Eyes to See

10621893_4806755664980_263042886_n  Where do I start??  First, we are here in Istanbul, staying with our dear friends.  Istanbul is a place I refer to as, “the city bread built.”  Because wherever you go, there is bread.  All kinds of bread! Rolls, these pretzel looking things called Simit, (Which if you pronounce it right, cement, it would be close to the truth.) Loafs of wheat, grains, and flour, any shape or color you like.  I told our friends, “You can roll a ball anywhere and it will end up next to a bread shop or street vendor.”  As if there are not enough shops that sell bread, they actually have people walking around and pushing carts selling Simit..

I think it all started back when Constantine was in charge.  He built this great city they called “The New Rome”10584455_4806758025039_1540122858_n, and while building it he promised all citizens who lived within a loaf a bread a day.  Doesn’t sound like quite a feat, until you know that from 330 AD to 400 AD it grew from 30,000 to upwards of 500,000… Bread, who knew…Wheat. Grains. & Flour. Oh my.

Anyways, enough of the history lesson. We are here.. We have been here for almost a week, and during this time we have been without water for 3 days now, and now WE ARE DESPERATE!  We NEED A Shower!!  We would love to experience a flushing toilet as well, but lets not discuss that here.

So, what do you do if you are in Turkey and you need to get clean? The Obvious. A Turkish Bath!! Now the Game is afoot Watson..  It’s a simple solution, that comes at a price and is almost like the amazing race to get to, 10711715_4806755224969_827344453_nand you definitely want the prize at the end.  And here is how this day of adventure is going to take place.  To get everywhere you walk.. And you walk, and when you have done all the walking you can do, you walk some more. This is our mode of transportation, but today it will be more diverse.  We will walk to the boat dock in the drizzle and rain, also in search of a bathroom as well, and catch a ferry across the sea to the other side of Istanbul. (It’s on two different continents if you didn’t know that.)

We make it to the boat, not too wet, with our backpacks filled with our extra clothes and toiletries. Once aboard the boat we must have a chai. (This is 10711713_4806756625004_1998378856_ntruly a Turkish thing.  Chai is basically like hot Lipton tea, served in a tulip shaped glass. The Turks drink this stuff religiously.  Every shop, serves it.  They even have teashops where you sit on small wooden stools with a small wooden table about knee high, and everyone gathers around to talk at this cultural phenomenon.)

The ferry is only about a 15 minute trip across the way and once on land you got it… We walk. We have found our spot, The Turkish Bath.  At first you are not sure if this is wise, for a couple of reasons.. First, I am going to get almost nude around a bunch of other men, possibly.. Secondly, I cannot understand a thing they are saying.  My mind goes nuts.  Are they talking about me? Are they making jokes at my Texas accent?  What do they think of a Texan who is among them?  Which one is going to scrub me?  Will this be a beating??? Oh, My mind!  Who Cares. I need to use the restroom and get this dead skin off me!!

10711576_4806755984988_1407050502_n   After 45 minutes of sitting in various types of sauna’s, sweating, ( at times wondering if my lungs were actually melting,) a stranger  comes to scrub us clean. (Front and back.)  We get to change into clean clothes. Oh How Precious.  And what do you do after you have a Turkish Bath??  You have a Chai.

Round one of the journey is over… Now we must get food.

Breakfast is now what’s for lunch. It is 12 noon and we need food. So, we walk to 10695293_4806756905011_1471343800_nthe bus station, our second mode of transportation.. (Istanbul has an amazing network of buses, trams, and shuttles.) We catch the bus to an upper scale area where we sit by the sea at a restaurant named Kale, I highly recommend!!  After a much need meal of various vegetables, eggs, and sausages with cheese, and of course all types of bread!  We are in heaven. The last few days have melted away..(Literally! The Sauna was that hot.)

