Sunday, July 26, 2009

Swimming in Chocolate

For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
There am I in the midst of them.
Matthew 18:20

So softly wakes the morning. Some off to church . . . some stay behind . . . all hearts turn toward Him as we rest at the end of a long and lovely week. It has been so good . . .

The Lord promises to grace His presence upon our gatherings. Surely no week has personified that more than this week we have lately closed. With a sigh of sadness at saying goodbye (for now) and a sigh of relief that the waves of busy-ness will calm as the social tide ebbs – well, truly I feel the need to rest and reflect and reminisce in this life that the Lord has blessed me with.

Today I am far too tired to ramble on with stories of this and that and all the rest exchanged over teapots or beach balls or late night snacks, but I can assure you that the entire week spent with my dear, sweet sister Natalie from Ukraine reinforced my heart as it reaches out to embrace any and all friends that the Lord brings across my path.

Over four years ago I answered a call to bring goods and hugs to orphans in Ukraine. Nursing a broken heart at the recent loss of my own sweet son Andrew, I traveled to distant parts of a country filled with lonely, “special,” needy, and precious little ones and old ones and every “one” in-between. My journal from that trip cries out with queries and qualms about my role in this big place called earth.

Adopt a special infant and repeat what I had only recently laid to rest?

Teach and share with those hungry to know of my walk with Jesus?

Return home and merely finance another’s task?

Too many questions tumbled in my heart as I traversed the string of boarding schools and orphanages and group homes for those forgotten by most save a governmental supplement.

I saw love in the rawest form as whole warehouses of special boys and girls received the best care possible financed with the smallest budget imaginable. My life changed – my heart broke again . . . and yet the Lord offered me solace in the midst of so much sorrow.

A brief meeting in a crowded vestibule would prove the only opportunity for me to “meet” Natalya. A hastily worded introduction and a warm exchange of greetings planted a seed. Later an email invitation to join in prayer and support for this missionary to campus students sparked my thinking that this avenue into the hearts of the Ukrainians by a fellow Ukrainian filled in some of the blanks I carried home from my trip. I joined and began receiving regular updates.

Not content to merely read of events and gatherings, I began writing to Natalya personally. We began sharing more than just “work” progress – a friendship sprouted from that seed of a greeting many months before. She became so much more than “Natalya: Campus Crusade worker” and blossomed into the familiar “Natalie: friend and sister.”

In time I returned to Ukraine for another opportunity to share and give and love. This time we journeyed to Lviv, Natalie’s hometown.

To exit the plane, walk into the terminal (an old and quaint building predating Soviet history), and be met by a “friend’s” embrace set the “mission” on a very different plane. Though the trip involved the same format of traveling to meet the outlying in need, the off hours contained walks in the park arm-in-arm with Natalie as is the custom among girlfriends in Ukraine. Tea dates in cafes offered moments to laugh and share over fragrant tea and tasty cakes. Conversations covering politics, religion, history, literature, and family life peppered our times together. Sometimes others joined us, often times we met alone, but always, always we had so much to say and ask and wonder about.

The zenith of my visit came when she invited me home. I saw her life in a new light. A visit, a meal, a memory indelibly cast – the miracle of two hearts living so far apart geographically yet knitting so close spiritually. The miracle of friendship never ceases to amaze me!

I left Ukraine once again, and once again the experience had changed me forever.

Months later I received a delightful email containing news of Natalie’s pending trip to the US. I immediately invited her to extend her trip to include a West Coast leg. She accepted. We shared but a few days together as a family. My children, husband, and friends welcomed Natalie with all the regular festivities accorded a guest, but more than that we proffered the tiny moments shared within a family. Lingering over tea on the deck, staying up late in the night, sharing hopes and dreams – it all took place on that first trip. We bid farewell far too quickly. All too soon life carried on carrying us to new places in life.

Recently, while bemoaning the cancellation of an eagerly anticipated visit by someone dear to me, I received an email asking if I had room for a visitor. Natalie had booked another trip to the USA and this time a California visit figured prominently on the itinerary. Many hurdles had to be surmounted, many people had to work together to make it all possible, but like the gift of all visits with friends-who-become-sisters, Natalie and I enjoyed yet another wonderful holiday together.

We hosted gatherings of many and few, we ate indoors and out, we talked late into the night and slept late in the day to make up for it. We shared deep and deeper. So many questions flowed from a young woman raised in a very different world than I, yet seeking the same treasure found in serving the Father, marrying, bearing children, making a home, celebrating life. My struggles and losses stacked up next to triumphs and blessings, serving to clarify my pathway and the journey to joy I travel. Natalie’s Soviet scars and difficult days gone by prove no less motivating as she reaches out to grasp freedom and fulfillment in life. We have walked in different worlds, yet our hearts cry out for the same love and life.

And so for a few precious days we floated without notice of clocks or calendars as we opened our hearts and lived together in harmony as a family.

The Ukrainians have a phrase to describe the luxurious life:

Swimming in Chocolate.

Truly, this past week we swam in the sweetest and best of life’s pleasures.

All too soon with bags packed and good-byes exchanged we ended this particular chapter in the book of our life as friends and sisters. Fortunately this book has many, many more blank pages for God to write upon. I have already received a preview of a future chapter entitled:

Nuptials for Natalie:
A Ukrainian Adventure for the Unruh Family

I can hardly wait for that installment!!!!


Linda said...

Such a tease, you are! As one of your many readers, I am hungry for the stories you will be able to tell about your week, and the 'Nuptials for Natalie!'

Welcome back, we've missed you!

Ruth MacC said...

Sounds great.

God has been showing me that I am not the worlds greatest friend. I want to be, but I think I overwhelm people. I have decided to reach out to everybody in the Church and just give without looking for them to give back. I think if I am busy giving I won't be hurt so much by the fact that our Church, although it is great in so many ways, isn't great at loving.

Doesn't the Bible say something along the lines of 'to have friends you have to become a good friend yourself?'

Well that's my goal!

I don't mean to complain about my family. I am so glad to have them, so very glad. My husband used to say that if you see something lacking in the body, pray about it and then try to do the best you can yourseld, ie. if you see a need, try to sort it yourself instead of bemoaning the fact that it isn't being met... Wise man my husband:0)

Hope you are enjoying your Summer.


Britt-Arnhild said...

You live such a rich and blessed life Debbie.
Thanks for sharing parts of it.....

Laura ~Peach~ said...


Sharon said...

What an interesting and rich life you live!:-)Love~Sharon

Tricia said...

Glad you had a good week. And good to have you back here with us. God bless.

Anonymous said...

So glad that you had a lovely visit with your sister friend...
Hope that you are enjoying these wonderful, sweet summer days...
Wishing you tons of sweet and simple joys today! ♥

FancyHorse said...

It's so good to hear about Christian friendship across oceans and continents and boundaries. In Christ we are all one!

scrappy quilter said...

Beautiful beyond words. Hugs..

June said...

Hi Debbie,
Reading your posts always make me feel like I was there myself. What a gift for writing you have been blessed with. I am so happy for the time you were able to spend with this dearest of friends. I loved reading how you met and became sisters.
Thank you for the sweet visit to my place.

Joyce said...

Debbie, I am thankful to the Lord for the precious times of fellowship you and Natalie have enjoyed together. It's a blessing just to read of it!

MARIA said...

I wish you a bless day ♥