Resources

3 (more) Books to Help Understand Immigration and the Global Refugee Crisis

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The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You
By Dina Nayeri
(Nonfiction)

As a child, Nayeri was forced to flee her home country of Iran because her mother was a Christian—a crime punishable by fines, arrest, imprisonment, and death. Nayeri details their harrowing and heartbreaking flight through several different countries, accounting what it was like to be a child growing up without a home and living in limbo. Several other refugee stories are interwoven into Nayeri’s memoir as well. Due to the subject at hand and how intensely personal it was for me, finishing the book left me in a sort of book hangover for a while, and I found myself needing to take a break from reading anything afterward. This is a powerful story that looks intimately into the psychology of a refugee. Get your pencils ready; you’ll find yourself underlining a lot.

Notable Quote: “We drift from the safe places of our childhood. There is no going back. Like stories, villages and cities are always growing or fading or melding into each other. We are all immigrants from the past, and home lives inside the memory, where we lock it up and pretend it is unchanged.”

91+UbXN-oaLThe Beekeeper of Aleppo
By Christy Lefteri
(Fiction)

Nuri, a beekeeper by trade, lives a simple and quiet life with his wife and young son in Aleppo, Syria. As the war rips his country, family, and livelihood apart, Nuri and his wife make the difficult decision to leave behind all they have ever known and become one of the millions of displaced Syrians.

I picked up this book on a whim during an airport layover after the title and cover caught my eye. While Nuri’s story is fictional, it represents the voices of the millions who bear the title ‘refugee’ and a heartbreaking yet realistic depiction of the refugee’s experience. There are definitely disturbing parts of this book, but it is a must-read story that is stunningly emotional and thought-provoking.

Notable Quote: “I wish I could escape my mind, that I could be free of this world and everything I have seen in the last few years. And the children who have survived – what will become of them? How will they be able to live in this world?”

51YBMz37y1L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible, and the Journey to Belong
By Karen Gonzalez
(Religion/Theology)

We need more books on immigration written by immigrants. Gonzalez does just that as she recounts her family’s flight out of Guatemala to California and Florida. Partly an autobiography, partly a Bible study, and partly on United States’ immigration policies, The God Who Sees puts a much- needed face to statistics through both modern-day and Biblical stories of displacement.

Using Biblical scripture, Gonzalez issues a plea for the Western Church to open its eyes to the plight of immigrants in the US and to treat refugees and asylum seekers as Jesus has commanded. This book is a great start to diving into the immigration issues that are so pressing today.

Notable Quote: “When we talk about immigrants and immigration we are always talking about people who matter deeply to God. We are talking about people made in the image of God—people like Hagar and my abuelita.”

 

Check out seven other books to read on the Global Refugee Crisis here.

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The Good Luck Mug

If you ever come to our home, you’ll probably be greeted with a cup of tea no matter the season. Admittedly, not by me—I’m still learning the art of tea-making—but by my husband. And don’t expect the instant tea-bag-dunked-in-hot-water kind. No, you will be given slowed-brewed Persian chai—black tea leaves with hints of cinnamon and cardamom, steeped all morning over a low open flame on the stove.

And there might be a chance you’ll reach into the kitchen cabinet for a glass and unknowingly grab the red mug. It’s a small, stout ceramic cup, half-submerged in vermillion red paint, half left as natural clay. We have a green and blue one too. They’re handmade by a Turkish potter, getting his clay from the river running through our town, spinning them on his wheel and firing them in his kiln down the street.

But the red mug? That’s our good luck mug.

It’s called that not because it mystically brings years of good fortune and success to the drinker (at least not that we know of). It’s not because it’s pretty and unique—and it is, made locally and one-of-a-kind. There isn’t one like it. Even its siblings who sit quietly in a row on the store shelf all look slightly different from each other upon closer inspection.

It’s called our good luck mug because it has cracks—actually, a lot of cracks. Actually, the handle has been broken off and glued back together three different times in four different places. There are thick clumps of dried superglue oozing out of the broken areas and little paint chips sprinkled around the rim. ‘Good luck’ in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way because the glued-on handle has, on more than one occasion, slowly and melodramatically separated from the rest of the mug while in use.

Life holds a lot of cracks, doesn’t it?

Our miserable-looking mug, in all its fractures and pitiful glue attempts, brings to mind the stories of grief we all carry, how life has the power to crack us wide open. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t shouldering a rucksack of grief—past or present, big or small, seen or hidden. At the moment, we are all living in the same state of cracks as we experience a global pandemic, and with that brings in worry for high-risk loved ones, disappointment from canceled plans, and the loss of any sense of normalcy.

