August 26, 2017

Loving Your Neighbors

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He was a French teacher and she has the happiest laugh and the sweetest daughters.  They are from Mozambique and spent 10 years in a refugee camp before coming to America. I learned in a storytelling class that I participated in, that we need to be very careful telling other people's stories.  I honestly can't tell you their story, but I can tell you mine.

I was scared of refugees when I was first asked to pick up a large Muslim family who was arriving from the Middle East. I got the call from my friend, Daryl, who works with Interfaith Works in CNY who works along with Catholic Charities to settle refugees in Syracuse. She called because it was a large family and they needed my 15 passenger van to get them from the airport to their new home.  She mentioned that they usually provided a meal but due to the late notice, they didn't have a meal planned. I was sitting in library story time and withing 5 minutes all of my fellow story time moms had agreed to make part of a meal that I could bring with me later that night.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that being there, at that airport that night, was a transformative moment for me. I was born-again, again. I saw a family walk nervously through the halls of the Syracuse International Airport and stop, unsure how to proceed through the revolving doors that separated us.  Their clothing surprised me because it was very American.  The parents wore colorful, native outfits, but the children were dressed in shirts with NFL team logos or funny American "drink milk" slogans. They wore shoes awkwardly, flip flops really, and were obviously cold but had no jackets. All of their belongings were packed in a few zippered, plastic bags, similar to the recyclable bags you can buy to bring your groceries home in.

It is hard to describe the people, because they had a depth in their eyes that is hard to describe. I saw pain, hope, exhaustion, excitement, fear, love, worry, and gratitude. My soul immediately loved them and I yearned to ease their concern and welcome them to their new land. I have NEVER felt more proud to be an American then I did in that moment.  In that moment, I felt like the statue of liberty, representing America to these people.

Emma Lazarus' poem was etched into my soul with a strength and love that will ever remain.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she 
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 
Give ME your tired, your poor, your HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE, THE WRETCHED REFUSE OF YOUR TEEMING SHORE. SEND THESE, THE HOMELESS, TEMPEST-TOST TO ME". (I love this inspired poem.  I love the image of a brass warrior, a Greek giant who guards against intruders who has been by a welcoming MOTHER holding a torch in her hand to guide weary travelers safely to our doors. Yes! Let us welcome. Let us hold our torches high! Not just to welcome kings, but to welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to BREATHE free.  We breathe free my friends. Can we not share this great gift? Isn't there always room for one more at our table?)

I remember the sign-language, charade style introductions.  My husband helping with bags and logistics and me, trying to catch the mother's eye to smile deep into her soul.  Instantly I was drawn to the children. The teenagers had eyes that held secrets no teenager should have to carry, but the young children still twinkled with mischief and joy. As I buckled these sweet children into my van, into my own children's car seats and boosters, I literally felt my heart attach to theirs. I knew then, as I know now, that these families need our help. They are not 'foreigners' or even terrorists.  They are my brothers, my sisters, my sons, my daughters, and not only did my conscience demand that I help them, I knew that my religion meant NOTHING if I did not love and serve His children who were seeking refuge.

And, since that day, I have shared my conversion story with many people.  I have helped to initiate some beautiful efforts to help refugees in our area.  But, there is so much more I wish I could do.

I get overwhelmed when I think of all the world problems.  I frankly get overwhelmed when I try to write a To Do List of all that I have to do for my own family each day.  But, I have learned an eternal and essential lesson.  Our families are BLESSED as we  SERVE with them. Perhaps I should say SERVING others is actually BLESSING your family.

Jesus taught the parable of the loaves and the fishes.  Share all that you have and He will multiply it. He makes 5 loaves and 3 fishes enough to feed 5000.  I believe in miracles because I have SEEN miracles. I have watched me teenagers become holy, kind, loving young adults BECAUSE they serve others.

I don't feel sorry for refugees. God holds them in his hand and His light shines in their eyes.
The reason I believe in a loving God even when I see tragedy around me is two fold.

First, I believe trials refine and purify our souls. I believe suffering is temporary and holy.  One of our main purposes in coming to Earth (indeed even one of our Savior's main purposes in coming to Earth) is to descend below all things. As we ache, we are able to feel comforted. As we yearn, we recognize answers. As we want, we feel true gratitude. As we are filled with sorrow, we have room for a fullness of joy.  Suffering highlights all that is real and true in life.

Second, I believe in a God of Compensatory blessings. He compensates when times are hard by sending angels round about us. He blesses us with gifts and understanding, compassion, empathy, eternal perspective, community, and peace. In the midst of great suffering, He sends true healing.

Perhaps this is why I love refugees so much. I feel within them a refined soul. I feel their nearness to God. I feel their humility and their pure gratitude.  Having watched naturalization ceremonies where refugees have become American citizens, and having sat with them as these new Americans talk about what they love about our country, I have felt renewed in my love for democracy, and citizenship in this land that strives for freedom and justice for all.

I am not bragging about the service that I have done. In all honesty, I have done VERY little. My heart is bigger than my capacity to serve at times.

I'm sharing with you my deep, heartfelt conviction that we can and should love our neighbors more.
We should start with a desire and try to do something, even if it is a small thing.

We should invite people into our homes who are different religions, different colors, different nationalities. We should love their children and share the gifts God has blessed us with. As we do this, our families will be blessed.  Not just blessed by God because they are doing some noble service.  Blessed by the people we THINK we are serving because really, it is an honor to serve people who are refined.

Matthew 25
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a "Mormon," I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul — civil and religious liberty to the whole of the human race.

—Joseph Smith, 1843
Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Do you want to help refugees in your area? Click here to read 40 Ways To Help Refugees in Your Community.

40 Ways to Help Refugees in Your Community.


August 08, 2017

As He Grows From Boy To Man

We give our children roots and wings.
We want them to leave us, to learn, to grow, to serve.

And yet, as they progress to the next momentous stage of life we know they are leaving behind a stage that we love. We will mourn the loss of boy even as we love the new man.

Jakob has caused me my fair share of heartaches.  But oh how I love that kid.

We were out running errands and had lunch at some big taco joint.  I told him I really wasn't sad that he was leaving.  I'm SO happy for him and I really don't want him at home watching dumb TV for the rest of his life.  He looked into my eyes with his twinkling half smile and said.  "Ok mom.  So you won't cry when you don't see my coat hanging on the kitchen chair."  I cried just thinking about that.
I can't help it.

I love that child SO much. 
I LOVE having my kids all together, playing in the pool, singing in the car, squabbling at the dinner table, teasing in the church pew, laughing, sleeping, working, just being together.
THIS stage of togetherness has ended.
That hurts.
But, every single sunset in my life has been followed by a beautiful sunrise.  

I bawled when Jakob left for kindergarten.  Bawled.
And then, he came home happy and told me all the wonderful things he had learned.  And, my ache was less.
He was scared of the mean lunch ladies and didn't know what a "single smile line" was, but he figured things out.  
We both did.

When Drew left home the next year it was still hard (for me and him) but not as hard because Jakob had led the way, with a smile and a wave and the assurance that he would be fine.

God sent me Jakob first because He knew I would need his strength and confidence.

Oh my dear, dear boy.
Know every second of your life that you are loved.  Know that God is real, that He hears your prayers, that Heaven is near, and that you have angels on your right hand and on your left.
Serve with your heart, might, mind, and strength.
Love like your mom taught you how to.
And take lots of pictures.
We will miss you and celebrate all that you are.
Two years.  A life tithe.  
Oh, what a beautiful plan.  

I think I'm going to love this new stage.
Life is good.
This is the best kind of hard.

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