September 17, 2012

God and a Turkish Bath

I wrote this while still in Istanbul....we are now home and I'm just waiting for the unpacking fairy to show up and put everything away while I sleep for the next 3 days.

I am sitting at the airport waiting on our flight home to Singapore.  The man right across from me is currently shaving his face with his electric razor, which would be odd except the bar for being odd is set really, really high after the week we just had.

About three months ago, Scot and I had to sit down and browse through a list of tours and activities for the conference we'd be attending here in Istanbul.  At the time, we saw there was a limit of 40 people for the Turkish Bath experience and our competitive natures immediately kicked in.

We made it on the list and a round of high fives and fist pumping ensued as we celebrated our victory.

It wasn't until we arrived that we realized what we had done.  I don't exactly know what I thought a Turkish Bath would entail but I think I had Turkish Bath confused with Super Modest Spa Day.

The Turkish Baths, or Hammans, were a big topic of conversation and reality began to set in.  It was going to involve unclothed people all in the same room and I don't necesarily enjoy being around unclothed people.

The day arrived and I packed a small bag in anticipation of what I might need for the experience.  I packed some make-up to reapply in case my face got wet, dry underwear in case the underwear I was wearing got wet (because there was "no way Jose" that I was taking it off), and my glasses just in case my contacts were itchy after having my eyes closed during a luxurious massage.

I am giggling just reliving how naive I was.

It was time to load the in one bus and women in the other.  When we arrived at the Hamman, we filed off the bus and into the building.  I cast furtive glances around me noting the nearest exits.

We were ushered into a large room where we were told to pick a room and take our clothes off.  I walked into my little room and closed the door.  There was a barely-bigger-than-a-handkerchief piece of fabric sitting on the chair in the room.  I quickly undressed and wrapped the barely there handkerchief around myself and walked out the door.  I was told to put on a pair of wooden sandals and to follow the other women into an inner room.

I walked into a cavernous space made completely out of marble.  It was spectacular with a domed ceiling, alcoves all around with small fountains and in the middle, a large round marble platform.  The ladies from our group were all nervously sitting on the platform wrapped in their tiny pieces of fabric.  It was very warm and extremely humid in the room with the sound of running water and nervous chatter amplified by the cavernous space.

One by one a group of Turkish women entered the room to find the lady they were assigned to.  I watched as those going first had their barely there fabric ripped off of them, much to the surprise of the women, and they were told to lie down on the platform.  

This part of the story I will edit as I do have men children that will read this blog.  And my man that reads this blog and he has heard in detail the whole story and he still doesn't want to read about it again.

Where was I?

Oh, right.

There were those who were very comfortable with the whole situation and those that clearly were not.  It didn't help that you were turned side to side, made to sit up, have water dumped on you and to actually walk across the room in all your glory.

If you want more details, let's plan a lunch date.

I happened to be in the second group of women and was told to sit and wait for my turn.  I sat huddled in a corner holding tightly to my barely there piece of fabric wondering how in the world one month I can be sitting at Chuys eating chips and salsa and the next month I am in a room full of Turkish women waiting my turn to have one give me a bath.

I was thrilled to see that the lady assigned to me was using an obscure corner of the room instead of the large platform in the middle.  Don't think for a second that I didn't strongly contemplate getting up and shuffling out of the large marble room in my wooden sandals and handkerchief.  I think the mixture of horror and fascination kept me rooted right where I was.  That, and a healthy fear that my Turkish lady would come after me if I tried to leave.

When it was my turn, the lady motioned for me to go to a spot on the platform.  I motioned to her that I wanted the obscure corner.  She smiled sweetly at me and firmly pointed to the platform.

I laid down on the big platform, sucked in my stomach, and prayed that maybe I had become invisible and no one in that room actually saw me.  My lady started the harsh scrubbing of all the skin and then the water dumped on me and then more washing and more water and lots of walking around during all of this, all the while engaging my core muscles willing my body to suddenly look like a size 2.....heck, I'd have been happy for a size 8!

Naked people can't be choosy people.

There was something very tender and sweet about the Turkish lady assigned to me.  She would hold my hand everytime we walked somewhere so I didn't slip and fall and by the time we got to the end where she was massaging my back, I was actually a little more relaxed.  She walked me into a room when we were finished and wrapped a towel around me and another around my hair and sent me on my way.

I realized how similar the whole experience was to women at church.  We walk in and are immediately fighting feelings of nervousness or of being judged.  We are so tempted to bail but curiosity keeps us rooted to our seats.  We watch ladies who are comfortable with being vulnerable and we wonder if we could ever feel the same.

Many times we feel like what little we are wearing is ripped off, and all of us.....the good, the bad, the wrinkles, the rolls.....they are all exposed.  That all our attempts at creating a perfect facade still won't hide the reality underneath.  Maybe, like me, there is considerable scarring that highlights the imperfections.

And then we have an encounter with God that is not based on perfection, but based solely on love.  That the more we understand that He loves us unconditionally and does not want to hurt us, the more we become comfortable with being vulnerable.

That sometimes He walks us around to show others our imperfections because those things make us beautiful.  To reveal our scars because they prove there was healing....the whole time holding our hand to keep us from falling.

I walked out of that Hamman with a smile because I always love the surprise of a life lesson from something so peculiar.

And then I saw Scot rocking in a corner sucking his thumb and mumbling to himself.  Clearly, being rubbed down by a Turkish man (and yes, he got to keep his covering on the whole time) did not leave him contemplating spiritual matters.

Poor guy.

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