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God Met Me on a Bridge in Communist Poland

 Martial Law, December 13, 1981

Martial Law, December 13, 1981

Did he come?

“Yes.”

So where did you pack the item he brought?

“Don’t ask me; it will be better for both of us at the border if you don’t know the answer to this question.”

(The following story is part three in a three part series. Part one and part two are available at:

My Agonizing Question That Refused to Be Answered and The Day That Stays With Me Forever.)

The days leading up to this epic journey were like none our American lives had ever experienced. The icey strategy of the Cold War gripped with a new cruelty. On December 13, 1981, the Communist government declared Martial Law, and the nation of Poland stood completely shut off from the outside world. Public transportation was brought to a stand still, phone lines were cut, newspapers were silenced, and the television only broadcast military propaganda bulletins insisting all citizens return to their city or village of residence.

  General Jaruzelski making nationwide televised address

General Jaruzelski making nationwide televised address

Navigating the crisis, Larry cautiously trekked daily to downtown Warsaw and the American Embassy. Each time he left, a chill coursed through me. Would he return? He ventured out, hoping against hope, to glean accurate information and clarity for the situation we faced. Most of all, he hoped, by some fluke, to be granted permission to send a telegram to our families notifying them that we were ok. At this point, we sat isolated with no contact beyond the border. Our food supply, our cash supply, and our health remained in good condition; we felt compelled to inform our loved ones of our state of affairs.

The scene at the embassy offered no encouragement. Like a tomb, the foreboding building stood cold and silent. The black iron gates were open, but the doors to the inside of the concrete structure remained bolted.

(Here our story gains momentum.)

On one of these bitterly cold days, as Larry milled in the bare courtyard — inside the gates, but outside the building — a gentleman whom Larry previously met at a restaurant—approached him and quietly asked, “Are you by any chance planning to travel outside the country anytime soon?”

As field correspondent for ABC News, he explained, “The transmission of all video news remains forcibly blocked, and western broadcasters in the free world have no footage. Would you be willing to take—smuggle—a videotape across the border which documents the Soviet-backed oppression taking place here? Please, will you help us?”

Larry cautiously related our tentative travel plans. (The Kremlin changed everything. Our long-dreamed-of Christmas with my parents in our home behind the Iron Curtain would now have to be relocated. Martial Law cancelled all flights in and out of Warsaw, thus blocking their trip to Poland.)

The correspondent persisted. “Will you please agree to smuggle a videocassette out with you?”

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Gripped with the sober reality of the newsman’s plight and the dire situation of the nation, Larry nodded affirmatively. How could we ever efuse? If there were any way, whatsoever, we could help this citizenry in their fight for freedom, we would willingly participate.

So, Larry came home and briefed me to expect a visit from a man I did not know, who would give me a video news cassette I should not have. In clandestine courier fashion, we needed to agree to take this small, black, plastic case across the Polish border, across the Czechoslovakian border and across the Austrian border to the ABC news agency in safe and free Vienna. My husband did not need to tell me the danger we faced, if caught.

I hesitated and calculated the cost.

After living more than four years inside the walls of a totalitarian régime, I grasped the significance of this mission. I knew this violated Communist law. With all news to the outside world either blocked or jammed, how would we be treated if border guards discovered we held in our possession a film documenting the very truth of news the government refused to release?

As a young mother of three, I found myself in grim, uncharted waters. I was no Polish patriot, I was not part of the underground resistance, I did not belong to Solidarity, but how I loved these people! And at their greatest hour of need, how could I dare refuse to help? Yes! I wanted to quietly be a part of their heroic fight. I would agree to carry the news cassette revealing the tanks, the road blocks, the round up of citizens, the military police on every corner. Now, I had only to wait for the next step.

Eventually, a ring at the gate announced his arrival. Once inside the safety of our foyer, the ABC news correspondent, wearing his gray trench coat and fedora hat, placed the contraband item into my hands. Briefly, he reviewed the instructions, once we were inside the city limits of Vienna. Then, he thanked me, and left. The entire exchange took less than five minutes. Again, that shudder of reality coursed through my entire body. It was not what he said—but what he did not say—that left me frozen in my tracks. Right inside the door of my home, at the foot of my stairs, I agreed to be apart of something both dangerous and dramatic, something of much greater significance than my mind could comprehend.

