sakin. Huzurlu. Biraz ışık evimizin balkonında cünkü İsa dünyanın ışığı. Eski bir el yapımı beşik giriş kapısında bekliyor cünkü ne zaman İsa doğdu onun sehrinde çok kalabalık oldu ve ev ailerle doludu. Yani küçük bir yer evde buldu yeni bebek için. Şimdi bizim evimizde de küçük ahşap Meryem ve Yusuf hayvanlarla evde bekliyor. Ahşap çobanlar kuzularla yaylada. Ve üç ahşap bilge adam yıldızları seyrettiyorlar ve yolculuk Beytlehem'a gidiyorlar. Küçük ahşap bebek İsa bir çekmecede bekliyor. Biraz özel yemek yaptım. Sakin bir hafta İsa'yı gözlüyoruz.

Sevgililer, bizden size neşe bu Noel.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Tuesday Report--the good, the bad, and the ugly

I'm not sure where to say Tuesday started this week. Was it when I woke at 8am with the harsh realization that Ayşe would arrive to clean sometime in the next hour and that my hair was bad-dirty? Or was it at 2am when I rolled my pitiful self into bed after hours of a computer game I'd clung to as cover for a lonely heart? Telling myself it didn't matter, that I could sleep until noon if I wanted.

I love to tell of good, of peace and joy. But after a Monday of Turkish study, fiddly desk work of bill paying and a messed-up internet order (in Turkish), and preparation of the flat for coming guests--ironing, bedmaking, balcony cleaning, and reorganizing the kitchen, once again mystified at how little elves creep in and rearrange cupboards according to their own better ideas...well, Curt finished his Turkish class and we grabbed a quick pide and were home by six. At which time Curt went straight upstairs to his desk without saying a word to me and returned to his play with his photos that had consumed his morning. Not one word spoken until he said goodnight and went to bed.

Ouch. Not that anyone was angry, but neither had we discussed desires for the evening. Nor had we spent more than a few minutes together the entire day. It was like he forgot I existed. I sat on the sofa, tried to read, couldn't concentrate, felt sad, and played on my ipod. Self-pity stalked and I hid from it behind the addictive little shapes that affirmed me with good scores and then dumped me. With the promise that it would go better if I played just once more. I told myself I deserved a night off and a long lie in the morning.

Anyway, I was naked and dripping with tangled wet hair when Ayşe arrived for her day's work. Curt, again lost in his photo editing, made no move. "I hear Ayşe," said I. "Uh," said Curt. "Amm, could you go down and greet her? I'm not dressed." "Hmpf," said the man to his demanding wife, and managed to drag himself from the screen to stomp downstairs. We then worked at our desks in silence for an hour until she was ready to start on our office space. Curt gathered his things, still without a word, and went to the dining room and right back to his project. I brought down the coffee things, did dishes, and simmered. 

"I'm pretty angry with you," the simmer boiled over. "Huh? What? Why?" Curt gradually broke the surface of his deep self-space to gasp his surprise. And we talked. And Curt apologized, and we talked some more. He bore me no ire, but I already knew that. He just sort of forgot he lives with another person and that the stuff of life was getting done by that person while he created and played. It happens from time to time. As does my self-pitying response. I wonder whether our years of living apart and alone have left this scar?
Curt connects deeply with nature, people and prayer through his photography. He shares some of it at

We talked. We hugged, loved, and let it go. I moved to the studio to attack the ironing pile. Normally I keep up with it, but somehow this pile had grown to where I could barely lift it. Clothes, dinner napkins, dish towels, and LOTS of bedding. Christmas music would speed me along. Rose, who lives on her sailboat with her husband, came up to do some sewing. She uses our studio because Brian spends winters tearing apart electronics and other things in their tiny space. A simple work table in our sunny room supports their marital sanity.

Curt, now happy and present and attentive, asked if he could make lunch so that I could stay with my project. "I suppose," said I, uncomfortable with my whine that had led to us to this. Lunch was a chicken curry from a recipe, so off he went. Rose sewed, I ironed. She caught herself singing to a Christmas carol and chuckled. Dinghy cover mended, she put things away for another day and headed back to the marina to lunch with her husband.