My husband and I have experienced ongoing grief before; this feeling isn’t new to us. It wasn’t just one defining moment or one break down the middle, but a series of blows and burials of dreams. We haven’t seen much come to fruition, or at least not many prayers answered in ways we had hoped. Any appearance of control we thought we possessed has been jostled out of our hands. Add on to that a pandemic, living in a foreign country, and the upcoming birth of our first child and our stress has been turned up one too many notches.

On a macro-level, we are all enduring the world turning upside down. And with that, there’s been a lot of online content lately written by well-meaning people who are trying to be encouraging during this time of heightened uncertainty. In a benevolent effort to ease the discomfort of quarantine and social distancing, there has been a flood of to-do lists, checklists, advice, and examples of productive routines infiltrating our inboxes. Get up early, exercise every day, bake bread, organize the junk drawer, write letters, zoom in meetings, get creative, be grateful, find a new normal.

But coming from someone who has had prolonged uncertainty as a constant sidekick for the past three years, let me be the first to tell you that you don’t have to do any of that. It’s too much pressure when the world feels a little too shaky. When tomorrow is shadowed in the unknown, sometimes we need to survive before we think about thriving. Often, it is more essential to acknowledge how we feel for a little awhile before we choose all the “shoulds” thrown our way.

This grief—a crack on the handle here, a chip around the rim there—can teach us the importance of holding space. In her book, The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp suggests, “Maybe wholeness is embracing brokenness as part of your life.” And when life throws a curveball, like an outbreak of a novel virus, we hold on to hope, which cannot be held on to without a few cracks. Grief, cracks, wholeness, and hope. They’re the ingredients to a recipe for fertile and holy ground. Welcome it.

If your good luck mug has cracks like mine—perhaps from the strange state of the world or from something else entirely—hold space for it. Don’t take sandpaper to it and buff out the discomfort by way of routines and productivity just yet. Identify the grief you’re feeling. Look for the growth among the cracks. Doing so can make way for wholeness. Joy and grief can be felt simultaneously. Imperfections and beauty can live side-by-side. And know this: the cracks are not fragile despite their appearance. They are being held together tightly by the Potter, the one who created the mug, the one who sees, who resurrects, who makes all things new.

When life feels unresolved and the threads of simply being are left untied, come to our house—you’ll be in like-minded company. Pull up the comfy chair, the one over there in the corner with the throw pillows. We’ll offer you that good, Middle Eastern chai. Choose the ramshackle cup with the crimson red paint and embrace both the defects and beauty. Hold space for grief in this time of uncertainty. Trust that the cracks will lead to light.

And, while I cannot prove this for sure, I’m almost certain everything tastes just a little bit better and a little bit sweeter in that good luck mug.

Recipes

How to Make Persian Yogurt Dip | “Mast-o Khiar”

With the weather warming up in Turkey, we have naturally changed our dinners to reflect the changing weather. Less on the heavy, hot dishes, more on the light and refreshing. This includes a Persian staple: mast-o khiar – which, if my Farsi is correct, translates to yogurt with cucumbers.

If you’ve ever tasted Greek tzatziki sauce, this is similar but, thanks to the addition of dried mint and dill, (and some really fun toppings), it feels a little more elevated.

Mast-o khiar can be used as a dip for fresh veggies and bread, as a sauce over salad or meat, or eaten straight from the bowl by the spoonful. Persians use yogurt during mealtimes to cool down spicy foods, balance out any richness, and cleanse their palates.

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In this recipe, I used a mixture of plain full-fat Greek yogurt and a fat-free yogurt because it’s what I had in my fridge. Although Persian yogurt tastes much different than Greek – my mother-in-law makes her own – I want to keep things simple here. You can use whatever plain yogurt you’d like but a thicker one is best. We’re adding cucumbers, which are pretty watery so the yogurt will thin out a bit anyway.

The addition of dill and mint is a must! If you’d like to go all out and use fresh herbs, go for it (a 3:1 ratio is a good rule of thumb if you’re going to go this route). But I like to keep things easy and accessible so dried works really well here. There are tons of options for toppings (walnuts, raisins, dried rose petals, more dried mint, more fresh cucumber) and really adds to the dish. I’d suggest picking at least two to try.

Mast-o khiar pairs great with my Persian salad and Persian potato patties.  There! Make all three and you’ve got yourself a great refreshing meal – not too late to celebrate the Persian New Year, Nowruz.

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Persian Yogurt Dip: Mast-o Khiar

INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups yogurt
1-2 medium cucumbers, finely diced (you should end up with about 1/2 – 3/4 cup total)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp dried mint
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Golden raisins (optional)
Walnuts, chopped (optional)
Dried rose petals (optional)

METHOD:

 1. In a mixing bowl, combine yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill, mint, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
2. Transfer to a serving dish, if you’re feeling fancy. Sometimes I just mix and serve everything directly from the yogurt container. If you’re not serving right away, keep it refrigerated – it’ll taste even better the longer it sits.
3. Just before serving, add toppings. Yogurt dip can keep in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Nooshe-jan!

