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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Jo 17It’s so easy to become consumed with all the things happening in our lives from week to week, isn’t it? Sometimes, we may feel we are only just managing to stay afloat in our own particular fast-flowing, almost overwhelming river of demands and commitments and responsibilities. No wonder then that, in the midst of it all, we so often lose sight of that bigger picture.

Recently, my husband conducted a funeral, during which he reminded us that our life here on earth, when compared with eternity, is like the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface of the water, there is so much more. Then he used a second analogy of the distance covered in a long, overseas trip, as opposed to merely the first centimetre of that trip—and this resonated with me even more. After all, I have gone on quite a few long, overseas trips and can well remember my last flight home from Turkey—a distance of around fifteen thousand kilometres. So what is one centimetre when compared with that? Nothing really. Yet that is how long our life on earth is when compared with eternity.

Perhaps that sort of finite analogy is as close as we will get to understanding the vast difference between the life span we have here on earth and eternity. It’s so hard to imagine something that goes on forever, isn’t it? But whether we can get our heads around it or not, it’s vital we remember eternity—and God—do exist.

The bottom line I need to remind myself about constantly is that nothing I have or am experiencing in this world lasts forever. That applies equally to the people and things that bring me happiness and fulfilment as well as to those situations that cause me pain and difficulty. At times, I know I am in danger of forgetting about God, as I love and care for those close to me. Of course it’s important to love and care for them well. But one day, I won’t be here—and neither will they. At times too, I have put such store by the books I have written and continue to write, that I forget all those words I produce are so temporal. Hopefully, what I write says something of value to others and delights God in the process. But one day, those books will be forgotten, even by those who enjoyed them. Already, many are no doubt hidden away on some dusty shelf or residing in an op shop or perhaps gone long ago into the recycling bin!

As for those difficult things in our lives, how wonderful to remember they too will not last forever! One day, we will have new heavenly bodies, with no sickness or malfunctions. One day we will be whole in every way. One day, ‘God will wipe away every tear from our eyes’ (Revelation 7:17).

Whatever is happening in your life right now, whether joyous or challenging or a mixture of both, can I encourage you to remember the bigger picture and keep the same perspective as Paul and his fellow-workers did?

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:18

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I wonder if you have ever been in the situation of trying to make yourself understood to someone who does not speak the same language as you. It can be fun but also frustrating, can’t it? We can get so far with sign language and facial expressions, but there is a limit, after which we are stuck. Once when I was in Turkey, visiting a friend, I offered to go and buy some sugar for her, as she was in the middle of cooking and had run out. I knew the basic Turkish word for sugar (şeker), but what fun I had, trying to make myself understood, as the helpful shopkeeper showed me raw sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, cube sugar, even lollies (also called şeker in Turkish), and eventually what I wanted—plain old white sugar!

Our two year old grandson Zain now has a beautiful little sister Maxine, who is all of seven weeks old. Now Zain has a special puzzle at home that helps children learn counting and also teaches what the numbers look like. A few days ago, according to Zain’s mum, he recognised the number four and wanted Maxine to appreciate this momentous event.

‘Maxine! Maxine! Look, Maxine—four! Dat’s four, Maxine!’ he told her earnestly, showing her the relevant puzzle piece and trying to help her understand. I doubt that he was duly impressed with her response! But at least he tried.

In John’s Gospel, there is a lovely, honest account of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples that I have often smiled over. In Chapter 16, just after Jesus has explained as clearly as he can that he is leaving the world and going back to his Father in heaven, his disciples respond:

Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have everyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (30)

We can almost hear the relief in Jesus’ voice as he responds simply: “You believe at last!” (31) Finally, after being with Jesus for many months, hearing him teach and watching him perform many miracles, it all seems to click with them. Finally, they seem to understand what he was on about.

Yes, we often strike limitations of some description when it comes to understanding others. Thankfully, however, God has no such limitation. In 1 Chron 28:9, David points out to his son Solomon that God understands not only what we say but what we think, before we even say anything:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.

