About this time last week, a friend invited me (via Internet) to a birthday party for her 5 yr old. And I immediately began to form an explanation for why I wouldn't go. I never even wrote back...isn't that awful?
Do I say "no" too much? Is it bad if I am thinking of excuses as soon as the invitations roll in? What is it that I really want to say, other than "I can't make it"? That it's too hard to ask someone to babysit, or too far to travel in an already busy day? Should I put out a public service announcement to my friends that I might be busy for the next 5 years or so? But no, I don't want to do that. Sometimes everything lines up: my availability, health, and desire to take part. And then I have a good time and know that these opportunities are a priority too, of a sort.
So then the day before the aforementioned birthday party, a friend from church called. "Vika just asked me to her son's birthday party," she began...I was surprised, because Vika is MY friend whom I had invited to a few church events, and here she was reaching out to others in my church. "It kind of came unexpectedly, since the party's tomorrow," Sveta continued,"but...Liz, this person is reaching out. I wouldn't go by myself, but the two of us could go." After a brief discussion with Andrei, I called Sveta back and told her I would go.
But first, there was church...
I had only been back once since summer vacation, and everyone congratulated us on being well. It felt funny because we hadn't very sick, the Sundays had just seemed to coincide with the peaks of our sneezes and sniffles. However, I was glad we had kept our distance. One person had been ill when he visited a fellowship meeting the previous week, and many people from that meeting were now sick in bed.
I was able to catch up with a few people before Sveta and I dashed off to buy a present and be on our way.
It was nice to spend some quality time with Sveta. She is around my age, single, and in the medical profession. But what really stands out is her heart for service and evangelism. She is the kind of person who asks about "what God has been doing in your life recently," and gets excited when people grow closer to the Lord or see Him work a miracle. We talked all about what we did this summer, and she shared about an interesting medical mission she'd been on.
We got to the party and there was a table set up at the sofa with all the food...a typical Russian apartment scenario. We nibbled on salads and then Vika's mom served us the main dish. The kids were playing on the floor and their mothers were at the table...no fathers present. Gradually, polite questions and answers gave way to more friendly conversation. Almost all of the mothers there had stayed at our same hospital with their children...not the burn ward, but the same building. In-between occasional games for the kids, we commiserated about the woes of the glass thermometers and cranky nurses (while Sveta and Vika's mom commiserated about being nurses!). When Valentina (Vika's mom) was sitting next to her, Sveta asked about her family background and we got the whole story about Valentina's father being sent away from art school in Moscow to the gulag in Kazakhstan as a political prisoner, and how he was only exonerated many years later, and Valentina recently got compensation (around 40 dollars) because she had been born before the sentencing and grew up without her father, but her younger siblings didn't get anything.
Sveta and I stood up to go and Valentina remarked how I hadn't changed after all these years...just got plumper (which is okay to comment on in Russian culture). And Vika said she'd thought I was pregnant, so I told them about diastasis recti, and we discussed again how Vika was required to have a C-section because of her near-sightedness, and I said that in my American childbirth experience that hadn't been an issue.
On the way back, Sveta and I talked about the future: what our church was planning, and why the problem of evangelism is so confusing. We thought back to a discussion thread that's now archived in the church message boards...that time when we all shared our thoughts and experiences and opinions, and got into a fight and then didn't know what to say after that. One person's good idea was a joke and another person's criticism was too offensive. So the topic was left unfinished.