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At nightfall, when Larry returned, our whispered conversation went like this:

Did he come?

“Yes.”

Did he give you the news tape?

“Yes.”

Did you pack it?

“Yes.”

Where did you pack it?

“Don’t ask me; when we are questioned at the border, it will be better for both of us, if you don’t know the answer to this question.”

For this one, I was flying solo.

With details arranged, we finally, embarked on our harrowing drive across three countries. The darkness and blowing snow kept us on edge. Would we make it before the border closed? What if we ran out of gas, since all stations had been forced to close? Moreover, how could we make the children fall asleep? With a sense of urgency, we traveled one tedious kilometer after another.

After hours of driving, we rounded the telltale curve. Floodlights announced the inevitable; we were approaching the the Olza River and the international border separating the nations of Poland and Czechoslovakia. (It was now 9:45 pm and the border closed at 10:00.) As we inched forward, Larry and I exchanged sideways glances. No turning back now. Still, he did not know where in our belongings the news cassette was hidden, and I had no intention of telling him. The outcome of this rested in the Lord’s Hands. We prayed and held our shivering breaths, and drove onto the border bridge.

Slowly, snidely, arrogantly, the military guards emerged from their border station and assumed command of our papers, our family, our vehicle and our destiny. Then, they initiated the search of our belongings. I sat still in the front while Larry spoke with them outside. This was not a World War II movie; this was real life. In subzero temperatures on a bridge in southern Poland, I begged the Lord of heaven and earth to blind the eyes of those in charge of this search. I prayerfully pleaded for the news cassette to remain completely hidden.

They barked their commands: Lift the truck! Open this suitcase! Explain this carton! We quietly obeyed.

While one guard tediously combed through our trunk, another shone flashlight beams into our faces, and examined the contents inside of our car. Obviously, their lights and loud voices roused the sleeping children who had, miles back, finally fallen asleep. Throughout the process, they made sure we understood their authority over our lives.

Eventually, the guards conferred with each other, turned, and retreated into their warm border station. We waited, how long I am not sure. It felt like an eternity.

And then, unannounced, they marched back out, curtly handed Larry the stack of our family’s passports, stood back, and dramatically waved us through. Weak with relief, Larry counted the number of passports, resumed command of our car, and slowly pulled forward. Not until the bridge was out of sight of the rear view mirror did we allow ourselves to exhale the nervous, heavy air within our lungs.

We made through the border! Thank You, God; we made it! HALLELUJAH! Though a long, dark and slick winding wintery road loomed ahead, so far the ABC news cassette was safe in its truth-bearing journey to the rest of the world. God had answered my desperate prayer. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you… (Isaiah 43:2)

Another tedious 24 hours passed before we drove into the city limits of Vienna. Collapsing into the arms of our waiting friends, Dave and Claudia Arp, we hastily explained the presence of contraband. Larry quickly bounded up the stairs, dialed the number to the ABC bureau chief in Vienna, and informed the voice on the other end that we had an item in our possession which was of great value to him.

Instantaneously grasping the gravity of the situation, the gentleman said, “Tell me where you are, and we will race to you. Only one hour remains before the satellite goes down. IF we move with urgency, we can get this uploaded for the evening news with Peter Jennings.”

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At long last, I lifted the tape from hiding and placed it into Larry’s outstretched hands. Momentarily, our eyes met. Then, taking it from me, like passing a baton in a relay race, he placed it into the hands of this stranger as he jumped from the backseat of a black Mercedes.

Just as quickly as he appeared, the messenger disappeared. He and his driver sped away into the cold darkness of the historical Viennese district of Grinzing. Within minutes, the news cassette would make the final leg of its journey. Its truth telling footage would be transmitted up to the satellite and over the ocean to announce to the world the plight of a nation, held against its will, in the grip of Martial Law behind The Iron Curtain.

