Books and Resources That Give Empathy Toward the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I have had trouble reading the news lately. My heart breaks for what is happening in Israel-Palestine, not because I want to take a side but because it seems that peace is farther and farther away.

I have a lot of complicated feelings about the region, and I know I’m not alone. As I learn more and more about Liberation Theology, I truly believe that God calls us to stand with the oppressed. I’ve become friends with a Palestinian immigrant this year; our dear friends and neighbors are Israeli-Jewish; Frank’s family is Jewish. Personally, I have a lot of trouble figuring out what I think and feel about this decades-old conflict. (Yes, I say decades-old. I do believe what we are seeing now is a direct result of decisions made in 1948.)

I wanted to share some of the books that have helped me on this journey. These have helped me see the humanity on all sides. I think, regardless of your own conclusions, the longer we create an us-vs-them attitude, the less of a chance conversation and peace will really happen.

UnknownThe Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

This is the first book that opened my eyes to the complexities of this modern conflict. If you only read one book about the history and impact of Israel-Palestine, I’d recommend this well-researched piece. Tolan’s command of storytelling makes it easy to forget you’re not reading a memoir or narrative but this is deeply researched and incredibly balanced. Tolan takes no sides but simply tells stories. (I wrote initial thoughts back in 2015 when I first read it.)

41haVpeNLjL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour

This incredible memoir, written by a Palestinian Christian brought a new depth to my understanding of the region. A Melkite Greek Catholic, Chacour has devoted his life to peacemaking in the region. A refugee from his home nearly his entire life, Chacour chooses to engage in discussion and relationship rather than deepening the divide of oppression. I hadn’t ever thought about the generations of Christians in the region and how this conflict has impacted them, so Blood Brothers gave me a deeper understanding of just how complex all of this is. (Last year, I wrote a post for the Red Couch Book Club if you’d like a more detailed discussion.)

51Fu5TQSL1L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry

This short memoir was an interesting look at what life during the forty-day curfew of Ramallah was like. Amiry is blunt about her feeling of cabin fever, the unfairness of her dog receiving an identity card from Jerusalem when her family could not, and the daily struggle to maintain identity in the midst of a helpless situation.

51X-WC6f9UL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher

This novel about the friendship between an Israeli soldier and Palestinian siblings is a relevant look at what many of the next generations are feeling. Inheriting a conflict creates different perspectives and Rothman-Zecher does a masterful job at remembering why the State of Israel was so important for that first generation of Holocaust survivors and why a “land without a people” is a myth. I will give the caveat that I wouldn’t recommend this novel to my grandmother, as there are some scenes that may make more conservative readers uncomfortable but, as so many novels do, this creates empathy and depth of character in ways that nonfiction can’t.

Other Resources

For a quick overview of the modern conflict, I’d recommend this 12-minute video:

(In short: Let’s not forget the effects of Colonialism!)

Last fall, I took an enrichment class at the University of Denver about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our professor founded an organization called Meet the Middle East, aiming at humanizing Palestinians and bringing about conversation. I’d recommend following along, especially if you’re local to the Denver area.

Global Immersion is another organization whose mission is to train “everyday peacemakers.” They frequently host free webinars focusing on the complex issues surrounding peace in the region and I have learned a lot through those.

Ultimately, I’d recommend digging into the “other side.” I’ve learned so much from remembering that there are no easy answers and that actual people are living in both Israel and Palestine.

What would you add to this list? What books or resources have most impacted and helped your understanding of this particular conflict?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Creating Space for Poetry

Even though I try to do a good job of balancing the books I read between memoir, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, sometimes things get off. A bunch come in from the library all at once or I have a particular commitment to read a specific book. Maybe one book just leads naturally into another which, in turn, leads me down a rabbit trail.

Last month, I read both We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates and When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. While one was a compilation of articles about race during the Obama administration and one was a memoir culminating in the founding of the Black Lives Matter Movement, both dealt with some heavy and uncomfortable topics.

I finished When They Called You a Terrorist feeling overwhelmed. I thought, perhaps reading something completely different would help clear my head while I processed Khan-Cullors’ story. After several starts and stops, I just wasn’t connecting. The stories and information I had just spent time with needed more time to absorb.

