Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts...

Well, I got my Christmas miracle...

That is, I made it home in the midst of snowstorms in Europe and before the snowstorm hit here (not that either of them were huge, but they certainly affected air travel).

After a long journey, I was paged at the baggage claim to let me know that my baggage was still in Paris. But on Christmas morning the AirFrance guy showed up with my suitcase, just in time for me to wrap my gifts!



We'll see what happens next week when I try to fly out of here...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Adjusting expectations

I should have been on a plane last night instead of in my bed in St. Petersburg!

But...I was glad to not be stranded in an airport somewhere.

It all started with the snow in Europe. As usual, I didn't pay much attention until I realized that it might affect me personally.

The timetable didn't show any changes, but when I got all the way through security and up to the check-in desk...2 hr delay. Okay, I'll deal with it. Then they asked if I was sure I wanted to check my bags all the way through. Were things THAT bad?

I weighed the consequences: a) get stuck in London for a few days with no change of clothes or b) have to lug my suitcase around everywhere and possibly recheck it during my increasingly short layover.

I decided I would rather be grubby and just buy whatever essentials I'd need if I got stuck. Computer cable+Kindle recharger in my suitcase could spell potential boredom and frustration if lost, but I just did not need my carry-on to be any heavier than it was.

Next stop: passport control. A very strange experience, this time around. read more/-

The ladies doing inspection are usually cold and serious, but not rude. I'm not sure what I did wrong, but this particular officer was not happy with me.

I stepped into the booth and slid my passport across the counter, with my boarding pass, migration card, and exit visa tucked neatly inside.

She GLARED at me. I stared back, waiting for instructions.

"Passport. Boarding pass. Migration card."

I took them out and lined them up on the counter, in that order, plus my exit visa. There was no way anything was missing or out of order.

She glared again and then finally took them and starting inspecting everything. Boy, was I glad to get out of that chamber!

I'm still stumped as to what the problem was. The way I said hello? The fact that I was wearing glasses? The wrong counter?

3 hours until boarding. Ugh. I stalled by sitting for a bit, then getting a snack, then taking a snooze near the boarding area, with my alarm on so I wouldn't miss boarding. I pondered how much I hate traveling alone and wished for a companion.



I woke up and the marquee now said "Frankfurt" instead of "London." I scouted around, found the new boarding area, and started to hover.

Why weren't we boarding yet?

Finally some representatives came out and told us the flight was cancelled. Everyone was hovering around with shouts of dismay and panic. I listened to the Russian and English exchanges at the same time, trying to hear where we could rebook our reservations so I could bolt over and get in line.

After it was clear nothing could be done that day, I headed back downstairs to do everything in reverse. First stop: passport control.


This was my favorite part: a guy writing "void" on my exit stamp with a ballpoint pen. He ignored my visa and I had to remind him that there was a stamp there, too.

Next, I got my luggage back.

Then I sat down to think about how to get home. It was so close, but heels+snow+suitcase meant that I probably needed someone to pick me up. 4-5 phone calls later, a friend was on his way.

Sort of. He had a few other stops to make, so I ended up waiting about 90 minutes. I stationed myself near the other passengers on my flight who were still asking questions. Maybe I would hear something useful. The closest I got was that we could call the next day after 11am.

It was interesting to observe how strangers bonded in this situation. Russians aren't particularly known for being friendly to strangers, but in this case I think that the "we vs. them" was the people/passengers vs. the airline. We must unite to demand action! Of course the "crisis" scenario added to the need for bonding, and before leaving I noticed a few Russians exchanging phone numbers and first names.

Meanwhile, there was a mother sitting with a number of children close in age. They weren't Russian; the discipline style (or lack thereof) was different. Maybe immigrants or refugees, or maybe just tourists. They were running around, so it took me awhile to figure out that there were four. I know it's rude to stare, but I love watching siblings interact. It looked like they were having a fun childhood. And the mom was brave for traveling alone.

A black British woman had been prancing about in a fashionable outfit, commenting loudly on various topics (even before the flight got canceled). Now she broke away from her traveling companions to approach the children. "You're beautiful. You're all SO beautiful."

Weirdo, they might not even speak English, I thought.

Then a smile broke across the mother's face and she said something in reply.

"He's the little man, isn't he?" the British woman asked, gesturing to the oldest boy. The mother answered affirmatively. I was glad for her that someone was giving her positive feedback about her family.

Airports are interesting places...


Seven hours after I left, my friend was carrying my suitcase up to the fourth floor for me just as my mom was calling to suggest some alternate flight options.

So I have a new flight out on Thursday. Getting close to Christmas, but maybe travel conditions will be better by then.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Russian President and I

Is it possible that I actually agree with Medvedev on something? (not that I watch his every move)

Every once in a while, I'm alerted to something in the media that gives me hope that Russian orphans are going to receive some justice.

A ministry serving orphans in Moscow published a translation of Medvedev's recent comments to this effect.

"Unfortunately, in our country there are still 130,000 children remaining without family care. They have neither parents, not guardians, they are deprived of what's primary – the warmth of the family. And there is still very much left to do to make sure that the very concept of "throw-away" children is removed from our life. There should be guardianship/foster organizations focused on placing children with families and supporting those families. In general there must not be children in our country that are "nobody's".

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"The so-called 'correctional' children's homes are faced with such a serious problem. They, unfortunately, work in such a way as to lead to the increasing isolation of children, rather than their socialization. Therefore not only public services, but also civil society must pay attention to what is happening here. At each baby house, in orphanages and in correctional establishments it is necessary to create boards of trustees whose work should be completely open and transparent.
"Finally, we need programmes of social adaptation and support for those who have come out of orphanages. It is not enough to train and feed children – they need to be brought out into a new, adult life prepared and self-assured. Here the role not only of teachers, but also of local authorities is great. They could pay, for example, the cost for those who have come out of orphanages to take courses which would prepare them to enter the system of higher and further education and vocational training."

It sure sounds good. I appreciate the fact that Medvedev calls attention to the need for families (if briefly), and also the need for help with the transition to adult life. Yes, the orphans do need all this. Now, who is going to give this to them? They need a miracle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

No bargaining

I opened up a magazine (delivered from the States recently) and was shocked to see the words "Negotiating with Evil."

My first thought was, we do not bargain with Evil.

I really had a flash of end-times panic as I pictured Americans "negotiating" for their souls. The Bible is pretty clear that we are not to have anything to do with Evil.
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." (Eph. 5:8-11)
Then I looked up the author online, and my feelings changed...
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It turns out that there is a book called "Negotiating with Evil: How to Talk to Terrorists" by Mitchell B. Reiss. I believe that these kinds of books are written more out of fear than from love for mankind.

The production description explains, "in Negotiating with Evil, Reiss distills his experience to answer two questions more vital today than ever: Should we talk to terrorists? And if we do, how should we conduct the negotiations in order to gain what we want?"

What DO we want? And what would we have to sacrifice in order to keep the "peace"? Even if it is just keeping quiet about what we really believe, is it worth it?

