The Defiant Act of Putting Down Roots

As I sit here writing this, I’m on our balcony off the kitchen. The school kids are breaking for recess and kicking around a soccer ball, their shrieks coming from the middle school across the street. I have laundry pinned to the line – linens and pillowcases. The October noontime sun is strong enough to dry them quickly. The fall weather has come to Turkey but the concrete sides of our apartment building still radiate the heat of the day.

This month marks five years of living in Turkey.

In 2014, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket in hand, leaving behind the flat prairie lands of the upper Midwest, my family, friends, and most of what was familiar to me, and traded it for dry arid weather, a new community, and something called fairy chimneys (yeah, I didn’t know what they were either). What was supposed to be a one-year teaching gig in a foreign country turned into five.

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It’s weird and insignificant but one of the things I get joy from is looking at the weekly ad circulars with my husband. My mom sends them to us tucked into her care packages. It’s a silly ritual the two of us do together because it reminds us of home. Flipping through the Target and Kohls ads that have traveled across the ocean is a glimpse into life beyond Turkey. It means looking forward. Planning. We do the same with homes on Zillow and things on Facebook Marketplace. It shows that one day we might build a life outside of Turkey.

To us, it’s a strange little symbol of hope.

But what if we cannot, at least for the foreseeable future, make a home in the US? What if, due to politics and bans and greed and misplaced fear, we cannot leave where we are? How do we put down roots when we don’t want to?

Making a home amid waiting is tricky.

Look at this way: If I invited you to sit in a chair pulled up to a desk for the next six hours, what would you do? You have six hours so you’d probably open your laptop and get some work done. Maybe answer some emails. Watch a movie, work on a hobby, read a book. You’d be productive.

What if instead, I invited you to sit in a chair pulled up to a desk for the next five minutes? What would you do? It’s just five minutes so you’d probably stare at the wall. Drum your fingers on the desk. Gaze out the window. You’d wait.

Making a home in the midst of waiting is tricky.

Then what if, after the five minutes were up, I came back and said, “Sorry, sorry. Please sit for just five more minutes.” You’d wait again. What’re another five minutes? And again. And again. Until those five minutes have turned into six wasted hours.

It’s hard to make a home when you’re in prolonged waiting. It makes the heart sick.

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Marrying someone who has refugee status meant finding myself thrown amid bureaucratic limbo. It meant being at the bend and will of politicians who see others like pieces on a chessboard – to be moved, jumped over, kicked off – for their own advantage. The powers-that-be forced us to hit the pause button on life, to waste those five minutes over and over again, to live indefinitely in the temporary.

We don’t feel like we have much control over anything.

But what if there was one thing we could control? What if we could shift our mindset from a temporary-bags packed-we’ll be gone in five minutes- way of thinking to something more settled? Solid? Home?

Marrying someone who has refugee status meant finding myself thrown in the midst of bureaucratic limbo. It meant being at the bend and will of politicians who see others like pieces on a chessboard – to be moved, jumped over, kicked off – for their own advantage.

What if deciding to make a home right where we are was the ultimate act of defiance against the forces keeping us in the temporary? What if deciding to put down our suitcases and put down roots right where we are meant we have some semblance of control over our lives?

There’s a certain freedom in realizing we have a choice to make our current place home.  It won’t be forever, but for now. My arms are big enough to hold on tightly to our dream of one day moving to the US in one arm and cultivate rootedness in the other – even if it’s temporary.

Are you in a place where you are reluctant to put down roots?

Trying to make a home while living in a state of limbo is a messy thing. But we can thrive, strive, and take our unwanted situation and build on it. We can take the dirt surrounding us and press our roots down deep, just a little. And maybe something wonderful will grow.

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Home for me is pretty ambiguous these days. It’s transient. But being in this state of prolonged uncertainty for so many years has widened my definition:

Home is adding one more book to an already packed bookshelf.
Home is nailing picture frames to the wall (when we’re sure the landlords are gone).
Home is watching the potted plants grow and bloom.
Home is the two little painted wooden houses dangling on a string in the kitchen.
Home is a soft place to land. Safe, secure, welcoming.
Home is temporary; it changes, and flows, and exists through everything.

How would you define “home”?

Putting down roots in a place I don’t want to is sanctifying me, preparing me, and cultivating fruit in me. God’s not wasting this time. I don’t want to either.

I thought about trying to tie this all back to something about how, for believers, the earth is not our home because our eternal home is in heaven *insert cute little bible verse here*. But honestly? That’s not where my heart is at the moment. It isn’t easy to decide to let the roots start growing. It isn’t easy to juggle both the present and the future.

