When I met my Salvadoran husband, I had one problem. I had already fallen in love—with a country. I had lived in Istanbul two years and hoped to return. So when Jose asked me to marry him, I thought long and hard. Did I love him enough to give up my dream of living in Turkey?
I decided I did. When we married, I was sure I would spend the rest of my life in El Salvador, eating mangos, and learning to love rain.
God had other plans.
I still remember the day we landed in Izmir, Turkey, with seventeen suitcases and two preschoolers. My husband handled the suitcases; I kept the kids in tow. We moved into a spanking-new apartment with dark pistachio-green walls (which I did not love). Then we unpacked those suitcases and set up house.
Every day we made new discoveries: Turkish coffee, Turkish delight, and Turkish music blaring on the mini-buses we hopped on to get around. We heard the call to prayer, explored open-air markets bursting with produce, and learned to love eggplant. We scouted out the surrounding area: beaches, Greek ruins, and olive trees (olive trees were everywhere!).
We loved the people most of all. Friendly neighbors who knocked on the door with plates of cake or stuffed grape leaves. New friends with hospitality we could NEVER outdo. And tea. That went along with the people. We drank lots of tea with our new friends.
I thought God brought me to Turkey to share His love, but He also had other plans.
I thought He would work through me, but He wanted to do a greater work in me.
I had come to teach others; I did not know what God was going to teach me.
I did not know how hard it would be. I did not know that this country, for all its beauty, can suck the life out of you, because it is a spiritual desert where few know the Savior.
The olive trees around me reminded me of this verse: I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever (Psalm 52:8).
I figured if those trees could flourish on this semi-arid landscape, then so could I. My daily quiet time became my life-line because God refreshed me each day, even during discouraging times. My Turkish brothers and sisters were another life-saver. In a desert where most people say, “No thanks,” to the waters of eternal life, my faith family reminded me that God was at work. I learned that when we stuck together, met together, prayed together, and worshiped together, our lights shone brighter.
Like those olive trees, I learned to thrive in the face of challenge (even though I did not always feel like I was). I do not have a magic formula, but I did discover two secrets so simple that we sometimes overlook them.
1) Make sure you are planted in the right place. It is tempting to center our lives on our calling, family, ministry, or career, but sooner or later those disappoint. We can flourish only if we are planted in God, with our lives centered on Him and our eyes fixed on Him no matter what.
2) Grow roots down deep. We need God’s Word and God’s church to grow roots that anchor us. As we read God’s Word—as we believe it, speak it, and live it—our roots grow deeper. As we meet with His people on Sundays, during the week at prayer meetings, and over coffee, our roots become interconnected, and we grow stronger.
What challenges are you facing, friend? Are doubt, discouragement, and unmet expectations knocking on your door? I write this with a prayer for you. We may feel like we are barely surviving, but as we plant ourselves firmly on the Rock, we become the kind of people who thrive no matter what.
Questions to consider: Has God ever surprised you with plans different from your own? How have you learned to thrive?