Uncategorized

Playing with Fire

There’s a saying that most of marriage is shouting, ‘What?’ to each other from other rooms. If I weren’t reading this text message at such a serious moment in my marriage, I would have laughed at the tired relationship stereotype coming true, like leaving the toilet seat up or the inability to agree on a restaurant.

I repeat the immigration attorney’s text to my husband as I stand outside the bathroom of our Turkish apartment, my voice competing with the gushing shower head’s echo bouncing off the tiles. I had taken my first positive pregnancy test a few days earlier, and my hand inadvertently touches my stomach while I struggle to push down the anxiety creeping over my chest and up my neck.  

“He wrote,”—I take a deep breath to steady my voice—“‘You will most likely NEVER be able to immigrate to the United States.’” I stare at the glowing screen and the five capitalized letters. Each word from the attorney’s message punctuates the darkness of the hallway. The finality of the sentence chills the air despite the steam coming from the shower.

For the entirety of our relationship, my husband’s immigration process has attached itself like an extra appendage. It’s been an unwanted shadow following us everywhere we go. Marrying someone from a country banned from entering the U.S. meant finding ourselves thrown amid bureaucratic limbo. It meant being at the mercy of politicians who see others like chess pieces used for their advantage.

Resting my forehead against the bathroom door frame, I wonder why we can never feel joy with no other competing emotion. I think of the new life I’m carrying and of the celebratory calls made to my parents on the other side of the Atlantic. Grief always seems to thread itself over and under life’s happy moments.

With my eyes closed, I brace myself for a response from the shower. When there is none, I’m half-convinced he still hasn’t heard me but I know he has. The little shred of hope deflates from within us both and circles down the drain…continue reading on Coffee + Crumbs

I am so honored to have this essay chosen as the first place winner in Coffee + Crumbs Love After Babies contest.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Our Story

Rocking Chair Grief

“It’s because we don’t have a rocking chair,” I hiss at my husband, my voice coming out louder and meaner than I had intended. I turn my body away from him, declining any help to get our 7 month old back to sleep, the martyr complex in me going strong since 4:30 that morning. I’m fully aware the correlation doesn’t make any sense. The presence of a rocking chair next to her crib isn’t going to make her sleep perfectly through the night, but it’s the easiest and closest target for me to aim my frustration.

But not having a rocking chair is a symbol of the temporary state my husband, baby, and I are in. It’s a symbol of the things we’ve lost.

Since completing another (and hopefully final) security interview last fall, my husband’s immigration case has been pushed into something called “administrative processing”, a black hole for immigrants from banned countries listed under the Trump Administration’s travel ban. Between a plexiglass window, the officer sympathized but explained he had no control over the interview’s outcome. “It’s an order from Washington,” he had shrugged, pushing back our thick folder of official documents, wedding photos, and relationship affidavits while motioning for the next person in line.

As the swearing-in of a new administration inched closer, and with it, the promise of an immigration overhaul starting on day one, we continued to live in the short-term through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. It didn’t make sense to spend money on a new—and expensive and hard to find in Turkey—piece of furniture when, at any point, my husband may receive his visa to enter the U.S.

When we live in temporary permanence, it doesn’t make sense to buy a rocking chair or a bedside bassinet or deck out a nursery. It doesn’t make sense to spring for the fancy convertible car seat or to give the walls a fresh coat of paint. There’s the always-present possibility we’ll be leaving soon. Why waste the money now when we can use it in the U.S.? But as time marches forward and the calendar flips to another month and then another, we find ourselves wishing for that rocking chair, blaming the baby’s lack of sleep on its absence. It may seem like a silly thing to grieve over, but it highlights the things we’ve had to give up over the last four years.

