From Crescent Moon to Morning Star
I was born and raised in Turkey in a secular family. Growing up as the middle child of the family I never understood my parents love and care for us. My aunt, known as one of the "funniest" members of the family joked with me over the years asking, what special reason I had to be loved by my parents. Since my sister was the first born, and my brother was the "baby" and "the son", nothing was left for me. She did not understand the deep impact of her jokes on me and I never understood why I wasn't loved. Nobody knew that I needed the truth explained to me; that I needed to know that my parents loved me just because I was their daughter. For years I felt rejected and unloved. As time went on, the only purpose of my life became trying to earn my parents' love.
When I was five years old my parents couldn't find a nanny to take care of me while they were at work. My mother, who was an elementary school teacher, started to take me to the school where she taught leaving me in one of the first grade classes. After this my days were pretty routine. I was in class during the day, and at home I played with my books. I didn't know how to read yet, but I would look at the letters and make up stories based on how they were shaped. One day when I was looking at my books, all of a sudden the letters made words rather than pictures, the words made sentences, and I no longer needed to make up stories - I could read them. My parents rejoiced when they discovered that I learned to read "all by myself".
Near the end of the school year my mom's school was going through the yearly teachers' evaluation. One day the principal of the school came to my class with an Evaluator. I was the only one in the class who could answer their questions. When my parents heard about this they were surprised and quite pleased with me. So, along with everything else I learned in first grade, I learned that the easiest way to earn my parents' "love" was to be successful at school.
This discovery changed my life dramatically. From that day I became very competitive, doing better was my only desire - better than my classmates, better than my siblings, and even better than myself. As a result, I became one of the best students in my school. My dad loved science and planted that love in me at a very early age. He seemed to accept me regardless of my performance, but I felt like my mom's love was dependent on my achievements. Thus, my father became a good friend but I isolated myself from my mother.
When I was getting ready for the college entrance exams, my big dream was to get into a biology department. I found I was fascinated with nature, and this, together with the love of science that I had learned from my father, fueled my desire to study biology. When the results of the exam were posted, I found out that I was qualified to be in the Biology department, my third choice. Upon my father's request my first two choices had been the top medical schools of Turkey. I was so excited and happy. I could hardly wait to give the good news to my parents.
However a big disappointment was in store for me. The idea of having a daughter in medical school was so appealing to them that the news that I had "only" qualified for biology was a letdown. Their disappointment showed me that I had failed, first in my studies, and then in not being able to earn their "love". I had worked so hard for such a bitter ending. So when I started college my heart felt sour within me.
But when I began college things within me started to change. I was spending the majority of my time immersed in my biology books, and was awed by the complexities and perfection of life on a biological scale. I realized that I loved learning purely for learning's sake and not in order to gain my parents' approval. I was growing up! So my bitter feelings shortly were crowded out by overwhelming enthusiasm.
Another change that started to occur in me was regarding religious belief. I had grown up in a secular household. Although my family was not religious, we observed all the usual traditions. However, we did not observe the prayer rituals, nor did we fast. During summer vacations my friends went to the mosque to learn Namaz, the Islamic prayer ritual, and to learn to recite the Qur'an. But in our home, we didn't even mention these things. Growing up, I had believed that the universe was formed as a result of the "Big-Bang" and that life was formed through a series of random events. What I believed about God was quite different from my friends' beliefs, too. For me God was created by men. Evolutionary speaking, in all primate societies there had been a need for a strong, unquestioned leader. However, as humans developed the abilities to live outside social groupings, the need for an unquestioned leader disappeared. Because the instinct to believe and obey something unquestionable is still strong, man created God. I was very content with this belief. In truth, I was even proud of my unusual beliefs.
However, my first year in college, I felt that everything I believed was disintegrating in my hands. When I started to take classes like Zoology, Botany, Molecular Biology, Chemistry, and Cytology, I started to realize that life was too perfect to be the product of random events. One day I remember looking through a microscope and watching this little cell with awe, thinking there must be a God, the Creator of this life!
I became very confused. I didn't know what to do. One day - a little embarrassed - I went to talk to my father and told him what I thought. He listened to me carefully, without interrupting, as was his habit, and then answered me with a smile; "I don't want you to be ashamed of your thoughts. If you believe there is a God, go search, and you shall find". Two years of studying and practicing Islam started at this time period.
My interest in Islam pleased my mother's mother the most. She immediately got a Qur'an and books on Islam for me. She brought some Zamzam water, had me drink it, repent of my sins, make a promise to stay away from sin, and recite the Shahada.
Initially, I didn't care much about what Islam and Qur'an was all about. All I wanted to know was God. I learned the basics: memorized suras, learned wudu and prayer, read the Qur'an every Thursday night, fasted during Ramadan.