Now, the next leg of this amazing race, which leads us to a Japanese Garden that we just happen to stumble across as we walk the next 2 miles in the drizzling rain, dodging the bursts of water being shot at us by passing10668771_4806757905036_1741382994_n cars. Have I mentioned we walk a lot in Istanbul??

The thing about walking is you notice things, for instance a Japanese Flower Garden, or an Ancient City Wall, dating back centuries.. The flowers and trees have overgrown this shadow of a time long ago.  The old smoke stack standing out of place in this modern upper scale neighborhood.  Pathways once used to enter an ancient city now hidden.  (How often our past memories, some good, some bad, lay hidden?  They are still there, just over grown by the new.. I think it is good to walk. I think we should walk down our old paths, reflect on times of old.  Where have we come from?  What have we gone thru?  They have shaped us to be who we were meant to be.  Maybe not what we wanted to be, and maybe not how we wanted to be, but the past is there and it tells a story.)

We are here..  How many people walk by this place and not look 10714620_4806757545027_1459752229_nup?  There is a castle at one end of the wall.  What went on here?  What battles were fought at this location??  Someone lost.  Someone won.  Lives where changed.  But we don’t have time for that. Life is happening now, and to make sure we get where we want, we use every means available to get there the fastest. Boats, cars, buses, trains, taxis, it doesn’t matter.. We have to hurry. We have to be somewhere. We have something important to do, to be! So we sail on pass things that should be learned.  We skip over and take a bus instead of walking with someone we love.  We hope on train, to avoid slower people, because people take to much time. (A pastor told me that once, God forgive him.)

10723103_4806757585028_953300118_n    We get in a taxi, so we don’t have to be with others.  We shut people out.  We move away from previous things on to new things as fast as we can so we can be entertained, so we don’t have to deal with what’s there.  Life is this journey. This is the Amazing Race! But it’s not to the swift. It’s not to the strongest.  It is to those who will lay down their pride, walk humbly beside others, looking around seeing the history that is in each soul.  The ancient walls that were built up to protect the inner soul, these walls haven’t been broken, they stand erect, but the inner city is devastated.  Someone fought here.  Something happened.. Lives were changed.. Do we notice?? “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” 10717840_4806756344997_1067152170_nLuke 10:23
      I am noticing.. Did I mention we walk a lot??

On a Journey

20140924_035254   I am a stranger, an alien. I am a foreigner.  This is my journey.  My wife and I have embarked on a journey overseas, to new lands, a place not to fond of our kind.  It is a place we are the minority and our language is not spoken, nor do they care.   I am learning what the Beatitudes mean.. “Blessed are the Broken.. Blessed are the meek.. Blessed are the poor..”  I am on a journey, to live the Kingdom among those who are different..

Our day started off in the wee hours of the morning.  It was a 20 minute walk 20140923_221442to the church where we would meet some of the team going out. To our surprise we would meet mostly our nationality, but not surprised that they were all from different walks of life.  They all have been serving overseas in various countries and now have relocated to Istanbul for various reasons.

We loaded up a small van and headed to the ferry.  The conversations began!  Everyone wanted to know where everyone came from and what they were in Istanbul for.  Seems everyone was in a season of transition. They had all left their previous ministries and have converged here to figure out their next direction.  And yes, we too are here working on the same, but our next step is taking us to Romania for at least a season.
20140923_231538   The boat ride was nice. The temperature was cool. The weather was shaping up to be glorious. The sun started peaking over the vast city of Constantinople, (For my Greek friends..) as we made our way to the island.

Once there, the adventure began.  It is over a mile up the mountain on the 20140923_231554island called, Büyükada (“Big Island“).  The steep pitch of the slope, with the weight of carrying books, Bibles, tables, and cooler, made the trek a little more breath taking than just a casual stroll, but as we climbed, the view opened more of the window of God’s glory.  We were getting above the tree line.  The sun was in full bloom, reflecting off the 20140923_234756sea.  There are no cars, no motorcycles, only bicycles, and horse drawn carriages. Why am I here? What has brought me across the globe to be here for such a time as this?  What strange culture am I embarking on?  Why are people flocking to the island to go to St George’s Church?  (A church built in 936 AD, I must add.)  What is this strange pilgrimage people are making?  I was about to find out..

