Spring Break…and a refugee family

 We had a wonderful week with Paige when she was home for spring break last week. We shopped, and had beach days, and pool days, and got our hair done. We had family Boston Legal marathons and she slept…a lot…and cuddled with Jack, and read, and just relaxed. 




In other news, I’ve met with “my” refugee family a couple of times and I just adore them. They are the sweetest, most humble, adorable family. The father speaks perfect, fluent English (which definitely makes things a lot easier!). The mom only speaks a few words of English, so far, but is so sweet and smiles so much…between hand gestures and her husband, we are communicating just fine. The little girl is cute, and giggly and twirls and skips, and the baby…oh my goodness. That baby is a chubby little smiling machine. 

On my first visit, I went with someone from World Relief, and it was just a short visit to meet them and set up a schedule for meetings. I brought them a gift basket filled with towels and cleaning supplies and a fruit bowl, and teething rings for the baby and coloring books, and reading books, and sidewalk chalk and bubbles for the little girl.

Yesterday, I sat and talked to them for an hour and half. We talked about how they are settling in, and what help they will need. I brought a driver’s license handbook for the dad to study as he is determined to get a driver’s license as soon as possible. (He already has an international license.) He is trying to find a job. He wants to be self sufficient and to be able to provide for his family. He is excited about living in America and exploring his new country and seeing the things he has heard and read about. He can’t wait to become a citizen. He worries about their families back home in Afghanistan, especially his mother. 

They are human beings. They are just like you and I. They have the same dreams and fears that everyone does. They are a beautiful, young family of four living in a tiny, albeit spotlessly clean, one bedroom apartment. They are tremendously grateful for the opportunities they have been given. They are optimistic. Of course, they are worried – they are living in a new country thousands of miles from everything and everyone they have known. They must learn not only a new language, but new customs as well. It can be frustrating. But they are optimistic. 

So am I. 

I try to tune out the hateful rhetoric that certain orange hued politicians bombastically trumpet to the masses. I try to ignore the increasingly xenophobic, racist, and misogynistic tones of our country lately. I am focusing on what is good about America, and there is much that is good. In fact, there is much that is great. Starting with my little family and their hope and optimism and love. We are a nation of immigrants and refugees. We are a nation of second chances. I want to believe that there is more optimism and hope and love than there is of hate and bigotry. I must believe that. 

* I cannot give specific details about my family, but I can share these links which may give you a bit of insight into what they have experienced…



“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa

February is always such a mixed up month for me. It’s a happy month – Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, my mother’s birthday…and it’s a sad month, especially so this year as we had a death in the family which fell on the anniversary of my brother’s death; always a sad and contemplative time for our family. 

However this year, I also had a bit more of the happy to balance out the sad. Tim and I will be having another “empty nester adventure” at the end of the month, and when we return I will meet “my” refugee family! 

You may recall that I signed up to volunteer with World Relief a couple of months ago, to help with a refugee family. I’ve been through my training and was just waiting to be matched with a family. 

I learned quite a lot about refugees and the resettlement process in my training. I learned the difference between immigrants and refugees. Immigrants choose to leave their homes because of education, economics, or to join other family members. Refugees, however, are forced to leave their homes because of persecution related to race, religion, politics, nationality, or social class. Refugees are not here to better their lives, they are here to survive. 

There are 59.5 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide. 70,000 refugees are resettled in the United States annually. Remember, these are refugees – not immigrants. 


So, I found out about my family yesterday. I received permission to share some information, as long as it is very general and not specific. This is to protect the family’s privacy of course, but also because they are seeking asylum in this country because they have been persecuted. They may have family members still at risk in their homeland. 

My family is from Afghanistan. They are a young couple with a 4 1/2 year little girl and a 6 month old baby boy. I know that the father speaks English (thank goodness). And that is basically all I know thus far. I am assuming they will be arriving with very little. World Relief sets them up in an apartment with very basic necessities – one towel per person, for example (no extras).  Basic kitchen supplies. In the beginning, they will be very busy with orientation meetings, doctor appointments and immunizations, school enrollments, the parents will be taking English as a second Language classes, going to job interviews, etc. I will be meeting with them once a week to help them with any issues they may be having in adjusting to a new country and culture – to explain things to them, and help them become familiar with new and strange devices and experiences. I will help them to grocery shop and show them how to read the labels and compare prices. I will help them become familiar with Jacksonville’s bus system, since they will be reliant upon it. I’ll help them find their local library and help them get a library card and show them how to find books and use the computers (because they will most likely not have one of their own.) 

My volunteer title is friendship partner, and I think it’s an apt one. Mostly, I’m to be a support to them. A friend. They will have a caseworker who will be assisting them with job hunting, etc. My job is more of a helpmate. If they are frustrated with figuring out the microwave, I’ll help them. American stores can be overwhelming for foreigners – I can help explain what some of the strange items are. I’m just there to help them. Their lives have been in turmoil and they’ve been uprooted and are now in a strange and unfamiliar land, far from their families and friends and everything they’ve ever known. Everything is strange and unfamiliar and frustrating. 

My heart breaks for these families. 

I wish I could do more. 

But please, think about about what life is like for them. Think about your life. Now imagine being a young family with two small children (which is stressful in itself), and being uprooted and placed in a new land where everything is unfamiliar and you know no one. Imagine living in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment. You have one set of sheets per bed. One towel per person. Minimal kitchen supplies – basically a pot, a frying pan, a few plates, cups, some cutlery. You have a baby…but certainly no luxuries like a diaper genie or a baby bouncer. 

I’m trying to gather a few small things to welcome my family when I meet them. A few little toys for the children. Perhaps a rice cooker for the parents. Definitely a few extra towels. 


Winter Break…

The kids spent the past couple of weeks immersed in books and laptops, studying and writing papers and (Clay) doing research. They drank copious amounts of coffee and stared at notecards and computer screens until their eyes ached…and then they took their final exams for the semester. 

Now they are both finished until January, and both are thoroughly enjoying sleeping in and being lazy. Clay still has ongoing research projects he is working on, and still has work, but other than that he’s enjoying his free time. Paige has been bonding with Jack and reading and enjoying having a room all to herself and being able to shower without having to wear shoes. 
We are all looking forward to Christmas and the quiet serenity of the mountains of North Carolina. 

I’m also excited about a new project I’ll be undertaking in 2016. I am volunteering to help refugee families with World Relief in Jacksonville. I have training in early January, and then after that I will be a “friendship partner” to a newly arriving refugee family. I will meet them at the airport and each week for several months, helping them with anything they need help with; getting a library card, learning to use American appliances, answering questions, helping with English, explaining cultural differences, etc. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to expect…but I’m very excited about the opportunity to share something of myself and, hopefully, be an example of American generosity and hospitality. I hope that all of the refugee families resettling in America (who, by the way, have usually been waiting to come here for several years) are met with love and grace and kindness. There has been so much hateful, xenophobic rhetoric from certain people in the news lately…I am ashamed for anyone to think that that is how Americans are. 

I encourage you to read about some of the Syrian refugees who have been cleared to come to the United States as profiled on  Humans of New York. I also encourage anyone who feels moved by the stories of unimaginable suffering, to donate either monetarily or of your time to World Relief. (Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services are also wonderful organizations helping with refugee resettlement.)