I walked into her home. It was dark. A small light in the kitchen was the token illumination for her humble home, which was sparsely furnished with tattered cast offs. Among the few old pictures decorating the walls, there was one of a beautiful woman with dreams in her eyes…the elderly woman standing in front of me. She was still pretty and neat, her white hair neatly pulled back in a traditional European bun, garbed in a coat – in the house.
James 1 admonishes us to visit the widow and the orphan. This evening’s visit was my attempt at reaching out of my comfort zone to be an obedient Christian.
She invited me to sit down. She was very talkative in her Eastern European accent, which I found comforting (being introverted). She told me how much she loved the preaching of the pastor of our church. As she could no longer attend church, the deacons faithfully brought her the tapes of the Sunday sermons.
I thought: Why does she like this pastor so much? He says nothing. I listen and listen, but all I hear every week is, “You can make a difference!” I could feel my critical heart becoming even more cynical, fueled by my awareness that this poor woman was living in a ghetto with no resources and shattered dreams.
“Why is that?” I asked.
She answered in her lyrical voice, “ He talks about my Lord, Jesus Christ! He is all I have now!”
Throughout the evening I heard her story. She grew up in Latvia, not far across the river from the Tsar’s palace. Her father was the Tsar’s personal doctor. But sadly, the royal family was murdered one fateful evening in 1917, and even her father could not bring the dead back to life. In spite of the unrest and instability of Russia, Latvia continued as a peaceful state. Lilijan grew up privileged. She was beautiful. She sang. She married a congressman of Latvia. They started their family.
Life did not stay beautiful. Dreams were shattered as Hitler did his thing and eventually Stalin did his thing. Latvia was nothing but a pawn in the world revolution. One night, political madmen came in and killed her husband.
Somehow, pregnant Lilijan escaped with her young daughter. They made their way through Eastern Germany. People were starving. Soldiers were everywhere. She talked about how Christianity became much more than an ethnic tradition, how Jesus became much more than a name, and how God became much more than an impersonal deity as He met their basic needs.
Lilijan came to the United States as a refugee and started life over. She was no longer a Latvian princess. No one seemed even to remember Latvia after the Soviet Union swallowed it up. She became a line worker at a GM plant and eventually married, only to be discarded later in the American way.
Liljan had two children. Her daughter, Rose grew up, got married and moved away She would visit but not often. Lilijan’s son suffered from schizophrenia, making her life extremely difficult when he wasn’t hospitalized. She continued to love him and have hope for him. She longed for the day when she would be in that country that her Savior had prepared for her. She longed for her Prince of Peace.
As I listened to her that night, I did not understand. It all seemed so hopeless. What a sad ending. Certainly not the stuff of a Jane Austin novel!
Even though I was a mother of two at the time, I was still a child in my soul. I thought as a child. I wanted to dream. I did not know God shatters dreams to reveal to us the desires of His heart that will make us whole.
But now, many years later, after disappointments and quiet tragedies that broke my heart to heal my soul, I am a woman. I no longer think like a child. I can see more clearly. The name of Jesus now lifts my soul. Whether I am in a ghetto home or a palace, and whether I’m in a traditional church with the facade of ancient stability that echos the songs of ages past or I’m in a postmodern warehouse that markets itself with popular Christian rhythms, I can now say with Lilijan: I rejoice when I hear the name of Jesus! I am thankful to be with those who worship God. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
(This post was written by Connie Sikma, from my writers’ group. Connie didn’t have any pictures of Liljan, who is now with her Prince of Peace. However, a sweet friend from my Sunday school class kindly allowed me to take her photo for an illustration. Thank you so much, Connie and Shirley!)