A friend suggested poetry to help me pause, breathe, and give space to what I had just read. The library came through and Counting Descent by Clint Smith arrived just in time. These are not light poems, by any means. They deal with the realities of being a black man in today’s world. And yet, by the very nature of the medium gives space for really big topics.

It reminded me of the importance of always having a book of poetry on hand. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite collections.

513UrUn5-yLThe Gift by Hafiz

I kept this volume of poetry in the playroom when Bea was small. As she toddled around and explored, I sat in a chair by the window and snuck in a poem or two a day. Frank’s aunt gifted me my copy and told me to open it at random – this would be my poem. I opened to page 139, “Muhammed’s Twin.” It continues to be one of my favorites in this collection.



41JMBgNaRgLLeavings by Wendell Berry

This volume by America’s farmer-poet was one I loved reading first thing in the morning. As a city dweller, I can easily lose sight of nature and Berry kept me rooted in the land. His poetry reads like a prayer, helping me to pause and notice my surroundings – from the chirping of birds to the rustle of leaves.



61S1ynjaEwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Selected Poems by e.e. cummings

I’ve had this since high school and keep returning to it. I love cumming’s style and his ability to help me re-notice the most ordinary of things. One of the first postcards I mailed to Frank when we were dating was a cummings poem. I feel like he’ll always have a special place on my shelf of poetry.




When I finish Smith’s powerful collection, I already have Hagar Poems by Mohja Kahf ready and waiting. I’m remembering to always have poetry on hand and part of my reading routine.

What about you? Do you regularly read poetry? What is your favorite collection?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Embracing the Comfort of Three-Star Reviews

On Amazon, a 3-star review means the book or product is “ok” and is filed under critical reviews. I have trouble with this. In my mind, 3 out of 5 stars means I liked something but it wasn’t life-changing. I read enough good-but-not-great books to be comfortable giving a lot of reads 3 stars.

IMG_8735I know people who abandon books if they don’t predict a 4 or 5-star rating. I get that. Life’s to short for books you don’t connect with. But when I look at my Goodreads profile and all the 3-star books I’ve read, I’m glad I didn’t abandon them. Some books are good books and aren’t meant to be life-changing. Some are great vacation reads and earn a solid 3-stars. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or I wish I hadn’t read them. They just aren’t 5-stars. And that’s fine.

We just got back from five days in the mountains, reconnecting after tax season. This getaway has become essential for our family. We need to get out of town, breathe, and re-bond after an intense three months. I get that going to a mountain cabin is an incredible privilege – that so many don’t get to experience these escapes – and I’m deeply grateful for this tradition.

It’s not that getting away equates stellar, 5-star moments all the time. We’re still a human family made up of expectations and friction. The girls still were sisters – playing sweetly one moment and grappling over toys the next. But overall, this experience was what we needed.

Now, we’re back into our home routine of school and work and dinner. The difference is that Frank can walk Bea to school while I have a moment of quiet. Or he’s home at dinnertime. It takes some time to reestablish these normal routines but we’re doing it. Our days are made up of good, 3-star moments. They are sweet and good but not the stuff of profile pictures and photo albums.

Life is often 3-stars, isn’t it? It’s good, we’re rolling along, but we’re not experiencing life-changing decisions and events all the time. I think it would be exhausting to always be at a 4 or 5-star rating. There’s something so comforting about mostly rolling along, settling into a routine, knowing what to expect.

Because our life is mostly quiet and normal, those big decisions and getaways seem all the more special and needed. I love that we can drive an hour and a half to breathe and reconnect. We don’t need to travel far or go somewhere exotic to have a wonderful experience.

I’m not saying that we need to numb ourselves or keep life mediocre to enjoy those experiences. I’m remembering to appreciate our daily rhythms and routines. Living in a 3-star mindset isn’t critical or uneventful. It’s comforting and it’s where our roots dig deeper, where we build our small practices that flourish when we’re outside of our norms.

I’m going to keep giving 3-star reviews on Amazon. Not because I don’t love the books I’m reading but because we need 3-star books in our lives. We need books that are comfortable, that are quick reads, and that draws us into a sweet story. Books that may not be life-changing but that make me glad I read them, nonetheless. A lot like life.

