It had been eight years since my daughter had been back to the land of her birth: the place which echoes through the rooms of our house, the carpets on the floor, and the ceramics on the walls. (From this land also comes the language my husband and I still speak when we do not want the kids to understand.) She longed to return to the mystical place her memories had created, and I longed to firmly root her in our family narrative.
So, for her twelfth birthday, I took her out of school and on a surprise trip that would launch her rites-of-passage year. As God asked Hagar when she fled her mistress, I have felt Him asking me, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” These questions have lured me into deeper places of my own soul as I continue to debrief myself after years in global work and prepare to usher my daughter into womanhood. Our stories were intertwined, and we both needed Turkey to help us answer the question, “Where have you come from?”
When God meets Hagar at the well in the desert of Shur, He hears her misery, and He sees her plight and her future. He then blesses her with the very same promise He gave to Abram; in doing so, He engages her soul to the degree that she names him El Roi—God Sees. This is the only place in the Bible that we see the name, God Sees. I imagine Hagar to be either so young and naive that she does not realize what she has embarked upon in heading back to Egypt through a desert while pregnant, or so abused and maltreated that it does not matter. Either way, I always pictured her returning to Sarai with strength and purpose, having left her weakness at the well. After all, she goes back to mistreatment for fourteen more years!
Do not all good global workers go back?
Traversing my old stomping grounds alongside an American tween (whose little hand I used to pull to get her away from traffic or scary elevator shafts) brought back all the old feelings of fear, tension, and the determination to blend in, remain invisible, and be strong. However, weakness was not an option as a young mom in a crazy, crowded Islamic city.
Each day I gave my daughter a letter regarding what we were seeing and invited her into the company of women—women past, present, and future. I named the strong followers of Jesus who listened to the small voice of God in a culture shouting the contrary. I named the women who embraced their bodies and discarded shame in the Turkish baths. I named the courage of Florence Nightingale who was compelled by her faith to live a meaningful life in the army barracks of Istanbul. This, the launch of a rites-of-passage year for my daughter, was designed to shape her into a woman of strength and courage.
“Where have you come from?”
“From women worthy to emulate.”
As we walked the cobblestone streets, I anticipated that God would reveal all the places He had seen me, without my noticing. Instead, I realized that I had failed to see Him. There He was all along, waiting at the well for me, ready to hear my misery and see my struggle. However, I kept on the road to Shur, bound and determined to be strong. What if Hagar did not return to Sarai with strength? What if in her weakness she had leaned in to the God who sees, and found Him to be enough? What if weakness and strength can co-exist and be a beautiful thing? What if this is the vision of femininity I should cast for my daughter?
I have named the rites-of-passage “Becoming,” to represent the journey we are all on as women. As I suspected, it is as much for me as it is for my daughter. Whatever story began within us while we were in Turkey continues to be written. That is how journeys work.
Questions to consider: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”
Originally published on April 27, 2015; adapted for Thrive.