It’s the small things which make our time Stateside so enjoyable: driving a car down to the store, loading up the trunk and driving home again; trips to Target to browse anything and everything; looking out the window to breath-taking views of Colorado peaks and the San Juan Islands at sunset… Most treasured, though, would be the sound of Anna squealing with joy at the sight of a grandparent coming to scoop her up for a hug – I wish we could bottle up these special moments and relive their day-to-day resplendence at any time.
We’re filled with very mixed emotions as we prepare to return to Moscow just days from now. What a delight to be here in the States with family and friends during this season of our lives. We’re so thankful for the opportunity to be here: we recognize that the opportunity to be in the US for Peter’s birth was truly a luxury that many families in our line of work are unable to pursue. Each day here has been a gift. As we prepare to say goodbye, we recollect the treasured memories we’ve made here over the past months – not wanting this time to end. Returning overseas with small children who adore their grandparents (and vice versa) is quickly becoming an emotional experience for which we feel desperately unprepared. The looming heartache feels staggering.
Sometimes emotional heartache, although overwhelming, feels spiritually healthy. It reminds us that there is something more, something missing, something coming for which it’s better to wait. I think the coming of the fullness of God’s kingdom feels a lot like this imminent separation. We’ve had a taste of life in daily fellowship with family and friends, celebrating the gifts of life, of love, of creation, of beauty, of light. But for a little while, we suffer the lack of this fullness. We live at a distance from the people we treasure with simply the hint of what we’re missing.
So we return to Russia because so few Russians know that a new Kingdom has come. They don’t know of the fullness of life in fellowship or a love worth waiting to experience. They do not even recognize the hints of the Kingdom, let alone the existence of the King who will reign for all time. “We talk of the second coming, half of the world has heard of the first” (Oswald J. Smith.) We return to Moscow for the sake of this coming Kingdom and for the faces and faces of people living outside the Kingdom but desperately wanting to come in.
When it is Autumn, all my love for family and friends, close or far, kindles with the color of the leaves. It deepens, and then bursts into red, orange, and purple flame. The people who are in front of me, I hug more. Those far away, I write more or call. Then I get so homesick, even for those nearby. In contrast, the next moment, I feel amazed at the existence of such beautiful people that could possibly care one wit about me; and then I get to love them back and get to know them–it’s incredible and mushy. There are so many emotions in Autumn. Life just pours out of everything until everything suddenly has no more life to give.
After a month or two passes, my proverbial beautiful leaves curl up, dry, and catch embers to burn. It’s like the song “Time is All Around” by Regina Spektor. “Leaves become more beautiful when they’re about to die,” she warns. She was loving beautifully, in the most beautiful way, and then the love died. She grows tired of putting forth effort “I’m so tired/ Why am I suppose to love if I don’t want to?” she says, “I don’t want to/I don’t want to/ I don’t want/I don’t want.” Winter here is just like that.
It sets in quickly, and it promises to be numb–cold, a chronic gray, and numb. Not sad, not happy, not melancholy, just nothing. A bad case of the “I don’t want” anything mood becomes chronic. Every year I’ve added a new weapon to my artillery against Moscow’s winter. Last year I whipped out exercise and now enjoy an activity that I always loathed before, running. This year I added extra vitamin D and a small, bright blue lamp called “happy”: this lamb blinds me for 15 minutes a day and supposedly will stuff some emotion back into my heart. We’ll see . . .
But what will really get me, and other Moscovites, through the looming winter? What will combat the apathy, the whining, the blues? I don’t mean to be cliche, but I have to be honest, it is just a little bit of hope. And yes, it’s vitamin D, and happy lamps, and exercise, and extra hugs and smiles and buying that bouquet of flowers or coloring with as many colors as possible: it’s all those little things AND it’s the one big thing:
As a child I didn’t like cornbread for two reasons. First my sister liked it, and secondly it was cut into triangles. Silly I know, but cornbread tastes better cut into rectangles. As I got older I realized that it is simply ridiculous to forgo my Grannie’s southern cornbread just because of a few hard feelings. Before moving to Moscow I was a cook-it-straight-out-of-a-box kinda girl (not just for cornbread). After moving to Moscow I realized that cornbread is one of my comfort foods, so I needed to learn how to make it. During the past year I have had a difficult relationship with cornbread because I just couldn’t seem to get the right texture, flavor, or moisture. I almost gave up on cornbread after a terrible experience at Thanksgiving, but as a foreigner failure is no stranger. I decided to combine a few recipes and a little bit of my new baking experience to finally settle on a good recipe. After about 6 unfortunate cornbread recipes, I have finally settled with my very own.
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter, plus 1 Tablespoon for the pan
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 T vinegar, then fill to the 1 cup line with milk)
1/2 cup canned corn, drained
Preheat the oven to 400F (204C). Melt 1 T of butter in an 8×8 inch pan in the oven being careful not to burn the butter. Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Combine 1/3 cup melted butter, buttermilk, and eggs in a small mixing bowl. Lightly beat the buttermilk and egg mixture. Then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until all of the dry ingredients are wet but still lumpy. Fold in the corn. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.