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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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Redemption Can Be Found in Every Pile of Garbage

Posted by admin in November 3rd, 2009
Published in faith, missions, obedience

In 1991 the average Muscovite woman had 18 abortions in a lifetime. (The national average for women across Russia at that time was six). The procedure became so common and such an everyday occurrence that most Muscovite women ceased calling it an abortion and decided to call it douche or a cleansing. It was a tough statistic for me to grapple with going into Moscow to teach in the fall of 1991.

Natasha was the perfect Soviet woman: highly educated, self-reliant, able to prepare a feast out of nothing, great sense of humor, pleasantly plump and very self assured. My university assigned Natasha to me when I first arrived in Moscow. She and her husband Gerrig met me at the airport, loaded my oversized suitcases and boxes into their small Soviet-made Lada and took me home with them. “Terezzza. Yuur flat is reddy, but I kannot bearr this idea of you beink there all alone. Itz too awful foorr me to stand. You stay with us foorr a few dayz.”

Like with all Soviet Union females, you don’t argue. You just agree and do as you’re told. Actually I welcomed the opportunity to be in their home. They had two exquisite boys: Misha 12 and Danny 10. They both spoke English as did Gerrig. They all made me feel right at home. A hot shower, a delicious home-cooked meal and a warm cozy bed—it was a great way to start my new life in the USSR. One week after arriving, the Soviet Union collapsed and we all had trouble knowing what to call this powerful nation. It was a lot like the artist formerly known as Prince. We were a country without a name.

In the fall of 1991 food shortages in Moscow were escalating. Stores were empty, breadlines took six hours sometimes and the overall atmosphere of the city was desperate. People were glad that the communists had been removed, but they didn’t know what to replace them with. The Soviet citizens were suffering from some of the same ailments as the Hebrew children coming out of slavery from Egypt. They just didn’t know what to do with their new found freedom. Life was hard and if it hadn’t been for Natasha and Gerrig I couldn’t have made it. Gerrig had ways of getting milk, yogurt, cheese and even meat on the black market—a place that seemed to exist in some alternate universe. Natasha was always giving me care packages filled with apples and small packets of sugar and even coffee. Where they found these things I have no idea but whatever they had they always shared with me.

My ruble salary, which was equivalent to that of the university’s president, went from the value of $600 US dollars (a very good living wage when negotiated) to less than $60 in only 30 days. Inflation was a nightmare and trying to survive on $60 a month was absolutely impossible. In my first year living in Moscow I lost over 100 pounds. I called it the Moscow starvation diet. There was no food, no milk, no bread, no products. I survived that first year because of the generous hearts of Natasha and Gerrig.

Many frosty and cold winter weekends I spent with Natasha and her men in their small high-rise flat out in the burbs. We took midnight walks in the snow under a full moon. They tried to teach me to ice skate on a frozen pond and taught me how to make delicious meals from scratch with only a handful of ingredients. Gerrig loved to serenade Natasha and me at the cramped kitchen table with only candlelight. He said he like to pretend it was a French café and we were loyal fans. (He probably meant groupies).

Natasha had a PhD in English literature from Moscow State University—the Harvard of the Soviet world. She wanted to go for a thing called a habilitatus. This is a degree just higher than a PhD and while common in Europe, most North Americans aren’t familiar with it. I wasn’t.

Anyway, she wanted to get this degree and her dissertation topic was: fabrics and textiles found in the Bible. Now, in 1991 Natasha had never owned a Bible. She had read parts of it on a study program in Great Britain, but she did not own a Bible and had never read it through—actually had only read excerpts. She asked me to help on the project and it was a blast! I gave her a brand new English Bible and I had my own old trustworthy Bible and we would sit at her kitchen table into the late night/early morning hours hunting stories of fabric, cloth, and textiles in both the Old and the New Testaments.

We had Joseph’s coat of many colors. Stop for the story. Rahab the Harlot’s scarlet rope. Stop for the story. Jacob and Esau’s birth and the thread around the wrist. Stop for the story. The veil in the Temple. Stop for the story.

Finally we came to the New Testament and the scene at the foot of the Cross. And there, discussing the seamless robe of Jesus, Natasha heard the Redemption story for the first time in her life.