Other Delicious Recipes:
How to Make Persian Sesame Brittle
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

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Ode to the Soul Weary

The low heat rises from the radiator and into the palms of my hands flat against the grate. Rubbing the sleep from eyes, I return my glasses back on the bridge of my nose and take an extra minute to look out the window.

There’s magic in the early mornings; it took me a while to realize this. There’s something special in the quiet moments just before the sun rises. It doesn’t come from the feeling of productivity – getting up early only to begin crossing things off a to-do list. No, there’s no magic in sitting in front of a bright screen, answering emails before dawn. It doesn’t come from waking up first, before the rest of the household, before the energetic sounds of kitchen cupboards closing, showers running, yawns, coffee cups, and dishes.

The magic of rising early in the morning lies in the fact that the outside world has yet to start. The earth’s groanings, all the stress and uncertainty she carries on her back, is still pushed down below the horizon line along with the sun. It’s hidden behind the mountains, and for one sacred hour each day, I can pretend the earth is at peace with herself because for once there are no screaming headlines, breaking news, or minute-by-minute updates. I savor the gentleness of a morning that has yet to hold the stress and uncertainty of life and all that’s in it. That’ll all come later – soon – as it inevitably does, but for now, there’s peace and beauty and a little magic.

Out the window and beyond the streetlights, standing tall and proud in the twilight, are tiny flickering candles nestled in the foothills – hundreds of hot air balloons, a popular tourist attraction in this region of the country. Ethereal, they whisper their presence out into the sleepy dark, like little paper lanterns scattered down the mountains. The flames from their bellies blinking bright then soft, then bright again. It’s a morse code of good mornings.

***

I am soul-weary these days. Parched. Dry. Heavy. Maybe you feel it too?

In our house, we call these times “being in our cave”, when the world gets a little too much and we need to steal away under the refuge of a metaphoric cavern for a while.

I am weary from feeling out of control over so many things: election results, virus pandemics, greedy politicians who use people like pieces of a board game. My neck hurts from headline whiplash, shocked by and outraged over daily news stories only until the next breaking report comes along.

The earth groans and I hear the voices of a thousand, a million, who are uprooted and have no place to call home – and no home that wants to call them there. It’s a weariness that comes from the stories of loved ones who are also waving the banner of uncertainty and leading the way in the parade of unending waiting – stories not mine to tell.

“Where is the justice?” we ask into the void of the pre-morning darkness. “When does mercy come?” The earth and all that is in her yearns for an answer. This longing for things to be set right and for crooked paths to be made straight is inherent in all of us.

So what do we do when it is not yet time for those questions to pair up with answers? How do we get relief from the tiredness of our souls?

***

The faraway hot air balloons begin to take flight, one by one, slow motion into the air. The first one leaves, confident, like a baby bird flying the nest for the first time, then the next and the next. And soon the whole sky is a panorama of kaleidoscopic balloons, ebbing and flowing as the sun rises behind them.

What do we do when we are soul weary and the world is too much? We can take comfort in routine and rhythms, still opening to scripture each day, even when the tissue paper pages feel like bowling balls. Deep calls out to deep, and we can find rest for our souls in the depth of the Creator’s goodness.

We can take active steps to put limits on what we consume. Unfollow news sites, snooze the people who post too many political things, turn off the WiFi at night and leave it off for a little longer each morning. Protect your soul. Boundaries are good. It’s okay to be gentle with yourself; it’s too much for us to continually absorb all the world’s grief.

Is your soul weary like mine? You can get up just a minute or two earlier and stand in front of the window just a minute or two longer. Maybe you don’t have a balloon show out your backyard every morning, but maybe you do have a twinkling river. Look at how the moon shines itself on top of the still waters. See the looming pine trees cuddled together around your home? Watch how the early morning shadows wrap themselves around the branches. Study the street lights, the neighbor’s garden, the freshly fallen snow, the flitting songbirds. The magic of the earth reveals itself slowly if we stop and look for it.

To the soul-weary: Things will one day be set right. It’s been promised to us. But in the meantime, find little pockets of peace. Be gentle and brave and still and quiet. Look for the magic.

Our Story

If It Is Darkness We Are Having, Let It Be Extravagant

Sometime after the call to prayer but before any hints of daybreak, I feel her hiccup for the first time. The sliver of moon still glows and so does the green neon sign from the bakery across the street. If the windows were open, the smell of fresh-baked Turkish bread would be floating through.

