Micah 6:8



“May I bring a new friend over with me when I come for coffee?”


A simple question that changed a family.  My family.  Forever.

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We live in South Charlotte.  Some have referred to our dear city as an “Atlanta wannabe.”  I’m not offended by that description.  It’s actually not too far from accurate.  We like to think that we have the best of both worlds – small town feel while still having access to great art galleries, Broadway shows, professional sports, and the ripples from Wall Street’s economic power generators radiating throughout uptown.  Yes, for those of you unfamiliar with Charlotte, it is uptown, not downtown.  I’ve enjoyed the benefits of this energetic town, including a fulfilling career housed in its tallest building.  We’ve birthed three and raised five children here.  We have a church we love and amazing friends. It is home.

Yet with all that Charlotte has to offer, its strength is also one of its great weaknesses.  I’ve worried about my children’s perspective on life while growing up among such affluence. Given this soccer-mom, banking-hub, Bible-on-every-corner culture, how could we possible raise children who see beyond their comfortable bubble?  Children who are other-centered, compassionate, and have a healthy humility and curiosity with which they approach other cultures – and other people.  Particularly while their parents struggle with the same issues.

Then one hot summer morning seven years ago, a dear friend called.  She and I had planned on catching up at my house over coffee while the children played.  A few hours prior to her coming, she gave me a quick call to ask if she could bring a little boy along with her. “Of course”, I responded.  The more the merrier.  She arrived later that afternoon with her new friend – our new friend – Yusuf, who just happened to be from Somalia.  Yusuf was 6 years old, and had arrived in America just weeks prior to our meeting.  Three little bodies darted around the backyard, two with blond hair and blue eyes, and one as dark as coal.  The boys ran and played in the water from our  hose while my friend recounted their unfathomable story.  They had fled Somalia through the dark of night, lived in a Cambodian refugee camp, and had finally been transported, compliments of the UN, to Charlotte.  More on their remarkable journey another time…


Later that afternoon, we embarked on our weekly pilgrimage to the library.  Like a good homeschool-mom-to-be, I searched out as many age-appropriate books on Africa as I could find.  When I showed them to the boys, I instructed, “This is the country where Yusuf used to live.  The people there speak the same languages as he does.”  Will, my inquisitive, observant, detail-oriented 5 year old who had just spent several hours playing with his new buddy responded, “Do you mean that Yusuf doesn’t speak English?”  


My earnest hope had been that my children would engage with someone who was different than their friends.  That they would develop compassion for other cultures, and that they would choose to build bridges over differences.  But to my surprise, they taught me a greater lesson.   The commonalities of little boys playing in the water instantly bridged the 10,000 mile divide between them.  They enjoyed what they had in common, rather than trying to overcome the ways in which they were different.  They hadn’t met a refugee whose family had fled the dangers of Somalia.  They had met a new friend.


Seven years ago on a humid July morning, the seed of love for our refugee friends was planted in the heart of our family.  The great Gardener has continued to provide fertile soil of opportunity, drench us in the water of the Word, and supply power through the Son.  As a result of His tender care and pruning, that small seed has grown.  We’ve come to love the refugee community in Charlotte, and opportunities to serve them continues to be a significant gift to our family.


I’m consistently humbled by my shallow attempts to give, arrogantly believing that I have something to offer.  Yet each time we show up, our family becomes richer for the time spent with these beautiful people.  People who have fled great danger and had the courage to build new lives from scratch.  People who have farmed for generations, yet now consider fresh fruit and vegetables an occasional delicacy. People who are now strangers in a strange land.


As we were pulling out of the apartment complex last week, I was surprised to note that a small yet significant shift had taken place in my heart.  Walking down the sidewalk was a young man from Nepal.  I had been introduced to him the prior week while he was shopping at the “Clothing Closet.” Shortly after our meeting,  he had labored to help me understand what he was trying to say.  The scene resembled a somewhat comical game of charades, and I wasn’t doing very well interpreting his animated gestures.  Eventually, we finally deciphered that he was asking for a baby swing for his little one.  When I saw him weeks later this second time, my perspective had changed.  He was no longer one of the many faces who visited the Clothing Closet each month.  He has a name.  He has a baby.  His story has become a part of my story.


In the chronic business of life, I wonder how many remarkable stories I pass and dismiss – from the checkout clerk at the grocery store to the neighbor walking her dog.  Everyday, we’re given opportunities to discover a bit more about the Creator through those he has created, and we’re given the great honor of sneaking a glimpse of another human soul. Too oftenwe miss out on the miracle and settle for the mundane.


  People who laugh like we do, who cry like we do, who pray for their children’s safety… just like we do.  And along the way, I’ve gotten a taste of what it means to be fully human.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”    C.S. Lewis

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For the past few years, a highlight, perhaps the highlight, of the Christmas season for us has been spending a Saturday celebrating Christmas with the folks from Project 658 (check them out here – you can join us!) and our refugee friends.  The objections raised by my selfish nature (we don’t have time… too much to do… we’re already tired) quickly dissipate when we drive into the apartment complex across town.  I love the beautiful faces representing the farthest corners of the map.  The content children who are generous with their smiles and hugs.  The adults who delight at the rare opportunity for their children to be photographed with Santa.  And I was lucky enough to catch him under the mistletoe.


That is one cute elf
Project 658.  Yes, they are rock stars.


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

 



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2 thoughts on “Micah 6:8

  1. Julie, you've written a compelling story–I hung on every word. Your message touched my heart in a big way. Thank you for involving yourself in the lives of so many people. I know I'll need to share your story with others — my kids, grandkids, and others. The Micah verse has been one of my favorites for many years, and your story is a real-life example of what it means to live out that verse. God bless you!

    Linda

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