Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dishes Can Wait

I woke up tired, slapped together some quick breakfast, threw in a load of laundry, and rushed to get out of the door on time.  As usual, I was late.  I drove to her apartment, my mind racing with the litany of things I could be doing.  "My house is a wreck.  I didn't unload the dishwasher.  Tali needs help with her phonics.  I hope the kids are good for their grandma.  Do I really have time for this?"

I saw her waiting quietly for me by her front door, her sweet baby girl peeking out at me from the colorful wrap. Instant screams erupted as I lifted the little one into her carseat and headed to the clinic with my Burmese friend and her baby.  I had no idea exactly why the visit was needed, only that she can't speak much English or drive and needed my help to get there.

"How many years married?" I asked her in simplified English.  She thought for a moment, then smiled, "Seven year," she replied.  

"I...Katie...I am 31.  How old are you?"  "Thirty year," she confidently said as we pulled into the clinic parking lot, searching for an open space.  I have known my new friend for a couple of months now but I marveled at this piece of information.  We have both been married for seven years.  We are almost the same age.  And yet our lives could not have unfolded more differently.  All I have known is safety, stability, familiarity.  All that my friend has known is upheaval.

We quickly took the crying baby out of the carseat and she fastened her into her wrap once more.  I attempted to tell her how beautiful I thought the wrap was with little success.  "Kee-tee, kahz-oles?  Like kahz-oles?" she peered into my eyes.  I wracked my brain for some sort of guess as to what "kahz-oles" meant but came up with nothing.  As often is the case with our conversations, we both smiled, knowing we had tried to communicate and had failed.

We entered a waiting room surrounded by loud, energetic children.  There were babies crying.  There were toddlers standing on tables.  There was Spanish and broken English and in the noise and commotion, my friend's sweet baby was lulled right to sleep.  Everywhere I looked I saw pregnant teenage mothers toting solemn faced children and nurses patiently smiling amidst the chaos and poverty.

"How many years were you in the refugee camp?"  I asked.  I learned that she had lived half of her life there, met her husband there, even had four of her five babies there.  "When...I come America?  I no English," she shook her head and smiled. 

After around an hour of waiting, we were finally called back.  Through the help of a translator, the doctor conveyed her concern for the baby's low iron counts and weight that had dropped off of the charts.  Nutritional concepts are completely new to my dear friend who has spent years eating mainly beans and rice.  The baby needs iron and protein and fat.  The doctor asked if I could help her go shopping for some healthy foods for the baby.

As we left the clinic, I asked her about going grocery shopping.  "No money on card.  No money till 17," she said.  Thankful that I could help in some small way, I bought her some groceries.  I tried to explain how to make the baby cereal, and we drove back to her apartment.  It had now been three hours since I had left home.  I carried the food to her kitchen and began to leave.  

"Kee-tee?"  She called my name as she picked up a stack of beautiful blue cloth.  "Kee-tee, kahz-oles.  For you.  Kahz-oles.  Thank you." I unfolded the intricately woven skirt and shirt that she had brought with her all the way from Thailand, running my fingers over the colorful design.  I looked up into her smiling face, amazed at this act of extravagant kindness from my friend that truly has very few possessions.  

Hours before, I had wondered if I had the time to help.  Now, as I drove the fifteen minutes home, my eyes brimmed with tears and my mind flooded with the sights and sounds of the afternoon.  All of the injustices that my friend has seen in her life, all of the pregnant scared young moms like I saw in the waiting room, people with no money to buy their baby food, all of the doctors and nurses and relief workers everywhere trying to make a difference in a world where there is always another need to fill...it felt sickening and oppressive.  I cried out to God to do something, to come and act and help.  And I whispered thanks to Him for how He already is helping-for the opportunity to be a part of His work in caring for even just this one family.  As I looked at my new "kahz-oles" (clothes), I suddenly could not imagine a better use of my afternoon.

* If you would like to know more about helping a refugee family in need, this is a great place to check out.

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6 Responses to “Dishes Can Wait”

  1. Katie,

    This is amazing. You have such a way with words. And what a beautiful woman and her daughter.

    We've worked with some families from Burma in our ESL classes, mostly Karen people. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karen_people) They tend to have extremely low levels of literacy, but hearts so big you can't even believe it!

    I know one phrase in Karen. I don't know if the woman you work with is Karen-speaking, but if she is, you can say "Pelelele." It basically means "Hey! Good to see you." or something like that. It's a greeting. :)

    There's my Burmese knowledge...

  2. Oops. I thought it would ask for my google account after I posted. This is Jolene... :)

  3. LOVE.
    I know that awful, selfish feeling that seems to permeate the mind. You know you're doing God's will but you're not happy about it.

    I HATE that feeling. Thankfully, though, God doesn't leave me to my selfish self and helps me to perservere and incredibly...without fail...I AM THE ONE WHO IS BLESSED through it. Grace doesn't make any sense but I am thankful for it! Jesus is wonderful.

  4. So, so beautiful, Katie. Your heart, your words, this woman. Thanks for the reminder that it is ALWAYS good to "inconvenience" ourselves in order to love.

  5. Pretty fitting that you would post this the day before "World Refugee Day" (which is today)!

    Of the 15 million refugees worldwide, I couldn't be more thankful that your getting to know this family. I see so many ways in which God orchestrated this friendship and the fruitful blessings to come as a result.

    Grateful for a heart that lets dishes wait and a heart that selflessly serves others. What an example you are.

    P.s. Pictures capture such authentic representation of this family! Job well done, Katie!

  6. I forgot to tell you that I loved this. But I did. It's beautiful.