I finished the massive pile just as our late lunch was ready. Duvets carefully laid over work tables to avoid a single crease. I thought the curry looked a little strange. More red than curry-yellow. Discovered my dear dyslexic husband had read chile for curry and had used a tablespoon of cayenne. Whew! We enjoyed our meal. Curt's head beaded with sweat, my nose ran, and Ayşe's eyes watered as we all heaped seconds on our plates. She was shocked to learn that Curt had cooked, and duly impressed, even as we laughed together over his spicy mistake. She asked about the light strings on the balcony. Were they for the New Year, which is more and more often celebrated in this part of the world as Americans celebrate Christmas, with lights, decorated trees, Santa Claus, and gifts? No, I told her, but for Noel. Which is different. 

Ayşe inserted herself into the kitchen cleanup while Curt and I together made up the house. All beds with freshly ironed linen and ready for soon-to-come guests. A big job made light in the sharing.

Then back to the now-shiny clean office space where we would work a bit more and then play cards. And talk. Christmas plans. Blog posts. An evening of quiet savored in front of our wood fire. The health of Turkish study, retreat planning, people we love to think about, and prayer. 
New vocabulary. Pick three words and write a sentence, or ten and write a story. 

So there it is. Goodness. Messy uglies. Vulnerability and forgiveness. Life in a community. Life together. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

...and moved into the neighborhood

"And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us." (John 1:14)

There is this story I tell. To my kids, to students, and as part of my story of what matters. I grew up outside the church in a family stuck in the muck of addictions and anger. When I was 15 some girls from school, urged on by a believing woman who chose to love me, tried to bring me into their circle. One day several of us went to Krissy's house. There I sat, uncomfortable, an outsider to their laughter and confidence. 

The phone rang. I could hear Krissy's mother's end of a conversation from the next room. 

"Really? That's big--what a hard decision! No, I don't know what you should do. ... Hmmm, I don't know. But I'll pray for you. Yes, the Lord cares about this. Let's pray to know how to handle things. I'll call you again tomorrow."

The chatter, the giggles and teasing, my discomfort--all faded as I eavesdropped on that call. A mom who talked about God on the phone. A mom who prayed. A mom who thought prayer mattered, that Jesus might enter and show the way.  In that moment my whole world changed.

My usual talking point for this story is that we never know what goes on behind the doors of another's home, and we never know what profound impact our everyday actions of faith might have on lonely eavesdroppers in our homes.

"The Word became flesh" and moved to a new place. Jesus left his eternal home to make a temporary home in a place where no one knew him.

We find ourselves on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. After living seven years in the Middle East. Not by accident. We were drawn here, invited, we believe, by that same Word who moved to physical Israel 2,000 years ago. Invited to purchase property and make space for people who seek solitude for prayer and rest. We call it Spa for the Soul, and we moved here with intention.

But we soon understood that we also moved into a neighborhood, a community where no one had before encountered the Word enfleshed. As I write these lines the mosque singer sings and his call echoes above the wind over the hillside. It penetrates our office and our bedroom and wafts down to the sea below. Twelve days into advent and not a sign of Christmas anywhere.

We understood we'd moved into the neighborhood, so we schooled ourselves to listen and to love. From earliest days first one, and then a few more, and then others, called me Mommy. Their children call me babaanne or anneanne (father's mother or mother's mother) depending on which parent attached first. It surprised me. Still does. I looked for a cultural explanation, but found none. I listened to their stories and realized that many of these dear ones are distant from birth-family. Some have lost their parents. Others, well, there are stories from their growing-up years. All are met deeply by parental love.

Mother love. Attentive, accepting, forgiving. One who listens, treasures, helps, and on occasion is severe. One who takes time, who is interested. One who is present. 

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me. (Isaiah 49:15-16)

Yes, we came with a purpose. But we also moved into a community. As the Word did 2,000 years ago. Incarnation. Jesus in human flesh. To make a home among these beloved ones, to invite them to our home, to let them hear us pray for them, to offer welcome to true and eternal homecoming.

And so in this season we light the advent candles and we put out a small nativity not too fragile to be played with. I prepare an old handmade cradle that we will put in the entryway so that we can tell of an overfull house with place found for just one more, the Gift who makes space and welcome for us all. The One who invites us home to live with him.
Making olive oil with the neighbors

The ultrasound to determine gender is a family event!

A day out with believing friends who live ten hours away

Jenga works in any language

Curt helps a friend during a busy time at his restaurant

Thanksgiving shared--with much to be thankful for

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Tuesday Report--routines, loved ones and simple joys

Tuesday morning at 6:45 am

What a sunrise! As we approach winter solstice...well, at last it has turned cold. For a few days anyway. Even Kaş will touch freezing later in the week. Giving way to dramatic sunrises, hefty winds, and the chill that will permeate our stone and cement house until late March or April. Monday marked our first day to use the woodstove. 