I still have that itch to get out of here. Believe me, Turkey is not home. But if I don’t embrace where I am right now and trust God is carefully holding my dreams, I’ll be terribly itchy.

So how do I embrace a life that is forcing us to be stationary? Maybe it has to do with the little things, like putting up photos, organizing knickknacks, and planting gardens. I don’t really know for sure yet. But I know for the health of my soul and sanity I need to keep pressing deep into the dirt and letting the roots grow, just a little, just for a while. I’m sure we will figure it out…right after we check Zillow one more time.

 

How to Make Persian Sesame Brittle

This recipe is adapted from Nejmeh Batmanglij’s cookbook, Joon: Persian Cooking Made Simple.

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On my recent trip home to North Dakota, I was gifted a beautiful Persian cookbook by my brother-in-law. I’m so excited to cook through it and learn even more delicious meals.

My mom and I decided to try making this sesame brittle, or shirini konjedi (literally: sesame candy) as it’s called in Farsi. It was so simple and came together quickly and easily! I found myself meandering back to my parents’ pantry throughout the day to sneak a few pieces.

This brittle is tasty on its own but it’s normally eaten alongside a glass of black tea (try brewing your own Persian chai here). My mom served the brittle with a bowl of ice cream to some recent guests, which I want to try the next time I make this.

The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of sesame seeds – much more than the little packs available in the spice aisle. You can certainly load up on multiple packs, but my mom found her sesame seeds in the bulk section of our local grocery store and was able to get an exact amount for a good price.

I hope you try this sweet and easy little snack!

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INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons rose water*
1 1/2 cups raw sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

METHOD:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In a medium heavy-bottomed pot, stir together all the ingredients.
  3. Over medium heat, bring mixture to a light simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Let the mixture cook for about 20 minutes or until the sesame seeds have turned a light golden brown, stirring every few minutes.
  5. Working quickly, pour mixture over the parchment paper and smooth out into an even layer with a greased spatula or spoon. It will begin to harden fast.
  6. Let the brittle set at room temperature for about 30 minutes.**
  7. Once hardened, break the brittle into small pieces.

RECIPE NOTES:
*Rosewater is optional but I highly recommend including it. It pairs really well with the warming spices.
**After 30 minutes of setting, my mom and I felt that our brittle was still soft, so we stuck the entire baking sheet into the fridge for another 20 minutes or so. This helped harden up the brittle so that it cracked easily.

Persian carrot jam

Other Delicious Recipes:
How to Make a Simple and Refreshing Persian Salad
How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves: Persian Dolma (Dolmeh Barge Mo)
Easy Carrot Jam | How to Make Persian “Morabaye Haveej”
How to Make Persian Potato Patties | “Kookoo Sibzamini”
How to Make Persian Chai

They Should Come the Legal Way

It’s frustrating to see the dismantling of the US’s refugee program, to see this administration gradually take it apart, piece by piece, quietly in the backdrop of other pressing matters.

While the US president boasts of new religious freedom initiatives, the travel ban is still in place, effectively and indefinitely preventing seven countries from entering the US, calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of billions of people. It’s been like this for two and a half years. The number of refugees being admitted into the US this next year is predicted to be set at zero, which will hurt the most at-risk persecuted Christians.

Piece by piece. Gradually. Quietly.

What has been the most frustrating is American Evangelicals’ response to the sojourner, the stranger, the refugee: “Well, they should come the legal way.”

They should come the legal way.

A rich reply coming from people living in a prosperous country, in the comforts of a saturated society, in the warmth of a stable home, behind a laptop, holding a microphone, in front of a podium, sitting in the White House.

They should come the legal way.

This response is from people who hold no concept of what it’s like to be a threat to your government because of your beliefs, because of your mere existence. No idea of what it feels like to never return to your home for fear of being tortured, persecuted, arrested, raped, or killed.

This response is from people who don’t know what it’s like to walk down the streets of their hometown, past their old elementary school, past the neighborhood market and see bodies hanging from cranes. They do not know what it’s like to clutch their toddler and lay flat in a ditch, eyes squeezed shut, comforting the tiny whimpers, praying for the air-raid sirens to stop. They don’t know what it’s like to meet with other Christians in secret, always changing locations so as not to draw any attention, removing SIM cards from phones, and wrapping bibles in newspaper.