Then in Psalm 147:5, we find the following simple but profound and all-encompassing statement:

Great is the Lord and might in power; his understanding has no limit.

This means that, wherever we are at, however confused and frustrated we might feel, God sees through it all and understands straight away—in fact, even before that. God speaks our language, wherever we are from and however young or old we are. While others might look blankly at us and misunderstand us and our motives at times, God never does. Everything is transparent with God—and I’m so glad of that, aren’t you?

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P1030746To celebrate the launch of my first non-fiction book in October, a friend gave me the very thoughtful gift of a new journal. Now this isn’t any old journal, I hasten to add. It is from Turkey and is handmade, with a wonderfully ornate blue cloth cover, decorated with gold thread and patterns of green, red and white, and the word ‘Türkiye’ (the name the Turkish people call their country) on the front and back. As well, there are small, metal triangular pieces attached to each corner, so the whole thing does not get worn or tattered. And inside are lots and lots of lovely blank, white pages!

Now when I was in Turkey once, I saw a similar one with a deep red cover in a shop in Istanbul and could not resist buying it. I was so looking forward to using it, but some time later, when another good friend celebrated an important birthday, I realised I needed to give this journal to her. It just seemed right in so many ways—and I know she truly appreciated it. Not long after, I mentioned this to my friend who was still in Turkey and asked her to buy me another one if she was ever in the vicinity of the shop where I had bought it. Time went on and I forgot about it—but obviously, my friend didn’t. So what a special surprise it was to receive such a precious and moving gift from her when I least expected it!

And this week, I decided to begin writing on those pristine pages it contains. Despite having a few unused ones in my old journal, I wanted to commemorate the start of my writing year in some significant way. But what should I write first? My thoughts about my writing at this point? Perhaps my own personal prayer for the year ahead? Or maybe a quote from one of several good books I am currently reading?

In the end, I believe I made the best choice. On the first page of my new journal, I copied out the words of Psalm 33:20-22 as neatly as I could:

We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Can you think of a better statement or better prayer with which to begin a new year? I know I can’t. This world really is an uncertain place, isn’t it? No one can say with complete confidence that they know what 2013 will hold for any of us. This past week, parts of our country have been in the grip of catastrophic bushfires, which can turn and race this way or that, according to which way the wind is blowing. One moment, those living in these areas had homes and property and businesses and livestock and pets—and the next, it was all gone. But for any of us, there is no real certainty in life. Yes, there are those who love us deeply, but they may not be able to be there for us forever. Only God is eternal.

So may you too face the year ahead with hope and trust in the Lord, fully aware of the Lord’s unfailing love resting upon you, whatever happens!

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My family will tell you I am not the world’s best patient. There is too much to do to lie still for long – after all, I have my latest novel to edit and speaking engagements to prepare for. And yet I know the severe sciatica in my right leg has a much greater chance of improving if I look after myself, apply heat to the affected area and stay off my feet as much as I can. I know too that pain and anti-inflammatory tablets will help – and yet I am reluctant to take them. I try to remain stoic – and not too grouchy and grumpy!

So what’s to be done? Well, eventually I do rest and take medication – but I also pray. And when I pray, I have two things in mind. Firstly, I ask God to bring healing and relief from the pain – at least enough to enable me to speak where I’m supposed to speak.  I know God can do this, because I have experienced it before. Several years ago, I was about to head to Turkey to visit a friend, when I ended up with excruciating lower back pain. We had planned a holiday together in the mountains near the Black Sea, which I knew would involve carrying a heavy backpack, climbing on and off buses, sleeping in hard beds – plus lots of walking. How would I ever manage? I couldn’t let me friend down – and besides, I really wanted to go. So I finally asked someone to pray for me at church one day for healing. At first, nothing seemed to happen – and I must admit I was slightly sceptical about it all. But later that afternoon, the pain lessened and finally lifted altogether. And during my time in Turkey, I had absolutely no problem doing all the things we had planned to do – praise God!