Twice a year people walk this path to the church for various reasons, but the 20140924_004902purpose is because they need, or want, divine help in some matter, may it be issues with family, a loved ones health, finances, or whatever, they come to pray and pay tribute in hopes of being heard.  But there is more to it…

20140924_003220   At the midway point, there is an area you can buy charms, amulets, and other trinkets that will help ensure your prayers will be heard, wither for a car, a baby, a mate, money, or whatever.  (These are sure to help..)  There is also string that can be purchased, and what they will do is tie the string to something as the start up the main slop and unroll it as they go up.  If you make it all the way up with the string it means your prayers will be unbroken..  (Sad thought here is, what if someone behinds you breaks your string??  Does God not hear your prayers now?  You’re getting the picture I hope..)

Another thing observed is people will pass out candy, cookies, or 20140924_062520sugar cubes on the way up and back down.  They do this because it will mean their prayers will be sweet and receptive.  (Not wanting to be rude,  of course, I took great delight in receiving the various gifts.. Chocolates where my favorite, but they were too few. Mostly got sugar cubes and one cookie.)

Occasionally people would walk by without shoes. This was of interest to us all.  These people, I guess, wanted to feel they earned the right to be heard.  Maybe they felt guilty, and for some reason felt this would help take the burden away.  (I am moved, for a couple of reasons.. They are trying so hard to have their prayers heard, and willing to pay whatever the price they deemed necessary.  Secondly, they really don’t know if their prayers will be heard or not.)

20140924_045616 I observed yet another type of people..  As they would go up the mountain, doing some, or all these things, they would not speak… These, I found precious.  For they want their first words to be to God, and not to man.. (I think this is something we could all learn from.)  I admire their passion.  I admire their motives. Yet, I am saddened at their insecurity.

This is where I find myself this morning.  I am on 20140924_051916top of this hill, surrounded with people like me, who want to help bring the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.  People who want to share the  Love of God.  To pray for these dear people who have come for this very reason… To pray.  To seek the Lords Favor.

We found ourselves talking and sharing with people from a variety of faiths, Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox (Greek and Russian), Muslim, and with no affiliations.  People hurting. A daughter, praying for her mom who has liver cancer.  A young woman who is pregnant. Mothers, praying for their unwed daughters, praying for their children’s health, happiness, and direction… Women who have been hurt in relationships, broken.

20140924_024320  I found myself not as engaged as my spouse, yet I watched. I wanted to see what God was seeing.  I watched how she would move into position around those who wanted prayer. Moved with compassion, she would be touched by their feelings.  She would speak the Words of Life to them.  She would pray, and then they would feel what she was saying, though they could not understand her words, they felt her heart, her God..  Her heart was enlarged that day, and so was mine.

Too often we sit to proud to touch someone. Too often we sit, afraid of those different than us, unable to reach out to be the Kingdom.  Fear keeps us from love, yet Perfect Love casts out fear.. gives us the courage to 20140924_023511face it. We have been told, “these people are our enemies.”  We have been raised to think other nationalities are below us, we are superior.  My brothers and sisters, we have not understood our place.. “God rejects the Proud, but Gives grace to the humble.”  We have not understood the Beatitudes.. “Blessed are the  poor, for such is the Kingdom of God.”  We have not really grasped, nor practiced, “Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth.”

I am a stranger, an alien, a foreigner in this country, but that is ok. This world is not my home, I am just passing thru. So I will walk out the rest of my days never being home and always visiting wherever I live.  This is me, living out of meekness..

