July 30, 2014

Turkey { Ephesus }

This week we had the incredible opportunity to visit the ancient site of Ephesus as well as St. John's Basilica . It is amazing to walk in the same place that Paul journeyed and sit in the same market square where he sold his tents, or walk through the church dedicated to Jesus' disciple John. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Early last Monday morning, we got up, loaded into the Smiths' van, and headed to Izmir, a large city about three hours away. Once we got there, Gwen helped us buy train tickets to a town near Ephesus and we were on our own to explore in a land that was completely foreign to us for the next two days.

We had about two hours to wander before our train came, so we decided to go ahead and get an early lunch. Let me tell you, when you are gluten intolerant and you can't communicate well with your waiter to ask what doesn't have gluten, and you can't make up your mind about what looks the safest, be prepared for the waiter to bring whatever he decides you should have... I had a handy card, written in Turkish, that explains what I can and can't have, but he took it upon himself to order for me. I guess I just looked clueless enough! Oh well, my tomato soup and veggie omelet were tasty, at least.

After a semi-stressful train ride, we ended up in Selçuk, a small town near Ephesus. If you ever get the opportunity to travel to Ephesus, please please please stay in Selçuk! We had the nicest, most wonderful staff at a hostel called Homeros Pension, who loved on us and made us feel like family. Here are the only two pictures I managed to take at the hostel. I wish I had taken more, but this gives you a feel for a Turkish hostel!

Our distinctly Turkish room!

The view from the rooftop sitting area. This was wonderful in the evening.

After we got settled into our room, we set out to find places to explore. First up, St. John's Basilica. This is said to be the burial place of the Apostle John.

I don't want all of my words taking away from the pictures, so I'll mostly just show the view, with a few comments here and there.

The marble and stone work were incredible.

Next was the ruins of an ancient castle. Eli's 8 year old self came out while he romped around and explored every part of the castle!

When your toddler falls asleep on Dad's back and there are no clouds in the sky, you use what you have to keep her as comfy and cool as possible! I just happened to have a very lightweight scarf that doubled as a sun shield for the day.

On Tuesday, we woke up and went to the rooftop for an excellent breakfast. Turks really know how to do breakfast! This day was no exception. After breakfast and some gift shopping, we caught a ride to Ephesus (from one of the nicest guys you'll meet. He owned a textile shop, but was very good friends with the owners at our hostel. He told us what to expect to pay a taxi driver, but wouldn't accept any money from us. We would have loved more time with him, to hear his story and share ours. Please pray for him, that others would get to share Christ with him. Oh the witness he would have!).

We didn't really know what to expect from Ephesus other than the sites we've seen in pictures. We were so surprised by how many people were there. It was like Disney World (except the rides and Mickey Mouse, of course...) We saw people from all over the world, experiencing this culture and history right alongside us.

There were so many interesting sites and artifacts to see, which I could ramble on about, but I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

One of the two amphitheaters at Ephesus. This was the smaller of the two, but was still overwhelming in size.

I loved loved loved the patterns and mosaics on the floors. I wish I could have seen these when they were full of color!

The famous library at Ephesus.

So much more grand than pictures can show.

After we visited the library, we were all hot and tired and in need of a break. We found a tree in the middle of the market square to sit under. This place, this cool retreat from the busy, noisy, hot tourist area was just what we needed. Sarah quietly dug in the dirt with a snail shell and we had our first chance to really internalize where we were. A place we never thought we'd get to visit. A place where so many before us have traveled. A place where God's name was shared as people mingled and congregated. A place He can use even now, despite the busyness and tourism.

And we were able to once again, feel the abundant gratitude for His love and rest.

I love this girl more and more each day.

The second amphitheater. We didn't venture inside, but it was enormous!

We are grateful for the chance to see a huge piece of history. This will forever be stored in our minds and hearts as we reflect on the places God has led us.

July 24, 2014

Turkey { week 2 }

We are almost to our halfway point for our time in Turkey. We are just beginning to feel at-home and comfortable and familiar with everything here. The journey so far has been full of emotions – everything from excited and eager to overwhelmed and stressed. As we share what we have experienced, we want to be completely honest with successes and struggles we have experienced. Although we cannot share specifics about the brothers and sisters here, we can assure you that God is working and moving in their lives and ours.