We like to think the legal way to immigrate to the US is to fill out some paperwork, get in line, and wait patiently for your name to be called. That’s reasonable enough, right? To get in line like the rest of them?

And yet the legal way means running away from the jaws of a chomping shark that used to be your home. It means facing concrete barriers you have no choice but to try to climb over. It means carrying the trauma of persecution and years of oppression into interview after interview. Presenting your case in front of callous officers, reliving the nightmare each time, trying to convince them your story is true when their only goal is to look for any inconsistency, any excuse to deny you.

The legal way involves paperwork and a line but there is no line. It’s broken and stopped and nobody can move. When your home is the chomping jaws of a bloodthirsty shark, you cannot wait any longer because waiting breeds madness. 

With this administration, the legal way involves more and more concrete barriers, more and more hoops to jump through. But what all it really boils down to is that the refugee’s skin is a few shades too dark and he carries a passport with the wrong birth country.

When your home is the chomping jaws of a bloodthirsty shark, you cannot wait any longer because waiting breeds madness.

They should come the legal way. They should know English and have professional skills but not too many skills because we don’t want them taking our jobs. They should come from really traumatic situations but not too traumatic because we want them to be able to assimilate and function in our society. But God forbid they arrive with nothing and have to rely on the government and taxpayers’ dollars. They should be able to stand on their own two feet. They should make something of themselves. They should overcome all odds but they better not complain about this country because they should be grateful they’re here. They should…They should…They should.

Our brains like to simplify the things we don’t understand, to reduce a truly complicated topic down to the bare bones. And when life happens outside of our own world, it’s easy for us to keep everything at an arm’s distance. Our minds don’t have the grid to understand suffering and trauma when we’ve lived and breathed in a country soaked in convenience and comfort. But we need to try to understand.

We have a president who boasts of his strong Christian faith – who reads the Bible more than anybody (but nevermind he is thrice-married and doesn’t need to ask for forgiveness) – and yet he is doing all he can to stop refugees from entering the US. We have a president who perpetuates fear, using erroneous words like “infest”, “flood”, “hoards”, and “illegals” to describe refugees and asylum seekers. We have an administration that, in words, identifies as pro-life, but in action does everything it can to dehumanize, criminalize, and erase the oppressed.

Our minds don’t have the grid to understand suffering and trauma when we’ve lived and breathed in a country soaked in convenience and comfort. But we need to try to understand.

The United States is a country of plenty. We have protection and stability and safety and opportunities. We have the freedom to practice our faith or no faith. We have the freedom to speak out against the problems in our country, to stand up against injustices and violations.

We can also be a nation of refuge and humanity. We can support politicians who see the value and inherent worth in immigrants and take steps to tear down walls and help to streamline the immigration process so those fleeing their homes can come legally.

The next time we come across news articles about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers may we never respond with “Well, they should come the legal way” because they are trying to. But instead, to stop and think and respond biblically, extending compassion to our fellow image-bearers of God.

We can be pro-security and pro-compassion. They can go hand-in-hand because one of the holiest of sacraments is welcoming the stranger.

They should come the legal way? That’s a nice thought, but that’s not the point.

How to Make a Simple and Refreshing Persian Salad

This simple and refreshing Persian salad is a great way to use up those fresh summer vegetables and makes a tasty light side dish to any meal!

Here’s how to say “salad” in Farsi: sahlahd (hint: it’s pronounced like the English word “salad” just spoken a little more slowly and more drawn out. Look at you, speaking Farsi already!).

Tomatoes and cucumbers are a staple at any Middle Eastern table for any meal. Diced up along with onion and dried mint makes for a delicious addition to any lunch or dinner.

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It’s super simple to make; I even felt a little silly writing out the directions because it’s so straightforward. It’ll pair well with really anything, but I suggest: How to Make Persian Potato Patties | “Kookoo Sibzamini”. 

Alright, here’s how to put it all together!

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INGREDIENTS

2 English cucumbers, diced small
1 large heirloom tomato, diced small
1 small red onion, diced small
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp dried mint
pinch of salt

METHOD

1. Place diced cucumbers, tomato, and onion in a bowl
2. Drizzle lemon juice, olive oil, and vinegar over the vegetables
3. Sprinkle the dried mint and salt and mix everything together
4. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (2 – 4 hours is best)

MORE DELICIOUS RECIPES:
How to Make Persian Chai
How to Make Persian Potato Patties | “Kookoo Sibzamini”
Easy Carrot Jam | How to Make Persian “Morabaye Haveej”
How to Make Stuffed Grape Leaves: Persian Dolma (Dolmeh Barge Mo)

Persian carrot jam (1)

Embracing the Poetry of Fruit Picking and Other Ordinary Summer Things

On her tiptoes, she reaches high above her head and grasps onto a branch heavy with mulberries. Pulling down the tree limb, my mother-in-law picks off a handful of the fruit and reaches her arm behind herself to offer them to us, her eyes staying fixated on the tree. She searches for more ripe berries before moving on to the neighboring apricot tree.

