Lucky for me, that weekend I happened to be in Kharkov - pronounced HAR-kov - and got to attend because, for one thing, there was no age limit. The little invite there is in Russian, as you see, but no where did it say, this is open to those up to the age of 29. So believe me, I was there taking notes, fast and furious. Because you just never know.
Fast forward to last weekend after I'd returned to Rostov. I ran into Marilyn Monroe, of all people, at a local bookstore. Imagine her being bookish on a Saturday evening. Well, Miss Monroe had crossed my mind in recent weeks. I'd been thinking how different her life might have been had she sought wise counsel about matters of the heart. So, given the chance, I'd have saved her a seat and a smile. And a listening ear. Because you just never know.
Got to admit, the topic of finding a Christian spouse is near to my heart. In decades gone by, I devoured books, prayed prayers and burned up the phone line, consumed with this mission. And then there was a book about how to synchronize ones breathing with the guy's and subtly mimic his body language, apparently to establish some sort of a bond at a primal level. Maybe I dismissed that one too quickly. But now here we are, well into the next millennium and I'm still flying solo, albeit older and wiser. So as the Saturday conference approached, I was casting about for words of wisdom just in case anyone were to ask. Or just in case.
I saw the irony of that notion and managed a smile. What could I - the poster child for holding out, for not just settling for somebody - what could I possibly know about finding a good husband? Well, chances are I had crossed paths with the perfect husband candidate and was totally oblivious. Of course, he would have found the perfect wife and married her way back when. . . back when polyester double-knits were the rage, back when the Carpenters were singing We've Only Just Begun at weddings across the land and couples gazed deeply into each others eyes for those three-plus minutes until the final And yes, we've just beguuun.
So the big day came to Kharkov. Twenty-some of us arrived breathless and pink-cheeked from the frosty streets, some of us starry-eyed, imagining the secrets we might glean on the path to true and abiding love. Our beloved sister Lucy, above, got straight to the point and we started brainstorming what we might look for in the ideal man.
Our list was pretty predictable, no big surprises there. Although now that I think about it, no one mentioned being mechanically savvy, a trait quite attractive when the car won't start. Or being a tech whiz, enormously attractive when needing a Windows upgrade. Still, those skills can be bought and all that pales next to a guy who's willing to help clean up after dinner or comfort a fussy baby. No, we were more abstract and philosophical than practical with our list.
And now a word from Mordison Agency of Weddings, posted in the Kharkov metro. Get married in Europe, USA, Canada, says the headline in blue. The red cursive below says, We want you to be happy!!! Now That's touching. As you might know, there's no shortage of men in Ukraine but still, marrying someone in the west is a ticket out of Eastern Europe. And a ticket out is, for many, the ultimate dream.
Meanwhile, back at our search for the perfect guy, Lucy pulled a surprise. Our real topic, she announced, was not about finding the right person but of becoming the right person. About being the sort of woman that the ideal man would find attractive. It was about changing the person who stares back at us from the mirror each morning. Hearing this could be painful, I figured, but certainly better than heading back out to the icy streets.
What traits in a girl would be interesting to the ideal guy? There's the usual, predictable stuff, of course. But if, farther down the list were knowing how to put up wallpaper, say, or whip up a lemon meringue pie - with meringue that doesn't turn watery - if those were on the list, I'd need to start Googling for how-to's.
Our conference presenters, all sweet young sisters, all blissfully married, might have surveyed their husbands for recommendations about the ideal woman. Here are a few highlights of our sessions. First, Katie cautioned us about our speech ~ to avoid being disrespectful or jabbering non-stop and about using inappropriate language. Then Denyce reminded us to bless others through our speech, using words that uplift and encourage.
After lunch, we had a fashion show via Powerpoint, featuring inappropriate clothing choices and how to modify them by adding a tank top or leggings, for example. We saw how a neckline or a hemline that's okay when standing becomes a problem when a person sits, reaches or bends. And now I'm remembering that iconic photo of Miss Monroe with her skirt flying up. We might need that caution too: Beware when standing over a subway vent in a billowy skirt. As if.
Lucy reminded us that our attire influences men and that when we dress modestly, we show respect for our Christian brothers as well as respect for ourselves. After lunch, Victoria, a Ukrainian sister who could pass for a high-fashion model, talked about taking care with our appearance, as a way of bringing glory to God.
And now a word from a vendor at the Kiev train station. This little thingy was perfect for Valentine's Day and the vendor patiently helped me with the translation, Hold me tight - and together we will be warm. And keeping warm sounds good when it's -20 outside.
In the final session, Olivia challenged us to consider the places we go and the things we do and to make choices appropriate for daughters of a loving God. If we're busy serving God, helping those in need and meeting with God's people, that's where we're most likely to cross paths with a Christian man who shares such values.
Lucy summarized the day, saying Don't waste time dreaming away your life. Be the person God is proud to call his daughter. Pray for God to be at work in you, changing you to be the ideal Christian woman.
So here's our after shot of the day. Guests came from several cities in eastern Ukraine including those who caught overnight trains from Donetsk and Mariupol. Special thanks to our Kharkov sisters for pulling together this day of enlightenment.
Here are Russian-language editions of familiar magazines. On the right, is the Russian version of Good Housekeeping, renamed Domestic Hearth.
Glancing at those headlines, at the Cosmopolitan in particular, I'll pass on translating. Let's just say there's quite a contrast between popular culture - or what sells magazines - and the Christian culture.
A happy ending: Last summer dear sister Lena served with us here in Rostov-on-Don, helping with our children's program. At our sister's prayer meetings each week, we prayed that our young sisters would be blessed with Christian husbands. Lena found the ideal husband by being an admirable young lady. And of course we know that this isn't the ending and to paraphrase that oldies song, They've only just begun.