Riding the bus back to the hotel after Day 2, I was struck by how much time seems to have passed since I first walked in on Day 1. The first day was a kaleidoscope of sounds, laughs, ceremonies, bustling, and watching happy reunions for my fellow travelers with their friends at Slobodskoy – all blurred by a heavy dose of sleep deprivation. And so far, my brain just doesn’t seem to be able to hold either Russian words or individual kids’ names very well. I confess to some wistful envy as the kids sought out their special connections yet remained politely stand-offish with me. My family group is the 8th graders, so I wasn’t particularly surprised by that.
But somewhere along the way, things changed today. Maybe it was just the repeated interactions with the kids and our wonderful interpreters. Maybe it was the howls of laughter as the mealtime conversations with Galina and staff took crazy turns. Maybe it was co-teaching with Craig as he improvised a hula dance in full regalia. (What a great sport!) At any rate, I’m feeling less that I’m awkwardly bumbling my way through and definitely grateful that I’m here. We held classes about Hawaii, Maine, Texas and Florida – and the kids seemed to actually learn things as well as having fun. I experienced milk soup, pickle soup, and Russian buttermilk and actually liked them all. Poor Katya K. helped me pop more bags of corn than she’ll ever want to think about again, and I was touched when the older guys invited me to sit with them at Movie Night and shared their Starburst as we watched an animated Robin Hood. And I was surprised and especially grateful that some of the 8th grade boys even welcomed goodnight wishes and hugs.
As I felt gratitude for being accepted here, I’m reminded that we all want to be noticed and welcomed. Sometimes it takes a little time. Sometimes it takes a little lowering of our shyness and willingness to be vulnerable. But oh, aren’t we all so immeasurably and incredibly blessed to remember that there is no barrier to being accepted by God? And when we let that knowledge take hold deep in our soul, how can we not feel the same about all his other beloved children? Let me tell you, it feels good.