by Michelle Womble
Dan's Note: I can't tell you how cool I think it is that I know someone from Novosibirsk, Russia. I don't know what it is, but Siberia has always fascinated me. Maybe it was imprinted early on when my mother and aunties got together to watch Dr. Zhivago and I had to suffer through the three-hour film. (I really liked the scenery though!)
I'm honored to share a piece from that place by a writer who discovered a new path — and a detour — were exactly what she needed to rediscover her creative roots. I enjoyed reading her contribution and I know you will too.
I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I remember the moment I told my mom I had committed to a two-month trip to Russia.
I can only imagine what was going through her head. In the years since many people have gone to Russia and returned safe and sound, enriched by the encounter with a vibrant, deep culture. But in 1993 the walls had just recently come down, and going to Russia was new, mysterious, and in some ways, frightening for a parent, even if the child who was going was an adult child.
“Going to Russia will give me new songs to write,” I justified myself.
Of course, it wasn’t my only reason. I felt a burden for Russia; I felt called, had felt called for many years.
But although it wasn’t my main motivation, I was serious when I said I would learn new songs in Russia.
I had no idea what I was talking about.
Two months passed into years.
I didn’t write new songs. I watched my old dream die as I struggled and learned.
I learned to speak Russian, wrestling with grammar and verbs and hours of talking which would have been easy if it had been in English. But it wasn't because I had to think about what I was saying and how to say it; my brain ached from the effort.
I married and learned to be a wife, learning what it means to work together. I learned what it meant to be willing to learn—how to put another’s needs before my own. I had to face the challenges the dance of give-and-take brought for both of us. It became about "us" and not about "me."
I learned to live in a community where everything that had gone on before had been suddenly turned on its head, where the bottom had dropped out of the economy.
Life was hard.
I learned that it wasn’t just hard for me, but was hard for everyone around me, everyone living in Russia during that time.
I wasn’t the only one who was struggling.
I was humbled as a guest when the host would set before us their last bit of sugar so that I could sweeten my tea. I learned what it means to be generous and to die to yourself.
I learned that generosity was the way others communicated love and respect.
Rich Mullins was my one of my favorite songwriters. He wrote many of the beautiful songs that worked together with the "author" of my faith to penetrate deep inside me and propel me on to be who I am—where I am—today. The music helped me to have the strength to follow through on what I knew I was called to do.
When several friends wrote to tell us that Rich Mullins had died, I suddenly felt that all the music and songs had died, too.
Maybe, for me, in a way, they HAD.
Maybe they had to.
Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24
What I thought I knew about writing I either found I didn’t or I forgot/lost in this new life of mine and I had nothing to say, anyway…
…or maybe I had so much to say, but was too exhausted and overwhelmed and I couldn’t find the adequate words to say anything, anyway and I was silent.
I was mute.
Once I had said I was going to Russia so that I could write songs.
But I had no words, no songs to write.
A friend sent us Rich Mullins’ last album. It was put together after his death. I listened to it in the kitchen as I was cooking. When “Hard to Get” began to play, I started to cry as I peeled potatoes.
I cried for the new songs that wouldn’t be, I cried for the loss of my dream and all the songs I wanted to write but couldn’t; I cried for the pain of trauma in the lives of my friends and neighbors that I couldn’t fix; for our parents and other family members and the pain they feel because of us being so far away from them; for our own pain of not being there when a loved one dies, not being there for weddings and births…for separations and goodbyes…and for THE Separation.
As the peelings fell and the water washed away the grime, I cried for the pain of us all—the pain of the wrongs in a fallen world that I can’t make right no matter what I do.
And I cried because I know who can, and I long for the day when God will make all things new and wipe away every tear.
Then one day I was journaling during my devotional time and I realized that I had written a poem. It was short, humble, still so inadequate and yet it had somehow managed to capture at least a small part of what I had been feeling. I looked back through my journal and began to see a progression from words I just spat out on a page to words trying to shape themselves into something more and sometimes almost succeeding.
I wrote another poem/song a few weeks later and then I was writing again.
Just a little at first. Then more, and though there was still no way to adequately express the things that are on my heart in a way that satisfies me, I wrote and wrote with all the words I could find.
I wrote about the things I had cried over—the pain of separations, the struggle to walk with God, the exhaution and weariness and yet hope and life that come from learning to give time, energy, MYSELF to others. The struggle and triumphs of learning to love others, of learning to love God, of falling short but moving forward. I was writing about it all.
I learned to sing a new song. A new old song, that isn’t about the song at all, but about those things that give birth to it.
I came to Russia—and am still in Russia—because of music. But it's not the kind of music I had in mind that day over twenty years ago when I told my mom I would learn to write songs over here.
It's a different kind of music, a music that is deeper and higher and needs no words.
It's the music of lives learning to lay themselves down to love, learning what it means to love others—to love spouses, children, friends, strangers. Each other. God.
Not That Kind of Fairy Tale by Michelle Womble