Once our three exhausted children were tucked into their beds in the warm home of our dear hosts, Larry and I shared a moment of sober solitude. We weaved our arms around each other, and stared out the living room window. In each Austrian home and apartment along the Strasse, a single candle shown in defiant support of the nation to the East. We ached, we prayed, we wondered. Would our small part make a difference? Only history would tell.

So, there it is; the account of one small family caught between worlds at a unique time and place in the Cold War. Once again, this story pulls back the Iron Curtain to give a glimpse of real life behind that Iron Curtain.

Where did I hide the video cassette? Inside a box of Pampers—destiny within the diapers. The news cassette traveled undetected across the Polish border, across the nation of Czechoslovakia, and across the countryside of Austria, inside the fold of a diaper, tucked within a stack of other diapers inside a box of Pampers. Thank You, God.

Living With Eternal Intentionality

1. Do you personally remember the period of the Cold War, or have you read of this in international history?

2. Do you believe God is in control of the events in world affairs? (1 Timothy 6:15b J.B. Phillips)

3. How do the happenings between men and nations fit into His orchestrated plans for spreading the gospel? (Matthew 28:18-20)

#HolidayHacksforMom

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“The holidays are already stressing me out!” This was a text from a friend recently that ended with that greenish emoji face that looks like it just ate a vat of pickled cabbage.”

These words lifted from editor Leslie Yazel — as she introduced the holiday issue of Real Simple — commanded my attention. I sipped my coffee, twirled back and forth on my kitchen stool, stared at the leafless tree outdoors, and pondered: Does it have to be this way?

Particularly in the month of December, my heart goes out to moms. Year in and year out, she doesn’t just give gifts; she gives heart, soul, and self in order for the rest of the family to be blessed. And for those of us in this role, we want so badly to get it right that we sometimes lose our way along the way.

However, after more than 43 years as a mom at Christmas, life has taught me that the desire to bless does not have to become a bully. With the right game plan, #HolidayHacksforMom, you and I can march steadily forward to a cadence of love, joy, and peace. So mom, here are my #suggestions:

#Minimize:

Your personal expectations - your goal is not to create the perfect Christmas; God already did that for us when He sent Jesus. Your goal is to honor Him as you love and bless those in your sphere of influence.

Your personal goals - be selective. Not every tradition has to be incorporated into the calendar, not every community event has to be attended, and not every cookie recipe has to be baked.

Your personal reading - this is not the time to tackle that thousand-page volume; instead, treat yourself to an audio book or a series of treasured short stories relevant to the season.

#Maximize:

Moments

Currently I am making my way through the book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. As a result, my vision for moments has undergone a radical transformation, and I now applaud the potential even a moment can bring. So, I offer to you the encouragement to embrace:

Moments with individual family members - look for interludes with each child in order to hear their heart in the sea of celebration.

Moments with your husband - sit by the fire, sip cocoa, and enjoy the music that marriage can bring.

Moments with relatives you rarely get to see - take the initiative and invest moments in corner conversations. You will leave the gathering enriched, and so will they.

#Manage:

Your transportation transitions (from this school party... to this office gala, manage the transitions like that of an Uber driver)

Your finances (know when to stop spending)

Your calendar commitments (Ask, “Is this the best use of our evening?”)

Your planning – keep it simple. Place a 3 x 5 card beside your bed. Carry it with you as you move through your day. Create categories of Decorate, Shop, Cook, Attend, and Miscellaneous. Check off items completed, and move forward those items still remaining. Continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9B) so that you can confidently make wise decisions. Review at the end of each day, and start over the next.

#Maintain:

Simple Habits

Protect your sleep - resist the urge to stay up late just because the house is finally quiet. Rest will work wonders for your personal bandwidth.

Eat fruit and vegetables, and don’t forget the protein - in the midst of holiday’s festive fare, be mindful to incorporate healthy foods, as well.

Get outside for a walk - Like Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “Some old fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.”

#Make Sure:

To spend sweet, worshipful time alone with Jesus. The star always stops with Him. (Matthew 2:9)

Living With Eternal Intentionality

1. If these #HolidayHacksforMom seem overwhelming, select just one to use. How it can be helpful to you? So,teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12 NASB).

