Reading great picture books is one of the best parts of teaching young kids. It was hands down the best part of raising Joel as well.
When it comes to story time, all teachers have their favorite books. One of mine is called Vasilisa the Beautiful. It is a story from Russian folklore and features Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch with iron teeth. She is also known as Baba Yaga Boney Legs, because, despite eating with a ferocious appetite, she is as skinny as a skeleton. Descriptions of her are endless, but my favorite is that she lives in a hut that is alive, with chicken legs that move it about and windows that serve as eyes. I love reading about Baba Yaga because all of us, especially kids, have things that scare us. I’m a big believer in letting stories be therapy for us.
Vasilisa the Beautiful is one of the many books out there about Baba Yaga, and it came to mind this week as I decided on my own story for this week’s blog. In the story, Vasilisa had been sent to die in Baba Yaga’s forest by her two evil stepsisters who are jealous of Vasilisa’s beauty. Baba Yaga tells Vasilisa that she will be eaten by morning unless she does the impossible – clean the yard, sweep the hut, cook the supper, wash the linen and sort out the wheat seed by seed, taking out the black bits.
Vasilisa is devastated and completely in despair, but she is not without a resource. Before her mother had died, she had blessed Vasilisa and given her the gift of a doll. She was to always keep the doll with her and never show it to anyone. “If anything bad happens to you, just give the doll something to eat and ask her advice.” And with that, the mother died.
As she had done since then, Vasilisa took the doll out of her pocket and poured out her heart. “Dear little doll, please help me. Baba-Yaga has given me a hard task to do and she threatens to eat me up if I do not do it.” The doll answered, “Don’t be afraid, Vasilisa the Beautiful! Just eat your supper and go to bed. Mornings are wiser than evenings.”
I am tempted to retell the whole story, but suffice to say that each night the doll gives wise advice and then performs each impossible task for Vasilisa. In the end, goodness and kindness wins the day over evil.
It is the doll that came to mind this week. I’ve often thought of Vasilisa’s doll as a good description of God’s guidance. I’ve seen God so clearly lately in my faithful friends who kept giving me guidance and saw me through a tough time. They didn’t give me platitudes, but gave real help which guided me like a ship is guided by a tiny rudder. My heart has been so overflowing with gratitude towards them that I just had to write.
My Watershed community, but especially Paul, Bev and Lyle never turned away from my emails or conversations and replied with wisdom and help. Here’s some of the wisdom they gave me in recent weeks:
- You are not alone.
- We love you for who you are in God’s eyes.
- Pray a lot and remember to bring us along.
- Stick to your decision and don’t feel guilty.
- Give your situation over to God.
- Instead of worrying about it, tend your spirituality through writing contemplatively, reading scripture and resting in God and community.
- We are praying for you (1000 reminders)
- Everything will be all right.
There are many ways of being rich – wealth, health, talent – but I feel I am rich in the best way possible. I am rich in friendship of the “anam cara” kind – soul friends who encourage my walk with God, have my best interests at heart and love me warts and all.
Vasilisa is told to feed the doll before she asks for advice, and this is an interesting part of the story. How can I feed God? Reflecting on it, I realize that we do indeed feed God, as strange as it sounds. To me this is following the guidance of my friends – praying, trusting God, tending God’s world through writing, reading and resting in community.
Just as Vasilisa kept the doll in her pocket, I keep these friends in my heart always. God has somehow seen fit to show me mercy upon mercy in this lifetime and I am so grateful. For anyone reading this, I know that God’s wisdom does not stop here – it is there for you too. Like scripture says, “Ask and you will receive. Search and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)