Before technology took over our lives, before kids could text during class with flying thumbs and barely a glance beneath the desk… we passed notes. Yes “notes” – folded pieces of paper with the contents of our hearts printed for the whole class to see if Teacher caught us passing them across the aisle.
If we had a crush, we might draw lopsided squares next to the words “yes” and “no” following a question written with trembling pencil: “Do you love me?” Then directions for responding: “Check yes or no.”
Remember the heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation as the recipient carefully unfolded the paper and read those words? The date of the Emancipation Proclamation escapes us to this day because we missed an entire American History lesson as we anxiously anticipated the reader’s response. That one tiny check mark had the power to make or break social status and self-esteem, and determine whether we would cry on our best friend’s shoulder, or jump up and down with glee as we giggled together next to our lockers in the hallway. Remember?
I felt that same thumping in my chest, weakness in my knees, and inner angst on Monday as Honey and I drove to Tampa to retrieve the two fifteen year old Ukranian orphan boys we are summer-hosting with Project 143. After being apart for nearly three weeks, I didn’t know what to expect upon our return. Will they want to come home with us? Did they miss us? Will they hug us?
We tapped into modern technology – FaceTiming them on our iphones most days while we were traveling for Honey’s work and my Texas book tour, but with the language barrier, it was difficult to communicate. After several seconds of awkward staring, smiling and waving, we said “goodbye” and put the phone down, wondering what they were really thinking and feeling. Wondering why we missed them so much after sharing only nine days together.
“I bet Pasha ignores us or hides behind the other host parents when we get there,” I said to My Honey over Wendy’s baked potatoes halfway between Jacksonville and Tampa.
“Why would he?”
“Because he’s had a blast with the other kids and we abandoned him and he probably just wants to stay there and not come home to our small, quiet life,” I responded. “Besides, he doesn’t transition well.”
“Hmmm. Well, I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we?”
When we arrived in our host friends’ driveway, Yura met us at the car with a shy but genuine smile. He hugged us both then immediately mounted his new Ripstik, proudly showing off his balancing skills.
Whew! One down, one to go.
I cautiously entered the house where my still-sane-after-parenting-six-kids-for-three-weeks friend, Sarah lives. No sign of Sarah but I heard kid-noise in the game room where I discovered four kiddos hovered around two computer screens, Minecraft on one and a digital soccer game on the other. Pasha’s back was to the door as he focused on the soccer screen. I sneaked up behind him, quickly covering his eyes with my hands in a guess-who gesture.
“Ms. Sarah?” he questioned, leaving my hands in place.
I said nothing. Inwardly pleading with my heart to stop pounding. Father, why do I expect rejection?
“Juliet! It’s You!”
Pasha leaped from the swivel chair and attacked me – one hundred and six pounds of teenage boy wrapping me in a hug that squeezed fear to death! That moment confirmed Sarah’s hunch that even though the boys had only been with us a few days, our home was their home, because that’s the first place they landed in America. And our family was their family, because we were the ones who initially bonded with them here. Pasha didn’t let go. He hugged and hugged and hugged me until I became a rag doll flopping into the swivel chair. Then he raced outside to find Honey.
A few days later I sit in church, wedged between them like a paperback between bookends, watching My Honey in the pulpit – preaching the communion sermon.
Jesus, I want them to know You. I want them to want to know You. What does this service mean to two orphaned teens who didn’t grow up in the Christian faith and barely comprehend a few English phrases? How can I use Google Translate to translate Your sacrificial eternal love for them?
As Yura takes the tiny cup from the deacon holding a silver tray, I see the scars. Perfectly straight, white with age, horizontal lines just above the wrist. Cutting? Why have I not noticed these before? My stomach knots as I reach for my own symbol of the blood shed for my sins.
Grabbing my phone, I text with flying thumb, barely glancing at the screen half-hidden beneath my flowing skirt. God, I can’t be silent. I must ask, in the stillness of this moment. Will he trust me enough to let me share his pain?
I press “Go” and pass the phone as Google magically turns my English into strange letters and symbols understood only by Yura.
Расскажите мне о шрамы на руке? Tell me about the scars on your arm?
The same sixth-grade heart-pounding, back-of-the-neck sweating, weak-kneed anticipation creeps through my body as the recipient carefully-so-as-not-to-spill-the-blood takes the phone and reads my words.
Do you love me Yura? Do you love me enough to let me know the hurt behind those marks on your arms? Will you look at me with honest eyes and see that I long to know the life you’ve lived and the tears you’ve cried and the pain your young heart has born in your strong, silent way? Check yes or no.
Instantly his eyes meet mine as he drops the phone and instinctively covers the visible marks of his pain.
Oh Lord! I’ve gone too far, said too much, crossed the line! It’s too soon. The trust hasn’t had time to bloom. But, we only have six weeks left. Every moment is an opportunity.
I pick up the phone, feeling the eyes of a pew full of worshippers on the back of my neck as I, the pastor’s wife, text during the holy communion service.
I will use humor. That usually works.
Развелев поцарапать вас ? Did a lion scratch you?
He smiles, almost giggles and whispers in English, “No!”
Whew! Now what?
Лев почесал меня , тоже. Только мои шрамы на внутренней части. A lion scratched me, too. Only my scars are on the inside.
I wait. Yura smiles again and turns the phone off. He says nothing, but his body moves closer in a gesture of understanding. I can feel his leg, warm against mine as Honey reads from Matthew 26 (NKJV): “Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”