2. Why is Colossian 1:9B more than just a good suggestion?

3. What transpires within our souls when we allow every star of expectation or commitment of this Christmas season to stop with Jesus? How will this discovery make a difference in your desire to bless, not impress, this December?

May I Please Have Your Recipe?

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May I Please Have Your Recipe?

That question always energizes me. And after my friend Beth’s husband made yet another sweeping loop past the appetizer, I understood her request! The delectable in question—

Pimento Cheese*

Three generations (with five individuals actually sharing the same name) mingled, and conversations flowed easily during our Labor Day gathering. No one objected to the noise and interruptions from energetic youngsters. One child needed the dress up clothes; a pair needed a ball and bat. When one toddler impolitely pushed another, no one overreacted. Gentleness flowed with the correction. In this group, we simply relished the joy of shared time and space. For a few precious hours, busy took a backseat to genuine, authentic fellowship, the kind The Bible talks about.

And as we talked, we consumed pimento cheese. While refilling glasses of ice tea… between scuffles… and waiting for the burgers on the grill, we savored the creamy culinary creation, and marveled that each bite tasted better than the one before.

Labor Day is a distant memory, but Thanksgiving is here.

Since pimento cheese transitions well between holidays and households, I often get Beth’s request from others. So just in time for your Thanksgiving gathering, here it is! The ingredients are few, the procedure is important, and the options abound.

Ingredients:

Cheddar cheese - Kraft sharp 8 oz. block (not grated)

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Roasted peppers - Mezzetta deli-sliced roasted pepper strips

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Mayonnaise – Kraft real mayo

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Procedure using a food processor:

  • Drain the peppers in a colander, but do not rinse.

  • Using the knife blade, chop the peppers in the food processor and remove to drain again.

  • Switch to the grater blade and grate the block of cheese.

  • Remove the grater blade, replace the knife blade, and add 1/3 cup of mayonnaise, the cheese, and the peppers.

  • Pulse cautiously to a texture blended somewhere between chunky and creamy, depending on your preference.

  • Remove your pimento cheese, stir in fresh ground pepper, savor a sample with a cracker, and place in the refrigerator.

Procedure using a hand mixer:

  • Drain the peppers.

  • Grate the cheese by hand.

  • Cut the pepper strips into shorter lengths, the smaller the better.

  • Place the two ingredients into a mixing bowl, and blend together with hand mixer.

  • Add the mayonnaise and fresh ground pepper and blend to desired texture.

  • Remove, savor a sample with a cracker, and place in the refrigerator.

Note: when you are ready to serve, stir in additional mayonnaise if the mixture seems stiff. Avoid the tendency to add too much, as this will alter the flavors that have blended.

Options for use:

  • as an appetizer served with crackers

    (For Labor Day, I served the pimento cheese in a Bolesławiec pottery bowl at the end of our kitchen island. For the guests’ convenience, party sized plates, individual spreaders, small napkins, and Triscuit crackers were nearby.)

  • on a sandwich with lettuce and tomato

  • as a topping for a burger

  • inside celery sticks

  • as a variation for grilled cheese

The Secret:

Three simple ingredients, but no substitutions—

Standing in the grocery aisle, you will be tempted to substitute these dependable ingredients. Don’t do it. Let me explain. For years I made this simple recipe when we lived in Hungary, the land known for its delicious roasted red peppers. And I had to grate my cheese since the prepackaged grated variety was not available. Then, when I returned to the U.S. and started substituting with the grated package, the taste of my pimento cheese was radically changed. It took a tutorial from my eldest daughter to point out my mistake. She was right!

Disclaimer:

Pimento cheese is not for everyone’s palate. But if you like it, you will like this recipe.

Living With Eternal Intentionality

Most of all, enjoy the blessing of those around you when you are serving this food. Allow Psalm 103 to guide you and yours to a deeper level of gratitude.

Please let me know what you think, after you have tried the recipe.

*And, as always when I share a recipe, I ask if you would please pray for me when you make it.