But the second thing I ask God as I pray is what I can learn through this time of pain. Is it perhaps that I have become a little too self-reliant, thinking I can do everything in my own strength? Is it that I need to learn to empathise more with others who are going through painful times? Or is it merely to develop more patience and perseverance in me? After all, writing novels does need both these qualities in vast measures – especially when it comes to that painstaking editing and re-writing process I have just begun.

And while I wait for God to answer both aspects of my prayer, I try to relax, knowing God is listening and will never forsake me. I am held in God’s loving arms, now and forever. I don’t know how or when God will answer, but I will keep praying and not give up, just as Jesus taught his disciples to do when he told them the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18). Jesus ends this story with some words I always find quite sad and challenging:

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

I want to be among those who are found to be full of faith. I want to learn to trust God more, whatever the circumstances. And right now, I pray for you too, if you are persevering through pain in any way. May God bring healing to you, just as you need, and the strength to stand firm until the end.

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I am so grateful for all the wonderfully convenient means of communication available to us these days. I can be sitting at my desk at home writing away when suddenly I might hear a little tune emanating from my computer and see a message screen appear. It is my friend in Turkey trying to contact me via skype. I go to answer her call – and then I am confronted with a dilemma. Should I click on the mere ‘Call’ button – or should I opt for ‘Video call’? After all, I have just showered and am dressed ready for bed! But then, remembering how she and I have travelled around Turkey together several times, I realise she has seen me in all sorts of strange garb! So I blithely opt for a video call – and soon we are laughing and talking together, despite the geographical distance between us.

We chat for some time – skype is free, after all. But then I hear my friend’s mobile phone ringing. She moves away to answer it and I hear her thanking someone in Turkish and arranging to see them later. But then I hear another phone ring – it must be my friend’s landline this time! I discover I am right, as her face reappears momentarily on my screen to tell me she has to answer her other phone and won’t be a moment. I sit and stare at my friend’s bedroom in far away Turkey and reflect on how different things are from many years ago when we used to contact our overseas friends via letter only. Then, just as my friend comes back, I hear her doorbell ring – and this time she is gone for a while, since she has to run down several flights of stairs to retrieve a parcel from the postman!

As I wait again, the thought comes to me: Could God be trying to get my attention? Could this be a kind of parable of how God sees me in my life in general? Could it be that God often waits for me in the same way I am waiting for my friend to return, watching me as I rush from one activity to the next, from meeting with people to shopping to housework to minding grandchildren to writing to preparing talks to gardening to ….? Could it be that even when I am sitting quietly all alone at my desk, God is patiently waiting to have my full attention, as my mind jumps from the various entries in my diary to the tasks awaiting me on my computer to the books I’m half through reading?

Yes, it is quite possible, I realise. I want to spend time with such a gracious, loving God, just as I know my friend really wants to talk with me via skype. My friend’s calls had to be answered – but most times, I reflect with some sadness, I have a choice whether I turn my computer on and become immersed in all that writing and all those emails yet again, or whether I sit back, open my Bible, and spend some quality time with God. And I know from experience that when I make that choice, God is always there waiting, ready to listen and speak, always patient with me, always understanding me, always loving me.

What is it that causes God to have to wait for you? What does God have to do to get your attention? God is calling. God has things to say to us. So let’s listen – and listen well!

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27)

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What did we do before the advent of email, Facebook, skype, blogs, and all the ways of linking us to others via the internet? Yes, we phoned, sent cards and letters – even telegrammed at times. But that was way back. Now – well, let me tell you a story about some conversations in a purple dressing-gown!

I have a good friend who lives in Turkey, with whom I communicate often via email but also by skype. At first she would skype me on our normal home phone, but then, after I also installed the program, we graduated to speaking via a small handset attached to my computer plus a webcam which didn’t seem to work, so I gave up on it. Finally, however, with the advent of my new laptop, I now simply sit at my computer talking to her – all the necessary ‘bits and pieces’ are built-in. Now, with one click of the mouse, I can even choose between a normal skype call and a video one, enabling my friend to see the top half of my body at least as I chat away.