Spa for the Soul is a five-story tower of small floors with loads of balconies and windows that take advantage of the view. No insulation, though we do have double-paned windows. The fourth floor is ours alone, set apart for office, sitting room, bed and bath--our private getaway when the rest of the house is full of guests. It is the only floor with space for a woodstove. Last January I ripped out the ugly old fireplace we'd never used and replaced it with an energy-efficient model imported from England. 

Monday was the day to light it, and it has burned continuously since. This really-cold snap will pass by the weekend, but winter has set in.

This week Tuesday was a day of routines. Quiet and coffee for reading and prayer. Hosea, 3 John and Jude, and a few of the psalms of ascent. Turkish study, office work, Ayşe here to clean. For lunch I made pumpkin soup with some of the pumpkin I'd cooked the week before. Froze three one-liter containers for another day. Later made dinner for dear ones who were coming to plan a trip together. Made a chocolate dessert in little Turkish coffee cups, and used the last of our Thanksgiving turkey with leeks and cream to put over rice for the main dish. A salad with oranges and candied almonds, and, believe it or not, a watermelon, as sides.
Chocolate expresso cups

Dobby, our doggie houseguest, ran in and out, savoring his last days of country life.

Another first for the season: we used the electric heat on the main floor to take the chill off while I worked. Curt ran to town to pick up some new fabric screens he had built for his photography, and experimented with them down in the studio. And photographed my dessert.

Dear ones arrived at 530, and seven of us enjoyed the meal together. "So. Where shall we go? When shall we leave, and for how long?" Much discussion in Turkish with maps pulled up on the computer. Southeastern Turkey was the unanimous decision. Gaziantep, Mardin, Urfa, maybe Tarsus, and perhaps a swing through Kapadokya on our return. Ten days sounded good to everyone, and Halil and Ramazan made calls to put out feelers for places to stay. Ramazan is a professional driver well versed in best routes and travel times. Halil is from the east and has knows the various cities. I'm the one who asks the practical questions. Curt, Gül and Melike chimed in from time to time. Yasemin sat in a corner in a huff. She's five. The problem? She thought she wouldn't be allowed to come along!

Eastern Turkey. Ten days. Departure planned for this Saturday morning. Energy building as we found agreement together. Occasional reversion to a bit of English for Curt. Frequent slow-downs and rephrasing for me. Halil, Ramazan and I would continue to work through places to stay, and we would talk again in a day or two. Ramazan would clear things with his employer and arrange for an eight-seat van to replace our normal rental car for the journey, with space for luggage and purchases. The young men looked forward to a late football match, so they headed to their homes on the early side. Lots of hugs, kisses and laughter.

Guests gone, dishes clean, we settled before the fire and listened as the wind began to howl, bringing drama to the cold starry night. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Tuesday Report--Recovery

Recently a friend sent her newsletter. In it she wrote side-by-side columns to express two ways of looking at one expat life. In one she expressed the lonely weariness, and concerns about what she and her family were missing in life. In the other, she looked at the blessings, opportunities and fruit of the same day-to-day experiences. Giving a balance. 

As I tell of plain old Tuesdays I wonder whether my sense of grace and blessing obscures the difficulties and pain. Makes it sound like a fairy tale. In truth, I love this place, the people we live among, and the learning that comes from living outside of country, culture, language, and faith community.  But. 

This Tuesday I woke to kitchen counters laden with dirty dishes from end to end. My night had been restless and so had Curt's. Too much action, too much food, too much energy spent the day before. After some time at my desk and around the time Ayşe arrived to clean, I attacked the mess. First put away clean things from dishwasher and counter top drainers, the first round from the night before. Rinsed more piles of plates, glasses and cutlery for the machine. Ran out of hot water. It was a cloudy, windy day and the solar water system didn't keep up. So I worked on other reshuffling of furniture, candles, toys and laundry, and played with our doggy guest, while the electric backup did its thing. 

Yes, Spa for the Soul has a guest dog these two weeks. Dobby is a tiny bundle of fun and cuddles. He belongs to our last guest. James asked if he could stay while his family makes a trip to Greece. This city high-rise dweller snuffles and woofles his way around our large village garden, covers himself with burrs, escapes the gate to visit passers by and the neighbors, cowers when he sees their chickens, plays with the neighbor boy, barks at magpies, and otherwise revels in country life. While I waited for hot water I put him through his paces: sit, shake, sit pretty, roll over, and fetch. He refuses to play dead for me, and I refuse to give the "kiss" command. 