There’s a term that’s been thrown around since entering into a worldwide pandemic called “ambiguous loss”, meaning any loss coming from an outside situation that is unclear and provides no closure. To varying degrees, we are all experiencing loss from the upset of what was once our regular routines. From the loss of jobs and loss of cultural celebrations and rituals to loss of relationships over politics and loss of dreams, we are all grappling with how to move forward when we are still in the middle of uncertainty. It is also important to note that for many of us, there is tangible loss as well. As the U.S. surpasses 400,000 COVID-19 deaths (my own family mourning the loss of a family member passing earlier this week), there is real grief to process. Like my husband’s immigration case, there is no finite ending to this, no timeline to follow.

One day short of a week into 2021, I looked at my phone to see a text from my mom telling me I should be watching the news right now. So we peeled ourselves out of bed, pushing the heavy quilt aside, and made our way to the living room, careful not to wake the baby who was (miraculously) sleeping deep that night. We scrolled our phones and looked on in horror as white supremacy stormed the Capitol. We were fearful but not shocked at the state of our country, sadden but not surprised at the state of the American church and its response.

Yesterday, over a carton of ice cream, we watched the Presidential Inauguration. I had apologized for my embarrassing outburst from earlier that morning, felt guilty for acting that way in front of our daughter, snuggled her for much longer than usual when putting her to bed, and curled up to my husband on the couch before diving into the pistachio ice cream. We woke up this morning with the news that the travel ban that was put into place four years ago was finally overturned. Many Iranians flooded the message boards with questions and speculations as to what will happen in the coming months. My husband and I speculate too. We allow ourselves to dream a little.

As a new president steps in, so many of us breathe a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps change is coming. Perhaps there is light. Perhaps there is hope.

When living in ambiguous grief, I don’t know what the proper ways are to deal with it. I’m sure there are articles and papers written by people much smarter than me that outline just that. If I had known we would still be living in Turkey after four years, I don’t know if I would have done anything differently. Maybe we would have bought a bassinet and the fancy car seat, but maybe not.

If you’re grappling with unnamed loss over this past year and feel like the world is on fire, then we are right there with you. Buy that rocking chair, or don’t. But all I can say is be sure to dive into a carton of ice cream and maybe not yell at your husband.

I’ll end with this lovely new year benediction from Author Sarah Bessey:

“May the God of compassion and open doors, be with us this coming year. 

Everything sad won’t come untrue this year and this year will hold its own tragedies and sorrows. We’ll relearn lament and fight for joy. May we show up with courage and faithfulness for our lives and our callings and our people. May we be restored and renewed even in exile. May the wilderness become our cathedral and our altar.

May we say good-bye to the things that do not serve us – the selfishness, the fear, the illusions of control, the bitterness, the doom-scrolling, the self-pity, the martyr complex, the us-and-them fire stokers – and say hello to wisdom, to kindness, to justice, curiosity, wonder, goodness, generosity, possibility, peace making. 

May we throw open the doors of our lives to the disruptive, wild, healing Holy Spirit. May this be a year of unclenched hands and new songs, of vaccines and reunions, of good food and some laughter, of kind endings and new beginnings. May we be given a mustard seed of faith, it will be enough to notice and name what you love in particular about your life as it stands. 

May 2021 bring you goodness and courage, hope and love, resilience and a hand to hold even on the nights with no stars”

Even when we find ourselves grieving over rocking chairs.

Photo by Elena Kloppenburg on Unsplash

Our Story, Uncategorized

Weary World Rejoice

This time of year the sun dawdles just below the horizon, drowsily rising at 8 AM. It hangs in the sky, yawning and stretching and covering itself with a blanket of clouds, its rays dim and hidden, only to slump below the horizon again at 5 PM.

An hour before the winter sunrise, I pad into the living room, the floor cool beneath my feet, fumbling for my slippers in the dark. There’s a baby on my hip and a portable space heater on the other. For the past week my daughter has consistently woken up past 7 AM (I’m totally jinxing this just by writing it out, I know), sleeping in for me but too early for the sun. Anxious for any semblance of a routine with a 6-month-old, I make it a point to plug in the Christmas tree lights first thing every morning. The string of lights illuminates the room, sending a smattering of colored circles across the walls. It’s quiet and dark in the house, and we watch the blinking tree for a while before I set her down on a quilt, plug in the heater, and start the coffee machine. Outside the streets are black and asleep. She coos into the silence.

2020 has stumbled forward at an awkward pace, vacillating between a dash and a drag. The last twelve months have brought up so much darkness bubbling just under the surface. No one has come out on the other side escaping cuts and bruises (some more than others). And in the nights that stretch longer and longer, minute by minute, the shortest day and longest night is fast approaching.

There’s a Persian holiday called Yalda Night (or Shab-e Cheleh), a celebration of the winter solstice on December 21st. Persians gather together, typically at the eldest family member’s home, once the sun sets, eating pomegranates, watermelon, and nuts, drinking tea, reading poems, and dancing into the early hours of the morning. It’s a way to pay tribute to the longest night of the year, knowing the next day will begin the slow walk to longer daylight—light’s victory over darkness.

In the Christian church, the liturgical season of Advent begins at the beginning of the month of December and ends on Christmas Eve. This time feels sacred because so much of it is steeped in waiting—something that has become so familiar to my family over the last few years. Advent is that messy and holy in-between where the night feels long and yet we know morning is coming.

In our little corner, grief and longing thread themselves among the holiday season. They do this time every year. My husband and I grieve over another year spent an ocean away from our families, raising a child in a place we did not choose. We long for my husband’s immigration process to move forward, the travel ban to be lifted. We find ourselves in the middle of the second wave of COVID restrictions in Turkey, with full weekend lockdowns, limited home gatherings, and daily curfews. We grieve over the sick and long for the health and safety of our friends and family. Layer upon layer of uncertainty cloaks our lives.

During the Christmas season, we wait for God made flesh, God who is already here. I also find myself waiting and hoping for peace and healing. I’d like to hope that as we enter a new year, we would begin again to welcome refugees and those fleeing their homes; we would extinguish the flames of racism and do the hard work of recognizing how white supremacy manifests in our own lives, acknowledging the ugly under belly of our nation; and we would listen and learn from marginalized communities and those who have felt unseen, unsafe, and unheard. I carry these prayers with me, for my own heart, into the coming new year—a clean slate, new mercies, a time to begin again.

So tomorrow, fresh after two days of complete lockdown, we will walk to my mother-in-law’s home down the road, carrying pomegranates and gifts. While COVID means our Christmas season will feel different, we look forward to introducing our daughter to Yalda Night, a pre-Christmas celebration, and hope for the day when all our family members can be together. We will celebrate the end of the lingering nights and welcome the start of longer, brighter days.

So, weary world, may we rejoice in a God who is familiar with the darkness and yet invites us and fills us with divine hope. Victory of light over darkness is coming. We know this because we know the end of the story. Let us come together this Christmas season, breathe a sigh of relief, and wait for the coming Light (and perhaps enjoy a pomegranate or two).


Photo by Pratiksha Mohanty on Unsplash

Our Story, Uncategorized

A Pandemic, a Travel Ban, an Overseas Birth Story

It’s 6 am and I’m already awake, laying on my side—the only position that feels half-way comfortable—when my water breaks. At least I think it’s my water. Truthfully, it feels like I peed my pants. There’s no poetic way to describe it. But something tells me this is not that, and I shift my weight slowly, like a turtle on its back, to look at my sleeping husband.

I lay like that for a while, letting the reality settle around me. The summer sun starts to filter in. A dog is barking somewhere in the neighborhood. But it’s eight days early, I think to myself. Everyone tells you you’ll go late with your first so I assumed I had more time. My mom is supposed to be here, is my second thought. She has all the swaddles, is my third. But she’s six thousand miles away and there are no flights because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and now we have no swaddles.

I silently rise from the bed and squeeze past the empty crib, making my way to the bathroom. No one tells you the water keeps coming, after you leave the bathroom, in the car to the hospital, waiting for the doctor to examine you. I wrap a towel around me while I walk through the house.

~~~

Throwing my hand on top of my husband’s shoulder, I laid most of my weight on him, trying to get myself to the empty chair on my mother-in-law’s balcony. My other hand held the bottom of my round stomach. We had just gone on a walk along the river, the June weather warm and breezy. People gathered on the grass, leaning against tree trunks, sipping hot tea. Covid restrictions be darned—nothing can stop Middle Easterners from picnicking in the summer.

Pregnancy had been easy, my body doing what the books said it was supposed to do, week by week, just a little bigger and a little more out of breath. Aside from that, things felt much the same—a saving grace when our life felt incredibly uncertain.

I heaved myself into the plastic chair and we all unwrapped our chicken dürüma common street food in Turkey. I propped up by feet, so swollen that it took work to slide off my sandals. Somewhere a woman shook out a heavy rug from her window. Thin swirls of smoke from the contraband picnics floated to the sky.

We joked that if the spicy chicken didn’t send me into labor that night, the full moon would.

~~~

I text my doula and my mom. They both confirm that, yes, it’s probably my water. I text a photo of the rising hot air balloons to my mom because they haven’t been in the sky since March. She texts back that I need to wake up my husband and tell him what’s going on.

Instead, I pour a cup of hot coffee and savor it on the couch in the silence of the living room.

I once read in a book somewhere a character described as someone with “complete assurance and more than a little recklessness.” I thought of my husband and that line has lived in my notes on my phone ever since. He is Persian through and through and I know exactly how he’d react to the news.

So I finish my cup of coffee first.

When I do tell him, with tears in my eyes, surprising myself with the sudden emotion, he cycles through every sort of reaction imaginable, like a thespian showing off their range in an audition. But for him, a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, it’s completely authentic. He’s upset for not telling him sooner. Then absolutely elated, shimming his hips and shoulders, snapping his fingers, and singing a made-up song. Then he’s on his knees, hands on my stomach, tears down his cheeks, praying for a safe delivery. We go through this cycle a couple more times before we get in the car.

~~~

We had been sitting across the table from each other once in the early days of dating, two cups of Turkish tea in tulip-shaped glasses in front of us, a street cat roaming under the table around our feet. It was during my second year teaching abroad and I hadn’t foreseen starting a relationship here—much less getting married and delivering my firstborn child.

“I have no grid in my brain to even begin to understand,” I had said to him, leaving my tea to cool and putting my hands in my lap, trying desperately to figure out this person in front of me, whose life had been so very different from my own. I didn’t know how to respond to his story of fleeing the only place he had ever called home due to the real threat of arrest, imprisonment–or death.

He had fiddled with the tiny sugar cube on the saucer for a moment before responding, “It’s because you’re an American; you’ve never had to think about what it’s like to be a refugee.”

~~~

My water broke but it wasn’t yet time for her to come. She still felt tucked up, hidden away inside me. The hour’s drive to the hospital, I felt much the same as I had the day before, although now wet and sitting on a towel. It was too early in the morning for the police checkpoints set up at the province border, usually there to take our temperature and verify we had the right papers.

The doctor confirms my body isn’t doing anything so Pitocin is started. Avoiding an induction was on the top of my birth plan, but with any birth and also the added layer of living in another country, things don’t always go as wished—a lesson I have spent years learning. My husband and I walk up and down the birthing unit’s hallway, dragging the IV drip behind like a dog on a leash. He makes light-hearted banter with the nurses. A hospital worker puts a wooden laser cut design of our baby’s name on the front of our door.

The contractions begin slowly and build up in strength, coming over me like waves, one on top of the other. I assume my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, but the nurses check and it’s not. The contractions come too hard and too fast so I ask for an epidural. 