I studied hard, practiced hard, but only thing that happened in my life was following a different set of rules now. I did not know God anymore than I did the day I told my dad I thought there was a God. I might have become a nicer person at the time, but it was all in my power and initiative. Deep inside me I knew I was no different. On the top of these what I learned from my Islamic books and mentors did not help either. At the end of two years I was quite disappointed - even hurt - by my findings and experiences. After days and nights of struggling with myself, and feeling ashamed that I was wrong, I went to my father and told him that I was not able to find my God. I was heart broken.
The summer of that year, I started to work as a reader at the School for the Blind. There, I met with a lady who was associated with a Hindu group. I was quite excited to hear about this group, and I started to go to their meetings with her. All summer long, I studied with them the essentials of Hinduism - as well as of Buddhism. Because Islam had failed me, I was a lot more reserved about taking a step of faith in either of these. One of the members of this group was also interested in the old Turkic religions, and he helped me to understand the basics of those religions. At the end of the summer, the conclusion of my search was quite clear. All these religions were created by men to bring regulation to society. There was no God. I was stuck with Atheism.
Then followed a time of confusion and bewilderment. All joy and peace left my heart. I had lost hope - hope for the future, hope for finding God, or that there was anything greater than human existence. So, I went back to doing what I knew best, being an excellent student. I thought that I could find satisfaction in myself.
But it didn't work. The inner restlessness that I had grew stronger every day, and I couldn't live with myself anymore. So, I tried other things. You know what a party animal is, right? Well, that was me. Drinking, smoking, rebelling - everything you can imagine! Yet, these things didn't satisfy me. More and more, I knew that I had no peace in my heart. I longed to change--but I didn't know how.
In this sorry state, I finished university. On graduation day, as I was walking downtown, I started to think about my future. I knew that I had a long life ahead of me, but I didn't know what I would do with it. Frustrated, I walked into a store and stood in front of a mirror. As I looked at myself, I realized that I didn't like what I saw. Tears welled up as I considered who I was. This was a turning point for me. I decided that I was going to change my life and be a different person - have a good job, a good career, a good family, and a good income. I looked around at all the ordinary people in the world, reflecting that their lives were no different than mine but that they seemed happy. I decided to try being an ordinary person. So, I quit smoking, drinking, and hanging around those of my "friends" who had that kind of lifestyle. I got my first job, a very good-paying job, in fact. At the same time, I went back to school and earned my Master's degree, and then started to work on my Ph.D. But even all these things didn't satisfy me. In my heart, I fought with myself day and night. In Jeremiah 2:13, God says, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water". My heart was a broken cistern, and I tried to fill it myself. As Islam had failed me, I was failing myself.
In September 1992, I was nearing the end of my Ph.D. program when one of my professors in the department told me about a scholarship to go overseas to study for a different Ph.D. First, I thought, "No, I'm about to finish one; why bother starting all over again?" But it took me only half an hour to decide, "Yes, I would like to try". I got the scholarship and quit my Ph.D. program. Leaving everything behind, I packed my whole life into two suitcases and came to the United States to start all over again. I had a feeling that it was going to be different there.
It was different in the U.S., and I didn't like it. Honestly, I hated it with a passion. I didn't know any English, I didn't know the culture, and I didn't know anybody there. Everything was so strange to me. I asked myself again and again, "I had everything I needed back home, so why did I come here?" Of course, I didn't know the answer, and I didn't even know if there was an answer. But I didn't go home. I studied English, tried to understand American culture, and made some friends in the dormitory. It so happens they were all born-again Christians who talked about their faith with me. They were all very nice, helpful, smart, religious ... and very brainwashed! I didn't believe that one could be smart and religious at the same time. Since they had helped me to adjust to my new life in the U.S., I decided I could help them to see that they were all deluded.
If you are going to fight against something, you need to know it well, so I asked them to give me a Bible. Knowing that I would find contradictions and inconsistencies, I started to read it. However - and there's really no other way to describe it - a miracle happened! Each day, the words brought more and more peace to my heart and hope for my life. Also, Christianity deeply impressed me because of its differences from the other religions that I had studied. It was unique in a lot of ways, but four of them were particularly important to me.
First, Jesus was the only one who claimed to be the only way to God. What confidence that gave me! This was no vague instruction on how to reach God. This was a certain path. Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father except through me".
Second, people's sins could be forgiven without the need for good deeds to cancel them out. In every other religion, one has to be punished for the sins one has committed, but in Christianity one's sins can be forgiven. Having lived in sin as long as I had, I knew that I could never finish paying the penalty for them. I needed forgiveness. Human beings, in their weakness, don't know the real meaning of forgiveness, I think. This generous forgiveness can only come from God.
Third, one doesn't have to work for one's salvation. Salvation is by the grace of God. My whole life, I had tried to earn the peace and hope that I longed for but saw that I didn't have. Therefore, it was very meaningful to see that God was reaching out to me instead of my trying to reach Him.
Fourth and last, God loved me as I was. I didn't have to do anything to earn His love. This was quite new to me. I discovered that I was important to God just because I existed. It seemed to me that this truth was different from other religions.
