Today we visited one of the at-risk families on the outskirts of Chisinau, the capital. Olga, one of the social workers at BOL, is currently working with 30 women in and around the city developing relationships with them and bringing a bag of food to them once a month. I was excited to go on our short trips this morning to deliver food and clothes we brought with us from home. Bringing clothes here was a thoughtful subject for me because what I packed were a lot of my daughter’s baby clothes. If you are a parent, you’ll know the sentimental attachment you can make to a onesie she first crawled in, a dress she wore often to church, that teddy bear-pocketed coat I thought was too big, but then became too small, and on it goes. It was a small act of love and sacrifice to pack the clothes.
Although I knew we would certainly encounter tough living situations when we visited the families, I loved the idea of being the bearer of good tidings like necessities and treats. (Meat and bananas we bought today from the store are considered treats. And, on a separate note, the Spice Girls music is alive and well in Moldovian grocery stores…zig-a-zay-ah!) We drove around the city, in and out of tiny streets with traffic, and came to a run-down apartment building. Following a brief stop at the wrong building, we made our way to the correct apartment of a woman named Natalia. Natalia lives in the smallest apartment I have ever seen. It is a one-room apartment, literally one room, in which she rents space from an aquaintance. Her curtained-off section contains a couch that she sleeps on and a small crib for her young daughter. Her story, which we were told on the way to visit her, is heart-wrenching. She was an orphan in the section of Moldova called Transnistria. Growing up, she endured hard treatment at the orphanage, which including beatings and abuse. Surviving that kind of childhood is tough to imagine, however life would take another terrible turn for her. She eventually met and married a man who was an alcoholic and abused her as well. The abuse ultimately resulted in the miscarriage of a child and a diagnosis of no longer being able to have children ever again. Pain and death and even death of future dreams. On her life went, trying to work where she could and make a living for herself. She met another man eventually and miraculously conceived another child! The man in her life didn’t want the responsiblity and left her. When the child was born, she found out that her daughter had Down’s Syndrome.
She is in now living in Chisinau with no family, no legal documentation of residency, and a child with special needs. The only help the government here has suggested for her is to place her daughter in the orphanage. Apparently, it would be less expensive to make her an orphan rather than help support her orphan mother. Here is where we find her, a woman in desperate need. So, in we come with goodies, the social worker and a translator who works with BOL. I expected a downtrodden attitude or to feel sadness seeping in from every corner of the room. But, it was joyful and warm. She welcomed us in with a smile and was excited to talk to Olga about her daughter and her recent achievements. She led us to her couch/bed and invited us into her world without hesitation. We met her beautiful daughter who smiles widely and my heart attaches to her immediately. Throughout our visit Natalia and Olga chat back and forth mostly about her daughter, as moms do: what she is doing now, her concerns for development, toys she likes, music she dances to, songs she likes to “sing”…all things I talk with my friends about as well.
We are sitting there watching the exchanges between them and giving stickers to her daughter, which she loved. We felt at ease enjoying the conversation and interacting with them as much as we could through translation. My Lydia likes to dance too. She makes some similar facial expressions. I too talk, probably way too much, about all the steps/actions/babbles she has done in the last week or so. My daughter is nearly the same age as hers. Then Natalia opens up the bag of clothes and pulls out a purple dress, my Lydia’s purple dress. She pulls off her daughter’s sweater and puts on the dress. She holds her hands walking her around and sweet baby girl is smiling enough to light up the room. My heart swells, my eyes tear up, and I am overcome with love and a sudden awareness of why I’m here.
You see, my daughter was an orphan too.
As I sit here and watch a mother become so excited to give her daughter a pretty dress, a feeling I know well, a smile I too have worn on my face, I can see God’s wonderful threads of unity being woven throughout lives worlds apart. Child to child, mom to mom, orphans, pain, loss, redemption, struggles, hope. The hope and joy Natalia has, even through current circumstances, speak of her understanding of God’s love for her. She said that she has seen how God has provided for her all throughout her tough life and is confident in hope that He will continue to provide. She is uncertain, but not afraid. She chose to keep her daughter and face life’s challenges because she knows she is a gift.
I left feeling more encouraged in what we are doing here, but overwhelmed with the need. How can we do more for her? I should have packed more. I should have brought more of Lydia’s things. How would sweet girl look in Lydia’s best dress? What would it mean to her mom to have more toys/tools appropriate for her physical and mental challenges? What is our role here? What is our role back at home? Who, what, where, how? I don’t have answers tonight, but I do have a peace. I already know that God will show us the way and teach us how to respond as we can with what we have for each situation. Today, I got to be His hands and His eyes, and feel His heartbeat for His loved ones. Oh my does it beat with love. I felt it in every part of my heart for Natalia and her little beauty.
I’m so thankful to be here, in this moment, and I thank you for the opportunity. I know our week here will be short, but it will be impactful. And today I again came to see that nothing is wasted by God, not even a little purple dress.