This past week has been full. Eli and I keep asking each other what day it is and how long ago we saw someone / did something / went somewhere… It all starts running together! 

(I don't have too many pictures from this week, mostly just words. But we'd love for you to read along and join our adventure!) 

We started our week by going to a different pazar (market). This one was so much more relaxed and less crowded. One thing we have enjoyed is supporting local farmers and growers by buying fresh fruits, veggies, cheese, eggs, nuts and spices from them. The distance from farm to table is so short and I know I’m giving my family the best! I could get used to shopping for produce like this. Plus, it just tastes so much better!

One thing that is essential in this culture is spending time together. And a big part of life here is meeting people where they are. These go hand in hand and often lead to great conversations. A favorite way to spend time together is to sit on the porch, talk and drink çay (tea) together. You can almost always find a pot of çay steeping in houses, waiting for conversation to spark and time spent together. Let me just say, we have had more çay these past two weeks than we ever have before!

I said earlier that we want to be honest with struggles we have come across. Three main struggles come to mind as we live daily life here – the language barrier, parenting an independent and strong-willed toddler, and feeling like we are doing very little with our time here. We ask that you pray for patience and wisdom in these areas.

We are learning words here and there, but our understanding of the language is far from adequate. This is very frustrating when we could be talking to people, getting to know them and sharing our stories, but instead all we can do is say hello, thank you, and a few other random words. We experienced our first all-Turkish "fellowship" time in a home this past Sunday. To be perfectly honest, it was probably the hardest day we have experienced yet. We wanted to be present and focused along with the others, but discouragement crept in and kept us from having a good attitude. We have also had major struggles with the language in a train station, restaurants, and at the grocery store. Each time we haven’t had someone to translate and have been pretty overwhelmed.We are slowly learning, though. And people here have been very gracious, trying to help and understanding that we aren't exactly from around here.

I know every parent deals with this, and we fully expected it, but it still takes a toll on us daily. Sarah is growing and becoming more independent each day. She has tested our patience and even made us question if we should have come to Turkey. Her molars are coming in and she’s in the middle of a growth spurt (aka, she cries at the drop of a hat). But then we remember why we are here – to learn and grow as a family and to honor God through it all. How many times do we frustrate our Father? How many times do we try to exercise our independence because our way seems better? And how many times does he welcome us back with love and forgiveness? Eli and I are still learning how to do this parenting thing. It’s not always pretty, but we can honor him even through the messy parts.

The third main struggle we have faced is feeling like we aren’t accomplishing much here. Like I’ve said before, this is not a typical trip with a focus on teaching children or doing construction. We don’t have a task or service that we are bringing to offer to people here. We won’t have blisters or lesson plans to bring back with us. Instead, we are coming to learn how to live life in a different cultural setting, with its ups and downs, and seeing what He has in store for our family. If anything, instead of giving something to the people here, they are giving us so much more. We are inadequate in our own ability to change people. But we are getting to see, first-hand, how our Father loves his people, us included.

On a different note, we got to celebrate our fourth anniversary last week! Spending it in Turkey is definitely going to be hard to top in future years! The Smiths were so kind and kept Sarah for the day while we went on a breakfast date at a quaint little restaurant in a nearby mountain village. Best breakfast ever. It’s not your typical American pancakes / waffles / bacon / eggs kind of breakfast. We had a full table of cheese, olives, honey, jellies, bread, fruits and vegetables, pastries, and the most delicious fresh fruit smoothie. We felt so pampered!

After breakfast, we walked around the village and had good conversation about life and what we see for the next few years. God is so good to us. I have a wonderful, thoughtful, and godly husband and a beautiful, smart, and independent daughter. I couldn’t ask for more.

I want to keep typing and tell every last detail, but this post is getting long... Our days and our hearts are full. God is working and we are grateful to be invited to be a part of it all.

I keep coming back to this verse and want to share it with you. Wherever we find ourselves in this journey, we have hope in Him and he will provide.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

Ps. I am working on a post full of pictures from our trip to Ephesus! Should be up in a day or two.

July 16, 2014

Turkey { week 1 }

*edited to add: we have talked with our mentors and we cannot publicly post anything connected to the people we encounter. This is just for their safety and privacy. However, we would love to share with you once we get back home! Thank you for understanding, and enjoy the "touristy" side of our trip!

