Lessons from a (late) newlywed, Part 3: A trip down memory lane

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!

Celebrating Mom

So today is my mom’s 74th birthday. I know she reads my blog so she will probably be very embarassed that I am writing this, but how can I not?

I can honestly say I am blessed to have a mom like her. I know that many other women out there, young and old alike, cannot say that. She wasn’t perfect of course – because no mom is – but as the years go by I understand just how strong a woman she has been all these years in spite of the tough stuff of life.

As a family growing up, we moved every few years since my dad was in the Army. So often in fact, that when my mom finished a table top quilt recently, I was counting the houses on it for fun and realized that I had moved almost as many times as there were houses! Mom was always the champion of “the next adventure” – finding the scout groups or sports groups in the next community, getting to know the schools and teachers, and being momma bear when she needed to be. I wouldn’t have known what she was actively doing was making sure we felt safe at home, but we did. We always knew she had our back and that we were well loved.

How hard it was for her to leave the community she had just gotten used to was lost on me as a kid, but she always helped get us connected. She always held hope in what was next, was a voice of encouragement when we hit rough spots, and a model of what it meant to serve her family.

What I have loved most is watching her “grow up” over the course of my adult life. She always believed in God, but came alive to who Jesus was and the sweetness of a relationship with Him when I was in college. Talk about falling in love. Everything about her breathes the love of Jesus. People know it when they see her, when they eat the cookies she eagerly bakes, the quilts she has prayed over and she gifts, and the way she eagerly invites folks into her life.

I appreciate her continued willingness to learn – whether it was about how to think about a current social issue or to understand a portion of scripture that seemed troublesome. Now, as my dad ages, she has a whole new set of things to learn. I know its hard, and I can’t save her from it. … but she is grappling with because she must. Every step of it is bathed in prayer and in love, and it shows. What is cool to see too, is how their community, both in church and in their neighborhood, get to see the gift of my mom too – and they love her as much as I do!

Her life represents so much of what I see in Proverbs 31, especially the way the late Rachel Held Evans talks about it in her book “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”. She speaks of Prov 31 more as a blessing for difficult things that woman tackle, with great strength. Mom has done that – all her life. It has brought laughter and tears, good times and difficult ones – but she has come out still laughing and finding joy like a little child. It’s absolutely beautiful.

I am blessed to be her daughter, and I can only hope my own daughters (and those that call me “mom” that I didn’t biologically give birth to) are blessed by my life as I have been blessed by hers!

“A woman of valor and bravery, who can find? She is far more valueable than rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, not harm, all the days of her life…” — Prov 31:10-12

Eschet Chayil mom… I love you!