Afterwards, I carefully bounce on a birthing ball and resume slowly walking up and down the hallway, grasping at the wall’s hand rail, my legs heavy and numb. We eat lunch and dinner in our room and I remember breezily asking my doula if eating now will make me throw up later. We flip through the television channels to pass the time and land on the Turkish version of Animal Planet.

But hours later the epidural wears off and the sharp waves come back. I ask for another dose but my body still hasn’t progressed much. The doctor comes back. It’s late at night and I find myself wondering where she has been. Has she come from her house and family? She’s worried because my water had been broken for over twelve hours. The baby is stressed. She brings up the real possibility of a c-section.

~~~

Early 2017, we’d been engaged for just a few months and began to dream of what a wedding in the US might look like. But then there was an administration change and a man who campaigned on strict immigration restrictions was sworn in. Seven days later, he signed an executive order to ban travelers from seven countries, Iran included. 

Our dreams of a US wedding quickly crumbled and we recalibrated our plans—something we would be doing often over the next four years. The door to the future we had dreamed about was slammed shut. Turkey grudgingly became our home and now the place we would start our family.

~~~

Someone catches my vomit in a plastic bag. Sorry, again, there’s no poetic way to describe that. A c-section is imminent. The doctor keeps saying the baby is stressed, and my doula sifts through the awkward curtain of translating from one language to another to try to understand what the doctor means.

The operating room is cold and white and no outside people are allowed in, one of the hospital’s extra precautions against Covid. But my husband charms the nurses and they bend the rules for him. He’s seated near my head. We lock eyes and I’m grateful to have him there in a sea of nurses and doctors who are speaking in a language I barely understand.

She’s cut out of me and she screams. Her cheek is brought next to mine and I crane to kiss her before she’s taken away to be cleaned.