This past week has been a whirlwind. It feels like we just got here and haven't even begun to dig in, but at the same time, it feels like we have been here a while and are finally settling in to our "new home." I think it is safe to say that we love where we have been planted for this season. The atmosphere is different than Texas, yet feels strangely familiar. We have seen kindness and welcoming arms from everyone we have come in contact with. The Smith family has taken us in and started mentoring us on everything from relationships, to parenting, to buying and cooking Turkish food. We truly have been blessed by this past week. The next three will fly by so fast, but we know He has so much in store!

For those that are wondering, we are here as part of Eli's school requirements. It is hard to explain our "task" or "position" while we are here because most of it is observing and listening to a family who has been in our shoes before. We will be involved in everything they are doing - building relationships with the local people, encouraging the brothers and sisters in the area, and living life as a family in our new environment.

This post will probably be long, but I want to fill you in on the details of our time here so far.

We live just outside of a small town, in a nice little three-story apartment in what is called a site (see-tay), which is really just a gated community. The way everything played out for us to live here was definitely orchestrated by God. Ask me, I'll tell you about it sometime!

The back of our apartment. Can you imagine how wonderful breakfast is on our porch?

We do have running water, but it has a very high lime and calcium content. Instead, we get our drinking water from fountains like these all over the city. This water is pumped in from the mountain streams and is so pure and good! This one happens to be at the front of our site.

I am amazed by the way God can use Sarah, at such a young age. She has already made friends with a few other kids in our site and we have had a chance to visit with their parents in very limited and broken English and Turkish.

This friend is two months older than Sarah.

Showing off her new tricks.

We love the little playground right outside our house.

This week we've had the chance to visit two different pazars. These are markets where individual people can sell their own fresh produce, cheese, eggs, nuts, and spices. I only took a few pictures, but I will try to take more next week. These people come from neighboring towns and mountain villages and work so hard to produce beautiful and delicious foods. Their livelihood is dependent on how well their goods sell. In the morning, the pazar is like what you see below. By the afternoon, it is hard to walk because so many people are there buying and selling. It is really neat (and overwhelming!) to observe!

This is only a tiny portion of the whole pazar. There are tents back-to-back, filling parking lots and down several city blocks.

We are in a small town, but it has several conveniences, like a small grocery stores, a few restaurants, and a beautiful bay area. One night, we decided to be brave and venture out into the city on our own. We managed to order food, order tea (a very popular social thing to do here), walk around the boardwalk, and have our picture taken twice! With little to no knowledge of Turkish words. We were pretty excited that we made it through the night so well. These pictures are from the boardwalk. Even though this is in the city, it is so peaceful. My favorite night so far.

People here LOVE Sarah. And I am not exaggerating! So many people were fascinated with her, giving her kisses, pinching her cheeks, and speaking sweet words about her. We have even had two different people ask to take pictures of or with her. I mean, I don't blame them!

I could go on and on about how beautiful it is here. We are perfectly nestled in between the mountains and the sea. In fact, we can see the sun rise over the mountains from our front door and the sun set over the bay from our balcony on the back of the third floor. Our God is beautifully creative. We are so thankful for such a view. 

This beach is within walking distance of our house.

Eli and Sarah went on a hike to the hills behind our house. You can see our site in the bottom right.

View of the olive groves in the hills behind our house. We've been told often that this is "olive country."

Just yesterday, we went with the Smiths and some friends to a waterfall in a national park. We only thought the view from our house was breathtaking - this park, with its river, trees, and rocks left us in awe. We all needed a breath of fresh air.

This picture doesn't do the fall justice. You can see the Smiths' son in the bottom left, about to jump in. That's how big this was!

Eli was crazy enough to jump into the freezing cold water. He said it was worth it. I'll just get my feet wet and keep the rest of me dry and warm, thank you.

The way he loves her blows me away.

I am so thankful for a husband who sees the importance of having pictures of all of us. If it were left up to me, there wouldn't be many pictures with me in them. Instead, Eli is able to capture one of my favorite photos and I am so grateful.

When I look back over our first week in Turkey, I am able to breathe in deep and exhale with an abundant gratitude. God has placed us here for a reason. Maybe it is to prepare us for a future here. Maybe it is to strengthen us as a family without other distractions. Maybe it is to simply rest in Him. Whatever his plan, I am glad to be a part of it.

"I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." Ps. 16:8