An Advent Upon Us
We have entered into a time of preparation. In January our family will grow. We thought we were empty nesters. Our children are grown. We have downsized, moved to the coast, ride our bikes when we want, and then David came into our lives. Peter met him during his time in Cairo through the local Anglican Church. When David first saw Peter, he shares that God told him that Peter was a good man and that he would become his best friend. When God speaks, things happen. Several years later, David is in the United States with official refugee status.
We know little of David's story. He is from South Sudan and says that he doesn't remember his father and dreams of his mother. For those of you who don't know; South Sudan is predominately Christian, whereas; Sudan, or the northern part, is Muslim. Both are independent nations. This may trigger a memory of the lost boys of Sudan; a terrifying story among so many terrifying stories. The north attacked the south. The villagers were slaughtered. The young men who were out in the fields herding the cattle somehow survived and managed to march to refugee camps thousands of miles away. Some of them came to the United States. In the midst of this, David was born. A name was placed upon him, David Emmanuel. The name of The Incarnate; God with us. With the given name, words were spoken that his young mind remembers; "You are a Christian, don't forget." Somehow he ended up with a Muslim family for a short while. He speaks little of his past but recalls the Muslim father as a kind man who sent him to school, however; his wife was less so. We don't know exactly how, but his journey brought him to Cairo, which is a holding tank for refugees waiting to be dispersed to countries that would open their doors. David waited and worked with little schooling and this is where he met Peter, that man who became his best friend.
David arrived in Chattanooga January 2017, one month before President Trump imposed permanent immigration sanctions on Sudan.( these sanctions do not apply to South Sudan) The outpouring of sympathy to David was over the top. Everyone wanted to seize the moment of political correctness and to express refugee solidarity. He received an abundance of gifts including several bikes. For some reason, this seemed an appropriate gift for a refugee. The out-pouring was relatively short-lived as for the most part, we Americans have a short attention span. Through connections and kind-hearted people, David got a job at the local bakery bagging bread and beams as he shares that he is a good steward and a hard worker.
We met David, first through Facetime, then in person as he was able to attend Ben's wedding in Colorado. His mountain biking ability was pretty impressive and he blended beautifully with our family. Upon returning home, Peter got engaged to Katie. David recalls meeting Katie, saying, " I liked her because I knew she would love me like Peter does." As he started connecting the dots and realized that he would no longer live with Peter after the wedding, he understandably had a meltdown. Peter was, after all, his best friend, and probably one of the few deep attachments he had ever formed. Because the love was mutual, Peter approached us and asked us to consider having David live with us and have the opportunity to have parents and go to school as there are obvious gaps in his education. My knee-jerk response was; but. we just moved and our house is small and we only have one FULL bathroom and I NEED my space. I quickly moved through those initial superficial objections and recognized that my greatest objection was actually fear. Fear of the unexpected or failure and ultimately of cracking the door open to love and the pain that could come with that. As a parent I have realized that the hardest part of parenting is never done because we always love. If we parent well, our children become independent adults and with that, we lose the perceived control that we thought we had. We are left in a very vulnerable place. We watch from afar and pray from afar that they would be protected from the dangers within and the dangers without. and that they will be well kept by God's kind hand. Could I open my heart and risk loving just one more?
Chris and I discuss and process. I call close friends and ask them for input and to pray and the remarkable thing is after all the processing is done we KNOW that we can not David away. Chris says, if doing what we want, when we want is all that there is in life, then we need to rethink that. When I express my fears, my wise husband says, we will give him what we can. With peace in our hearts, we both feel compelled to move forward. We decide to have David come for a visit and see how it goes.
I pick David up at the airport in San Diego and we tootle up the coast on our way home. We stop at Mt. Soledad with the sweeping views of La Jolla and the ocean beyond. David quietly ponders the great Pacific and after several long minutes turns to me and asks, "there is no edge?" My heart catches and I am struck by all of the things that I assume are common sense and take for granted. We KNOW because we are those of privilege who live in a place where for the most part daily needs are met, where war does not stand at our doorstep, where children go to school and where for the most part they have parents who tell them that the world is round and the waters extend beyond its curve.
I reflect on what it would be like to grow up without any family. I think of our family, Chris, myself, our sons and now our growing family through our daughter in laws and their families. I think of our parents and grandparents and our history. I think of those gatherings where we tell stories and remember. Those stories that give us context and identity and tell us that we belong. Those stories are our framework where love is experienced and imperfectly acted out. We share and laugh and reminisce about a lifetime that is unique to us and continues to define us and knit us together. And I recognize the privilege family is and I want to offer this to this young man who has had so little.
And so David is coming in January. It is interesting to me, that as I share with people about this, the invariable response is WOW, you are amazing. Their words are sincere and kind but internally it triggers a profoundly uncomfortable feeling and I wonder about this. And then I listen to our pastor's recent sermon out of the Psalms. It is about compassion as our inner response to injustice. How there is a haunting within that all is not right, along with a frustration that we are powerless to make it so. And I think of taking in David and how this is my meager attempt to make the world a little bit more right. And there is a part of me that senses it as far less than heroic, but almost selfish as somehow I suspect that by inviting this young man named Emmanuel to abide with our family and enter into our hearts that we will become the far greater beneficiaries.