The boys were asleep. Gerrig was out of town and it was so very quiet there in Natasha’s little kitchen. It was cold outside and she had the oven on to give us some extra warmth. I told Natasha of Jesus’s love, of his sacrifice, and of his joy and peace. I told her of his promised return and of heaven. She listened intently, earnestly, with both her heart and her mind.

“Natasha, would you like to accept Jesus as your Savior? Would you like to invite him into your heart?” I asked almost in a whisper.

“Yes,” she whispered back, tears just ready to spill over the brim of her eyes, “but I cannot.”

“You cannot? Whadda ya mean?” I stopped whispering and looked her right square in the eyes.

“God cannot accept me. You don’t understand.” And with that, the conversation was over!

Natasha got up, started cleaning up the remains of our tea, and we were off to bed. Good night.

I prayed for Natasha as I slipped into sleep, but the subject didn’t come up again the entire weekend. However, we remained very close.

One afternoon I was heading home finished with classes and meetings. I was tired and hungry and wondering what I had in the fridge to eat while I was waiting for the bus. Out of the corner of my eye I saw this well-bundled Babushka waddling toward the bus stop. No problem. Mass transportation is most people’s main way of getting around. I didn’t think anything of her approach until she got way too much into my personal space and then…she touched me! She actually started pawing at me and crying and pawing and crying. Scared me to death. I had no idea what this crazy woman was saying and I couldn’t get her off me.

After a few moments, I saw Natasha heading towards us. Thank God! She was hurrying because she saw the “wild caged animal look” in my rolling eyes. She approached quickly, but gently asked the crazed woman what the matter was.

They exchanged a lengthy dialog. Then Natasha says to me, “This old grandmother thinkz you are Angel from Heaven. She sez she won’t walk away until you give her a blessing. She meanz it Terezzza. She wantz you to give her blessing. Okay?”

I looked confused and I ask Natasha, “Did you tell her I’m not an angel?!?” (Note here: Where’s my Mom at times like these? She needs to hear that some folks think I’m an angel!)

“Yez. Yez. I explain everything to her, but she iz very insistent.” Natasha sighs.

“Well, okay. I can do that.”

And with all the strength I had and with a great amount of joy I might add, I laid down my stuff, put my hands on her scarf covered head and prayed a blessing over my well-bundled Babushka. I prayed a blessing on her that she’d be healthy and strong and happy and that all of her needs would be supplied, that Jesus would be the light of her life and that he would cover her from the top of her head to the soles of her feet and I gave it all I got!

When I was finished I said “Amen.” The Babushka said “Amen.” Satisfied, the little Babushka went waddling on her way and there in the silence, waiting for the late bus, I was left alone with Natasha.

Awkward.

Then, Natasha broke the silence, “Well Terezza, you do have very pleazant look on your face.”

And that’s all we ever said about it.

Week after week; month after month; I’d spend weekends with Natasha and Gerrig. I’d go to the summer Dacha with them, took little road trips and watched the boys grow up. We went to Christmas and Easter services together at the Orthodox Church in their neighborhood. Often I’d ask Natasha if she was ready to ask Jesus into her heart and she’d always have the same response: He could never love me. I believe in God. I do. But he could never love me.

After nearly two years I found myself once again sitting at Natasha’s kitchen table with the oven on for heat and the boys sound asleep and Gerrig out of town on work.

“Natasha, don’t you want to accept Jesus as your personal savior? He loves you so much,” I delved right in.

“Terinka, you do not understand. God could never love me. You? Yes, he can love you. Look at you! You’re such a good girl and nice girl and of course God loves you. Jesus loves you. But he could never love me. You see I have sinned so great that God could never to forgive me. It is the worse thing anyone could do and God cannot forgive it.”

She looked so weary in that moment. She had the weight of the world on her shoulders and looked as though she would crumble under its burden.

“Natasha, I’ve shown you in scripture that God forgives us of all sin if we only ask. Jesus’s blood can cleanse us from all things—it’s that powerful.” I held her hand.

“Not this,” she said. She could barely get the words out, “I had an abortion when I was 19. It was Gerrig’s baby. We were too young and we had our schooling. Everyone said it’s no problem, but I knew! I knew it was wrong! And I never can forget that I killed my own little baby. And God cannot forget it too.”

And there it was. The burden. The weight. The heartbreak that time and time again had prevented Natasha from accepting Jesus as her Savior.