It is interesting to consider: how do we separate Evil (the Devil) from people (who perform evil deeds)? After all, before we were with God, we were against Him ("...for you were once darkness...").

So while my first reaction is to want to avoid contact with evil-doers, I also remember Christ's example to love our enemies. I think about being a fool for Christ, and I also think about wanting to be "wise about what is good." (Rom. 16:19)

My thoughts go in circles...

How I decorated for Christmas

I know it can be boring to look at someone else's Christmas decorations, but you also find ideas in there, so I thought I would post a few photos and explanations of what I have around the apartment.

I haven't lived in one place for long enough to warrant buying specific decorations, but I like to use the little treasures I've collected over the years. No Christmas tree here as we wouldn't put presents under it anyway. But the ornaments I do have help me feel more at home and excited about the season.

Step 1. Removal

The first thing I did was take down a lot of the pictures and other decorations that had been hanging in my bedroom. I was thinking about even using the frames and replacing the images with Christmas pictures for this season, but I haven't gotten much of that done. Still, it's nice to have a different look for now. more/-

Step 2. A little hardware goes a long way

My roommate is quite handy and put up a shelf on our kitchen wall. It immediately made such a difference. I set up a bunch of trinkets on top and a few nails provided a way to hang other ornaments.





Step 3. The postcards


I ended up making 3 Christmas card chains this year: one in the kitchen, one in my bedroom over the window, and one in my doorway. The idea might be losing its originality, but it is still a way to add some decorations when you're short on time, materials, and inspiration. Maybe next year I will get around to frames or something fancier.



Step 3. Bring out the antiques

Our landlord has some heirlooms hanging around, but told us to throw them away! We haven't had the heart to throw them away yet and are putting them to use. One box was full of old Christmas tree ornaments. This was my roommate's idea:



Step 4. The plants

Who says palms aren't Christmasy? Christ wasn't born in North America (or Russia). :)



Step 5. Color schemes

Just grouping things of one color or style can make a nice little display for one area.




Step 6. Candles

Whether you're planning on lighting them or not, candles make a nice statement. Here I had some leftovers from the Advent wreath, and placed them in a basket.



So the moral of the story is: use what you have and give old things new life, especially if they remind you of a special time or person. And even more importantly, if they help you focus on Christ.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent opposites

I've read a lot of uplifting personal reflections on Advent this year. Cultivating Advent traditions seems like a great way to help kids (and enthusiastic adults) find meaning in the period leading up to Dec. 25th each year.

Of course, as we get older, we realize that it's not about the presents, or the yummy food, or even the beauty of the decorations. We start to listen to the words of the songs we love so much, look up the meanings of the candles, maybe abstain from the more materialistic aspects of the present-day holiday. We meditate on themes like darkness and light, God's love and glory, the circle of life.

And we find that that the period of waiting actually holds plenty of joy, itself. But what does this mean for daily life? I've been musing about the following:
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The Wait

While some Christian denominations may fast somberly during the Advent period, I find it to be a joyous time, even if toned down with thoughtful reflections.

I was watching the "Nativity Story" recently and was moved once again by the gifts of the Magi. The gold, frankincense, and....myrrh, for burial. His sacrifice.

With these contrasting themes of birth and death, I thought to myself...I like this time. It holds almost as much joy as the holiday itself. And it adds joy to the holiday, because we have waited.

What if we could wait for all of the joys of life with the same reverence, expectation, and even creativity? If we bustled around setting up our hearts and homes for something wonderful?

The challenge here is that we don't know the date. Okay, maybe we have an estimated date for the wedding, or for when the baby comes, or for when someone special is coming home. Maybe it's the last exam or a deadline at work, after which we can breathe a sigh of relief. But many of the needs we have set before the Lord will be answered in His timing, unknown to us. What then? We can't make paper chains counting down the days before a sickness will go away, or light a candle indicating how many weeks until we are done grieving for someone.

The countdown doesn't work here. So if we are to find joy in the waiting, it will only come from trusting in the Lord. After all, the OT people of faith didn't have Advent calendars, and they still managed to live amazing lives for Him.

It's the "joy in the journey" that Michael Card sings about so poignantly.


The Crown

As I was observing the above, I thought, but a greater joy is yet to come.

We fight the secularization of Christmas by adding Advent, until this period of waiting becomes a holiday in itself. We learn to enjoy the expectation.

But I caught myself wondering, is it possible to enjoy the wait too much? So much that the holiday itself loses its flavor?

Is any enthusiasm left for the Big Event, for welcoming Christ at last?

What I mean is, if we enjoy life too much, are we forgetting about the joy that awaits us in heaven? Or is joy in the Lord limitless? Can we be totally content with Him in this life AND still look forward to the joy of Christ meeting His bride?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

More nuggets from Russia

The things you learn while living in Russia! A few ideas I've encountered lately have been eye-opening.

1) Opening your mouth outside when it's cold can make you sick. I observed a mother on the street telling her crying child to close his mouth because it was cold outside! From what I figure, it's pretty annoying to have dried tears, etc. frozen onto your face. And I guess it's not very good for your vocal cords to be breathing cold air a lot. But I don't know if it really makes you sick per se.

2) You're not supposed to rub your belly when you're pregnant because it could squish the unborn baby or traumatize him or something. I didn't really understand the explanation, and I've never been pregnant, but sounds kind of silly to me. Anyone?

3) Changes in barometric pressure make people feel yucky and depressed. read more/-

I had just finished a shower singing session when I heard sobs coming from my flatmate's room. Worried that someone had died, I nervously stuck my head around the corner to where she was lying in bed.

"It hurts so bad." Okay, someone/something had broken her heart? (it happens)

"The pressure." O-kay. I have heard people walking around muttering something about "the pressure," but I never really took it seriously.

Yulia described it as feeling like she was a rag being twisted and squeezed and wrung out. I was still rather in the dark about what the problem was, but I said some of my friends got headaches (migraines) so bad they couldn't do anything. Yulia said her head didn't hurt. I still didn't understand exactly what hurt, but she said everyone always thought was making it up, so I tried to be sympathetic.

Then I read about barometric pressure headaches on the Internet, and it does seem to affect some people, although I hadn't heard about it before. I suppose the people wandering around muttering "the pressure, the pressure" really are suffering, even if the cause isn't completely understandable.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Freedom!

Well, after getting my residency permit and registration (which I never did finish writing about), I went right away the next week to apply for an exit visa. I wanted to get everything over with so I wouldn't have to see that office again for awhile.

This time, I didn't have to get in the registration line. This was a different category. How refreshing! I went in on a Friday when there was almost no line. In fact, it was a "live" line and I had to negotiate with everyone verbally to get into the office, but it worked out.

The lady gave me a two-sided application form and a little list of requirements including photocopies of passport pages, and passport photos. I left the building, planning to return the next week with the forms.

Wait a minute.

