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Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

Isn’t it amazing how some little, fleeting incident can trigger an absolute avalanche of vivid memories at times? One moment, we may be grounded firmly in the present, yet the next, our minds are hurtled back to some experience perhaps years earlier. Of course, if the original event was traumatic in any way, such flashbacks can be extremely unsettling. Yet they can also serve to remind us how faithful God has been to us in our lives.

One morning recently (before lockdown!), I was a passenger on the Rivercat, as it headed along the Parramatta River into the city. I could hear the throb of the engines and feel the ferry rocking, as it sliced its way through the wake left by another nearby ferry. The next moment, I was almost overwhelmed with memories of other boat trips taken in Turkey years ago, during several visits to a friend there. This friend was now my reason for heading into the city—she was in hotel quarantine there and I wanted to take her some goodies. No doubt that was why I was susceptible to memories of Turkey that morning, yet their strength and suddenness still took my breath away.

The first memory that surfaced was of a trip across the Bosphorus with my friend from one part of the huge city of Istanbul to another, in a ferry much larger and more crowded than my Sydney Rivercat. Everything was new and strange to me, yet it was all so colourful and interesting. On that trip, I remember how determined I was to stay glued to my friend, come what may. After all, I did not know any Turkish or understand how everything worked.

Then in a flash, I remembered another ferry trip across the Bosphorus a few years later, this time on my own. On that occasion, after a hairy taxi ride where our driver kept falling asleep, my host hurriedly waved goodbye and pointed to my ferry which was about to depart. I dashed for it—and made it. Then it dawned on me that there I was, alone on a crowded ferry, a foreigner who knew little Turkish and still with a bus to catch to the airport when we eventually docked. Time was fast ticking away—but amazingly, by God’s grace, I made it onto that plane.

Other less alarming trips in tourist boats along the Mediterranean coast came to mind too. From time to time, the crew would pull into beautiful coves and islands to enable us all to swim in that pristine, blue water or explore the fascinating sights nearby. What a privilege to enjoy such unique experiences with my friend!

I returned with a jolt to the present. Then a moment later, a huge wave of thankfulness rose up in me, as I realised how each of those memories had highlighted God’s amazing grace in my life in one way or another. Truly, God has watched over me, not only through all those rich experiences I had just relived, but throughout my whole life, even in times of challenge and confusion—and I am so grateful.

Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise? Psalm 106:1-2

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I was standing in our local Koorong bookstore, promoting my latest novel, when I noticed a lovely young couple nearby. Initially, I thought they might not be interested in talking or looking at my books, but how wrong I was! I cannot remember now whether they approached me first or vice versa, but I do remember their smiling, relaxed manner and how intently they listened as I explained why I was there. Soon we were deep in conversation about writing and about my books. Then after buying two, they said goodbye and moved on.

Not long after, however, the girl came back.

‘Tell me, how did you actually start writing?’ she asked me. ‘How did you know that was what you should do?’

I explained how I had always loved writing, but never considered becoming a writer and opted for teaching instead. I told her too how, twenty years before writing my first novel, I had declared to my husband I would write a book ‘one day’, never truly thinking I ever would. Then I began sharing how, when I was in my fifties, God used some words from Isaiah 42 to challenge me to start writing while visiting a friend in Turkey—at which point she stopped me in mid-sentence.

‘Um … this might be a weird question, but … were you on the radio recently?’

For a moment, I was dumbfounded, but then remembered my Vision Christian radio interview in January about a short story I had written and about my writing in general.

‘Well, yes I was earlier this year, although I understand the interview was re-broadcast a few weeks ago too.’

She was stunned, but eventually managed to tell me how, as soon as I mentioned Turkey and Isaiah 42, she remembered hearing someone share this story on the radio. She had sensed even then that God was nudging her to start her own writing journey—and now she was overwhelmed that she had ‘randomly’ met me in person and was standing there hearing that same story again.

We stared at each other, both blown away at what had happened and how surreal it all felt. Yet it soon became clear too that we both knew we were on holy ground. Now she could not ignore that nudge God had given her already to start writing—now, through our ‘random’ conversation, she was not left in any doubt that this is what God wants her to do.

What an amazing God we have—a God who continues to love us and reach out to us and challenge us to step out in trust and do the things God has put in our hearts to do! When I think how I almost missed talking to this couple because I felt they would not be interested, I cringe. Yet God overruled—and I am so grateful.

It’s about listening to God well, rather than those negative, discouraging voices in our heads, and recognising God’s hand in those ‘random’ encounters, don’t you think? And when we do, God will surely will make the way forward so clear for us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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‘We want to go the long way—we’ll still beat you to the car!’ our two youngest grandkids informed us, as we went to drive them home after a happy day together during the school holidays.  

We thought they meant their usual trick of heading upstairs in our unit block and down again, while we walked the normal way—but this time, they went further afield. And to their dismay and ours, they soon became lost in our big retirement village.

We waited and waited—but no grandkids showed up. I ran around our unit block several times, calling their names. Nothing. I raced up to the village centre. Nothing. I asked others along the way and, while one lady had seen them dash past, there was now no sign of them. My husband drove around looking. Again nothing.

What to do? I stood on a corner, hoping they would see me, and thought of calling the police. But at last, a lady I know came walking towards me, holding Zain and Maxine’s hands. At that point, she seemed like an angel to me!

‘Would you like two grandchildren?’ she asked, as I tried not to burst into tears.