The first few times we talked via video skype, I joked about what I was wearing. It was always the same – my warm, fluffy, purple dressing-gown! My friend tends to skype me later in the evening, by which time I am often comfortably ensconced at my computer, writing a few more precious lines of my latest novel before heading to bed. One time when I apologised for how I was dressed, my friend commented that it didn’t matter one bit to her. After all, we know each other well and have travelled around Turkey together several times, sharing a room in all sorts of B and Bs, ancient and modern!

But her response made me think. Whenever she skypes me, I want to ‘look nice’ on that screen. Almost unconsciously, I tidy my hair and straighten the collar of my purple dressing-gown – and yet, she doesn’t care! All she wants to do is connect with me and feel she is being heard and getting some response in return.

And that, I realised, is how God is with me too. God actually doesn’t care what I look like – in fact, God can see me any time at all, whether I am dressed carefully in my best or lounging around in my old jeans, jumper and ugg boots – even in a purple dressing-gown!  So why put on a ‘front’ for God? It doesn’t change anything – except perhaps make our communication just that bit more difficult.

In 1 Samuel, we read how God sent Samuel to find Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. At first, Samuel went by outward appearance, as Jesse’s first son came before him. Surely, he thought, this was the one God had chosen – but no. In 1 Sam 16:7, God says:

Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

The Lord looks at the heart. God sees right inside me, past all the pretence, past all the self-justification, past all the outward trappings. God knows. God understands.

And as I sit snuggled up yet again in my purple dressing-gown, I’m so glad of that.

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of driving a good friend to the airport.  She was returning to Turkey to work that she loves, and the strong possibility is that her friends and family will not see her for another two years or more.  It was a bittersweet moment when the time came for all of us who had gathered there to say goodbye – our friend’s heart is in Turkey, but it is also here with family and friends.

As soon as she disappeared through the entrance to the customs check area, our by now slightly teary group dispersed.  However, a few of us decided to stay on and move to a spot alongside a glass wall where passengers can be seen as they pass through a walkway leading to their respective departure gates.  And almost before we had settled ourselves, there she was again, smiling at us and waving, then turning for one final backward glance before disappearing from view.  We tried to communicate with her in various ways, blowing kisses and gesticulating wildly. I noticed too how other passengers were coming right up to the glass and placing their hands on it in an effort to reach out to those on the other side one more time.  We were glad we had stayed for this final farewell – but it wasn’t the same as being able to communicate freely, to speak and touch unhindered by the barrier between us.

As I thought about this experience later, I realised that sometimes this is how it is between God and me.  God is always there, wanting to communicate and have a close relationship with me, but sometimes these barriers spring up between us – barriers that I either deliberately put in place or just allow over time to grow bigger and bigger.  I want to talk things over with God heart to heart – and I truly want God to speak to me ‘face to face, as a man speaks with his friend’, as occurred with Moses (Exodus 33:11).  I want God to be intimately involved with all areas of my life – but for some crazy reason I distance myself behind some barrier or another. It might be that I don’t want to let go of something I know is spoiling that communication – perhaps anger or unforgiveness or even lack of trust. Or it might be that I just allow myself to become too busy or too tired or too focused on my writing or too concerned about preparing for speaking engagements, until that loving voice gets more and more indistinct and that wonderful light of God’s presence dims.  I know God is there as surely as my friend was there smiling at us from behind that glass wall – but I can’t hear what is being said or feel that restoring, encouraging, comforting touch that I know I need.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be alienated behind an impenetrable glass wall from the very one who breathes life and creativity and courage and strength into my spirit. There is a door in that wall, I believe – and Jesus is standing there.  He knocks on it, waiting for each one of us to open it and invite him in so we can relate deeply with him (Rev 3:20).

Is he there with you now, enjoying your company?

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