A Field of Dreams, Hopes and Joy

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America1794783_483685691732328_7960979906600399539_n has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”  Field of Dreams

Have you ever seen the Movie, Field of Dreams?  It’s about a guy who hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in his cornfield.. Something no one else hears, but he is haunted by the voice..  So, obsessed with this voice that 10251926_493395567428007_1896017346158470537_nkeeps speaking to him, he plows down his crop in hopes to find the answers to the questions that keep raging in his mind with this voice.  The story is not really about baseball, or the crops, as much as it is about a man’s journey to find what is missing in side of him.
Despite the shame and humiliation of facing losing everything he has, and the ridicule of those around him, he follows his heart. A Road that is paved with good intentions but built on struggles and disappointments. But, thru the pain and suffering he endures, and he finds that this game brings him to his true desire. A healing place for his soul. A place of making the wounds of his past fade away.. And so it is with WC Special Needs Baseball..
10250066_493395397428024_9018683422012975983_n  I am not some superstar.  I don’t have a job.  No degree.  I am a person, a man, struggling to find my place in this world.  I don’t posses wealth. My home is nothing to brag about.  My ability to support those around me fall on shoulders of those who support me. I have a memory that serves me ok, but most of those thoughts are not of the great things I have accomplished..
I am humbled.  Nothing to brag about. I do not posses things or prestige.10486218_511148702319360_3014943927855556855_n   No, I am not the owner of land or cattle.  I have nothing this world esteems as valuable.  But I posses one gift, A Spiritual Gift if you would.  I possess a heart of flesh and not of stone. A heart that is sensitive to the feelings and hurts of those around me.  I am captivated by “the least of these,” those whom the world will not give a voice to.  It is these that capture my heart and enrapture my attention.  I am moved with compassion. Something in me stirs and I weep..
I don’t know if it is because I am so broken, and in my brokenness I am stretching forth that which is bent and withered,  not to be healed, but to heal others. In this stretching forth, maybe I will find healing myself.. Or relief.
1922413_483680311732866_3779529078745732778_n  I see a single mom. 3 kids. Beat up car. Working. Trying. Struggling.. She’s different. She doesn’t have the jewelry. She can’t afford the costumes and make up. Her kids… Well, they are social outcasts. Needy. Hungry for attention. Lost.. Confused. Plagued by thoughts of doubt, fear and rejection..”Where’s dad?”  “What did we do wrong?”  “Why don’t the other kids like us? Is it because we don’t dress like them?”  I WEEP…
I see a family, they have special needs kid. They do their best every day. They get tired. They work hard.  But to do something simple, easy, like going to the store, it’s a struggle. It’s hard.
I see the kids.. They are different. They are not like other kids.  Their minds10177437_685076684882242_203611876584998574_n work differently. Their bodies don’t move to their command. Their coordination is not accurate. They aren’t trying to be someone their not.  They are looking for acceptance.. They are looking for a place to fit in. To belong. And Jesus says, “Hinder not these kids from coming to me… Do it unto the least of these, and you have done it unto me.”  The words are haunting.  The faces of these kids, expressive.  My heart?  Crushed by the weight of each need.
I can’t change the circumstances. I cannot enter into their world every 10014652_483670741733823_3274355168831512563_nday.  I am a visitor.  To some, I am only passing thru.  To others, I hope I can be more. Yet, I am on the outside forever looking in. I cannot write out a check. ( I wished I could.)  I can’t wave a magic wand and make things get better for them, nor their family.. But I can come, step into their world on a given Saturday and take a ball in my hand, my place on the mound, with music thumping in the background, and like a Star Trek Movie, teleport them from their everyday life to a world that is beautiful.  Like a hypnotist, we erase or block out, all that is wrong, and for a morning, we make all things new.
13957_4437518986559_1463515936_n   This is Alice in Wonderland. This is a journey into the rabbit hole of their lives. For a Saturday I am able to make them  feel as equal as others. I am able to make, I hope, a small deposits of hope, the gift of joy, some laughter for the soul.. For a morning..“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.”  Field of Dreams
   For a morning we create A Field of Dreams, Of Friendships, of things all 1544422_483676568399907_2698325379592700468_ngood.. For this brief time, this field becomes the “most special place in all the world.”  A place with Magic.. Smiles appear. Joy erupts. Laughter ensues. Dancing becomes contagious. It’s not about the game, its about community. Sharing life with one another. And “once a place touches you like this.. the wind never blows so cold again.”  “This field, this game.. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again,” next season. And the Next Season..
1150358_10152149991454387_2353336875298312794_n   My heart has grown. The tears I shed at the thought of not pitching this season, my soul quakes at the sound of goodbyes.  I know in Heaven there is no more tears, but for now they are the reminder of a heart that was changed. A life that was touched.. A story that needs to be shared.   I am a changed person. I am different.

