Thirteen years. A lot changes in 13 years, and it certainly has in both my personal life and in Russia. I first visited Russia in 1994, then in 1995, and finally in the year 2000. In those early days of visiting orphanages, I was a teenager and then a young married woman. I had no children. I looked at the world through a different set of lenses than I do today. During that time Russia was on the precipice of huge change and experiencing the growing pains of a free democracy. I was evolving and changing—and being challenged at times—just as Russia was.
Now it’s 2013, and I’m 36 years old. In just a few short days, I will return to this country that I love, and I anticipate that my perspective will be different this time.
There are pictures etched in my mind from the 1990s that I will never forget. Once we arrived at the Moscow airport, I was greeted by uniformed military guards holding AK 47s—Kalishnikov rifles. It was a very intimidating place to a teenage American girl, and there was no doubt I was far from home. Cold, dark, and dirty subways were our primary method of transportation. There were taxis, but they were private cars, not formal taxi cabs with meters as they have today. We stayed in the Volga Hotel in the Kostroma Region where the hallways were so dark that it was difficult to fit the skeleton key into the door.
Up and down the streets were small, old wooden markets or kiosks on the sidewalk. Now there are large supermarkets, mirroring our Super Wal-Marts. Many buildings and museums had been under renovation for so many years that the scaffolding had become part of the museum itself. While I tried to appreciate the national foods such as cabbage, beets, potatoes, borscht and fish head soup, there are now many more ethnic and international foods available. It’s a fascinating place, full of history and beautiful architecture and warm people. Unfortunately, by American standards, it is now very expensive to travel to Russia. Hotels, food and gifts often cost much more there than they do in the U.S.
In the 13 years since I was last in Russia, I have become a mother four times over, and that has changed the way I view the world. I am responsible to care for four other human beings now. Having children has made me aware of how fragile and vulnerable all people are, especially the young. I see every child now as somebody’s child, not just a person. They are not simply a face or even a name, but a child with a story. As is often the case with orphans, it is a story that is laced with rejection, heartache and suffering. When I hear tragic stories now, my heart breaks into a million pieces.
Motherhood has taught me to submit myself to the lessons that my children teach me. I learn from the questions they ask! They are often lessons that I don’t want to learn but that I need to be taught nonetheless: lessons on patience, problem-solving, unselfishness, humility, mercy, grace, forgiveness, service and tenacity. I laugh more now, I worry more, and I try to see the world from their eyes. My instincts have sharpened, my spirit has strengthened, and I know time is precious.
Unlike the person I was 13 years ago, today I have experienced a richness and depth of love that comes from knowing and experiencing hurts and aches. Being a mom has made me love others in a deeper way, but I now understand that it comes with the risk of being hurt or losing someone you love. In the end, I know it’s worth it.
As I return to Russia later this month, I am not the same as I was 13 years ago. The cities I visit and the orphans I meet with will not be the same either. But I pray I will take with me the wisdom and experience I have gained as a mom and that I will learn the lessons these children have to teach me, as well.
7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply. 1 Peter 4:7-8a
Katya, Rebecca and Tanya in Lakinsk, Russia