This was easy stuff, compared to what I had just done the week before. And there was no line. I kicked into "rush" mode, found the nearest photo place, filled out the form, and was back at the place just before they closed for lunch. The officer helped me answer the remaining questions and told me to come back in 20 business days. I was their last "customer" of the day.

This was so easy compared to everything else in the whole process! Or maybe my definition of "easy" had changed?

About a month later, I showed up, breezed through, as there was no line at all, and got my 3-year multi-entry exit visa! Now I can pretty much come and go whenever I want, although I'm supposed to be in Russia at least 6 months for residency.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Some of my characters and their destinies

I've probably mentioned before that there are a few kids at the orphanage that are rather skittish and seem afraid of me. This is probably a combination of the trauma of being orphaned, teenage angst, and apprehension about practicing English with a native speaker (not that I push them too hard, but maybe they expect it). Whew.

I'm often drawn to shy kids because I can identify with them, but there are times when you recognize fear and not just a quiet nature. With the boys especially you long to see them sitting up straight, making eye contact, finding something to be confident about.

There are a few teenage boys that have slowly gotten used to interacting with me over the years. One of them seems quite wounded and childlike sometimes. I've written about him before. The good news is that a family in the States is potentially adopting him and his younger sister. I'm excited that they'll be able to stay together, and that they'll have a home.

But there are others who are still on my heart. Another of the boys is positively impish, and reminds me a little of a teenage Dennis the Menace. I was chuckling while thinking about writing this post, because I realized that his name is, in fact, Denis. :) So funny and mischievous. Please, Lord, help him find his place in this world!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First day of winter in the northern capital

The view I see when walking home at 3 pm...


It's unusually cold for this time of year, but a little frost is much preferred to slush!

Shedding light

The beginning of winter feels like a roller coaster. On the one hand, I'm falling in love again with the beauty of the low winter sunlight reflecting on the snowy city. A Russian kind of winter wonderland.


On the other hand, there is the depression of the darkness. Were our bodies even designed to live this far north? Everything in me screams "no" each time I prepare to go outside. Every day during the daylight hours (from about 10-4) I force myself to look out the window or maybe take a little walk if possible, just to remind myself that daytime still exists.

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But on a positive note, I find it a gift to prepare for Christmas in this part of the world. Maybe Christ wasn't born in winter in a cold climate, but it makes waiting for the Light so meaningful when it is dark outside. Maybe my life isn't shrouded in spiritual darkness, but the metaphor works. When it is dark, we feel miserable. Therefore, I can imagine the feelings of despair when one has not yet found Christ, or when He seems far away.

If you are in a different climate, maybe God speaks to you in a different way through nature. But this is the way He is speaking to me in this place, at this time. And I'm thankful for it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On my last legs

Date: October 18
Number of Days until registration expires: 1
Status: Sick in bed

(Click to read previous episode)

Two thoughts had occurred to me. The first (spoken by others until I finally accepted it as truth) was that I had to step up my energy to a new level and FIGHT. This I had already realized during the previous week, but as the working hours drew to a close on Friday and I saw how difficult it was to maintain one's place in line, I realized the gravity of the situation.

The second realization was that I didn't have any strength left. Of course it's pretty bad if you need to fight and don't have any strength, but I realized that now was the moment when I needed to lean on others. I had wanted to do as much as I could by myself, mainly because I live here in this country and need to learn some survival skills. But that didn't mean there was any shame in asking for help. continue/-

Especially when I was near the point of total collapse. Everyone prayed for me over the weekend and several friends offered to go check on The List first thing in the morning on Monday.

Monday. A morning phone call, as my friend was headed to work. "I signed you up. You're #28." It was a miracle that I was even on The List. I wondered what kind of scene she had had to deal with, and was glad that I wasn't there myself. Now I had a few hours before I needed to head down to resume the vigil.

2pm, everything was in order; they were starting to go down The List. It was slow again, but at least they were open 6 hours today instead of 4.

Another hitch: the registration window would be open from 2-8 pm, but my friends still needed the stamp from the housing authority, and that office opened at 3pm. :)

We were already in the 20's when I got a phone call from my friends with the apartment. "You won't believe this, but you have to be present with us to get this stamp." What? How? They were in a completely different area of the city (I might add that the geographic location of the registration office had no physical relation to the neighborhood in which I would be registered). But they were on their way to get me, in the car. Andrey stayed to keep an eye on progress.

Zoom. We sped down to the housing authorities. I poked my head in, flipped open my passport, and we got a stamp. Had it really been that necessary? Zoom. We were back within the course of an hour. Labor Things had barely progressed, since people who had skipped their turn were suddenly showing up.

Each time we would get one number closer to mine, another person would appear. Now #16 had arrived; now #1 was back with his photocopy...

But I DID get my turn. Masha came in with me since she was familiar with the housing documents. The lady checked everything multiple times, her eyes darting quickly back and forth. Then she started to gather things together, methodically placing paperclips here and there.

She didn't find any mistakes. I couldn't believe it. I expected at least another photocopy to be demanded of me. I had been sure I would have to leave and fight my way in. Even on Friday when I had my documents "ready," I still had a list of questions. Little by little I pieced things together, but some uncertainty remained. And now she was telling me to come back on Thursday, and everything would be ready. It was another miracle.

We celebrated by going to McDonald's. I was high on feelings of relief mixed with cold medicine, even though I didn't really have a cold...it was tonsillitis. But there would be time enough to go to the doctor, now that I didn't have to worry about The List.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The month that wasn't?

Today marks one month since I fell ill while the processing of my temporary residency permit was still underway.

It feels almost as though the month didn't happen, although that can't be true. There were plenty of blessings along the way; friends' birthdays, special visits, etc.

I learned a little more about tonsillitis and about the medical system, and was scared enough of the thought of a tonsillectomy to get serious about getting better. So I've been on "house-arrest," drinking concoctions and scheming about various ways to create a special atmosphere this Advent season.

Day 4 of antibiotics, Round 2...hopefully this will take care of it!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Strange medicine

First the green stuff, now this...I just couldn't resist taking a photo of one of the concoctions I was told to gargle with. We'll see if it helps!


If not, I could always use it for dying Easter eggs. ;)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wounded

When my dad and I took some kids from the orphanage out last week, the counselors whispered to us about the backgrounds of some of the kids. Well, they didn't really whisper; it seems more accepted to talk about kids' behavior right in front of them. But a few of these facts were more personal and they meant it for our ears only.

The kids said "Thank you very much" after the meal. Most tried, with prompting, to say it in English. And then the counselor explained what great progress that was for many of them. I hadn't really thought about it since I see them regularly, but it really is a challenge for them to look an adult in the eye and say "Thank you." And of course, trying it in a foreign language showed special courage.

One of the boys the counselor pointed out was new (I actually hadn't met him yet), and she said that he (at 11 y.o.) witnessed the murder of his mother by his stepfather, perhaps over the summer. I saw how he held himself: not rudely like some of the other kids with "behavioral" problems, but like a bird, hovering at the edge of conversation with a wan smile.

Today I saw him at the orphanage and he again offered a weak smile, so I tried to reach out. "Pasha, right?" so he would know I remembered him. He nodded, but shrank back and quickly darted away. I wonder what is on his mind after all the trauma; what kinds of fears he lives with.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Racing against the clock

I've been back-tracking a bit to explain the process I went through to receive temporary residency. After waiting almost 6 months I got the permit, only to learn that there was another packet of documents needed for registration, and not much time...

Date: Friday, Oct. 15
Residence permit: Received
Registration: Application in progress
Old registration expires: Tuesday, Oct. 19th
Working days left: 3
The line: Miles long


On Thursday, I had done my best to pull together the rest of the documents before finally going to bed around 4 am. Then I was up by 7 the next morning to try to get to the office when it opened.

I had already signed up the previous day, but you can never be sure...
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The office was open for four hours that day. Things were progressing at a snail's pace, and I was still waiting for my friends to bring the rest of the documents I needed. They called me to see how things were going, and I assured them that there was no rush.

I sat and sat and we continued going down the list very slowly. My friend did come with the documents, but they weren't completely in order, so I would have to just use this day for a preliminary inspection of what I had so far. During the last hour I was already posted by the door with the other urgent cases. I also peeked at others' documents to try to determine if I had filled out my forms correctly.

We were all panicking to the point of discussing what fines would be issued for overstaying our registration.

Then suddenly (well, not suddenly, but incredibly) #16 went in, and there were still 30 minutes left. There was hope!

The minutes ticked by.

The girl who was after me was practically in tears, yet seemed hopeful that she would make it in. She had the same deadline as I did. I didn't want to tell her that I might take a long time. I felt a tugging on my heart as I wished for my turn to come. I hated seeing everyone else sitting there with their sad eyes. There really wasn't any hope that any of them would be seen today. I had a sudden urge to give up my spot and let everyone go ahead of me. But I had to think practically. I couldn't save everyone in the waiting room, and it would be inconvenient to myself and others if I had to pack my bags and take a trip somewhere for a new visa.

We agreed amongst ourselves that we wouldn't make a list yet-we would do it on Monday morning. This was important because it was the weekend, and it would be hard to have a sign-up sheet if the office was closed.

There were a few minutes left, and I gave up. I could have fought to get inside, or tried to raise my voice above the crowd and gotten my questions answered. But it was pointless; I needed more time than was available. And besides, I was missing a stamp or two on the housing forms. So I walked away.

I went to worship rehearsal that evening, but I was already feeling a lump in my throat that wouldn't go away. Then I went on bed-rest for the weekend. I didn't even go to church, and the word spread that I was ill, but absolutely HAD to physically show up at the registration office on Monday. I didn't have a choice.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Days with Dad

My dad has been here for the past week and we have been visiting with friends. Maybe he will send me some of his photos.

In the meantime, here are some taken when we went to lunch with some girls who grew up in the orphanage together. They're on their own now but still love to do things in groups, especially when friends from abroad come to visit. We always have a fun time with them.



Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Russian care package


My Russian friends who are from up north often say they have to "meet the train," and this means that their relatives have sent a parcel on the train via a traveling friend or acquaintance, that now has to be picked up.


The contents usually consist of something edible: canned goods like jam and pickles; berries, etc.

Well, my roommate had been complaining about missing foods from "home" (up north), and then the other day we got a parcel containing salami, smoked fish, and pressed deer meat.

My roommate showed me how to take the head and skin off the fish before eating it. I like the taste, although I'm not sure I like the process...

New beginnings

I'm determined not to go to bed again without blogging!

I'll finish up my little bureaucracy tale in the weeks to come, in case any of you are sitting there biting your nails. But I'm trying to move on, little by little.

The stress wreaked havoc on my immune system and I've been sick on and off for the past 3 weeks with back-to-back episodes of tonsillitis. And no, I'm not planning on getting the surgery anytime soon.

I was going to write that I'm waiting to get my life "back." But in fact, all of this IS life. I do hope to return to a few activities that I had to set aside while working on paperwork. And I look forward to the coming weeks.

Advent starts in less than a month! :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The moment of truth and an identity crisis

A Fatal Error?  (Continued from this post)

The lady at the fingerprinting station had told me to check EVERY LETTER very carefully. Those words would come back to haunt me...

For the rest of Tuesday and all of Wednesday I was thinking about the fact that I had chosen the spelling that was in my current visa. After all, that was the most authoritative document, right?

BUT the spelling which I had written on my residency application (under a different visa) was totally different... and to be honest, preferable.

To make a long story short, it probably didn't make sense for me to be a resident under one name and have my fingerprints registered under a different name...even if it was a matter of transliteration. continue/-

What to do, what to do? Did it even matter, or would no one notice? There was no room for error, as I would need to pick up my permit on the first try and would not be able to run around the city changing things.

I asked a few people their opinion and most felt that I should go with the spelling on my residency application, as the visa would be canceled in a few days anyway and then no one would know that I ever had an "alter ego." I wasn't thinking very clearly at this point, but figured that they were probably right and it was worth trying to change the spelling.


Thursday, October 14th-my last attempt to get my residency permit before my visa expires

The moment of truth would come in the afternoon when I would find out if the local authorities had picked up my residency permit on Wednesday and I could finally claim it.

In the morning, I went to the fingerprint place again. It was the same story: everything under construction, and the one lady there, with no other customers.

She yelled at me even though I couldn't possibly be bothering her as there was seemingly nothing else for her to do all day. But she scolded me in a nice way...maybe it is a cultural thing.

"I TOLD you to check every letter. You've made so much trouble for yourself, having to come down here again. Now we'll have to write out your form again." (it took 2 minutes)

I didn't even have to get the prints taken again (I did have hand wipes with me, just in case).

I felt at peace about the decision and made my way back home with my new fingerprint registration, where my last name was now written "correctly."

Then it was time to leave for the immigration office...



The Big Moment...

We went upstairs to where the inspector was. Apparently they did a lot of the paperwork up there and worked with clients downstairs. I poked my head in the door and the woman, seeing me, said "It's all set. Your document is here. Go downstairs and they will call you by your last name."

So that was that. It had come!


But I Have to Wait Again

Now, more waiting in the familiar hallway. There seemed to be no method to how they were calling people, as far as the order. When they called my name, I sat down at the desk while they checked my passport, visa, etc, according to the list. More problems with the last name: they were NOT happy that my current visa deviated from the application they had on file. Thankfully I had held on to a copy of my visa used at that time, so I could sort of prove that the other spelling existed and referred to me personally. This confirmed that I had done correctly by changing the spelling on the fingerprint registration.

After a lot of grumbling and checking with her superiors, the lady on staff gave me a few documents to sign, and told me to come back with them in a few hours! This was already the 3rd assignment that day, whereas I had thought I would just show up and get the permit. But I was close...


Something Material!

We returned with my signed forms at the appointed time, and I had another mini- panic attack while waiting for my last name to be called. Finally it was my turn (again) and I sat down and handed over the forms, keeping a copy for myself. Then there was a stamp in my passport, where I checked everything carefully. I was granted permission to reside "temporarily" in St. Petersburg for 3 years.  I was given a chance to ask questions about registration. But unfortunately I had not studied the forms thoroughly enough yet. I couldn't use the opportunity to get information.

"Oh, if there aren't questions now, they'll come up later," she said drily, as I left the room in a daze.

We walked out into the hallway and somehow in my shaky state I was aware of a sign-up sheet being passed around for the next day. It was for registration. I signed up and was number 17. Despite the stamp in my passport, I wasn't out of "danger" yet. I had just a few business days left to have everything filled out CORRECTLY and handed in.

More to Come...

I felt a bit weak in the knees as we walked away. I could feel that I needed to kick into high gear to be successful, but I didn't have any strength left. Thankfully, there were a lot of people, and especially the Lord, standing by my side.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unusual missionary jobs

At some point I was in a biography mood while Kindle-browsing, and decided to download a few missionary volumes. One of these was about Gladys Aylward, missionary to China.*

I'd heard of her before, but only briefly, and I was interested in reading more of her story. It has turned out to be quite a page-turner even though I feel like I'm reading something I might have read in grade school as far as the reading level.

It always amazes me when I read about someone who may have been similar to me but had a totally different calling. Maybe my life would have seemed intimidating to Gladys, but I don't know how I would have survived in her situation. I like this book overall, but I had to take a break after it gave me some violent dreams.

This passage blew me away the first time I was reading it: click for more/-

'So,' continued the mandarin, looking rather proud of himself, 'the government has given me a problem. I need someone to be a foot inspector. A man would not do, because men are not to look at a woman's feet. I need a female foot inspector. But where, I asked myself, would I find a woman who could travel on foot over rough roads and climb mountains to reach the small villages to make sure every girl's feet have been unbound? Only a woman with unbound feet could do that. And I asked myself, in all of China, who is the woman who speaks the Yangcheng dialect and has unbound feet? That woman will be my foot inspector.'

The mandarin stopped for a moment to smile at his logic. Then he proceeded. 'There is only one such woman in the whole district, and it is you, Gladys Aylward!' (see book credit below)

Can you imagine moving to a foreign land to be a missionary, and being commanded to look at people's feet? Obviously many missionaries have medical duties, but what a specific task! It is so bizarre on the one hand, and on the other hand so clearly a witness to God's leading and providence. He brought her there and showed her exactly what to do...

*Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (Christian Heroes: Then & Now)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where I left off

Another day in the life of a foreigner in Russia trying to get a residence permit...

Date: Tuesday, October 12
90 days in the country are up: Tuesday, Oct.19 


Time is ticking...

Friday (Oct. 8th) had produced another "no" answer; meaning, the local immigration office didn't have me in their file. They kept telling me no sooner than October 23rd, even though the other office had told me September 23rd. Who was bluffing?

Monday was spent trying to get some answers by phone. The central office confirmed that my results had been "sent out" and that they had done their job. The local offices didn't answer their phone. The next day, there were working hours at the local office, and Andrey and I went in once again to see if there was any sign of my residence permit. continue reading/-

There were long lines as usual in the immigration office. As we were discussing our plan of action, a young woman was sitting nearby, eavesdropping.

We went into the waiting area/corridor and signed up on various lists. Maybe they weren't the right ones, but at least I could try to speak to an officer.

Then a young man came in, looking a bit anxious. He didn't speak perfect Russian, but he was looking for the right list, where he had been sure he'd signed up. He unfolded a notice that he had gotten in the mail. It was notification that his application had been approved and that he could show up at the local office. It was the piece of paper I was supposed to have gotten in the mail...

He couldn't find the list and we all looked around, and then our eyes narrowed on the young woman who had been standing off by herself in a corner (and eavesdropping on our conversation). She was tightly clutching a white piece of paper. A list. She reluctantly surrendered it, claiming that it was only for people who had their notification.

I was #5. Not bad, but they were only open for 2 hours. We left and came back and there was another huge group of people, all claiming that only those with the magic "notification slip" would be let in. I pushed my way in anyway, when it was my turn.


Same story. I wasn't on their list. My papers might be "on the way," but there was no way to check. Wednesday was the next day they would pick up the mail, leaving Thursday for me to claim them. The next Thursday would be too late; I'd have to be across the border by then.

I don't know if it was Andrey sitting next to me or the urgency of the situation, but the woman at the desk (after glancing at my visa and the calendar and cursing under her breath) decided to give us a few more helpful pieces of information. One was a list of items to have with me on Thursday, in the event that my permit DID come. The other was a list of documents to gather for registration. They too would have to be produced almost immediately, before my other registration ran out a few days later (not sure why they couldn't have given them to me a month earlier when I had asked).

For Thursday, what I mainly needed were photocopies of my current documents, as well as proof that I had gotten on the fingerprint registry at a certain branch of the police station.

To get fingerprints taken, I was advised to have a copy of my letter of notification, if received (mine hadn't been), as well as some antibacterial hand wipes.

I sped back home, made a quick phone call to my friends notifying them that they would have to get their apartment deeds together in a flash to register me, then set off to find the fingerprinting place. It was at the edge of the city, at the end of a tram line. As I looked for the right building, I remembered that I needed hand wipes. Arrrrrgh. What would happen if I didn't have any?

Bingo. Grocery store on the corner. But it would have a long line..ah, drugstore next door. Popped in, got some hand wipes, and then found the police building. They were doing "remont" and I had to knock. A lady let me in and led me to her office. Apparently I was the only "client." We filled out the paperwork and she made me CHECK EVERY LETTER. Then she rolled my fingers.

After that, she left me to clean off my fingers using my own hand wipes (which I couldn't get open now that my hands were covered in ink), and that was it.


Everything was in place for me to pick up my permit...except the permit itself...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Enemies?

In Russia there is a lot of waiting in line. There are some rules of etiquette that go along with it, which I've discussed before.

Sometimes the waiting seems normal and bearable, like at the grocery store or the bank. But there are a lot of more critical situations, like at Immigration or the doctor's office, where every minute that passes seems like torture.

In recent experiences I found that it wasn't so much the waiting that was the hardest part (although it was truly challenging). What I found most disturbing was the way that people turn on each other. I can include myself in this; although I didn't do anything punishable, there were certainly times when I thought to myself, Why can't they all just go away? How can that man be so stupid? Didn't he read the schedule? How could that woman show up this late and think she could get a place in line? read more/-


I found to my horror that these people whom I didn't know were becoming my "enemies." After all, there was no way for us all to succeed. We were destined to fight. We were all just as desperate as the next person. Most people had taken time off work and some had left children at home alone. Some had been up in the middle of the night, guarding the List.

No one was in a non-urgent situation, as far as I could tell. We were all just about to miss our deadline, or had already missed it, evidenced by a few there to pay a fine. There was nothing we could do to make the time pass any faster. I was torn between a compassionate sense of wanting to help everyone else in line succeed and a logical sense that I was going to have to leave the country if I didn't get my own paperwork in order.


I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if I had given up my place to someone else? Would God have helped me get my paperwork done another way? Or was it right for me to "fight" my way through the crowd?

I think I'm alive

Pretty soon I am going to write about what it took to get two stamps in my passport. One thing it did take was a lot of energy that I didn't have, so I've spent the last week recuperating and letting my immune system replenish itself (if there is such a thing).

I'm thankful to be able to legally stay in Russia and not have to worry about counting 90 days out of 180. It makes me appreciate anyone involved in an immigration/refugee situation.

I'm thankful for God's faithfulness, and I'm also thankful for friends who remind me of His faithfulness when my own hope is wearing thin!

Friday, October 15, 2010

10 months later

Lots of waiting, and it came down to the last 20 minutes on the last possible day.


As you can see, my temporary residency permit was approved...on September 23, the date that they had promised. 5 months after submitting my application. But I didn't know it was going to be "in limbo" for the next 3 weeks...something I will be warning other applicants about!


The work's not quite over; I have to submit another round of documents in a very short amount of time. But at this point I am in! Praise the Lord.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Detour

I was walking home one evening a few weeks ago, and my road had been torn up during the day, just like that.



That's my building (the one in the middle of the photo) across the street. How would I get home? see more/-

Turn right and go past the building materials...



Turn left and trot over the bridge(s). They built the right one first and it was quite a feat to get over! The second one is MUCH better except for in one spot where there is sort of a half step because they didn't space them evenly and there was too big of a step at the end.


Just what are they doing?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This explains a lot

I tutor a young woman in Business English. She's quite fluent but needs to work on a few skill areas, especially for work. We did some talking about cultural differences in the business world, since she works with both Europeans and Americans in addition to Russians.

A recent homework assignment asked the student to rate her native culture on a scale between contrasting behavior traits. To be honest I couldn't make sense of all of the terms that the textbook gave.

One pair related to time perception. Is your culture "monochronic" or "synchronic"? What did that mean? I offered an approximate definition, but promised to find out more. A search yielded the table you can see below (after the jump).

I can think of a few situations with roommates and such where these differences were obvious. For example, a Russian friend would notice something dirty (shoes, the stovetop) and stop immediately to clean it, whereas I would put it on my to-do list to take care of when I could work it into my schedule. However, I also switch back and forth between planned activities. Uh oh! click to see table/-


Monochronic People
Polychronic People
Do one thing at a time
Do many things at once
Concentrate on the job
Highly distractible and subject to interruptions
Take time commitments seriously (deadlines, schedules)
Consider time commitments an objective to be achieved only if possible
Low-context and need information
High-context and already have information
Committed to the job
Committed to people
Adhere religiously to plans
Change plans often and easily
Concerned about not disturbing others; Follow rules of privacy and consideration
More concerned with relations (family, friends, close business associates) than with privacy
Show great respect for private property, seldom borrow or lend
Borrow and lend things often and easily
Emphasize promptness
Base promptness on the relationship
Accustomed to short-term relationships
Strong tendency to build lifetime relationships


Source: Hall & Hall (1989)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting a package slip

I check our mailbox in the entryway a lot and it usually contains a flier or notice of some kind. And the notices are for the landlord or his mother: a registered letter, something from the pension fund, etc.

The other day I grabbed the usual assortment and started to put it in the pile to give to the landlord for when we actually make contact with him (it's already the 6th of October...he does want the rent, right?). But then I looked a little closer and noticed that it was MY name there on the slip. I had received a...banderole? Hmmmm. Something between a letter and a package...

There was an address of a "pick-up center" I needed to find in order to claim my "banderole." A hassle, yet at the same time I remembered back to the college days, when we received those yellow package slips with joy, even if we knew the package would contain something we had ordered ourselves. It was such a treat to get mail! Continue/-

And now, who knew what surprise was waiting for me? Not many people knew my address, but someone had decided to take a risk and send something from faraway...

It took about a week before I found the time. Not that the pick-up center was far, but knowing the usual situation at the post office, I might have to stand in line for hours. Plus, they had lunch from 1-2 pm. So I would have to factor that in.


I got to see a new part of my neighborhood. It was pretty, with tree-lined alleys of different colors in the fall sunlight. I even ran into a pretty little church building. Who would have known it was hidden back there?

The package slip noted that the pick-up center was "in the courtyard." Good thing, because I don't know if I would have thought to go around the corner. In a regular apartment building, from the courtyard side, was a little "post office" sign.

I went inside to find...an empty waiting room. So much for the queuing drama! The room was lined with post office boxes and then at one side there was a little window you could go up to in order to receive your package. Once I got the ladies' attention, they looked carefully at my passport and registration (to confirm it was the same person), and then I got my media envelope. Oh, that's what a "banderole" was.

The return address was marked "Sweden." Too impatient to wait until I got home, I ripped open the envelope. Inside were two boxes of...business cards, with my name on them. And the name and address of a company who hired me, but hasn't contacted me for a month. Very interesting...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bureaucratic phone calls

The quest for a residency permit continues, as my 90-day visa gets close to expiry...

I suppose the possibility of deportation is enough reason for anyone to get motivated to make some phone calls. :)

Since I last wrote about needing to make progress, nothing had happened. Last week was spent "trying" to make a phone call, which meant that pretty much every day I "intended" to do it, but put it off due to the fact that I either 1) didn't have time 2) didn't have a working phone 3) didn't have the right phone number.

It's imperative to call during work hours, of course.

I know that a lot of this was due to my own procrastination, but it didn't seem possible that SO many things could go wrong when trying to make one phone call! 

Then there was the weekend...continue/-

Monday

This morning I woke up and picked up my cell phone to see that the balance was 3 rubles (about 10 cents). Not again! Then a friend came to my rescue and put some money in my account using an electronic pay station. :)

Now that I had both a working phone AND a phone number, I could finally get down to business. I dialed the number...and got a fax machine. Arrrrrrrgh.

This happened several times. I checked and rechecked the phone number and it was the one I had used before and that a friend of mine had recommended. And I still got a BEEEEEEP. So I thought maybe it was just an automated answering machine?

An hour later...success! The phone RANG and there was a PERSON on the other end. She looked up my last name and said everything was all set and I could go to the local office for pick-up....after Wednesday.

This is great, but I'm still not sure when I can actually get into the local office and get my hands on this piece of paper, or get the stamp, or whatever is going to happen next. I can't seem to get through by phone to that office. So far I just have a few words of verbal confirmation from the central office, and that will have to be my progress for the day...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The green stuff

Medicine is such an interesting concept to observe in another culture.

I don't think I have written about chicken pox on here before.

But before I get into that story, I must acquaint you with a staple of Russian first aid: the green stuff. It's a popular antiseptic here that is BRIGHT GREEN. In fact, its Latin name translates literally "Brilliant green." And it doesn't wash off right away. Before I knew this, I thought Russian kids really liked to play with markers...

I didn't want to embarrass anyone I know by taking a photo, so I swiped one off the internet...

And that brings me to the chicken pox. A friend of mine (a college student here) recently became infected, and we went to visit him after church, since we'd all had it in childhood. Hospitalization is more common in Russia, but our friend also lives in the dormitory, so that made it even more necessary for him to be quarantined. continue/-

The hospital is one of the bigger facilities in town, and instead of being divided into wings, the wards are all in separate buildings, probably built at different times over the years.

We had a fun time finding the ward where our friend was staying...




We didn't have to show ID, but we did have to have shoe-covers and were not allowed to enter the ward wearing a coat (although one could carry said coat over one's arm).

When we finally made our way to the right place, we saw our friend, and he was...green. Most of his face and neck and then selected spots were covered in the green stuff.

But he wasn't the only one! A few older guys were shuffling around, with sections of their head and scalp dyed green by the ointment! Think rock concert meets nursing home.

We sat in the hallway for awhile hanging out and playing with balloons leftover from Sunday school, when the nurse wasn't looking.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Into the furnace

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (I always liked saying those names) is one so familiar from the Sunday school days. But even now, I'm amazed each time I read this testimony of the Lord's power and favor.

It struck me recently that the story isn't only about what happens when we trust in God, it's also about what goes through the mind of someone who does not yet believe. And that's a perspective about which I sometimes lack understanding.

While reading Daniel 3, something made me examine the king's point of view. This isn't a fairytale-God gives us examples in the form of humans who really lived and experienced real emotions that we can relate to. It might be obvious who the "good guys" are, but the "bad guys" sometimes aren't too far off from our flawed selves. Here is a king, full of power, grasping at human answers to a problem that only God can solve. more/-

King Nebuchadnezzar has already been shown what will be in the future, and now he tries to somehow change his fate.

What I saw in these measures was fear.

And then my mind flashed to all the presidents and other leaders of the world's nations, who make such decisions...when to go to war, how to deal with enemies, how to keep the peace...

All of this "policy," "tolerance,"...whether on a local level (in the workplace, school) or international, it all comes down to fear, and the ultimate fear is fear of death. How many people around me live with this fear? How much does my own lifestyle subscribe to this fear, when I should instead have an eternal perspective?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A new bundle of joy

A year (+ a few days) ago, I was attending my sister's wedding, and crying over visa woes.

Yesterday, my sister gave birth to her first child, a boy! His name is Benjamin. :)


 
Hooray for this miracle of life, and thanks be to the Creator!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Refurbishing

The table (AKA my workspace) in my room was peeling, and I didn't really feel like repainting it...too time-consuming and boring. Then I was looking at an "IKEA hack" site and got the idea of decoupage. I liked the idea of having something personal and unique, and some scrapbook paper did the trick. Who cares if it clashes with the other furniture? :)


To paint or not to paint the legs?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The return of the red tape

It's mid-September, and that means it's time for my residency permit! Time to go from "passive" to "active" bureaucracy mode.

Last week I went to the regional authorities to try to ask some questions. I thought if it wasn't ready then I could at least get some information in advance. My prayer was to get just one bit of helpful information.

Well...does finding the building count? Thankfully, I had checked the website and it said "entrance via hotel." Otherwise, I would not have guessed that the windowless door under the hotel/cafe sign would lead the way to a government office. It surely did not look like it had anything to do with passports or citizenship. Yet, beyond those very doors, people were taking care of  important-and even life-changing-matters. read more/-

The hallway/waiting area was blissfully uncrowded. Too good to be true. As usual I was too shy to break the silence by asking who was last in line. So I played it cool and pretended I was interested in the information posted all over the walls. Actually, I WAS interested. I was hoping that I would see samples of the forms that I would need to fill out for registration.

I was also trying to figure out if I was even there for the right category of documents. There were several timetables posted, and I could not make sense of them.

As I sat down on the bench and tried to figure out what to do, I happened to glance at the man on my left, who was holding...a list! He was the keeper! And it even happened to be the right one...for temporary residency, not for passports or whatever else was going on.

And there were just a few people ahead of me...but....when did they close?

Nobody knew if they would close at 1 or stay open until 3 or some other time. Toes were tapping and thumbs were twiddling nervously as it got closer to 1. There was only one person ahead of me...and they closed for lunch.

(McDonald's break)

I came back at 2....instead of the practically empty hallway, all the seats were filled up! A new batch of  "customers"!

A few people came in as I stood there, and asked who was last in line? "Which line?" was the response. Uh oh. Now there were even new categories of people. The guy who had been in front of me was still waiting; apparently, a few people who had been in front of him had now resurfaced. I was still in line, but everything was going very slowly, and time was ticking.

Besides that, I listened in a little bit as the others compared notes. They were there for their yearly review that comes with having residency...and it seems that regulations for that change each year too; there is a minimum income that you have to report. I suddenly realized that having residency won't be much easier than having a visa, after all...

I didn't care anymore if I was in the right line or not and what the status of my documents was. I just wanted to talk to a live person and get some answers.

FINALLY, my turn. I walked in and showed a representative my sheet of paper proving that I had turned in the application in April. "They said 5 months," I told her, "but I haven't received notification yet."

"6 months," she said, literally yawning at me. "October." What? I had been told so clearly, at the central office, that it was 5. One month makes a big difference when you only have a 90-day visa!

"Well, what happens after that? How do I get registered?" I was going to make my visit worthwhile. "After you have the permit, they give you the forms to fill out."

"So they'll give me the forms here, at that point."

"Yes."

Grrr...why could they not give me the forms now, then I'd have them all ready? Makes no sense...

I went home very frustrated...and worried. I didn't have any "Plan B" for not getting the permit in time. I had built in an extra 3-4 weeks until the end of my visa, but not a whole month!

Now I've calmed down a bit. I talked to someone who got his permit last year, and he advised me to wait until the end of September to start checking on it again. It's possible that everything will come together in plenty of time. And by "plenty," I mean...with an hour or two to spare. Does it ever happen differently? ;)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Notes

I have a new roommate...

She is given to creative outbursts, but I guess I'm not one to talk.

When she asked me if she could post something on the refrigerator, I thought it would be fine...I like the refrigerator to display little snapshots of life.


And then she elaborated..."I have to remind myself to go to the woods to gather pinecones." :)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back to pedagogy

Before I even had time to think about fall activities, an opportunity presented itself. Someone contacted me to ask if I would like to teach Business English part-time to some corporate clients. It seems like a good fit: reasonable pay; a reasonable amount of hours; a sound contract.

I'll be starting up at the orphanages again this week and next, and private lessons are underway.

I was nervous that I'd lost my skills over the last year as I was more of a student than a teacher. But as I begin again, I can feel inspiration rising and the lesson planning machine whirring to a start in my brain. :)

Here's to a new semester...

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Not vacation anymore

I'm still here...sort of.

Unfinished repairs+the beginning of the school=CHAOS! Life is not dull at all around here.

For instance.

Saturday, 9pm

I arrive home and ring the doorbell. Instead of my roommate, a man (a friend from church) lets me in, covered head to foot in grease and grime from working on the plumbing. My roommate is at the hardware store.

 I can't find paper to print the handouts for Sunday school. more/-

10pm

My roommate arrives. She unrolls a large piece of paper to begin making a poster for Sunday school.

The other Sunday school teachers decide to start calling each other and editing major portions of the lesson. Could I type up the new version?

I found some old handouts...maybe I could print on the other side?

Midnight

Our plumber friend is getting a taxi home. We have cold water, but no hot. The bathroom looks like a war zone.

1am

It's past my bedtime. My roommate decides she isn't feeling well enough to go to church the next day, but is feeling well enough to keep talking. I retreat into my room and close the door.

2am

My printer is slow...

2:30am

Time to get some (warm) sleep under my new comforter. I wonder when the central heat will come on?

Sunday, 8:30 am

I'll get up and finish preparing for the Sunday school meeting. Or not...

8:45 am

I think I'll check my email...

9:00 am

I have to get dressed.

9:30 am

I have to leave. I'll read my notes in the metro?

10:00 am

The metro ride is too short...I'll have to wing it.


Sunday, 10:45 am

The service starts in 15 minutes. I pick up my flute, start to warm up, and...did I forget my scales? My flute is...broken? It is not sounding the notes that my fingers are playing.

Sunday, 10:55 am

There is no computer to project the words to the songs. But I don't know the words myself! Could we maybe pick some different ones? Or I'll just...use a cheat sheet....and pretend that those long pauses are on purpose and not the places where the flute solos were supposed to be.

Sunday, 5pm

Text message: Are you going to meet up with us?

Nope. I'm going to sit right here and enjoy the quiet for a moment :)

And try to fix my flute.

Sunday, 6pm

The plumber is back...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Back to school

We did some shopping with kids from a local orphanage. I met the two oldest girls shortly after I moved to St. Petersburg in 2004. Coming up on the 6th anniversary! :)


Friday, August 27, 2010

Making progress

Thank goodness for good friends! Some girls from church came over and helped me with priming and spackling.

No need to judge, we're only amateurs...:)
+/-




Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Home sweet home?

I think my room needs a little more work...


The truth about taking offense

Only a friend can betray a friend
A stranger has nothing to gain
And only a friend comes close enough
To ever cause so much pain

-Michael Card, “Why?”

This isn’t meant to be a sad post, just some reflections on conflict in relationships.
read more/-

Jesus was betrayed by Judas, a friend. Anyone could have done it; He had plenty of enemies. But God chose a friend.

It’s painful to reflect upon, and yet at the same time, an indicator of how Christ lived his life. Knowing He would be betrayed, knowing His time was short, He still sought deep, meaningful friendships.

Only people close to us may betray us, yet there is a positive side to the vulnerability, for it means that we have truly loved. They will not all betray us, but they may hurt us in a number of ways during the process of getting to know each other.

There are times when seemingly harmful words from friends can be upsetting, and we wonder what it was that made us so sensitive. But the fact is that the same words from someone on the street wouldn’t have mattered. A stranger's words don't hold as much power.


"Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." -Proverbs 27:6

When we are humiliated or lash out at friends, it’s because they are important to us.

We want them to approve of what we do and how we look (just being honest here), so we wait for words of affirmation.

We want them to take an interest in our lives, so we wait for them to ask questions.

We want them to accept our gifts to them and other displays of affection, so we wait for some positive response.

We want them to accept us, with all our flaws. Is it egotistical? We were made to be relational.

With all our different “languages of love” and other factors, it’s pretty hard to guarantee that the words coming out of our mouth match up with what our friend wants to hear at that particular moment. And it’s hard to guarantee that we won’t say something harsh when we ourselves are wounded.

Criticism is hard to take from a friend, but it indicates an interest in the other person; an investment. There wouldn’t be anything to criticize if we didn’t pay attention enough to make an observation.  We hear "I want to fix you" when all they want to do is help. In fact, pretending nothing is wrong might be worse than saying something potentially painful. Confronting a conflict is so important for the friendship to deepen.

So during the times when I feel wounded and think “why is this person so insensitive?,” I realize that I am reacting because I love him/her. And when a friend reacts to something I’ve said and I’m annoyed by what seem like unnecessary emotions, I can remind myself that our friendship has reached the point where words can do a lot of damage, as well as encourage.That means progress.

As for that person on the street who ruins your day, well, I am not saying that a stranger’s insults can’t be unpleasant. Certain forms of speech would be hurtful to anyone. But it’s not the same as when it comes from someone you care about.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Whitewash

This is a message from the Lord through Ezekiel to the false prophets. It compels me to test my heart and my witness. Do I speak the whole truth, or do I gloss over serious situations? Do I offer advice that is rooted in this world rather than eternity? How will I be able to face the people I led astray? And how will I be able to face the Lord?
" 'Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, "Where is the whitewash you covered it with?"
-Ezekiel 13:10-12

Friday, August 20, 2010

House-calls

Sometime last week I got a call to go sit in a friend's room until some guys came to deliver new furniture.

I've never ordered furniture in the U.S., so I'm not sure how the timing of the delivery usually works out. Here, you sometimes get a specific time and sometimes just a general window, like 10-2 or 2-6. This can apply to deliveries, doctors' house-calls, maintenance jobs, etc.

My friend kept calling and calling until she got a more specific time from them. Then she called me,"They'll be there in an hour." I was still at home.
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She had drawn a map, and luckily it was accurate, because I had very little time to spare. I found her room in the communal apartment and made myself "at home."

The callbox rang and I answered it.

"Something something furniture." (I can't always understand Russian by phone or intercom). I let them in.

It was just one guy, with pieces in boxes. He left them and then I left, too.

A week later, the friend called again. This time, she needed me to sit there for a few hours while another guy came. She said I could sit in the kitchen and read a book. Strange, I wondered why she mentioned the kitchen.

I sat in her room for about 30 minutes before the callbox rang. "Something something something." Okay, probably the right person. I let him in. It was a guy with a sports bag over his shoulder. I had thought she said the furniture was going to be collected, but the only old furniture was in the hallway, and he asked me the way to the room.

In the room, he turned his attention to the boxes containing the pieces of the new furniture. Oh! He was here to put together the furniture, not collect the old. Right.

"Blah blah which side? Right or left?" Hmmm, what could be left or right? A door? I didn't understand. I got my friend on the phone and she told him.

"Okay, I'll just change my clothes," he said. O-kay. Now I understood the kitchen thing. Time to get out of the way! I settled in there with my Kindle while he worked. When he was done, I took a look, pretending I knew how to tell if he had done a good job or not. And then I signed the receipt and he left.

My friend came home from work 10-15 minutes later and gave me some homemade pickled cucumbers that she had made. Yum! I could get used to this.