I was last in line as the 7-member team single-filed out of the room that smelled of stale urine and cheap alcohol. Only a few steps from the beckoning fresh air, my progress was halted by the twisted hand restraining me.
I looked up from the hand to find a pair of blue eyes wet with tears.
The owner of the hand, an older woman, began to speak urgently in Russian. While waiting a few minutes for one of the translators to get to us, my impatience grew. This visit had disheartened me, temporarily stuck in a warehouse of people whose crime of growing old and poor landed them in a collection of decrepit buildings with staff that seemed uninterested.
This place was far beyond my easy faith. Forged on the comfortable pews of Midwestern Lutheran churches, my faith was rarely challenged. Growing up, I had no doubt that God loved me, that Jesus died to save me from my sin, that as long as I believed (whatever that meant), I would be fine.
But the truth was that I wasn’t fine, and hadn’t been in a long while. As soon as I could, I left those comfortable pews and didn’t look back. I still believed (whatever that meant) but the fruits of my easy faith were far from what God promises. He had recently brought me back to the fold but in significant ways, I was still pretending that I was fine. As I stood there in Ukraine, the reality was that my easy life had crumbled.
When the translator reached us, he told me what the woman was saying: “I’m all alone. My husband is dead. I have no children. My family lives far away. No one loves me.” Apparently, she repeated this mantra as Zhenya, the translator, also repeated it in English.
Listening in stereo, I heard a third voice, one that had become too familiar over the past eighteen months. I heard Satan whisper: “Take a good look Karen. This will be you soon.”
Now, my impatience turned to panic – I craved to be out of that room, away from this woman and back to my “I’m fine thank you, and you?” life.
I didn’t need any reminders of the horrible thoughts that come deep in the night when you find yourself a 41-year old widow. When the reality of your life is absolutely not what you pray for.
I guess the woman stopped speaking because Zhenya also stopped. Now, two pairs of blue eyes were looking at me. I was on the spot, needing something – anything -- to comfort this woman, convince her that God loved her.
But how could I do that for this stranger when I couldn’t do it for myself? When that hideous voice, which came during the night, was here now in the bright sunshine of the day?
I opened my mouth, and in answer to a prayer I didn’t realize I had prayed, the following words came out: “You and I are the same. My husband is dead. I have no children. I live far away from my family. But Jesus loves both of us and tells us we are never alone. His last words on Earth were ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
As I spoke, the woman’s grip on my arm loosened. No longer a shackle, her touch now comforted. I covered her hand with mine and said I would pray that she would always feel Jesus’ love.
When Zhenya repeated these words in Russian, I gently lifted her hand from my arm and murmured “Бог с тобой,” (God be with you).
Zhenya and I walked into the fresh air and bright sunshine.
I then realized I had never said aloud those terrible words – My husband is dead, I have no children, I’m all alone. Keeping them silent made them, and their author, powerful. By insisting that I was fine and needed nothing from anyone, I was easy prey for the lion who prowled around me. I resisted Divine Love and the perfect peace found only in Him.
The fairy tale ending would be that, with this realization, I have lived the rest of my days completely content in the Light of the World.
The truth is that the end is not yet here. Just like any believer, I struggle with the old Karen every day. But I don’t struggle alone.
The words I spoke to the woman are truth: You and I are the same. God loves us and where His love is, we are never alone, even to the end of the age.
See You In The Round!