A few months ago, my friend Stephanie's grandma was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In spite of brain surgery and chemotherapy, the tumor has grown, and her grandma is now on hospice. When I had coffee with Stephanie recently, I asked her when she'd seen her grandma last. She told me it had been a few weeks. She said it was too overwhelming to see her grandma suffering and not be able to intervene.

"I don't know what to do, so I don't do anything," she said. "What do you think?"

I have not faced anything as serious as what Stephanie's family is going through, but I've had similar questions about a family of Somali refugees I've been working with here in Portland. Sometimes I'm encouraged by how far they've come, and other times I'm discouraged by how far they still have to go. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed, I avoid visiting the family because it's too difficult to engage in a problem that I cannot solve completely.

And then I think about something my mom likes to say, that God made us human beings, not human doers. Life is about who we are being and who we are becoming, not so much about what we are able to accomplish.

The more I've worked with the refugee family, the more I've learned that not only do I need to be as an individual; I need to learn how to be with others—not to fix or change or cure them, but to be with them where they are.

So when Stephanie asked me what I thought she should do, I told her, "Your grandma doesn't need you to cure her. She needs you to be with her. She needs you to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, holding her hand."

I told myself the same thing about the Somali family. I cannot give them everything they need, but I can sit with them in their cold apartment. I can eat rice with them from ...

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