I became convinced that Christianity was not a man-made religion. So, I continued to study the Bible, more and more enthusiastically. On February 6, 1993 while I was reading my Bible, a verse greatly impressed me: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name... " (John 15:16). Then, I realized that I found the answer to my question. I had come to the U.S. because God had chosen me and had brought me there so that I could come to know Him. That day, I prayed and accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.
That night, as I prayed and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I was very restless. I tried to sleep, but questions kept bothering me all night long. "Was I being culturally assimilated?" "Was my conversion a result of cultural shock?" I got up in the morning and decided that I might be going crazy, but I couldn't do anything about it other than wait and see. A few months later, God answered my questions again. He showed me that even as long ago as when I was 12, He had chosen me and had been preparing me for His kingdom. At that time, I had a dream in which I was swimming. It was very dark, without any stars in the sky. After swimming for a while, I stopped and looked up at the sky. Suddenly, I saw a star shining. I closed my eyes and made a wish. I said, "Morning Star, teach me the secret of life". When I woke up, I was deeply affected by my dream. I told my family and my friends about it, but nobody seemed to care. Because I took the dream so seriously, I was even mocked about it. A few days later, however, I forgot about the dream.
But the dream did not forget me. About a month later, I had it again. Although I thought it was strange, I didn't really think about it much. But then, a few months later, the same dream came again. I kept having this dream for years almost every other month and this pattern continued until a few months after my conversion, when I read Rev. 22:16, which says, "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star". After reading this verse, I realized that God had been working in my heart for years and that He is a living God. He had brought me to this point to teach me the secret of life - eternal life. That very day, I decided that I would dedicate my whole life to God and follow Him wherever He might lead me. Now, my deepest desire is to follow my Lord as long as I live. In case you're wondering. I've never had the dream again - when the sun rises, one blows the candle out.
After I became a believer in Jesus, my life changed significantly. In the beginning, my family rejected me, but over the years, they observed the positive changes that happened in my life. A couple of years after my conversion, my mother told me that when I first told her that I had decided to follow Jesus, she thought that she had lost her daughter, but now, she knows that she has received back a better one. She tells me now that she believes this has been the best thing that ever happened to me. For years, I didn't believe that my mother loved me, and I hadn't forgiven her for that. But with God, all things are possible. Now, my mom and I are best friends, and she has a desire to know more about God and Christianity.
And that wasn't all.
After my conversion, my family was greatly distressed. They thought that I had brought shame on our family. They thought that we were born as Muslims and destined to die as Muslims. Not only my family, but also many of my friends rejected me. Sometimes, the things I went through lay so heavily on me that many times a day when I thought about my situation, I felt weak and helpless, but I also felt that God was in control. Since the day of my conversion, I have learned what it means to trust God with my life. This takes a lot of faith, but I have learned to live on God's provision "day by day". Exodus 16 talks about how God provided for the Israelites day by day when they were in the desert. In the past, I used to think that the Israelites were being ungrateful for God's provision, but as I learned to live on God's provision day-by-day, I understood that, physically and emotionally, this is a difficult place to be. Yet, through it all, I have been thoroughly blessed spiritually.
A lot of people ask me if becoming a Christian has been worth it. I have asked myself the very same question many times. I love traveling, and I travel a lot. One day while driving alone to give an academic presentation at a national conference, I was trying to practice my talk. But my mind was focused on problems I was facing as a result of my conversion. Suddenly, my disappointments and my fatigue overwhelmed me. Then, I remembered a game (that helped me cope with difficulties) that I used to play a long time ago, a game based on 'dreaming'. When I was five, I was in my grandma's home for summer vacation. One morning, I woke up and found bubble gum all over my bed and on my face. I was pretty sure that my sister had done it. As a little girl, I used to think that my sister was responsible for all of the bad things in the entire universe. I called my aunt and started to complain about my sister. But she didn't listen to me. I think that she knew that my sister was not responsible for all of the bad things that happened in this universe, especially the ones related to me. She took me to the sink and started to clean me up. Angry with me, she spanked me a few times, saying that I wasn't supposed to go to bed with bubble gum. I kept telling her that I didn't chew gum, which was true. But she wasn't listening. It was obvious that we had a communication problem. Then, I stopped listening to her and started to try to make myself believe this was not real, that I was only dreaming. I wanted to wake up and find everything fine. But I didn't wake up. Years later, when my father died, I thought of this incident. As before, I tried to make myself believe that this was not real. In the morning, I was going to wake up, and Dad was going to be with us, and everything was going to be fine. But once again, I didn't wake up. So, that day when I was traveling to the academic conference, I thought, "Yep, this is a dream. I will wake up, the problems will be gone, and everything will be fine". Then, immediately, I realized that if I woke up, my faith would be gone too. I would lose my relationship with God. Suddenly I knew that it was worth going through all the problems I have. I would even be willing to endure a lot more in order to have my relationship with God through Christ.
My prayer for you is that you can experience the fullness of eternal life in Christ Jesus in your personal life.