When I met my Salvadoran husband, I had one problem: I’d already fallen in love. With a country. I’d lived in Istanbul two years and hoped to return. 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’d 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 with 17 suitcases and 2 preschoolers. My husband handled the suitcases; I kept the kids in tow. We moved into a spanking new apartment with loud pistachio green walls (which I did not love.) 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 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’d come to teach others; I didn’t know what God was going to teach me.
I didn’t know how hard it would be. I didn’t know that this country, for all its beauty, can suck the life out of you because it’s a spiritual desert where few know the Savior.
But I looked at the olive trees and figured if they 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 didn’t always feel like I was thriving.)
I don’t have any magic formula, just two secrets so simple that we sometimes overlook them.
1. Make Sure You’re Planted in the Right Place
It’s tempting to center our lives on our family, friends, ministry, or career, but sooner or later those disappoint. We can only flourish if we’re 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 down. 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 and during the week at prayer meetings and over coffee, our roots become interconnected. 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’re barely surviving, but as we plant ourselves firmly on the Rock, we become the kind of people that thrive no matter what.
Now it’s your turn: Has God ever surprised you with something you didn’t expect? How have you learned to thrive?