On December 30th the Wall Street Journal ran this story about a young man from Syria named Omar. My husband often picks out articles for Will (12) and Nate (10) to read, and oftentimes his choices have either a business or sports theme, but this one had neither. Instead, the story is about the hardships Omar has faced living in tumultuous Syria and the transformation the unrest has wreaked on his own life. His family used to have a modest business and live a comfortable life. But with the uprising everything changed. Omar (17) finally left Syria, on his own, for Lebanon. After obtaining a job where he works 14-hour days six days a week, and a half day on Sunday, he has brought his family to live with him. His parents along with Omar and his six siblings live in a one-room apartment.
After the boys read the article, we tried to help them process Omar’s story. We asked them about the difference between first-world and third-world problems, and explained how the living conditions in Syria deteriorated. We talked about how war ravages a society. We asked them if something like that could happen here in the U.S. It was an incredibly fruitful half-hour. Then my husband said that he wants 2014 to be a year in which we Jacksons all have a spirit of gratitude, and that we need to find ways to serve the needy as a family. Serving as a family — devoting time and energy — is not something we’ve been good about. We did our end-of-year giving that same day, but there’s something too detached and too easy about writing a check.
We decided that when we are not exhibiting a spirit of gratitude we will hold each other accountable, we can even just use the code word: Omar.
Then yesterday we were back at the Honda dealership (where we had previously brought our rake). We had to resign some papers because the VIN number was actually incorrect. As we sat there with our charming finance guy, Ardi, we learned his story was strikingly similar to Omar’s. He came here from war-torn Kosovo in the late 90’s. He was by himself. He did not know more than “Hi” and “Bye” in English. Guess how old he was? That’s right – seventeen. His father was killed in the war, and Ardi said that we would not have believed all that he had witnessed. He said he just wakes up grateful every day to have a job, to be here in America. And our boys got to meet him!
So that’s how we are kicking off the New Year. We have the story of Omar and the in-the-flesh example of Ardi.
May this year be a year where we “Give thanks in all circumstances,” be a family of grateful spirits, and find a meaningful place to serve.