“This is the Most Special Place in all the World, Ray.”
And Such is the Kingdom of God!
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I am Not an Artist

321544_283459298331271_2144643561_nto bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.”  Isaiah 61:3

I am not an artist.  I hope, maybe, for a short time the screen is my canvas, the words I write are strokes of the brush across the canvas. Maybe, my metaphors and analogies would be used to shade in the areas and highlight the changing of hues. However, I am not an artist. I am sojourner. A Wanderer if you will, a journeyman looking for the infamous “lost city of gold.”

Maybe, you too are on such a trek. You feel not lost, but not home, estranged. You may feel like nothing is 5272b6d8e34311e2bd6422000a9f12df_6familiar; your friends are not close, but at a distance. Your family, well, you’re just misunderstood. Life??  It’s not figured out, but one thing, for sure, you long for meaning.. It’s a journey.  Maybe like myself, you are a stranger, an alien where you are, looking for your place. Life is a journey.

All journeys have a starting point and often a goal, or end in mind. They begin with an idea of doing, going, or accomplishing something; the something is always the purpose and drive of the journey.  I think at times about my life, this journey I am on, this path I walk, it is toward a goal, it has a purpose. At times, I know that it seems to be void of purpose, unclear of direction, marked by failure and uncertainty.  I am not like Jesus who said, “I have been born and have come into the world for this reason”.  I don’t have the end written out before hand. I rarely know what is around the next corner, yet I do have a purpose, a reason, or at least an idea of what I would like to accomplish.

10440290_4384670593117_3432131131806411540_n  I am not an artist, but I feel like I struggle like one. Being expressive comes with being misunderstood, viewed with skepticism and uncertainty; being clothed with cynicism (doubt and mistrust).  I am not an artist, yet like one, I am marked by a loneliness even though surrounded by people. In a way, maybe I am like Jesus. Maybe He too felt the weight of the journey while traveling with others,( 12 disciples, among 72 others) but always knowing what it is to be misunderstood..  Knowing isolation even around close friends.  Peter, “followed at a distance.”

I am not an artist, per say, yet my life is my art. It is my poetry, written for all to read and feel. Maybe just in part, some a few verses.. while others in longer sonnets..  My ministry is my sculpture, that which I carve out what I see in others.  Where others see deadness, dull wood, or a lump of clay, I hope to pour freshness, to fashion that which it was meant to be. Like any sculptor,  I want to bring to life out of the deadness, to sculpt and cut away all that is not useful, and form something of beauty where others see nothing.  In all this, I pray that my walk leaves a melody for others to hum. A tune for some to sing. Maybe someone will see the beauty in the work.. a story from the art that is to be told in the hues of 10458352_4388181480887_7833496888818547034_nwords and the lives of those it touches.

I am a sojourner. I am here temporarily.  I am a stranger and an alien to most places. I am not home yet. I have not made it to the celestial city. The Painting isn’t finished. The strokes have not blended it’s colors to show the full picture, nor the clay been formed. There are words yet to be spoken.  Strokes of the keys to convey a sense, a feeling. The screen is my canvas. My life, poetry to be versed. My purpose?? To bring beauty instead of ashes…