How do you rate your books? Do you abandon them if they aren’t potential 4 or 5-star reads? 

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We Are Free to Love

My friend dropped her daughter off for a day of playing with Bea. Her daycare was on a holiday so I had agreed to host another 2-year-old for the day. After organizing snacks and lunches, my friend was about to leave when I blurted out, We just found out we’re miscarrying.

29595147_10160186172275453_3799920368185849580_nTiming is everything, isn’t it? We had just returned from a lovely weekend in Yellowstone, introducing Bea to one of our favorite places. On the way home, I knew something wasn’t right and, after inexplicably crying on the phone to my doctor, was seen right away for an early ultrasound. I learned a lot during that miscarriage, the biggest of which is that it is a process. It took weeks for my body to finally let the baby go.

Those weeks were held with a lot of waiting, a lot of Daniel Tiger episodes, and a lot of unknown. Those weeks also held so much hope and love from our community. My friend’s husband returned that afternoon to pick up their daughter, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in hand. Another friend who had gone through her own miscarriage and the subsequent discovery of infertility brought over a meal and a listening ear. I learned that life isn’t meant to be lived alone.

I also learned that, even though we had a strong community who came alongside us, this is not the case for everyone. Miscarriage is still not shared, even though it’s a fairly common occurrence. I knew that I wanted to be open about our experience. In the following years, I’ve been able to come beside friends who experienced their own losses but we’ve had other friends who held it dear, not wanting to share.

Of course, we all process grief in our own unique ways and for some, that process is quieter. But that feeling of loneliness is one that breaks my heart. It’s for this reason, I’m so thankful for Adriel Booker’s memoir, Grace Like Scarlett. Adriel walks us through her own journey of three miscarriages between healthy pregnancies. She is honest and vulnerable in her feelings and hopelessness but also encouraging as she grounds her experiences in God and her community. She says,

“When we humble ourselves enough to let down our guard and be known for who we really are, grace is released. We are free to love and be loved.”

Even though this is a book specifically about miscarriage, its scope is much broader. It’s about grief and expectations; about community and faith. Booker reminds us that when we open ourselves up to others, we are seen. God meets us in those places.

Grace Like Scarlett is a book I wish I had had during the months following our miscarriage, as we became pregnant with a healthy baby, as I still processed the loss in the midst of joy and anticipation. It’s a book that is important in helping us open up to our friends and community. It gives hope and help on a journey that’s not often discussed.

How have you found help in your community after experiencing loss? What resources do you wish had been available?

Booker_GraceLikeScarlett_3D_webGrace Like Scarlett releases on May 1 but if you preorder now, you get tons of bonus gifts, like coloring pages, an audio series, and journaling prompts to help you process your own grief journey. Visit for all the details!

As a member of the Grace Like Scarlett launch team, I received an advanced copy for review. All opinions are my own.

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Review: The Canticle of the Creatures by Luigi Santucci

Lent starts on Wednesday and I’ve been thinking of ways to practice a slower, quieter Lent this year. I’ll be working my way through Heather Caliri’s Word Made Art (you can read my review here) and I bought my first traditional Bible study in years. I want resources that help me slow down, dig deeper, and give plenty of grace as I practice intention during this already busy season for our family.

1542207596When I received The Canticle of the Creatures for Saint Francis of Assisi by Luigi Santucci, I wasn’t thinking I was getting a book to guide me through Lent. Structured so that each short meditation is from the point of view of one of the birds or animals St. Francis encounters, this small book invites the reader to pause and recognize that when God called us to love the world, this means all the world. From the nightingale and swallow to the fish and bees, each entry leads us into remembering justice, kindness, and peace.

There’s a reason Saint Francis is known and loved by Catholics and Protestants alike. His call to do justice for the poor, to recognize the beauty of nature, to live a simpler, more intentional life are inspiring in a world that so often forgets the holiness of these practices.

I’ve been reading this book slowly, one small chapter a day with breakfast. The stunning illustrations are a treat in the morning and the poetic storytelling start my morning with the type of devotion I haven’t experienced. I’m invited to slow down, to notice, and to remember that God is found in the small, everyday creatures.