“Are you sure this is okay?” I whisper, peeking into the yard to check for residents before popping a mulberry into my mouth. The juice leaves behind a dark purple stain on my fingertips and lips.

My husband swears to me this is a perfectly ordinary thing to do in Turkey – picking the fruit off the trees that drape over the stone walls of a stranger’s home. He splits an apricot in half and offers it to me. I stealthily pop it into my mouth.

Down the street, a group of village ladies turns the corner, chattering among themselves and dressed in classic Turkish granny attire: floral patterned baggy pants connected at the ankles, contrasting floral headscarves knotted under their chins, crocheted too-hot-for-summer-weather vests, and wooden walking canes. Armed with plastic bags, they pause on the road in front of a house and begin plucking grape leaves entwined around a metal arbor gate.

Following my gaze towards the women, my husband raises his eyebrows at me and gives me a knowing smile, a vindication of our participation in illicit fruit picking.  See? I told you.

Summer in Turkey opens its arms to a more meditative approach to the ordinary stuff of life. It invites us to pay fierce attention to everyday tasks: hanging dripping laundry on the clothesline, meeting family and friends for picnics by the river, the cool breeze whispering through the olive branches, and, of course, picking fresh fruit off of trees.

God oftentimes seems loudest in the summer season, when the world around us is bursting into life. We see the wild generosity of our Father as he splashes across the canvas vibrant emerald green, coral, turmeric, and sky blue.

But sometimes the shock of a screaming summer can be overwhelming. What if it’s hard to find joy in the summer? What if God speaks but it’s not the words we’re wanting to hear?

Beginning with our decision to move homes last November, my husband and I have felt God placing a different call in our hearts: Be here. Live here. Forget the timeline. Trust me here. 

Shifting our mindset from the short term – suitcases just an arm’s length away, eating off rented dishware, and one foot out of Turkey, ready to leave at a moments notice – to the long-term – moving homes, potting flowers, investing in furniture, planting our feet on the ground – is hard.

When all we want to do is to just get out of Turkey, when all our prayers are shouting, “How long more?”, God is asking us to embrace this season.

So we do, begrudgingly.

Shoulders slack. Feet dragging.

It turns out, faith doesn’t always come easily in the summer season.

With the refugee numbers predicted to be set at zero and my husband’s case changing from “processing” to “suspended”, we’re stumbling out of the loss and surrender winter brought, our eyes squinting into the blazing Turkish sun. We’re still holding the heavy silence of the colder months, the cycle of letting go and waiting, letting go and waiting. The summer is too hot and too loud.

Be here. Live here. Forget the timeline. Trust me here. 

This is a season to yield to summer’s embrace, to wrap our arms around the frenzied kindness and grace of God.

So we find the poetry in picking fruit, in hanging laundry, in learning how to make Turkish coffee from the downstairs neighbors, in the smell of the wet grass by the river, in the chopping up of vegetables fresh from the garden, in getting a Turkish driver’s license, and planning to start a family.

Maybe stillness and simplicity is God’s voice to us. Maybe his scent is the ordinary things of life: the sharp crunch of fresh dill, charcoal from chicken cooking on a mangal, cigarettes and black tea from the Turkish grandpas gathered outside the tea shops. Maybe God’s inviting us to slow down, seek him, embrace, surrender.

I don’t know when we’ll leave Turkey. I trust God has a plan. I hold fast to that. It’s a simple dream I constantly nurse in the palm of my hands. It’s still the heartbeat of my prayers.

But it’s summer. The sun blazes in cloudless skies. The magpies sing outside my bedroom window. The sunflowers in my neighbor’s yard raise their faces to the heavens. There’s fruit to pick and fingers to stain.

I gather the apricots hanging off the tree into my motorbike helmet, filling it to the top with the little yellow fruit. The village ladies have moved on, their plastic bags bursting with grape leaves, ready to make fresh dolma. My husband throws into his mouth one more mulberry and we walk back home. For dessert later that night, we enjoy sweet apricot crisp.

Be here. Live here. Forget the timeline. Trust me here.