There was one more stressor in the week after my in-laws left. It was...
It was this story:
It was our third week of meeting as a small group in this six week program, and our group quickly became comfortable with each other. This is due in no small part to the hostess/group leader, Anna.
Anna is one of the first friends we made at First Christian Church here in Lawrence. While many members of the church took a few Sundays to warm up to us, Anna sat down and talked with us right from the start. We didn't completely understand her from the start, but she had enthusiasm. Like Horyon, she is an immigrant to the U.S. She left Poland as a political refugee during the years of the Iron Curtain. They had two children, Monica and Alex. Her husband died shortly after Alex was born, and she has raised them on her own since then.
On second thought, she would probably say that she didn't raise them on her own; she has neighbors who have treated them as family. The Church has treated them as family. They haven't been alone. And now that we are here, she has pulled us into this family without reservation, including asking us to join her small group. And now I understand her 99% of the time, and consider her a friend, moving quickly toward family.
Last Thursday we were standing around in the kitchen eating some snacks before the actual study commenced. I was about to tell about my two flat tires (this is a day before the 3rd flat) when I leaned against a hutch cabinet that wasn't.
It wasn't a hutch cabinet because the shelf sitting on top of the counter wasn't attached to it. It was just sitting there. The shelf has a solid back, so it's footprint looked like a wide, shallow 'U'. When I leaned against the side, the opposite leg of the U slid off the counter, making it extremely unstable. It fell forward, slowly at first. Someone noticed and stopped the shelf from falling, but it was too late: All of the glass and ceramic objects that had been sitting on it crashed to the floor. It was more noisy than you would expect, millions of tiny shards of glass and ceramic scattered all over the floor. Fortunately no one was hurt, though we were all shocked. For a moment the silence was deafening, then Anna said, "Well, that was only 150 year old dish."
I felt as though I had broken her life.
I stood there in shock until Horyon told me that I should help clean up. Then her kids came storming down the stairs. Monica is 13, and Alex is 9, and they wanted satisfaction: "What happened?" "Who did it?"
I lifted my hand a bit and said, "I did," but they didn't hear me, because Anna said, at the same time only louder, "The cat did it."
"I knew that cat was trouble, but you never listen to me, and now look what happened!" Monica yelled in that 13-year-old I-told-you-so tone as she headed back upstairs. Alex wanted to hunt down the cat, and proceeded to tear through the house, then the yard, perhaps planning to punish the poor, innocent cat for my crime.
Needless to say, I felt even worse. I pushed the broom in my own silence, not really noticing the conversations going on around me about how lucky we were that no one got hurt, and that it was such a good thing that there didn't seem to be much broken glass in the snacks, but it would be a good idea to chew slowly just in case.
At the end of the evening I told Anna again that I was very sorry, and she told me this:
When she was a young girl, the Soviets came, and her family was evicted from their fine, large home, only allowed to take the poorest of the furnishings. This was a huge drop in status for them, but they learned to let go of their possessions. Then when she moved to the States to be with her husband, who had left earlier, the only way to get out was by applying for political asylum. The result of that move was leaving everything that she couldn't carry with her in her suitcases. Not just her stuff, but her friends, family and culture, were left behind. "And," she told me, "God taught me to get along without these things. Now perhaps God is telling me that I am becoming too attached to my things again."
She didn't just forgive me, she told me that the precious things on her shelf were not as important as friends and family. It would be wrong to let their destruction get in the way of our relationship.
And she hugged me, and told me it was OK, and that she was only grateful that no one was hurt.
I can't tell this story of grace without getting a bit teary-eyed. I know in my mind that God has forgiven me, and forgives me, for much worse, more deliberate sins. Sometimes I feel that forgiveness, and sometimes I just have to believe that it's there. But it is rare to find that Christ-like attitude here, even among other Christians. Anna didn't even think about it, she just forgave me. She lied to her own children because she knew that they wouldn't be able to forgive as easily as she had. She demonstrated how we Christians are supposed to act. Honestly, I can't remember a thing from that Bible study, and it's been only six days. But I will never forget what Anna taught me: