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Showing posts from June, 2009


I'm not sure what this guy's story is, nor how he lugs a piano downtown to play a little street music.

In fact, things have gotten more complicated for street musicians in our town. In addition to getting licensed, they need to be a certain distance from store entrances and from each other. And they can only be stationed in the same spot for about 2 hours (which seems kind of pointless since they just switch places). It's kind of sad, because these "characters" are a part of the culture of our town.

Mystery hymn

It's hymn time! However, this time there are a few missing pieces.

Our sermon yesterday centered on grace, within the framework of Titus 3.

"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."-Titus 3:4,5b

To illustrate this concept, we heard the words of "a hymn."
Law and terrors do but harden,
all the while they work alone;
But a sense of blood-bought pardon
Soon dissolves a heart of stoneI can almost visualize that hardness melting away as the reality of God's forgiveness strikes us.

The source of the hymn, however, is unknown to me. The most common place it seems to be quoted is in Charles Spurgeon's sermons. I've seen it credited to Hart, and also to Toplady, who wrote "Rock of Ages."

But I haven't found the entire hymn, nor the melody associated with the portion above.

Are Christians in America persecuted? (part 1)

Right now I'm reading a book called "Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity," by David Limbaugh.

I know, it sounds a bit melodramatic. So far the chapter I'm reading describes a series of cases in which students and teachers were barred from speaking about Christ in public. A majority of the cases are related to either saying a prayer at a public event or mentioning prayer in a graduation speech.

It seems too much like complaining. We have so many freedoms in this country! How can we call this persecution when people in other countries die for their faith? Yet...should we be aware that these restrictions are in place? Should we be fighting back?

A book that I liked on a similar topic was "Total Truth" by Nancy Pearcey. I thought she made a good argument for Christians needing to be informed about secular indoctrination.

Maybe I'm not aware of all the legal battles, but I don't need to read a book to know that this kind of discrimi…

The end of an era

I was in the mall today and had that feeling of being isolated from the world, although it had been only a few hours. I didn't have a cell phone with me nor any access to news.

But the pre-teen girls next to me on the bench did have cell-phones (and probably knew how to use them better than I know my own). They had just received some news.

"Do you think she knows?" one of them whispered to the other. They turned to me.

"Michael Jackson died."

"Oh really? Today? What happened?" They didn't know any details.

It felt odd that Michael Jackson's death would merit speaking to a stranger. I felt that strange feeling of wanting to distance myself from the world, yet at the same time wanting to talk about this thing that was of common interest. Or, shall I say, common grief.

Thoughts about "emergence"

When I first heard about the Emergent Church, I was skeptical. You might look at my conservative habits and remark that you're not surprised. I'm actually quite open to stylistic differences; new ways of "doing worship;" new avenues for evangelism. When it comes to doctrine, however, I'm not into improvisation. And what I've seen of the doctrine of the Emergent Church does not impress me. Some of what they were suggesting- things like "missional living"- seemed to me to be pretty basic Biblical principles, and not ones that would require a whole movement. Why were people parading around with these notions as if they had discovered something new?

I was glad to see the book" Why We're Not Emergent,"* thinking that I had found someone on my side, although I was still confused about the movement itself.

The premise of the book is that people have approached the authors (Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck), promoting Emergent Church ideas. Although …

The Missing Agora

I was having coffee (okay, iced tea, but same concept) with a friend today. We finished the TESOL course together and have actually kept in touch a little bit.

My friend has done some traveling and spent a few years in the Peace Corps in Morocco. She remarked that she misses a community element, living in our town. It's funny, because to me it feels a lot friendlier than St.Petersburg or something other big city. There are regular "characters" downtown; people just strolling around. You can always expect to bump into someone you know.

Yet, she's right; what's missing is the town square, a common area where anyone can drop in and do business or just hang out. Most of the stores in our are fun to browse, but you definitely can't "loiter" there. The coffee shops are nice too, but still meant for solitude or quiet conversations with friends. You wouldn't wander in and strike up a conversation with just anyone. We have some parks, but not much goes on …

Let the red tape party begin!

I'm beginning to collect documents for temporary residency (in St. P.) from the U.S. side of things. I'll try to keep a record of everything here. I've seen it on other people's blogs, and it seems helpful. I might repeat myself a bit, but I think it is worth having the steps (as well as thought process) in writing.

Let's begin...

full post/-

Step 1) Criminal Background Check

I decided to stroll down to the police station today and see about getting my background checked. My parents had done this when they were adopting Anastasia and Maria (from Russia).

You can get a background check on a local, state, or federal level. I'm not sure which kind, if any, is the standard. I've been visiting a dizzying array of blogs, ex-pat forums, and official websites, trying to get an assessment of what is required in my particular situation. I'm also in touch with a few people who have gone through the process recently, and are able to offer updated information.

For example…

Why go to Hawaii?

I like going to Missions' prayer at church. Maybe it's the fact that I am the youngest person in the room. :) Maybe it's the like-mindedness. Maybe it's the new information and perspectives that I encounter.

For me, hearing from missionaries is a mixed experience. I listen as one of "the people," hearing yet another American missionary do his best to convey what he's seen from what may be a limited perspective. But I also listen as a fellow missionary, hearing words spoken in "my own language." Even if it's a completely different area of ministry or different phase, there is usually something I can pick out that relates to my own experience...

This evening, we heard from a couple associated with the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Next, a couple who serves in Eastern Europe shared about their ministry. They had been to Belarus, Romania, and other countries.

They shared how it had been a bit of a culture shock when they first went to Belarus, bu…

Family events

It was a busy weekend for family celebrations. On Saturday, we had a bridal shower for Nastia.


And Sunday, of course, was Father's Day. I cooked dinner and my sister made a rhubarb pie.

My brother was home for the weekend as well. I'm not sure why Mom's not in the picture. I guess, because it was Father's Day. But she was standing right there.

Irksome blogging technicalities that no one has time for

Yep, I ended that post title above with a preposition.

But seriously, if any of you know enough to play around with your Blogger template...

My issue right now is that I've been admiring the "read more" feature in Wordpress that can be added to the end of long posts. And I really wish Blogger had the same feature. Maybe they're working on it, but who knows how long it will take.

Right now, I have to constantly adjust the number of posts shown on the page, because I have no way of "hiding" part of the post and showing just a preview. Therefore, they're all different lengths.

I've tried a few widgets and have not had success. Maybe someone out there has been more successful?

(Not) Following the rules

I was reading a book about drawing techniques, and I skimmed through several pages of exercises. In response to the instructions I said, "Nope, I'll just skip right to the fancy stuff." I wasn't interested in drawing squiggles and cross-hatching; in exercising my hand.

And then it dawned on me. I was disobeying, and in doing so, I was setting myself up for disaster.

"But those exercises aren't really for me, they're for people who really need the practice." Why did I feel like I didn't fit that category? And suddenly, a few other experiences passed before my eyes: piano lessons (I don't need arpeggios, I'll skip to the preludes), learning Greek (I don't need to study the charts, I'll skip ahead 10 chapters), cooking (that step seems unnecessary), etc.

It seemed that the only place where I had been destined to succeed was elementary school, where everything had been broken down in tasks. No multiplication without mastering addition. …

Только раз в году

Yesterday was my birthday. My Russian friends decided to begin congratulating me at 4pm the day before, so I felt like I had two birthdays.

I decided to sleep in, and then when I finally got up, my mom lured me downstairs with bacon.


My dad had purchased a rose for me.

He gave one to my mom as well, as he does on every 18th of the month.

In the evening, we went out to dinner.

Here I am with Anastasia (left) and Louisa from Nigeria, who is staying with us.

This is Nastia explaining to Dad how she wants a "non-traditional" wedding song for when they're walking in together. He's listening and processing this information.

Here is the group: Shawn (Nastia's fiance), Nastia, me, Louisa, Emily, Mom, Dad

I decided to have a strawberry dessert since they're in season and I don't get fresh strawberries much in Russia.

I can't photograph all of the e-mails, phone calls, and other messages. But they were appreciated. Thanks, everyone!

Becoming bilingual Julia Alvarez reports that hearing the English 'Julia' prompts her to extend her arm for a handshake in greeting, while the Spanish pronunciation, 'Hoolia,' prompts her to proffer her cheek for a kiss. (Pearson, 292*)

I don't know about you, but I find this a fascinating observation on how being bilingual extends to behavior and emotions, not just linguistics.

Bilingual children in our midst

Growing up, I had a friend whose mother was French and father was American, and she was bilingual. Then my friend spent some time in Mexico and became fluent in Spanish. She picked up some other languages in school and college, and most recently has been using her Mandarin skills in China.


I have also met some children in Russia who are bilingual. I don't mean they just speak both languages well. They speak both (English and Russian) as their mother tongue.

One example is a girl whose parents are both Russian. In childhood, she went to English immersion school and…

Signs of commitment

Yesterday's Sunday Times contained a piece on a young teen who initiated his family into going to church on Sundays. You can read the online version of the article here.

By the end of the article, the family was attending regularly, and the mother had signed up to bring a carrot salad to a church picnic. I found it interesting that the article ended on this note rather than something related to spirituality or being "born again." But bringing something to a picnic speaks volumes. It signifies: 1) a commitment to future involvement and 2) a sense of ownership.

At what point do we realize we're committed to something? I decided to evaluate my own experiences...

I often find it difficult remembering milestone decisions...or at least, the details of what led me to choose that particular path. I think that we sometimes begin to act and see the fruit of our commitment without realizing that we've made a decision. When big opportunities come up, we've already spent t…

Post office culture

One of the pieces of culture shock is navigating the post office. I was terrified the first time I went to the Russian post office. I entered a hall with a sea of people, many of them elderly. But despite the disorganized appearance, the complex queuing system was in effect. Mailing my letters took a lot of praying and telling myself that there was no need to fear people. Whether convenient or not, this was normal life for them.


I'm embarrassed to say that I still haven't figured it out. I walk in and don't know what window I'm supposed to go to, because there are many different services offered, and you must stand in the correct line. Here are some examples: It's a similar situation at the bank.

It is a little easier going to the post office at home since I don't have to decide which window to go to. Speaking English helps, too. :)

When I went there the other day to get some stamps, I was reminiscing ab…

Flexing my aunt skills

I dreamed in Russian last night. My sister and I were separated at an amusement park and I was trying to find the metro so I could ride a few stops to meet her. I woke up a bit confused...

When I went downstairs, Nastia and Angelica were visiting. Angelica is my sole niece, but will be joined by a baby cousin in the fall!

We tried to keep Angelica occupied so that Nastia could work on a project.

She did a little drawing...

...but kept getting distracted since M-o-m-m-y was still in the vicinity.

So the next idea was for Ti-ti (that's a Spanish version of Russia I'm "Tyo-tya") to take Angelica for a little walk.


Angelica gladly hopped into her stroller, but boy was she mad when she found out I was going with her and Mommy was staying behind.

So I walked around the neighborhood with a screaming 2-yr-old and tried to play it cool so I wouldn't be accused of child abduction. I pointed at various things, trying to make them seem exciting. But apparently I wasn…

The Road to Residency

One of the advantages to being in the U.S. right now is that I can take care of some paperwork that will be needed for obtaining a residency permit. There are some documents from the U.S. side of it that are necessary. And since they're not as time-sensitive, it makes sense to do them now.

Then when I get to Russia in September, I can get them translated and notarized, in preparation for applying for residency in January, at which point I'll need to do the medical tests and so forth.

That's the current plan. But no guarantees. ;)

A dud

So far I'm 0 for 1 with the library books.

I picked up an autobiography of Paul Tillich's wife, Hannah. I figured it would give me more insight about him since I don't know very much. I thought it would describe what it's like to be the wife of a theologian. Something about his research and writing, maybe a description of their family life.

The blurb describes the book this way: "From Time to Time, Hannah Tillich's autobiography of her life with Paulus Tillich, has caused a furor in literary-and theological-circles months before its publication, principally among those who cannot or do not want to see Paulus as the passionate man he was."
My mom tried reading it first, described it as bizarre, and gave it back to me. This still didn't faze me as we often have different taste.

I had assumed "passionate" meant emotionally and spiritually, but I didn't expect to find myself reading about Tillich's sexuality. At first I thought it was a few …

Enjoying my usual morning cup of ....skeleton?

As I was pouring myself a hot drink on this chilly day, I fell victim to the practical joke that's been in the family for awhile.

