Pennsylvania, Road Trip, and Never-too-much Mumford and Sons


A Thanksgiving Reflection We just got back from a family Thanksgiving road trip to Ohio, which went something like this:  Adele, Sting, U2 (family standards), Bon Iver (very high-pitched and dreamy), Goo Goo Dolls, Philip Philips, some exceptionally loud pita chips I bought, the almost interminable Pennsylvania, the Lumineers (who seem to like yelling at line breaks), a baby crying in Roy Rogers (I think maybe everyone wants to cry in Roy Rogers), Lifehouse, a bit of complaining and a lot of Madame Defarge-like clickety-clacking from the backseat.

And, of course, the ever-crescendoing, practically galloping, Mumford and Sons, who seem to be neither siblings nor multi-generational nor very quiet.  Interesting their new album is called “Babel.”

"You can never have too much Mumford and Sons," is what my daughter Julia had to say about it.

I’m not completely sure I agree, though I do think the song that goes I will wait, I will wait… I will wait, I will wait… may just be the quintessentially perfect Pennsylvania song.  I estimate that if you put it on continuous play, you would probably get through it about 58 times between New Jersey and West Virginia.

But I can tell already that this blog post is threatening to head off in random directions.  My goal was to sit down and write a brief Thanksgiving reflection on why I'm glad to be working with refugees.   

Here’s a connection:  Somewhere in the perfect Pennsylvania song is a phrase—a prayer—that goes “fix my eyes.”  And for some reason, this fix my eyes phrase got stuck in my head through our Thanksgiving road trip and gave me another reason to be thankful to be a part of founding Beautiful Day.

I grew up in a Baptist church where I also happened to win the 4th grade Vacation Bible School prize for memorizing the most Scripture.  (I won a 10-speed bike.)  So, “fix my eyes,” reminded me of Jesus saying “The eyes are the lamp of the body,” or his prophesy that “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open."

That was certainly a great verse make a 4th-grader nervous.  But around Harrisburg I started to wonder if exposing what is hidden and seeing more clearly doesn’t always need to be bad news.  It could be really good news.  There are plenty of hidden joys waiting to be discovered.

But yes, back to Thanksgiving and refugees. Refugees are among the hidden people in our communities.  While the countries they come from—like Syria—make the news, they usually don't.  One family I've been visiting recently arrived from Damascus.  They are clearly glad to be here.  They're glad to be safe.  They talk about Syria as if they dodged a bullet.  They’re delighted to serve me tiny cups of intensely strong coffee.  They always convince me to stay longer than I’d intended.

But they don't seem to leave the house very much.  The young man in the family is 22.  On my last visit I kept asking if he goes exploring. He knows a little English. He has a bus card. “This is your city, now,” I told him.  He laughed, but he didn’t sound convinced.  The truth is, he will benefit by discovering, just as much as some of us would benefit from discovering him.

Here’s part of my Thanksgiving list:

I’m thankful for the progress of the last few months.  Beautiful Day has a growing board.  We have an incredible intern.  We’re laying the groundwork to apply for some grants.   We’ve received a lot of good press.  And we’re getting ready to accept ownership of the Providence Granola Project.

I’m thankful for the way Providence Granola is enabling us to accomplish parts of our mission. There are now enough people buying and eating our granola that we’re expecting to make a literal ton of it during the holiday season.  And this means jobs.  One of our employees just moved on to a full time job, so we’ve been able to hire another refugee, Dawt Ling from Burma.  If we get any busier, I hope to hire the 22-year old Iraqi from Syria.

I’m thankful for all who have donated towards allowing this organization to take shape.  So far we’ve raised about 11K, which is slightly more than half way to our goal to cover launching expenses.  It seems especially significant that these gifts represent broad grass roots support, primarily from individuals, who care personally about enabling refugees to build a life in Providence.  It’s encouraging to see even the process of raising funds resulting in partnerships and shared commitments to refugees.

And I’m thankful to be doing work I really believe in—of helping refugees out of the shadows.  In truth, the financial risks and unknowns scare me. I sometimes wish we had a blueprint to follow.  But, especially following this political season when billions were spent on special interests and posturing and half-truths, it seems amazing how little it really takes to positively impact hidden people’s lives.