Posted by: ritagone | August 6, 2014

Mothers and “Mother” Russia

mother and baby symbol

As I write this, I’m re-watching the last episode of “Call the Midwife,” Season 3, and I’m literally weeping because of the story line concerning Chummy and her dying mother. (Spoilers! If you haven’t seen Season 3 yet or the last episode, beware that I tell a bit of the plot line.) I don’t want to spoil the plot for you if you haven’t been following this TV series from the U.K. (and please do so if you haven’t), but her mother has been quite the snob in the past seasons of the show, out of sorts, and very disparaging about Chummy’s marriage to a man who is what she considers low class, even though he absolutely adores his wife and the audience absolutely adores him. And now, as she is dying of cancer, Chummy nursing her, there are some of the most tender moments I’ve ever seen depicting the mother-daughter bond. So sad that the touching and the gentleness came so late, but at least it finally happened. And it certainly touched an emotional chord in me.

My mother was not a nurturing mother either. Born in Kiev, which then was a part of the Soviet Union, and coming to the U.S. in the early 1920’s with three older siblings, then raised by a sister old enough to be her mother, a sister who was distant and remote herself, my mother, when she married my father, just didn’t have the capacity to be nurturing to her two children. She was always in survival mode each day, as if her past were her present. She wasn’t a bad mother; she just wasn’t “there” for me. Fortunately, my father was a great dad, so what was lacking in my mother was at least compensated for a bit in my dad. But I never had those warm fuzzy feelings about my mother that so many have, and I always knew the lack of it in my gut and in my heart.

When we were in Russia for the third time recently, we heard the stories of graduates of the Transition Homes that Christian Associates and Calvary Community Church both support. In Russia, the orphanages are run by the government, and they are very institutionalized. “Get the job done,” is their motto, and that doesn’t include nurturing of any kind. Feed them, clothe them, make sure there’s a roof over their heads. And a sparse education, if anything. And when they’re 16, out they go, which is mandated by the government. It’s no wonder, then, that the statistics for these orphans or young teens turned out of the orphanages at that age are horrific: only 10% will wind up living “normal” lives. The other 90% will turn to prostitution, drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, and most likely an early death. Talk about sad stories. These are heartbreaking.

But in the midst of these stats and depressing projections, you have the opportunity to meet a few of the ones who have found a lighted path, and you listen to the wrenching tales they tell that literally rip your heart out of your chest. One of these stories was Katrina (not her real name), a young woman who, along with her twin brother, was abandoned by a mother, widowed, with a drinking problem, a mother who would take off with a boyfriend and leave her children with a relative, promising to return shortly. But she didn’t come back. And that relative, of course, couldn’t take care of two more children, so she put them in the most likely place: one of the government-run orphanages that dot the Russian landscape. Eventually Katrina came under the influence of Slava, one of the Christian Associates pastors whose life is committed to bringing hope and God’s son Jesus to these young people who seem to have no hope. Katrina came to know Jesus, met a young man who is now her husband, learned a trade (hairdressing) and is continuing her education by mastering landscape architecture. She still calls her mother periodically, to touch base with her. Sometimes her mother is even sober when they speak on the phone. Eventually Katrina’s maternal grandparents learned that they had a granddaughter and a grandson, twins, whom they had never known about before.

Katrina’s brother has fallen into the wide cracks of Russian society, a victim of drug abuse and parental neglect, one of the 90% who so far hasn’t been reached for good. Perhaps some time in the future, because Katrina and her husband love him and want the best for him, and because they have Slava and his family and other believers in their lives, her brother will come to know the love he has missed all his life. It’s a long shot, but it’s not impossible.

If you’re reading this and you’re a mother, hug one of your kids or grandkids today if there’s any way you can do this. If you’re too far away to physically put your arms around them, at least pick up the phone and call them, tell them you’re thinking about them and love them. More than anything else, I came home from this trip to Russia with an overwhelming sense of how important a mother’s love is in the life of a child as he or she matures and grows to adulthood. No child should be deprived of a mother’s love for any reason.

But when and if that does happen, thank God for the men and women who stand in the gap and bring nurturing love to those “orphans” who have been abandoned by their real mothers for whatever reason. I want to be one of those people, who loves those who have not been loved the way God designed. I want to fulfill Jesus’ mandate to be aware of and kind to the widows and orphans, because they truly deserve to be cared for and have the void in their lives filled by God’s loving people.

So the first major change in my life and attitude since this recent trip to Russia is this: an overwhelming adjustment to what the word “mother,” and all that it entails, means.

Next week I’ll share another profound change in my heart and mind as a result of this recent trip to Russia and Latvia.

Thanks for reading…and caring.



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