Hope is Beautiful

1 John 1:7

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
My friend and I used to get in constant arguments about the beauty of God’s creation. “It’s beautiful,” she’d agree, “but the evil and pain is overwhelming. It’s all too heavy. Look how people suffer!” I’d agree but explain that she wasn’t looking close enough. “Beauty’s light overwhelms the dark, every time,” I’d say. But we were both a bit naive. God’s beauty was in everything: the sweet smell of rotting leaves, the colored pebbles on the path, the hug and smile of a friend like herself. But evil is dark and heavy, too, and easy to find.
Recently, I find myself overwhelmed with the evil I see around me. It’s all too heavy, I think. I hear story after story of family and friend’s loved ones who are sick, hurt, dying or desperate and then turning away from those who love them; they are victims of circumstance and other people’s sin. Where is God in these situations? Where is the beauty when suffering is all around?
My heart felt cold this Sunday as I thought of all the pain and loss of those dear to me. I chose to sing along with the hymn ” Jesus Paid it All,” though the beauty and the music of the words were not yet touching me.
As we sang through the chorus the first time, the words- “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow” -rolled over me. When we sang them a second time, I was reminded of all my faults, including my inability to worship that morning, and I was grieved and relieved all at once as I remembered God’s forgiving grace.
Finally, my thoughts came back to all the recent wounds and pain that afflict my family and friends. It’s too much, I thought. What are you going to do about it? Won’t you help? Then we sang the chorus a third time, “Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.” I pictured those wounded by sin, not just their own but also the sins of others that had marred them. What do we do with the wounds that are from other’s sins against us?
There, in those lines, I heard God’s answer to my call for help. I know that He is strong and pure and beautiful enough to wash away all sin, from ourselves and from other’s that were committed against us. He washes us white as snow, I thought. He promises to resurrect us; removing all our stains and scars from ourselves AND those left there by others. Hope and healing is coming–that is beautiful.

Two Different Things

It had been raining all day– the clouds were gray and moving quickly overhead. The uneven sidewalks were littered with puddles. Yet the babushkas and dedushkas (grandmas and grandpas) had already emerged to sell their home produce carefully displayed on cardboard boxes and plastic tarps.

I passed a group of two babushkas and one dedushka each selling different types of produce. I glanced back as I recalled the comment my husband had made earlier in the week about the corn looking good on the walk home from school.

“It’ll go well with taco salad,” I thought to myself.

As I did a double take the man selling the corn turned to talk to the babushkas near him. When the women saw me approaching, they shooed the man back over to his cardboard box displaying two small piles of corn.

“Do you have a bag?” He inquired.

“Yes,” as I pointed to my backpack. He looked slightly discontent with this answer, but I wasn’t phased because after all it was only two ears of corn.

“I would like two,” I said confidently as I got out forty rubles in coins.

“Do you have bills?” He asked.

“Yes,” I answered slightly confused until I realized that he had been saying two hundred instead of twenty. That should have been a red flag because  two ears of corn should certainly not cost two hundred rubles (about $6). I pondered how I had seen corn for twenty rubles across the street just the other day.

Nevertheless, I handed him two hundred rubles.

Backpack full of corn

I took off my backpack, and I opened the outside zippered pocket to put in the two ears of corn that I thought I had just purchased. He placed the two ears of corn into my backpack much to my delight, but he didn’t like how it fit. I showed that there is an open pocket that he could place it in instead. He added 3 more ears of corn to that pocket. My backpack was starting to get a bit dirty, and if he added any more corn my other groceries were sure to be squashed.

He motioned to the bigger compartment which was already full of groceries. By this time, I was already smiling at how comical this must look trying to fill a full backpack on the wet sidewalk with half husked corn. Plus the dedushka was so happy to be helping me pack up the corn that I couldn’t help but smile at him.

Then he proceeded to shove the other pile of corn (five more ears) into the open compartment. I just stood back and smiled trying not to laugh at how two people can try to communicate and inevitably understand two completely different things. I had just bought two piles of corn (ten ears) instead of two ears! To top it all off he transferred the other five ears into the big compartment to the point that it would barely zip. I bent down to help him zip the backpack the rest of the way. When I looked up he was beaming, and it looked as if he was just going to jump in the air and give me a big hug.

He certainly made my day a little brighter! Oh, the joys of cross cultural (mis) communication.

From Fretting to Trusting

God is sovereign.

God is good.

If I am to go on with the next few thoughts, then I must believe those statements.

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers…” (Psalm 37:1) But wait a minute if I don’t worry, who will? Worrying gives me a sense that I am in control of the situation. Still I don’t find a good outcome in the Bible for those who worry. “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8b)– God knows that worry is a waste of energy and it slowly corrodes the heart and mind. If I choose to stay fretting and worrying, I am saying that God does not have control over this and he may or may not act in my best interest.

However if I choose to turn from fretting to trusting, I am saying to God– You are sovereign; you know what is best; you are good. The Lord has given us such a strong promise for those who trust– “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5) HE WILL ACT! (I get a picture in my head of Aslan acting on behalf of Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy. When Aslan roars things go right!) When I imagine God acting on my behalf, my worry just fades away.

It is easy to remember that I am not supposed to worry, but it is difficult to actually not worry. Today I heard a question that really shook me up– do even 99% of things that we worry will happen actually end up happening? No, but there are those times when they do happen or they were worse than I feared. In those moments God is still sovereign. God is still good. Why then do I cling so desperately to worry which God so clearly abhors?

Fret not yourself. Psalm 37:1

Do not be anxious about your life. Matthew 6:25

Do not be anxious about anything. Philippians 4:6

He does not leave us with a list of things not to do, but He gives us a promise of what will happen if we turn our worry into trust in Him.

Psalm 37:3-4 “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Hand them over to the Lord with prayer knowing that Our God never fails, never runs out, and never grows weary. He is big enough to handle all of our worry!

Psalm37

Dust Bunnies on Display

This summer our landlords surprised us with a new refrigerator. They also fixed our sagging blinds, the broken doorknob, and the creaky cabinet door. Day after day they’d call, “We’re on our way again. This time we are going to clean the windows.”

“Clean the windows?” I asked my husband as he hung up the phone.

“Don’t ask me,” he said. As foreign tenants, we just do as we’re told.

Hours later, the landlord and landlady couple were hard at work, yes, indeed, cleaning the windows and the screens and the bathtub. Having landlords in “your” space, which is technically their space, is hard enough, but to be cleaning up our window streaks, and our soap scum: I couldn’t handle it. My westernized personal space boundaries were being stomped on. I went to my room and started to read and remind myself to be cross-culturally mature.

“Katya!” My landlady’s voice broke into my failed protective bubble.  “Katya!”

I put down my book and found the source of the calling, “Da? Yes?”

She spoke rapidly in Russian as I ridiculously and pathetically grasped for a few recognizable words.

“You…” she said while pointing to me, “. . . clean. That’s your job.” She then pointed to the closet door and pumped her arm in case I didn’t understand that she wanted me to look at the closet.

And I didn’t. “I don’t understand,” I said my most-practiced Russian phrase.

She sighed, moved to the closet door, and slid it open to reveal our winter coats, board games, and Christmas decorations. I couldn’t remember the last time I opened this closet; it’s like our forgotten attic.

Her finger began pointing again: pump, pump, pump. I followed her gesture to the closet floor. There, staring up at us as if it wanted us to run away in terror was a giant Moscow dust bunny—very common in these parts and almost impossible to eradicate. So what? I thought. You can sweep everyday of the week and still one will crawl out of the corner and stick to your toes. Those of us who are smart just go back to sweeping once a week for something to do: it really makes no difference. But it definitely made a difference to her. The big, hairy, full-of-ashy-pollution ball was not going to be ignored.

“Look!” Her wrinkled finger continued it’s death point, “You . . . clean. . . You work . . . wife’s job.” Behind the finger, which was now pointed at my face, I could make out her eyes. They were bright and threatening.

This is disgusting, she seemed to say.

But I clean every week! I wanted to respond. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to say “I clean every week.” I could say, “I every day clean. Work–I do that.” No, that wouldn’t do. “I understand,” I said.

Moscow dust bunnies

I was then led to the bathroom where, of all things, behind the cleaning supplies bucket, she wiped a clean rag against the tile. The orange rag was now black and gritty. Oops. Why couldn’t she have wiped the shelf instead?

“. . . dirty. . . you clean,” then again with the finger pointing. The finger went on to show me the corner of the tub and the dirty crack in the sink. “I cleaned,” she finally said, “you need to clean. Your job.”

I bowed my head and said over and over again, “Yes. Of course, I do that. I do that. I understand.” And then, “Thank you,” with a bowed head.

I went back to my book and tried to read the words. Instead, I felt that I’m-a-foreigner feeling. It’s a mix of self-loathing, confusion, and complete inability to handle a situation. I called my husband to come home. Right away, he took over as lecturer-receiver and cleaning student. In his good nature, he asked his teacher, “So what is our grade for cleaning?”

“Oh, a three out of five, I think,” she said thoughtfully, and laughed.

“Not bad. See, Caitlin, they like us. Don’t worry,” and he gave me another hug, “They’ll be gone soon. The windows are almost done.”

Two hours later, we all sat around our kitchen table looking over our wedding pictures. They had specifically asked to see them as we wait for the plummer to arrive and fix the leak that we didn’t notice and doubt existed. “They must be bored,” Chris concluded in a whisper.

As those pointy fingers flipped through our happy photos, she raved, “You’re beautiful. . . What a young looking mother. . . how lucky you are, Chris, to have such a beautiful wife!” She wouldn’t stop praising me and every member of our families. This Russian babushka (grandma) was caring for us in all the ways she knew how: she was a friendly representative in a not-so-friendly city. She is one who is willing to have weird, foreign tenants and help them when they can’t call for their own stinking plummer. Teaching me how to keep house was just another thing she could give to me.“You poor young thing.” I imagined her saying, “Here, let me show you how it’s done in this incredibly dirty city—it’s so hard to keep up, I know!” This is how it’s done here. The experienced teach the inexperienced, whether asked to or not. Every babushka is a teacher.

The plumber finally came and left (he did find something to fix, after all) and our landlords made their way to the exit, too. On their way out the Mrs. had to share one last bit of advice.

“Get pregnant,” she said. And that finger pointed at my husband, “That’s your job!”