What a wild thing to feel life moving inside your body.

In the quiet darkness of the not-yet morning and in the warmth of my bed, I rest my hand on the roundness of my abdomen, feeling the pulsing thumps. I reach over to tap my husband awake but his deep, slow breaths remind me it’s scarcely 6:30am and I decide to wait.

He had spent all last evening with his head next to my stomach waiting to feel the baby move against his cheek as he murmured a poetic string of Farsi to her into my shirt. “Is it normal?” he looks up, concerned he hadn’t yet felt anything. “It’s because your voice is calming her to sleep,” I reassure him.

It is a certain type of joy to grow any kind of life. It’s like spotting a wildflower bursting through the cracks of dried up dirt along the road. When life finds a way to breakthrough, it’s a beacon of hope, beauty shimmering in the hard places.

 ***

There’s a saying from some of the experts in the writing world that says to “write from your scars, not your wounds.” The idea behind this being that there is an importance in giving distance to our emotions and experiences before we share. It is vital to respect the process we must go through before broadcasting it to a wider audience.

But what if we don’t have the privilege to write from our scars?

We are still very much in the hard stuff of life right now. It’s unclear when the new skin will start to form over the hurts and the healing will begin. But perhaps wounds and scarring and hurts and healing don’t need to occur independently from each other. Perhaps it is sacred and important when writing transpires from each place side-by-side. Maybe it is good to hold space for both.

This blog is a place where I write from my wounds, despite what the writing experts say. I do it because I don’t have the luxury to wait for a scab to grow. The things posted here are raw. It’s what we are feeling in real-time. But a tension that comes when drafting each essay is to over-spiritualize the wounds, to end each piece with: this was a hard thing but then we had faith and God changed it! Because God hasn’t changed it. Because I haven’t gotten the thing for which I have longed. Because there is no guarantee I will get the thing for which I have longed. But there is merit to sharing the waiting and the wrestling and the wounds, even while prayers go unanswered.

Paired with the tension of choosing what to share publically and what not to share, is the juggling of both the difficulties and the little joys in our life – that little flower growing against all odds amidst the dust and dirt.

It’s an inhale of devastating news where the course of our lives takes a neck-breaking turn. It’s an exhale of seeing two pink lines appear on a pregnancy test. It’s in this space where joy and sorrow share the same breath. It’s in buying little white onesies and putting together a crib coupled with long drives late at night with tears as our only prayer because the edges of our world are starting to unravel. The blooming of life and the burying of dreams dance together.

***

The world’s weariness is powerful. It takes strength to push against it and shoulder the door closed. But when it slinks through the bottom gap of the frame and unpacks its bags, hope sits expectantly in the shadows.

Part of what makes hope so elusive is that it must be fought for. It isn’t easy or natural to hold on to it in the midst of difficulties because it slips and slides out of our hands as darkness screams louder.

But with the tiny joy of life growing and forming, hope becomes a beacon pointing us ahead, a lighthouse guiding the way forward.

As my belly swells a little rounder with each passing week, and our dresser drawers fill with blankets and pacifiers and diapers, here is what hope is: it’s looking onward. It’s clinging to that rope — our one and only lifeline — when we can’t grip the edge of the cliff any longer. It’s resting in that tension and believing there are always miracles tucked away in the darkness.

At the beginning of January, there’s always an uptick in blog posts and photo captions about choosing a word for the new year. But how does one determine a word that encapsulates the spirit of the next 365 days? We don’t have the luxury to plan for the next rotation around the sun – or even the next month. We live in the midst of small seasons, standing at the threshold of the ever-changing day-to-day and are face-to-face with life’s chaos. It’s unclear what tomorrow will be or how things will end.

We wish we had been given a tidier story, one where joy and sorrow don’t hold hands, one where dreams always bloom and darkness stays away. I wish we could look down at the healed over scars and think of all the lessons and reflections and gems we gleaned. But this story is messy and we still only have wounds. Joy and sorrow move in tandem. We can’t keep the darkness from entering our lives, but we can hold fast to hope. We can search for joys glistening through the world’s weariness. And I’ll still share here, despite the lack of scars, because it’s important and beautiful and holy to testify of God’s goodness in the midst of waiting for the coming healing.

I didn’t choose a word for the new year because I have no idea what it has in store. But I do know it’s bringing hope. It’s ushering in joy. It’s bringing quiet miracles like the rhythmic hiccups in my stomach in the early hours of the morning.

A baby. A wildflower. Life. It is joy untarnished by the darkness. And, in this new year, may it all be extravagant.

 

 

Title taken from Jane Kenyon’s “Taking Down the Tree” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon.