Forty-two years ago this month Larry and I, along with our 17-month-old daughter, embarked on a life-changing journey. In a dramatic manner, God called us in 1977 to leave all that we held dear, and follow His divine will to go and live covertly behind the Iron Curtain in Communist Poland.
At the height of the Cold War, this assignment brought fear, grief, and sorrow to our families. Birthdays and holidays emphasized our absence. Thus, any effort to stay in touch carried a disproportionate burden. With that backdrop, journey with me as I recall one day in the fall of 1978.
Pulling back the Iron Curtain to see real life behind that Iron Curtain …
This October Saturday morning dawned dark and gray. But the task facing us was not weather-sensitive. My father’s birthday present had to be in the mail from Warsaw, Poland today or it would not reach him in time for the celebration.
Our job only required (demanded) patience, determination, and perseverance. So, driven by a single purpose, we set out.
Step one: locate gift
In the absence of online shopping, gift cards, FedEx, and UPS a simple task became arduous. So, a few days previous, I invested valuable time and limited energy trudging in and out of stores with barren shelves, in hopes of locating any acceptable birthday item. When I came upon to a man’s shirt, I breathed a sigh of relief. Gift purchased. Check.
Step two: package gift
Once back home, I meticulously followed tedious Communist postal instructions for international mailing. Heavy brown paper and thick packing tape made the shirt travel-ready for its journey to America.
Step three: mail gift
This particular Saturday morning—gift in tow—Larry, our toddler, and I loaded up in our small yellow Fiat with determination to complete the urgent task. Since government rules prevented our local neighborhood post office from processing our overseas package, we dutifully headed to downtown Warsaw. We drove over bridges, across tram tracks, and through multiple districts, to reach the nation’s Central Postal Building.
Once at the post, we parked and trudged inside. The austere building stood virtually empty on this Saturday morning, and the three postal clerks chatted among themselves, and drank tea. Our presence interrupted their social interaction. Begrudgingly, the nearest clerk responded to our request and pushed customs papers across the counter. Following her tedious instructions, we stepped aside and filled in the blanks on the document. Then, the three of us traipsed back to the postal window, and at long last, submitted the birthday package. So far, so good …
But then, the scene escalated.
Without batting an eye, the clerk looked up from her seat behind her desk, paused in her chatty conversation with her colleague, and informed us that she would not accept the package:
the package containing the hard-sought-after shirt
the package I labored to wrap correctly
the package we dutifully transported downtown to mail from the required Communist Central Post Office
“Nope. Won’t accept it.”
What? Why not? Please tell us why not. Why is this package—wrapped in your required brown paper and taped with your required heavy tape—not acceptable to you? Larry spoke for us, used the best of his Polish language skills, and explained that this must be mailed today or it would never reach his wife’s father for his birthday.
The conversation in Polish continued.
My pregnant wife struggled to find this shirt, and she made every effort to wrap it according to your postal instructions. What could possibly be wrong?
“This package is unacceptable because it is not wrapped with the regulation twine.”
Twine? No one told us twine was required.
“Well, it is. Without the twine, I will not accept your package. Sorry.”
We can’t go buy twine. Time does not allow for us to go and return and make it back before you close at noon. The tape will have to do.
“No. The tape will not do. You must use twine.” A detail became a dictate, and the Communist clerk turned to sip her tea, continue her conversation with her coworkers, and leave us on our own to solve the dilemma.
Larry interrupted the ladies with yet another question. What do you suggest we do? Where are we going to get the necessary twine?
With an air of irritation, the same clerk pushed back from her desk (emphatically scrapping her chair on the concrete floor as she did so) and marched over to the counter where our trio stood. Begrudgingly, she supplied her own twine for us to complete our urgent project. “Here!”
Step four: gift finally accepted
Sheepishly, we backed away from the counter. Off to the side, we slowly wrapped multiple rotations of twine around the box, struggled to cut the twine, and … yet again … walked up to the counter to resubmit the shirt for mailing.
This final time, the clerk did, in fact, accept the brown box wrapped in heavy brown paper, sealed with heavy clear tape, and now properly secured with the Communist postal-approved twine. Whew.
Step five: Done! Hallelujah!
No, not at all. This was not a joyful conclusion to a tedious and challenging situation. The scenario did not end with resubmitting the package.
As we made our way to the exit and struggled to control our frayed emotions, we heard the commanding voice of the clerk bellow out behind us. “Give me back the twine!”
Looking down, we realized the insignificant portion of remaining twine did, in fact, remain in our possession; we simply had no idea she expected it back. With the discovery, we froze in our tracks.
What transpired next stunned us all. As the cultural stress reached its boiling point, the entire episode erupted in one swift response.
Larry turned, and with the proficiency of an SEC football player, threw—yes, THREW—the remaining ball of twine back at the clerk.
Mortified, I hurried to shove my pregnant body through the mammoth door, and snatch the toddler beside me away from the chaos. Once outside, our threesome stomped back to our vehicle, and collapsed into our respective seats.
Silence. Silence was the only sound inside our vehicle.
Larry and I exchanged furtive glances. Anxiously, I looked around to see if police approached. The unthinkable had happened, and the unthinkable could occur. Arrest. No foreigner could confront an employee of the state in such a manner and expect to get away with it.
When no paddy wagon appeared, a calmer Larry broke the silence. “Well, that was awful. I can’t believe I just did that. But I felt so badly for you. After you worked so hard, they refused to take your package. I knew the gift was important to you, and knew you wanted it to arrive in time for your Dad’s birthday.”
No words formed a reply. I remained speechless.
Then, he turned to the back seat, and encountered two large brown eyes peering at him from underneath the furry hood of a toddler’s coat. The look on the face of our 3-year-old daughter left him no alternative.
Quietly he said, “Well, we must go back inside. I acted inappropriately, and we must return for me to seek forgiveness.”
Our delegation of three got out, yet again, and reentered the same heavy doors we only minutes before exited. The clerks looked up in shock, and geared up for another round of hostility with these foreigners.
Quite the contrary took place.
With a spirit of humility and with a linguistic proficiency only the Holy Spirit could provide, Larry courageously said to the Communist postal clerk , “I am sorry. I was wrong to throw the twine back at you. Will you please forgive me?”
Forty-two years later, the words out of her mouth still remain etched in our memory. “No one has ever said that to me before. Yes. I forgive you.”
Wide-eyed with disbelief, the demeanor of the lady transformed before us. Stunned, she nodded, thanked us, and stood frozen in her place as we, once more, headed out the massive doors and plodded to our car.
I’ll never forget the day my husband stood tall:
in the eyes of his daughter,
in the eyes of a Communist postal clerk, and
in the face of intense cultural stress.
By His Holy Spirit, God gave the strength to do the right thing, even when the right thing was the hard thing. We learned that—admitting wrong, asking forgiveness—transcends all cultural settings, crosses all political and geographical barriers, and applies to all human beings.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1: 27).”
Living With Eternal Intentionality®
When have you recently been faced with Admitting Wrong, Asking Forgiveness?
Was there an audience?
Did you return to rectify the wrong?
How did the Holy Spirit lead you to do the right thing, even when the right thing was the hard thing?