When my son’s reserve unit was deployed to Bosnia in 1995, the Bosnian refugees currently living in Salt Lake City, invited the unit’s families to a day of appreciation for our sacrifice in being apart from our loved ones.

We were all so anxious to learn about the Bosnian people, and to hear their stories about their home country. They prepared a veritable feast for us of traditional dishes from their home land. We all felt so honored and humbled by their generosity and kindness.

Bosnia

They spoke of how beautiful their country was before the years of war. I was able to sit with a young woman after the meal, and hesitantly asked about her, and her plans for her future. She was glad to share her story with me. My first surprise was that she was much younger than she looked. I guessed her in her forties, at least ten years older than she was.

Wanting to keep our conversation casual, I complemented her on the lovely cherry red high lights in her dark hair. She informed me that her hair was almost all gray, and she felt she was much too young for gray hair. I asked if early graying was a family trait. “Oh no,” she exclaimed, “this is from my life in Bosnia.”

She began her story with words that still echo in my heart, “For nine months, I live in street like dog”

I knew of the news reports that the Serbians routinely rounded up girls and women, locked them in warehouses, and systematically raped them, not only for pleasure, but to impregnate them with their own blood lines. It was one more horror story among so many of ethnic cleansing through rape, torture, mutilation, and mass murder.

As a woman, as a mother, how could I not have been horrified, and heart broken. And here was a young woman, sitting right here beside me, and telling me how she hid under a porch and slept out in the cold, hunted, and hounded by terror.

I gently touched her hand, and told her how sorry I was that she had been forced to endure all of that. I wondered how she could be so calm, and actually, so warm and cheerful, after such an experience. I did not have to find a way to ask her.

She held up her thumb and forefinger and said, “Is small piece,” and extending her arms wide, she said, “of big life.”

Is small piece of big life. She went on to tell me her plans to attend the university here in the US until the way was clear for her to go home to her beloved country. I asked if she wasn’t afraid to return there. She said, “It is my home. It is all our homes. We want to go home.”

Oh, and wasn’t I the fortunate one to have been face to face and heart to heart with such an amazing young woman?

The day came to a close and we left and I never had the opportunity to meet with her again. I have long since forgotten her name, but her face, and her words are indelibly etched on my heart.

It wasn’t just what she survived that made her one of the bravest women I have ever met, it was her attitude after having gone through all of that. She did not let it define her. In her mind, it was a season, a small part of a life still filled with dreams, and hopes, and accomplishments yet to be experienced.

She was, in every sense of the word, a true survivor.

How often I meet women who let one bad experience define than for the rest of their lives. They never seem able to move on. Although I believe my Bosnian sister will have emotional and psychological issues yet to conquer, she was determined to make only a small space for that horrific period of time, and see her life before, and after those events, as the greater part of her life.

It works in reverse as well.

We often joke about our, ” fifteen minutes of fame,” when you might briefly be a little bit famous, for a minute, and then life goes on.

Sadly, there are those who choose either one brief, and terrible experience of their lives or, one brief and happy experience of their lives, and nothing before or after that moment matters quite as much.

Who can forget the beloved Baldwin sisters on the old Walton’s television show? Mamie and Emily Baldwin, both well past their prime age-wise, naively brewed moon shine, which they referred to as, “the recipe.” Emily Baldwin lived her entire life dreamily reliving a few romantic moments of her youth, an encounter in the orchard with Ashley Longworth, long, long gone from her life.

God orchestrates so many wonderful opportunities and experiences in all our lives. Our lives should not be defined by one event, one person’s opinion of us, one experience, good or bad.

Our lives are the sum total of many, many experiences, relationships, sorrows and joys.

My Bosnian friend will always carry the label of survivor, but she is, and planned to be, so much more. It was part of all that she was, a survivor of the genocide in Bosnia, yes, but she was determined she would not allow that period of time in her life to define her.

We live in a world of labels. Have you taken on a label and allowed one experience, or season of your life to not only identify you, but define you? What is your small piece of big life? What labels identify you? Have you allowed them to define you?

Perhaps you could choose a new label for yourself, maybe not who you are right now, but who you hope to become. I could identify myself as a writer before I actually wrote a book, or started a blog.

Let the past be the past. I used to define myself as my children’s mother. I am still their mother, but they are no longer children, and caring for them is no longer the primary focus of my life. When they grew up, my role and my identity changed.

It might be more helpful to start looking for the labels God would place on you. How about redeemed? Blessed, Comforted. Loved by God. It’s as good a place as any to start.

Surely you know the verse in 2 Corinthians 5:17 which tells us that when we are in Christ we are a new creation.

So what defines you? What labels will you cast off and what new labels will you choose?

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1 Comment

  1. Wow, what a woman. What a perspective she has!

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