Zain and Maxine looked even more sober and scared when they saw they had upset me. They did their best to explain how they tried to find their way back but had become completely confused, and their rescuer also explained how Zain had been very sensible and asked her nicely where our unit was. But what a fright for them—and us! The next time they were with us, they willingly made thankyou cards and some chocolate brownies for their rescuing angel—and their thanks were indeed heartfelt.

I wonder if you have had a similar heart-in-mouth experience of losing someone or of being lost yourself? Once when travelling in Turkey with a friend, I went to find a bank, while she waited at the bus station. On the way back, I took a wrong turn—and there I was, lost in the middle of Turkey with minimal Turkish at my disposal. To my relief, however, after managing to ask directions in a shop and then having a stern Turkish policeman come to my aid, I was reunited with my friend, just before our bus arrived. Phew!

We can feel so helpless in such situations, can’t we?  But I have discovered that such experiences can also teach us something more about God. By being lost in Turkey, I realised again my deep need of a rescuer, both then and in my life in general. Without God, we truly are lost, without hope and without purpose in life. And by losing our grandchildren, even for only a while, I sensed again God’s deep grief when we lose our way in life or reject God’s offer of rescue and reconciliation. Yet how eagerly our loving Father waits to welcome us home, just as the father in the story in Luke 15 welcomed his lost son home.

Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:23-24.

It is not pleasant to be lost. But it is the most wonderful experience ever when we find our way back into the loving arms of God.

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Have you ever thought about all those billions of memories stored inside your brain? We can consciously remember so much—but even when we think we have forgotten certain experiences altogether, some little thing may happen that catapults us back in time, whether we like it or not. In an instant, we are in the midst of some past event again, noticing everything in vivid detail and even feeling the same emotions we felt then.

This happened to me recently when our washing machine decided not to spin anymore. I resorted to washing by hand—and immediately, a memory surfaced from around fifteen years ago when I was travelling around Turkey with a friend. Often, we would wash our clothes in the shower, then drape them over chairs on our balcony to dry. In an instant, I could hear again in my mind the voices of the nearby shop owners vying for custom, smell the freshly baked bread and feel the warm Mediterranean sun on my arms. In my mind, I was back there in Turkey, revelling in it all once again.

But I know painful memories can sometimes be triggered too and catch us completely off guard. Years ago, I experienced this in a public setting, to my embarrassment. Everyone else was laughing at something funny that was happening, but I found it hard not to cry, as it triggered a memory of a distressing event in the past. Yet I was thankful for this painful moment in the end, since it helped me understand the agony those who have survived great trauma in their lives often experience on a regular basis via flashbacks.

As I thought more about these memories, both good and bad, I sensed God prompting me to apply my reflections to my faith journey too. Yes, I can remember many times when God lovingly rescued and strengthened me in all sorts of situations and when I sensed Jesus’ presence right beside me, even to the point of feeling his hand on my shoulder. But it was as if God wanted me to realise there have been so many other such occasions that have now passed from my conscious memory—difficult times when God watched over me and held me close, but also wonderful, happy times when God rejoiced with me and cheered me on in my journey.

Whether I can clearly remember each time or not, God has been and always will be with me, wherever I go and whatever happens in my life, in joy and in sorrow—forever. I love how God keeps reassuring us of this fact in different ways and places in Scripture.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm 73:26

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Psalm 136:1

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20

I will not leave you as orphans … John 14:18

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

In these strange times, may we constantly remember these words. May they remain embedded in our hearts and minds—forever.

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I truly enjoy seeing other people’s holiday photos of beautiful places they have seen overseas and exciting experiences they have had. Not only does it give me an opportunity to share in all their joy, but it’s a little like taking a vicarious, cheap and hassle-free holiday myself! And of course I also love looking back through my own photos taken during overseas trips. What great memories they stir up, often so vivid that, in an instant, I am back in the exact spot where the particular photo was taken!

This past week, I spoke at a group where the topic was left up to me, so I decided to utilise some of my travel photos and create a talk entitled ‘From the ridiculous to the sublime—true travelling tales’! I focussed on four different categories of experiences I have had overseas—funny experiences, scary experiences, wonderful experiences and ‘God’ experiences, in that order. In each section, I managed to tell three or four stories, backed up by photos on power point, then asked those present to share a story of their own.

scan0010What fun I had, looking through all those old photos as I prepared and choosing which to use! I laughed out loud again when I found some taken in a Turkish village where my friend and I stayed for a few days. One night, we went to a local restaurant for dinner. The owner cooked us a beautiful meal, but when we went to pay, he told us he was too busy to take our money and asked if we could come back the next day to pay! Can you imagine an Australian restaurant doing that?

I looked through more photos and found one of my first visit to a beach in Turkey. I had wrapped my glasses in my towel and put a small rock on top before heading off to swim, but when we returned, I found the metal frames of my glasses had been moulded around the rock into a U-shape from the heat of the sun. I proceeded to bend them straight back into the right shape, but what a scary moment that was, considering they were the only pair of glasses I had with me in Turkey!

Other photos brought back wonderful memories of my first visit to Germany and also to England, both such surreal moments for me. I was reminded too of wonderful ‘God moments’—one in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, while contemplating the Holman Hunt painting ‘The Light of the World’ and another back in Turkey when God challenged me to start my writing journey. While reflecting on this last category of experiences in particular, the words of Psalm 139:7-10 came to mind:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

What a gracious, almighty, loving God we have who is more than able to be here, there and everywhere at all times, watching over us in all our wanderings!

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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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