I cannot recall many memories from my childhood, although I do have a mountain of vivid imageries of what might have been –drawn from my very creative imagination from the numerously painful and beautiful stories my grandmother, mother and father (at times bashfully and other times, excitedly) shared of their journeys through life AND across the Mekong River. During an early morning in 1979 when we found ourselves quietly and yet frantically racing to reach the riverbank, my parents prayed for survival and trusted that we were heading to a better situation than the one they were faced with as the Communist regime occupied Laos after the Vietnam War was declared over.
I often reflect upon what it must have taken emotionally, physically and spiritually to conjure up the courage and escape our war-torn homeland – pile ourselves inside a small boat with our family of seven – rowing into the unknown, praying to make it to the shores of Thailand before sunrise and somehow find our way inside the safe confines of a the closest refugee camp we could stumble upon.
By the grace of God and all the workings of the Universe, we survived – all seven together – with mom being many months pregnant with my youngest brother and digging ditches underneath barb-wired borders of the refugee camp to enter and secure our safety.
I don’t have a single memory of the refugee camp. Neither do any of my other siblings. Perhaps the chaos was too much for our young minds to bear. As mentioned earlier, I only have those stories from my grandmother and parents to draw from. According to them, the camp consisted of thousands of tents, most of which housed multiple families in one- some had mattresses; others had only blankets and pillows that laid on top of earth. Many people suffered from sickness and malnutrition. Some of the refugees roamed around grief-stricken over lost or displaced loved ones. There were so many “foreigners” too – people who worked inside the camps and spoke unfamiliar languages we couldn’t understand. Everything was new and alarming.
Less than a year from when we arrived, we were informed that a church – this very church – Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church – was willing to sponsor our entire family to come and make a new life inside the United States of America. I was too young then to fully comprehend that this was truly an unbelievable act of kindness!
Today, I no longer believe in such a thing as unbelievable acts of kindness. I do believe in the goodness of people and the enormous capacity of the human heart.
Nevertheless, this act did boggle my mind… to think that a small congregation of people across the world from us, voted to take on the responsibility of nurturing and guiding seven lost and scared souls in the world to make us feel cared for, wanted, and protected. When so many churches struggle to keep their operations and worship going – your congregation decided to give your hearts, money, and energy to offer us a true chance at life. You also made many sacrifices to find creative ways of raising money for our clothing, housing, and the basic necessity such as food and steady income. This effort went on for years. I never got the chance to personally say THANK YOU! So…Thank you… for doing what you may have felt was a “little deed” that actually became our lifeline.
Your decision- that little deed- possibly saved all of our lives- it certainly shifted the course of our destiny and allowed us to be where we are today- where I am at this very moment- living my dreams out loud- filled with love, hope, and gratitude for all that has been delivered to me thus far. All I feel now is an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the blessings offered since the day we got the news of your sponsorship. From that point on, I spend a lot of time paying attention to each and every blessing of love, kindness, hope, peace, joy and for the gift of each new day; the gift of LIFE.
Today, 32 years after our arrival to this beautiful country, I stand here as a reminder that even the tiniest of gestures, minor or impulsive decisions, or seemingly miniscule actions that we take- the deeds we may consider to be little – can turn into a miracle for someone desperately in need of air as they take another hopeful breath, a map to lead them home, or to be that angel of hope and faith to help them believe in life again- reminding them that there is a greater power at work and a deeper meaning of their place in the world.
I’d like to give a few personal examples of the “little deeds” acted upon from others that changed the course of my life:
• The first example seems so fitting for today: A tie-breaking vote by Jean McCarty of this very church 32 years ago, that allowed for my family to be sponsored to America
• My parent’s decision to work multiple jobs with very little rest and save every penny was what placed food in our stomachs and afforded us a single family home, only 7 years after our arrival to the U.S.
• Mrs. Cartwright, my 9th grade English teacher- believing so much in my poetry that she submitted my work to a contest where my first poem, “I Came on My Own” was published – encouraging me to believe in my own gifts as a poet and molded me into the writer I am today.
• And what about all the warm hugs, long conversations, laughter, constructive criticism and mentorship from my family and friends who continue to elevate my desires and goals in life of inspiring others to see their uniqueness in the world, own their special gifts and talents, and release/share themselves with others
• And certainly, I can’t forget such little deeds that took place on my path that now allow for the sweet echoes of laughter and words of encouragement still lingering in my heart from my loved ones who have passed on – telling me to live my passion, be my purpose and shine my special light
• AND most importantly, every deed made and offered in each present moment – whether it is a grin from my mother when we joke about my dating life or a laugh and the roll of the eyes from my brother when I try to pretend I fully understand football and mix up all the plays & terminology. It’s the little fleeting moments when I actually get kisses back from my two young nephews, and my grandmother’s outstretched hands when I’ve been gone to long from her. These tiny little acts – make the whole of me. They encourage me, motivate me, ground me and allow me to keep moving forward in life. Without them – my world would be very quiet and lacking in vibrancy.
What we say, do, and BE shifts everything in the collectiveness of Universal movement. We all make this world go round and our little deeds impact everything and everyone in it.
In closing, I want to read an original poem to express my appreciation for your open arms and how light and my bright my world is because of your acts of kindness. Think of this poem as if it were coming from the people in your lives. The people that you love, the people currently in your lives and the people you will one day meet.
“Crossing the Ocean”
Night skies whisper a familiar tune
Taking me back to days I barely recall
I was a child transformed – an adult before sentences formed to escape my lips
I arrived to greet winter storms – so foreign to my eyes and spirit
I shiver to think what would have become if I never made it to find you
If dawn had arrived too soon for me to cross,
How safe would my haven have been on the other side?
I did not have any corners left to turn, only forward…
Taking fearful, determined strides to claim a new home
You – so far in the distance – waited anxiously with open arms
Night skies now sing a familiar song, pondering when I will be ready
To place my bare feet upon her soil once more
I am still that child – now an adult who speaks too many sentences out loud
Wishing to return to dance alongside her tropical breeze
I tremble to think how my world would be if she never forced me free,
Crossing the ocean with nothing but a fiery spirit to guide me
Through open seas
THANK YOU FOR RECEIVING MY FAMILY WITH OPEN AND LOVING ARMS FROM ACROSS THE OCEAN AND INTO YOUR HEARTS TODAY!