My first words were to my husband: There was an actual baby in there! And second: I’m never doing that again. Although even in the moment, I know I don’t mean it.

~~~

She’s a copy of her dad, dark hair, long lashes, eyes the color of copper. No one says she looks like me. No matter though. For nine months I housed her, grew her, kept her safe.

My parents are eventually able to fly across the ocean to meet their new granddaughter. My mom makes casseroles and muffins, does loads of laundry, and walks a fussy newborn. I’ll be forever thankful to have my mom by my side while I took my first wobbly steps into motherhood. Also, she brought the swaddles.

Our baby gets her US citizenship at two weeks old. My husband accidentally rips the corner of her birth certificate trying to get out her passport from the manila envelope. It means a lot to him, this small blue book. Already her future is better than what his own passport could provide. A refugee, a man who crossed borders, fled his home, had everything taken away from him so he could make a better future, whose daughter is a US citizen.

The nurses call her yeni kuş and fındık, the Turkish words for baby bird and hazelnut. My Iranian family calls her zendegeearoosak, and jigaram, the Farsi words for life, mini-bride, and my liver (yes, liver). The neighborhood aunties dote and gurgle and shower her with mashallahs, always tut-tutting at me for not keep her warm enough.

She coos and I call her my little dove. She smiles a hundred times a day and I call her my sunshine girl.

We name her Esther after Esther of the Old Testament, a Jewish woman living in exile, becoming a queen, saving her people. Esther, bold and courageous, standing up for truth and fighting for the good of others.

Our Esther was born to a refugee and a US citizen, in neither’s home country, amid a travel ban and an impossible immigration process, during a pandemic. Already she is strong and brave.

She is our star, a bright spot in the dark, joy in the middle of a whole lot of hardship, made for such a time as this. We are so happy she’s here.

Our Story

Shake with Joy, Shake with Grief

We shake with joy, we shake with grief. 
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.

Mary Oliver, Evidence

I lay next to her on the couch, exhausted and out of patience from making endless laps around the living room coffee table in a half glide and half bounce walk, hoping to crack the code to putting an infant down to sleep. It didn’t work, and now, surrendering to her nap strike, we lay next to each other, both awake. I think most definitely I’ve reached 10,000 steps just in this room or, at the very least, have worked my glutes from all that half gliding. The curtains blow lazily, catching onto the arm of the couch, letting through dappled afternoon light across the upholstery. My open palm is an inch from her face as she uses all of her ten fingers to stretch my picky in one direction and my thumb in the other. Her eyes are crossed and lips pursed in an intense focus on this new skill. Head resting on my free arm, I tiredly hum the melody to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” despite it being early November. For some odd reason, sad Christmas songs and three specific tracks on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack are the only things that stop her fussing. The irony of the lyrics to this holiday tune, though, don’t escape me as I lazily hum something that’s between a fingers-crossed wish and a sort-of-prayer.

We’ve said a lot of sort-of-prayers lately, tiny little requests that seep between our fingers covering our mouths, stopping before the whole dream gets out. They are bashful whispers said to each other out on the balcony after our daughter sleeps for the night. Do you think it will happen? Will we finally get to leave? Afraid to say these secret things too loudly and ruin everything.

If you have been following this little corner of the internet for any amount of time, you will know that this weekend my family and I rejoiced. Four years ago, we were thrust into the choppy waters of uncertainty while the president chose to sign an executive order just days after his inauguration that would bar my husband, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law from living in the United States. The doors closed and the walls closed in too, as my husband’s precarious refugee status threatened to separate him from our baby and me at any point. We watched in horror as my home country became a place that no longer welcomed the world’s most vulnerable but instead proudly waved the flag of “me first” policies, shockingly backed by Evangelical Christians.

Tuesday on, my husband and I glued ourselves to the television and the smartphones in our hands despite the empty promises to ourselves to curb our media ingestion. In true 2020 fashion, I was sure Wednesday would bring more sad, hard news. But today, we exhale, realizing we’ve been holding our breaths for the last four years.

A quick phone call came from my teary mom in the U.S. on Saturday evening telling me “They’ve called it.” I repeated “They’ve called it” to my husband in the office, who repeats “They’ve called it” to his brother in Norway on video chat. We both end our calls, rush to the television, and break out the celebratory ice cream.

So many of us are breathing that collective sigh of relief right now. It’s been beautiful to see videos of people spontaneously dancing and singing in the streets. It’s special to read messages from refugees in Turkey who are feeling a surge of hope for the first time in four years. God has finally heard our cries, they write. There is hope my home country can be a place of safety for my family and opportunities for my daughter and all girls. We shout also for our friends and neighbors because so much of what happens in the U.S. inevitably flows to the rest of the world. 

The president-elect is not a savior—although, perhaps, it’s easy to slide into that mentality. As believers, we don’t put all our hope in the leaders of our county. The kingdom of heaven has not yet reached its full expression. But we can celebrate and then hold the new administration, who promises to uphold immigrants, Black and brown folks, and marginalized communities, accountable for putting justice and humanity first.

Like the flicker of a cat’s tail, the leaves outside the window shake with the advent of winter. We shake too, for joy and grief. Nothing has changed with my husband’s immigration status, of course. We are still waiting, still living in limbo. He is still a refugee with no claim to a country. But that dread in the pit of our stomachs has eased a little.

I sing the words to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” to a nap-striking baby, whose now fully awake, babbling away on the couch. The song is a secret half-prayer that may or may not come true this year, but we can begin to dream a little more confidently about the next. So we look ahead. There are babies to be put down for naps, and dishes to wash, and congresspeople to write, and stories from the marginalized to hear and share.

So shake with joy today. But shake with grief, too, for there is much work to be done.


What we can do now to hold accountable the Biden administration: Amnesty International, a global movement that helps fight human rights abuses worldwide, has put together a list of priorities for the new administration. Familiarize yourself with their eleven different policy recommendations, especially asylum access, persecuted populations, and U.S. killings of Black people, as these are great talking points when contacting congresspeople. There’s a free pdf as well with additional resources.