Water hot, I returned to the dishes. Took awhile, but I found it a relaxing bit of work. My heart was full with images from our Thanksgiving feast the day before. 

One of the things that bemuses me about American expats is the energy so many of us put into recreating aspects of American life. Last Friday my FB page was loaded with images of Christmas trees going up all over Turkey and the Middle East. Thanksgiving photos show gatherings of expats around laden tables to remind themselves of their homeland and to identify with family far away, family that leaves a great hole in the holiday doings. Keeping traditions helps children to know something of life in their passport country, too. Valid practices on so many levels. But not something we've ever been much into.

Thanksgiving Day found Curt and me in different cities. He was invited to the home of new American acquaintances from the language school. I hosted Dobby's owner (and Dobby) for a lentil/cranberry/spinach pilaf with strawberries for dessert. But we had, or could find, most of the elements of a traditional Thanksgiving meal so we decided to host a feast. On Monday. Friday Curt picked up a turkey in the city before he came home. Saturday I cooked the first bits. Sunday was a long day of dessert making--cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding, pecan pie, and two pumpkin pies (which involved first cooking a pumpkin). Monday, well, you can imagine Monday. Turkey, stuffing, brussel sprouts, other veg, salad, mashed potatoes, homemade bread. Table expanded, chairs brought from all over the house, the studio set up for games, table set, candles everywhere. 
The last of the pecans I brought from the US a couple of years ago

Homemade pita bread

Veg saute for the stuffing

Yup, it's a boy. A Turkish turkey, all 7 kilos of him.

Seventeen gathered. Plus two dogs. Dobby had Badem to play with for the day. Twelve Turks, two Brits, and one other American. Two guests we hadn't planned on. Two children in the mix. We were aged five to eighty years old. For once every dish was extraordinary. Congenial guests, good sharing enabled by a guest who is a professional translator, games and conversation. Joy to be together, to share traditions and modify them for this time and place, and to enjoy new traditions we've begun with these dear ones. 
Seventeen together at Spa for the Soul

Along with all that goodness, the challenges of cooking traditional dishes with substitute ingredients, different sizes and shapes of pans, and a newly purchased ($35) electric oven (round, red, holds two big round trays, and has no temperature gauge) that I put outside. The work of it all. The late arrival of the one with the appetizers, and the later arrival of the one with the bread for the appetizers. The unexpected guests that meant there was no place at the table for me. The child upset over the separate table for children. The dogs' water spilled down the stairs by the kids. The guest who is terrified by dogs and panicked each time one came near her. The occasional confusion of our guests at our foreign ways. The games that went on without me while I took care of leftovers and the first round of dishes. Restless sleep.

Since my disastrous sailing trip last May I don't have much stamina. I press hard for some days, and then I am so weary. My mind struggles to process, my body begs for more sleep, for the emptiness of solitaire or FB meandering. Even to read a novel demands energy I'm not sure I have. 

So Tuesday was about recovery. Grateful for a day to do it. Relaxed cleanup while savoring memories. A lunch of leftovers shared with Ayşe. Her deep clean of the kitchen after my work was finished. Time to lay on the couch for a few minutes before going to the neighbor's for afternoon tea, though I still could not summon the energy to eat the börek and sweet she offered. Quiet conversations in Turkish and English. FB posts of Curt's photos.Time to finish the latest Baldacci novel and to play cards with Curt.

This stuff is hard. I go through anxiety, confusion, fear and yes, great weariness. Is it worth it? Do I mind? 

No question it is worth it. Though these days I evaluate my reserves and don't take on as much as often as I once did, this is our "thing." The friendships, the welcome savored by our guests, the sharing of lives, all beyond extravagant price, worthy of extravagant energy.

Do I mind? The work, the weariness, days of labor and then no place to sit at the table, the upheaval to our house, the awkward moments and the sometimes-botched plans? The last minute changes of plan and the stretch to accommodate the unexpected? I love it. I love it all. I love most the unseen guest, I love the way he is experienced in our home, the mystery of his presence. I love to watch and listen and make place and space. I love to celebrate abundance and beauty in simple things like food and conversation. I love the memories, sometimes crazy ones we will laugh together about in days to come.
He is definitely worth it!

And I love the Tuesdays of recovery that make it possible to pick up and go again.