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By Hannah Bemis

I’m not great at Legos. But since my son Abel is, I try to get down onto the floor to create something with him every once in a while. At first glance Abel and I have very little in common. He loves sports, painting and drawing, Legos, construction, and chatting with all people. I love none of those things, but I do love him. So occasionally we build things together.

My creations are uninspired and amateur, but he forgives me for that and we talk while we play. He asks me crazy-deep questions like, “Mom, what is your dream?” and I ask them back. Last week after he broke the ice with a few questions, he confessed something to me: “Mom, that time when we were camping, I was in the bathroom and I saw a boy with no hands sitting on the ground. He was trying to zip his backpack but he couldn’t get it.… I was too afraid to help him.”

We talked about how sometimes when we meet people who are different from us, it can feel hard or scary to talk to them. I told him I understand being afraid but that it’s important to be brave and to make friends with all kinds of people so we can show them God’s love. He thought for a minute then exclaimed, “Like Dad does at his job!”

For the past six years my husband, Jordan, has worked for the Christian non-profit World Relief, helping settle refugees into our city of Spokane, Washington. Jordan always wanted to go see the world, but I was kind of a homebody, so God in His kindness brought the world to us. Today some of our sweetest memories, favorite foods, and best friends have been given to us by countries I’d previously never heard of. My kids have had babysitters from Kazakhstan, Iraq, Eritrea, and Belarus. They’ve played “Don’t let the balloon touch the ground” with their two-year-old friend from Afghanistan, sword fought using broken golf clubs with friends from Burma, and planted flowers with friends from Congo. Names like Saw, Sajida, Paki, Frozan, and Mustafa have become common to my kids and bring to mind the faces of great friends.

I say all this to portray that our family frequently interacts with people who, on the face of it, are very different from us. Different countries, religions, foods, languages – those types of things don’t phase us so much anymore. And yet we are just as guilty as anyone else of putting up walls between ourselves and others whom we perceive to be different from us in other ways – in physical appearance, in socio-economic status, in fashion sense or hairstyle, in their language patterns or the lifestyle they embrace, in the politics they preach or the values they hold dear. When encountering these differences, I often catch myself taking a step back instead of a step forward. I find that I’m a little scared or shy to make contact with these people, pretty certain that we won’t have anything in common, very certain there will be awkwardness or rejection to contend with.

My kids will be starting a new school together this fall. At their orientation a few weeks ago, my mind began drifting during the presentation, and I found myself observing all the other new parents present. I wondered who among them might become my friends, my community, “my people.” As my eyes settled on a few faces and skimmed over others, I felt a check in my spirit that I was subconsciously ruling out anyone who didn’t look like me. There were people in the room from all walks of life (we’re talking public school here!), and I was assuming that “my people” would be those who were just like me.

I inwardly rolled my eyes (have I learned nothing in the last six years?) and began again, this time truly looking at everyone. The single woman with all the tattoos and body piercings looked pretty different from me, but she was also loving her son well and making self-deprecating jokes: totally my people. I felt God challenge me with the thought that my people weren’t going to be who I thought they’d be. He’s been making my world bigger through all the different people I’ve met and will continue to do so.

When we become brave enough to befriend those we initially believe are “other,” our worlds become bigger. We are exposed to the experiences, perspectives, and stories of someone we will never be, and that is such a gift. The funny thing is, the closer we get in proximity to someone who is different from us, the less different they seem. The mother who looks nothing like me on the outside feels the same fierce love for her kids as I do for mine. The boy who has no hands shares a passion for soccer with the boy who has both hands. Every child from every country loves a good game of “Don’t let the balloon touch the ground.” And what about me and Abel, the son with whom I have nothing in common? Well, turns out when I asked him to tell me his dream, he said it was “to have kids and a nice family,” and that happens to be my dream too.

When we are brave enough to take a step toward “different” instead of a step back, when we choose to invite the “other” into our lives, our perspectives are expanded and enriched. When we make an effort, however clumsy, to create something with someone we feel we have nothing in common with, we might accidentally build something. We might even be shocked to discover we share the same dreams.

About The Author

Hannah Bemis

Hannah Bemis lives in Spokane, Washington, with her husband, Jordan, and their three kids. She works as both a mom and as a private tutor, and loves writing about what God reveals to her through the chaotic and mundane events of everyday life. She and her family attend Turning Point Open Bible Church, also in Spokane.