About a week ago I was in a very different place.
I returned for the first time in 3 1/2 years to Turkey, a land where we have invested over a decade of our ministry-lives. This time, I was there serving as counselor to others who sacrifice much for the sake of the Kingdom. My experience there felt like a good, hard workout – a combination of pain, struggle and sometimes agony mixed with elation, glory and clarity. Although, I don’t know too much about good, hard workouts.
I have much to say about my time there with dear friends, and thank them for their hospitality and willingness to engage areas of their hearts that many dare not examine. But what fills my reflections now are my own internal pangs as a result of this time, those areas of my own soul that feel raw and unfinished.
Let me start with a definition.
Going back to Turkey was in many ways like visiting a childhood home. You know, those times that you drive past the house you lived in when you were 8 or 13 or something, and the flood of memories that take shape in your mind. The fence you used to climb until you got splinters in your butt. The sprinklers you used to run through. That time you and the neighbor boy build a fire in the back yard and got busted by his mom. The bus-stop bully and the big wheel jumps. And when you take your own kids into that cul-de-sac and point out, “That’s where I grew up,” you know that they haven’t the slightest idea what it means to you. “Oh, ok,” they reply. “Whatever, Dad.”
As I walked around the streets of Istanbul, waves of memories came crashing down upon me. In my adult life, there are few places where I have such a long history. Street after street, corner after corner, building after building held memories that I have rarely conjured. And as I walked, I experienced a great sense of nostalgia.
Nostalgia mixed with pain.
The fond memories were also laced with toil, agony, loneliness, struggle, confusion, rage and stress. Like the delay of sound when you see a distant firecracker explode in the sky but hear it several seconds later, the beautiful nostalgic memories echoed also with the distinct sound of pain. Though they were good years in Turkey, they were also hard. Very hard. The agony and defeat of language learning that continually makes you feel like a dunce. Bibles that you have given in hope to a stranger thrown back at your face or immediately in the trash. Betrayal that feels so personal it rips out your heart. Violence and fear that seem to create dark streets everywhere. The glory and majesty of the fireworks that light up the sky followed quickly by the booming sound of a violent explosion.
I came to realize something significant about my own life as a man. In some very powerful ways, Turkey is where I cut my masculine teeth. It is through my years there that I had to face the world as a man and test my grit. It is where I no longer sat under the protective shadow of another, but rather had to “face the giants” on my own. Turkey is where my manhood was forged. Much like the forging of metal, the heat and pain and bending and stretching and pounding and re-heating and sharpening of my identity as a man occurred in a very real sense through my years in Turkey. It is a time and place in my story that I love, yet never want to revisit.
I believe that us guys need those seasons of forging. Manhood is the result of painful struggle. I don’t know why God set it up that way, but He did. The initiation of boys into men must always be through pain. This is the forging process of the masculine heart. It wasn’t until I faced the streets, stories and memories of Turkey once again that I was able to “read” the experience as “my forging.” It will forever be a place of great nostalgia. And I will always hold a deep respect for my season there as a time of my greatest pain.
Now, I can engage with Turkey in a different way. I don’t know what God’s plans are for a future relationship between me and Turkey. But I think we now have a mutual respect.