‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Saturday, September 25, 2010

This Place I Love

A woman carries a loaf of bread home, near the orphanage.
Siberia -- take it or leave it -- is a place of luminous contrasts. Darkly magical, mysteriously primitive, yet still singularly beautiful. It is not a place that submits easily to pithy descriptions. It is a holy and blasphemous place at once.

Life here is lived 'at the pitch that is near madness', as one of my favorite poems so aptly puts it. You cannot live here and not be awake. Depressing? Yes. But hardly forgettable. It is a place of profound loss and, therefore, a place ripe for redemption.

And did I mention that I am in love with her?

Not the easy kind of love, but the kind that beats you down and grinds you in a crucible. The kind of love that transforms you because, well, it hurts. It is like that Shakespeare's sonnet, where he so perfectly describes the 'fever' that is his love. It is a fever. It burns. It hurts. And yet it also purges something in you.

Siberia, I love you.

I'm sure this confession must come as a surprise, after my week of moaning and homesickness, but those are just the birth pains. They go hand-in-hand with this journey-romance. What value can love truly have if there is not some honest suffering? God knows it. We tend to forget. But nothing transforms us and thrusts us forward like suffering does. Myself? I crave it like I crave sunlight in winter. I seek it, because I know what gifts it brings.

Our American world of quick fixes and fast answers and comfy couches and shiny new cars stands in stark contrast to the concept of suffering. We Americans not only, as a whole, detest personal suffering, we think of it as a long, lonely spiral in the wrong direction -- the direction we are not headed towards. But this is sadly so far from the truth. Suffering, true suffering of the heart and spirit, is a spiritual gift that catapults us into the arms of God.

Thank you, Russia, for sharing your pain with me. Thank you, Siberia, for the cold and luminous face you turn to me. Thank you, God-Of-All-That-Is, for counting me worthy of such a rare journey. I am grateful with each step up this steep hill.

My daughter, walking along the road of her childhood.


  1. Keri, I just want to remind you that what you're doing is truly remarkable and not many people at all would have the courage to do it. There's a poem that my English class read the other day that made mt think of you. It's called "Identity" by Julio Noboa Palanco. You may have read it before, but just in case you haven't, it's about a person who doesn't want to live as a "flower" or something "always watered, fed, guarded and admired." They say they would prefer to "have broken through the surface of the stone, to live, to feel exposed to the madness of the vast, eternal sky". I think it sort of applies to how Americans avoid suffering and prefer to stay in our own little world, and you've chosen to leave that behind and go to this extreme place to help people who really need it. You're amazing, Keri.

  2. love that comment olivetti!
    beautiful entry keri.

  3. Oh, oh, God wanted me to hear that: "we think of it as a long, lonely spiral in the wrong direction" . . . "Suffering, true suffering of the heart and spirit, is a spiritual gift that catapults us into the arms of God."

    Oh, yes.

    I have always lamented how women in the States are taught that birth is scary and the pain cannot be borne without drugs--yes, it is scary, but also beautiful and even empowering when a woman partners with her body in its labors to bring that new life into the world. . . fighting the way God created women to birth leads to indulgence in fear (and someone once told me that it is sin to fear anything but God) and to disconnect from the awesome experience of childbirth. We have been taught that pain is bad, and we fight it and run from it as much as possible--and yet the miracle of birth would not be possible without it. It is part of the experience of birthing--why do we insist that it is a bad part of the experience?

    And I used to think that pain in childbirth was the result of the Fall--that women did not have pain in labor before sin entered the world. But a few years back I more carefully considered that piece of Scripture, and it says that the woman's pains would be "greatly increased." So that means that even in the garden of Eden, God planned birth to have discomfort, even a little pain. And when he passes his judgement on Eve, and womankind to follow, he says "I will greatly increase your pains. . . ." That means the pain is still directly from the hand of God. If I believe God loves me as a father and as a mother, He does not intend me harm--he seeks my growth, for my own good. So even those greatly increased pains He must have always intended as part of His plan for us, "His plan to proper us and not to harm us."

    Anyway, the parallels between your views of suffering and the pains of birth--and all the beauty and LIFE they are created to bring--are so clear.

    I'm going to be thinking more about this today. Thank you so much for sharing your inner workings. Your story is just getting more and more beautiful.


  4. Beautiful pictures and beautiful writing. You are in my thoughts and prayers, Keri!

  5. I'd want (and expect to) live in one of those cottages on that road. I can. not. get. over. that. apartment!!!!!

  6. Great post. I enjoyed reading it. During our 6 trips to Russia over the years we constantly heard how like was so hard for Russians. Especially when in Novo, we heard it over and over again. At the time, I didnt really get it. Over the years I have learned to kind of understand it. You post confirms it. We really have no idea how others live.

  7. Love the comments, friends. Olivetti, that is the biggest compliment I think i'e ever beem given. I WANT to be that person, that flower, wiling to break through... I love that image.

    And Blessed, I cant tell you how wonderful it is to know there is someone who understands the value of suffering. In some ways I think that knowingthat truth could transform our world right now -- were more people willing to suffer. Yes, the pain is real ansd I cry myself to sleep pretty much every night, but I know I am doing something so worthwhile and I know that in doing it, I am brought closer to God.

    Annie, like you, my DREAM would be to live in one of the gingerbread siberian cotages, but i think God chose this place to make me laugh...something I SORELY need every day!

  8. Beautifully written post. I can feel the depth and bredth of your love.

  9. okay, this is how addicted I am to your blog. On the Blogger Dashnoard I can see you posted a new entry "Great Kids Terrible Life" but I can't see it on your blog and I have been trying all morning to see it! I am sure it will show up soon but I just love reading your entries. How is Anya doing? How is the apartment? Hang in there!

  10. Keri, will you email me? I can't seem to find your addy, and I want to ask you some questions about winter hosting. gardenhat (at) hotmail

  11. I was skimming my Reader's Digest this afternoon and one of the feature books this month is Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. I just went to the library website and put a hold on it..


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