I love that the stories are short enough to read at breakfast with the girls yet deep enough to carry me through the morning. Paraclete Press sent me a companion book, The St. Francis Holy Fool Prayer Book. I haven’t started it yet, but I wonder if they’d be best read together. Starting on Wednesday, I’ll incorporate the two into my routine.

How are you slowing down during this Lenten season? Even if you don’t practice Lent, what are ways you stay grounded in the daily busyness?

I received this book free from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

Books Referenced in this Post:

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Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

Practicing a Gentle Lent with The Word Made Art

Lent starts in just two weeks and I’ve been thinking about its observation. In the past, I’ve mailed cards, prayed for politicians, and given up wine in order to fund microloans. This year, as I thought of something to do, the word gentle kept coming to mind. Our season has been pretty intense. There are a lot of emotions in our house around being two-years-old, going to kindergarten all day, and functioning in tax season-mode. Even the best ideas seemed a bit overwhelming this year.

unnamedRight after gentle came to mind, Heather Caliri sent out a call to be on her launch team for Word Made Art: A Spiritual Encounter. I don’t consider myself visually creative. It’s been decades since I’ve painted or drawn with any regularity. Over the years, visual creativity has come to feel rusty and intimidating. And yet, I felt that nudge again that this would be a gentle way to approach Lent. Me and my Bible, getting messy, tactically exploring the word of God.

The aspects that made me uncomfortable about Word Made Art are the things that were simultaneously most freeing. After reading the directions for the week, I wanted Heather to walk me through the project with step-by-step instructions and examples. She doesn’t do this and it’s intimidating at first. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? That Lent is deeply personal and the way that I interact with the Bible is going to be completely different than Heather or you. If she had given detailed directions, a lot of the practice would have been lost.

The book is set up by weeks with scripture readings, spiritual practices, and a loose guide to getting your Bible messy. I actually went to a used bookstore and bought a Bible for a dollar for this project. You’ll be getting it dirty (literally), drawing and painting in it, highlighting and pasting over words. This is about physically interacting with your Bible and creating a piece of art through the six weeks of Lent.

I didn’t do each exercise fully, as Lent doesn’t begin until February 14 but I’m looking forward to going through the scriptures and activities slowly, to pausing and getting messy, to stretching my boundaries and experiencing a gentle Lent.

How are you entering Lent this year? Do you usually give something up? Add something? What prepares you for Easter?

38110534Word Made Art releases this Wednesday, January 31! Preorders help authors, so if this book looks like a good fit for your Lenten journey, order it today!

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.


Keeping My Dreams in the Small Moments

“The way we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

IMG_8202I have a love-hate relationship with this quote. Mostly, I love it. It’s true: How I spend these days of small moments build into my family’s culture and life. The choices we make with our careers and our spending habits are shaping what we’ll be able to do with our girls in the future.

But sometimes, I think, Really?! I’m spending my days picking up crayons and answering the same question again and again. THIS is how I’m going to spend my life?!?!

I know that when the girls are grown and we’re empty nesters, I’ll still be doing the mundane of laundry and dishes and all those small things. But I don’t want to think about that. I want to think about big things in the future. My 5-year goals don’t include having a tidy house.

There are so many books about embracing the rhythms of our everyday. I just finished Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren and have started Hello Mornings by Kat Lee. Both are about embracing those small holy moments in our days. I need to read these books, to be reminded of the importance of breathing and infusing holy into those quotidian moments.

But I also need to remember not to surrender my dreams to those small moments. That I can get easily mired down in the mundane. How do I keep the big hopes and visions in mind without resenting the small?

God is indeed a God of the everyday. But God is also a God of big, wonderful dreams. Without those, where would humanity be?

Today is my cleaning day. As I tidy and vacuum and run errands, I’ll listen to messages and podcasts about changing the world. I’ll infuse activism into these small moments, remembering a bigger story in the mist of the small work.

How do you keep the big picture in mind without resenting the daily routines? What are ways you infuse hope into the everyday?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “surrender.”

Books referenced in this post:



Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.