It all started with an unwanted brussel sprout (can you make that singular?) that was left in a mug as a joke. A few other "gifts" were left, and eventually Mr. Corpse became the permanent resident, to be found in one of the mugs at any given moment.

It's fun when these things resurface. This one and the carrot always make me laugh.

A foreigner at home

When I come to the U.S., I try to notice things that seem unusual to foreign eyes. I think it is important to do this as an exercise in understanding how newcomers feel. I take my camera everywhere, looking for those points of confusion. But many of them are hard to convey in text or pictures: the traffic patterns; the body language as people relate to each other; the different sounds and smells.

My skills of observation are especially dulled since I was just here a few months ago. Perhaps if I were in the CIA I would do better (note to the FSB: I'm NOT a spy!).

It seems too much like stalking to take pictures of people, and I'm too shy to ask.

So I'm left with random shots of the highway taken out the car window....

When you live in another country, you notice things like where the horizon is and what decorates it. many lanes there are and what kinds of car people drive

...what is growing by the side of the road.

I also have random shots of wildlife, like when I was tryin…

Prayer in different places

I headed down to the river and drank in the tranquility- the chirping of the birds; the June blooms; the sun on the water.

But I found that I was not in a condition to pray. The setting might have been ideal, but the condition of my heart was not. I thought back to a week earlier when I had been in the orphanage amongst rowdy children. Somehow all that noise and stress seemed more spiritual than this picturesque scene. A hasty "help me, God" seemed like it had been more effective than an eloquent, perfectly arranged meeting with the Lord.

Sometimes we think we must remove ourselves from life in order to truly enter communion with God. We think we must go up to a mountaintop or walk on the sand to fully experience His greatness. Or we think that just because we are in that special place, His glory will hit us instantly.

Being in nature does help me feel God's presence. But here, my thoughts are "what a wonderful Creator. What a great God." They are more worshipful …

Jet-lag therapy

Some activities for getting over jet-lag:

1) Creative expression (But don't try anything elaborate if you are feeling testy; you will end up blowing up over things like glue consistency)

2) Seeking beautiful places

3) Communing with Nature (chipmunks are harder to capture on film than squirrels)

4) Mailing letters (Looks like someone else decided to express himself)

Parents and children

(Or "Fathers and Sons," if I wanted to be literary...)

It was a topic that came up at the dinner table. If a person had been very sheltered in childhood, would he be more or less ready for heading into the "real world"?

The answer may not be as obvious as it seems.

In the recent conference I attended, one of the speakers used her own children as an example. When she gave birth to her son, she went back to work after a few months, leaving him in the care of her husband, mother, and other relatives. Now, the son is very clingy and won't let his mother out of his sight. After giving birth to her daughter, she did not go back to work, but opted to stay at home. She and the daughter were always together. The daughter is now very confident and outgoing.

This illustration was used to show how healthy attachments early in life affect behavior later on. Knowing that one's needs will be met gives one the confidence to step out into the world.

In many cultures, for example…

Back in the U.S.

I'm back in Massachusetts until September.

Flying to a different continent doesn't really get easier, but there's nothing I haven't encountered before. It's always the same sequence of events: the packing, lines, security, sitting for hours, jet-lag, etc. But after the recent AirFrance tragedy (which occurred the same day), I don't think I have anything to complain about.

I had a different itinerary this time, and the jet-lag has felt different. Plus, it's summer. No strange wintery darkness to deal with. Just the adjustment to the different sights and sounds.

I've been staring at the computer screen for awhile, so I guess this post isn't going to get any longer...

Travel habits

Whenever I'm getting ready to go on a long trip, I get these bursts of nesting/creativity and start projects that are impossible to finish. I remember one year deciding to make Advent gifts for everyone before leaving for Christmas.

I would like to point out, however, that the projects are not always my idea! They just seem to surface at the last minute.

This time, I was asked to collect the rest of my belongings from the apartment where I used to live. I had left a lot of things behind because I was going from living in a 3-rm flat to a 1-rm.

If I had had time to sort through it all, I would have found that I could give most of it away, or box it up nicely and ask someone to store it on their porch. Key word being "time." Some of it I had to just dump back into plastic bags and hide under the furniture.

It was actually fun to be reunited with some interesting items, like all the change from when I first moved to Russia and was very clumsy with counting out unfamiliar curren…