This weekend we headed back to Nebraska to see Trung’s folks. I had only met them once when they came through Denver on their way out for vacation, and then only for about an hour or so. They couldn’t come to the wedding due to the Covid outbreak, and so, nearly two years after I met them, after we knew they were vaccinated, we decided it was time.
Visiting his parents has been like stepping back in time for me. White slate fireplace, much like my own grandpa’s back in Idaho. Red and white marbled tile in the basement, like my grandpa’s office. An old but beautiful claw bathtub in the basement bathroom. Wood paneling like a house I lived in as a teen. Nothing updated, nothing new, random things crammed in every possible corner… and family pictures displayed proudly on the main wall, for all to see.
I love it.
Pictures of their kids growing up hung on nearly every wall in those multiple-photo-collage-frames. Graduation pictures too, as each one of their kids shook hands and earned their diplomas. Then the family pictures when they were home from college (and yes Trung even pointed out the freshman fifteen he gained that first year – haha!). Grandkid photos on the frig and stuck between the glass and wood frame of the china cabinet. Our wedding portrait with his sisters and their families right there, in the middle of it all.
They welcomed me in as if they’d known me for years. Sharing family stories over tea, passing along family heirlooms, things they had saved for Trung for when he got married…even offering to buy us a new frig if we needed it when Trung jokingly said they could bequeath their frig to us in the will. Sitting there, listening…. hearing other parts of their family story that were new to me, I began to see more of where the man I fell in love with gets it from.
Oh sure, I grew up in a family that would have “given the shirt off their back” to anyone who needed. I always heard that about all my family back in Idaho, and I watched my parents model the same kind of generosity. But this was different for me somehow. These are immigrants who came here escaping a Communist regime. They did anything and everything to make it here, provide for their 5 kids (who are now all very successful). They helped bring other families here. They live on a retirement salary now, and yet here they are offering to help, still. My parents do the same, and I would do the same for my kids, but there is something so humbling about it coming from a family that started with nothing. Literally. It’s not that my parents were wealthy or that I was anything more than average growing up, but my dad was an officer in the military. We did just fine. Mom sewed my clothes until practically high school, I dressed like a dork in the 80’s like everyone did, we hardly ever ate out (and when we did it was Pizza Hut or KFC)… but listening to how they left everything behind to start a new life here? Vastly different from my story. It’s more than humbling.
Hear me clearly: I’m not saying that just because you may have been born here that you had it easy. I know countless people that were native-born Americans (of various backgrounds) but their families have similar struggling stories. Deep poverty where there wasn’t ever food in the frig, families who worked two jobs not only to provide but also to move to safer neighborhoods. People whose parents prayed their kids wouldn’t be the ones shot by stray bullets. White families, black families, brown families. Every color, every nationality. Poverty and the struggle to make it here is no respecter of the level of melanin you have in your skin. But the pursuit to work hard, the goal to provide, not to have the “latest and greatest’ at every turn, but to have what you need, and to have a little extra so you can still help others who have less than you?
Priceless. Necessary. A more than honorable goal.
I have had a number of discussions with 20-somethings, and one of the most striking things I think I have ever heard was a statement that they think the “American Dream” is unreachable for them, because everything has become so expensive and they can’t find the jobs that allow them to earn what they need to get there. But if an immigrant family with 5 kids can sit at the end of their life and look back and realize what they have done…. how can some version not be attainable in the next generations?
Somehow I question if what is sold as the “American Dream” has at its focus the wrong thing. Why does it seem to have a particular expected outcome, so that the next generations think its unattainable? I guess I am just thinking that no matter how you define it, whether its a place to call your own, a secure job that supports you (and maybe more), a travel budget, freedom to work when you want, or whatever else your goal is, its going to take hard work. Long hours. Saving and not going into debt if you can avoid it. Times you succeed and times you fail – and learn to not make the same mistakes. You can’t control life all the time… so I guess I wonder….are you asking the right questions?
Jesus talked some about working really, really hard, only to lose your life. I don’t think for one minute he was saying hard work and providing for yourself (and family) wasn’t a good goal. It’s just that there is MORE than just working. More than just what your hands can produce. Are you looking for that along the way? Are you looking for what is hidden, are you cultivating that inner life and contentment, are you investing in helping others out of their hard places?
There was a song back in the 80’s called “Doubly Good to You” by Amy Grant. I think the lyrics express at least some of the questions we need to be asking:
“If you look in the mirror at the end of a hard day, and you know in your heart you have not lied, and if you gave love freely and if you earned an honest wage…..”
Those questions – aren’t they a better way to measure life? This certainly seems to be more of the lens that I see my parents have used to measure their life now that they are in their 70’s… and I see this in Trung’s parents as well.
So my question and challenge to you, my friends, is this: What can you learn from the lives of those that are different from you? Have you taken the time to listen — really listen? And if you have, is it changing you? For those of you who walk with Jesus, filled with his Spirit.. are you letting it give you new eyes to be grateful, new ways to show compassion to others just trying to make it?
Musings from this local Nebraska coffee shop……
Blessings, my friends!