Life is messy
November 2021

By Michelle O, a worker among refugees.

"Look at that chair!"

This was the comment repeated over and over by a group of older women come here to "help" with refugees.

"Couldn't they control their children?"

"Don't they respect property? What a pity!"

I know the kids who left crayon marks and dirt smudges on the pure white arm chair. They're adorable. Ringlet yellow curls bounce around faces that are learning to smile again.

I know their story. Nine children. All safe. They left their home suddenly one morning with little on them. They survived crowded days living on a street waiting to get into an airport - their only hope out of a country given over suddenly to terrorists. They cried. They huddled together. They endured the heat of the summer sun. They sheltered when the bullets and whips flew through the crowd.

They got the golden ticket, and made it through the gates, one after the other carrying the youngest. On a plane. Then days in a camp in Qatar. Transferred to Frankfurt for a week more in barracks with beds lined up in rows. Then to Virginia. Weeks more there in temporary housing with several families all in one room. Nothing to do. Just to think.... to think of family who didn't make it out. Relatives they will likely never see again.

Mom told me the little one cries because her favorite uncle had a birthday party back home, and she cried because no one took her to the party. She asks her grandma, "Why didn't you invite me, too?" She can't comprehend the distance and the closed borders between them.

Now they are here. In a building built by donations. Built to house short-term teams, but pressed into service as housing for refugees. A house designed by a designer, not a mom. Beautiful white upholstered chairs line the dining room, white sofas and white curtains decorate the living room.

A day before these families arrived, we sat in this room with those about to welcome the families. Nine kids on one side, six on another. We stared at the white decor and shook our heads. "What were they thinking to style it that way?" But we shrugged.

"It's only furniture."

The week they were there before they found housing, we visited often. We played with the kids. We smiled watching balls being thrown in the yard, and sometimes in the house. Beautiful kids learning to laugh again. Energetic kids running around. Kids processing trauma fighting and sulking. Sick kids screaming. Normal kids.

Mom and Dad stared blankly at the walls at times. So very much change. What had they seen those last days? What chances had they taken? What pressure is on them from those inside trying to get out? What immense stress on them now to think of rebuilding an entire life in a new place that they don't even understand the language! So much trauma. So much stress.

I faced immense stress at a few times in my life. One time, I remember staring at a can opener bewildered. I couldn't figure out how to use it, how to open a can of soup to feed my children. I set the soup down and made peanut butter sandwiches. Stress does unusual things. It numbs and paralyzes our brains.

"How could they let them ruin those chairs? Crayon marks all over it!"

"Didn't they have any control of their kids? Or teach them to respect property? What a waste!"
And then they went on to discuss a city one had lived in before. A city that immigrants moved into.

"Once they came, the city was never the same. We just had to move."

I sat drinking coffee with them. Trying to share pieces of culture of the people they had come to help and show love to. Trying to give insight into the situation here.

But I wanted to cry. I wanted to invite them to pile back into their van and go home. Except that I hoped that maybe they would learn to see something different if they stayed.

Because they saw two ruined chairs. And we saw nine living children.

Safe. Learning to laugh again. Learning to color.

The chairs are maybe $200 each.

How much is a child worth?

So I bit my tongue and shared my love for the people who have arrived in our land. A vibrant people. A welcoming people. A family-oriented people. A hard-working people. And a traumatized people.

A people who need love. Love that is even willing to overlook crayon on the chairs. Crayon never gets on chairs when children's bodies are blown up by bombs. Crayon never gets on chairs when young girls are taken by controlling forces to be their slaves. Spotlessly white rooms don't always mean life, but death.

I hope they see while they are here. I hope they see that life is not always spotless, but it is valuable.

Please pray for these refugee families as they settle into their new homes. Pray that they are greeted by people who love God and will love them, even through the messiness of life.

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Michelle O.