Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Love Story

I want to tell you a story of something special in my kitchen.  The story takes you all the way around the world to Russia and several years back in is a story about napkins...sort of...

I was twenty and in my junior year of Bible College.  I was madly in love with two things. The first was a blonde headed boy from Alabama, and the second was blazing the trail in the world of foreign missions.  I had applied for a program through my school to spend my summer abroad as a missionary apprentice.   I was in the thick of my studies as a missionary degree candidate and had already spent time overseas.  When I applied, I had no idea where or what I might be chosen to do, or if I would even be chosen. 

I still remember the day the list was posted on the door in the Academic building.  There was my name next to the country of Russia.  I was sort of in shock.  The rest of the students were headed to lovely European or Asian cities.  I was headed to a very distant city that very few Americans had ever been to...period.  I was in LOVE with the idea!  What an adventure it would be.  Just me and another girl from school would make the journey and spend the entire summer season in Russia. 

My time there was spent working in a very remote camp setting every other week and in a city the opposite weeks.  In addition to my activities there, I was also working on my studies.  It was a full summer. My heart was being stretched in ways that I never thought possible. 

I quickly learned that women did not carry near the status that they did in the United States.  This was difficult to me.  I have never imagined myself a feminist in any way, but I was taken back a bit by the view of women in this culture.  You would have thought I was starting a revolution when I dared to take the row boat out myself on the lake one afternoon.  I needed a little change in scenery, so I asked my program partner to join me.  I went to the boat, got the oars, and proceeded to enter the water.  Oh my, it was an act of congress convincing the fellows that I was capable of rowing a boat.  I was sort of glad for the language barrier and I took off in spite of the obvious displeasure at the shoreline. 

That whole summer, I was faced with small instances where the internal question of submission kept repeating itself.  Could I be submissive?  Would I be submissive...even when it seemed ridiculous?  Could I really love people like I thought I could?  Could I love a people that seemed to have such low regard for women?  Could I be a missionary in such a setting, and if I couldn't then what in the world was I doing studying this in school period? 

At the end of my time there, I got to take a trip.  I was supposed to be traveling by train to Moscow with my partner and the missionary couple that were hosting us.  However, the missionaries were unable to travel due to some medical issue that arose suddenly.  My partner and I decided to take the journey anyway and we purchased the train tickets.

We spent two days traveling by rail non-stop.  It was a thousand-mile journey through Russian countryside.  The train car was tiny and very dated, but it was the ride of a lifetime.  When we arrived, we were overwhelmed by the vast amount of people and busyness in this enormous train station.  Finding our way and our guide was quite the obstacle. 

We had a guide for a few small hours, then we were left to visit the city on our own.  We spent most of our time trying to figure out where we were and how to get to our hotel!  We saw may sites and places but we had not found any place to shop for gifts to remember our time there.  Through an act of Divine Providence we were directed to an open-air market at the very tail-end of our journey. 

I can still remember the smells and the sounds. I was overwhelmed by the goods and the vendors.  I wanted to pick things that would means something to others and myself.  No magnets or thimbles would do...I wanted something that I would treasure for a lifetime. 

I rounded a corner, and I saw two women selling handmade items.  They had the most beautiful table linens.  They looked like the typical peasant Russian women.  While sitting in their booth, they were busy sewing.  I was struck.  I had to have something from them.  They represented something to me that day.  These women were using the fruit of their hands to make a living for their families.  They were in a smelly market full of bugs and unpleasant things, yet they seemed to be in their own world.  They were happy sewing away beautiful items.  I loved them and their smiles.  My heart softened and I knew that loving people meant something so much deeper than I ever imagined. It meant love had to be without condition...period. It meant finding contentment in wherever God placed me. 

I bought napkins.  They were perfectly pressed and tucked into a plastic bag.  They were lovely and I knew I would treasure them always.  They were my prized possession from Russia.  I had hopes of one day setting a large family table with them and telling their story for years to come.  However, they would teach me lessons years and years over.

When I left Russia, I knew my life had changed.  It wasn't long and school ended and I moved.  I found myself in a new place and without my boy from Alabama.  Homesick and heartbroken, I toted my lovely napkins with me during each move.  I entered a season of life that was difficult for me to understand.  I wasn't blazing any trails on the mission field, and I didn't know if I would ever find love again.  My situation was a result of choices made solely by me.  Decisions that were so hard to make, but seemed to be impressed upon me from my Maker.  My napkins stayed tucked away.  This wasn't how I envisioned my life. 

Time marched on, I married a sweet man, and we began a life together.  Still, I kept waiting for the day when I would be sent around the world to do something "great".  I kept the napkins safely in their package...hid in a cabinet never...ever...used.

I found these napkins some months ago.  At first they brought a bit of sadness...a reminder of dreams unfulfilled. Then, I remembered that moment I saw them in the market.  I could see those ladies faces and I recalled the lesson I learned that day.  True love has no conditions.  Loving God cannot have conditions just as loving others cannot.  The place in where I am should matter little in how I am spending my life.  I cannot wait for life to present perfect opportunities. 

The napkins are not stored away any longer.  They are ready for use on my kitchen shelf.  They were not made to be hidden away in some dark cabinet.  They are to be a part of lovely meals with others.  As I was placing them on the shelf, I felt a twinge in my heart.  The still, small voice of my Savior reminded me that my calling in life would never be wasted as long as I was loving others, for that is all that ever matters. 

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.  It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.  1 Cor 13:1-7 NLT


  1. Leah, that is beautiful. You are a great writer; very inspirational.

  2. One little suggestion: it is number, not amount of people.

  3. Great post - and a great reminder to us all. Love is the most important thing - love God and love our fellow man. That's all God expects of us, but what a tall order that is sometimes! I hope you enjoy the napkins and the fellowship that flows from using them.


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