She took a deep breath, “It’s different for you Terinka. You are so kind and lovely. It’s easy for God to love you. You are good. You do good. You help others. Of course God loves you and Jesus is your Savior. It’s just not the same for me.”

I waited. I struggled. I cried. Then I got up my courage…

“Really Natasha? You think I’m good and that’s why God loves me?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“No Natasha! I’m good BECAUSE God loves me. You see Natasha I too had an abortion at the age of 19. It was horrible and I carried around the weight and pain of that sin for years until I asked Jesus to forgive me and HE DID! He did Natasha. He forgave me and cleansed me and took away all the pain and burden of my sin. He gave peace and he cut out the ugly.”

Natasha looked up. Unbelieving at first and then she broke down weeping. Finally she looked up and there was this little glimmer of hope—a small little light in her face, “Teresa! If he can forgive you then certainly he can forgive me too! Correct? He can forgive me too?!?”

And there, on that cold snowy night in a small cramped Soviet apartment kitchen my sweet and gentle friend Natasha bowed her head and asked Jesus into her heart.

And there also at that small kitchen table I learned what true redemption is all about. That we serve a God so big and so mighty that he can take the most horrible and vulgar things in our lives and actually turn them for good. The thing I was the most ashamed of, the thing I would never share with my brothers and sisters in the church, the thing that I knew I was forgiven for, but believed others could not forgive–that thing was the tool God redemptively used to explain to Natasha how great and wide and deep are his mercies.

I’ve often wondered why God chooses mere mortals, frail, undependable, flawed, weak human beings to be conveyors of his love, truth and grace to a hurt and dying world. I’ve often asked him, “Isn’t there a better way of doing this?” But it is clear. It’s these broken, flawed, forgiven vessels of grace that are able to point to the lost and say, “HEY, if he can do it for me, he can do it for you.” And there we are as free will agents living in God’s love and grace shouting to other free will agents, “Here’s the way! Here’s the answer! Come on! Follow me!” And we all rest in the safe, healing and loving arms of our Father…together, broken, yet mended. Peace.

8 users Responded In This Post

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275. Lisa said,
November 3rd, 2009 at 2:09 pm

Love your transparency before God — reminds us that is is NOT about us and our stupidities, but about Him and His redeeming grace. Thanks again, sister!

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276. Jim Alling said,
November 4th, 2009 at 7:39 am

Awesome! (As are all your “blahblahblogs.”) Yes, we all have our garbage from which Jesus has redeemed us to also share His redemption with others. Made my day already! Bless you – keep it up – these all need to be in a book which is sure to become a best seller!

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277. Cuzzin J'Lynn said,
November 4th, 2009 at 8:25 am

God is so big and covers us all. Your transparency was healing and salvation to another. What another awesome story.

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278. margaret said,
November 4th, 2009 at 9:33 am

Wow! you should write a book! oh wait, you did!!
Teaching in a Distant Classroom: crossing Borders for Global Transformation.
I have pre-ordered my copy at Amazon.com!!

love,
margaret

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280. texas sister said,
November 4th, 2009 at 10:49 am

I’ve pre-ordered mine too. yes, the dirt and filth make us “real” to people.
thank you my sista
I always grin in my soul when I see a new blog is waiting for me

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281. jalling1 said,
November 4th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

I loved your honesty and your truthfulness. I hear that story often at our pregnancy center and love to tell our girls there is forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. I loved you before and now I love you even more for your story. God bless you. Sometimes life hurts so badly, but God does send The Comforter.

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282. alanlorij said,
November 10th, 2009 at 5:13 pm

I have heard a lot about you and I love reading what you write! I couldn’t come to see you this summer but I look forward to meeting you when you come to Texas. What a wonderful story about how God uses our weakness and turns it around to glorify him!

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286. melinda sue said,
November 16th, 2009 at 3:43 pm

teri,

i am sure you do not remember who i am. but i so remember you. in 2004 i met you in romania when you were visitng jon and kacee. me, and my team of 3 other college students were in romania for half of our 6 month mission interniship. you were a light to us in that time, and i think of you so often. i think of our time spent eating pizza at the restaurant with you, and sitting and talking and laughing forever. i remember the blessing you were to us in our very short time together. and i am so glad i found your blog.

this is one of the most beautiful stories i have ever read. and i am so glad you shared it with us. beautiful.

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