Monday, December 23, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like...???


I had just decided it was too windy to take David outside, so I was getting ready to put him down for a nap at home. Then some rays of sunshine unexpectedly began peeking through. The next thing I knew, there was a rainbow. Not looking very snowy here these days!


4 pm on Christmas Eve Eve, 2013




Saturday, December 14, 2013

Not to Be

So my computer broke! Yep, the fancy-schmancy one I just bought this summer.

No, I didn't get upset! It happened at the end of a difficult day/week, in the midst of watching Sesame Street on DVD, reading Christmas board books, playing with the electronic keyboard, coloring on the floor boards, and making a dent (so to speak) in the pile of dishes. Did I really care that I wouldn't be a slave to my computer that evening? Not really.

I do still have my old one! It's sluggish and needs to be reformatted. But it works and can access the Internet! I'd been having trouble installing my printer, saving documents, and using the touchpad on the new one. First World problems? Perhaps.

Anyway, I just wanted to write that I don't know if I'll be getting around to those posts. You know, the ones about how I haven't finished my Advent calendar yet and it's halfway over. Part of me wants to "rise" to the challenge of having a broken computer and try to publish posts every day anyway. Import my recent photos onto this computer, and such. But another way to take the higher road would be to take a little computer break and focus on some other things.

I don't know how this week will go. Sometimes when things go wrong I take the opportunity to see how my priorities and time management are doing. And there is definitely room for revising.

I hope everyone is having a great Advent season!


Friday, December 6, 2013

Three Biographies

Just wanted to mention three people whose lives have inspired me lately.



1. C.S. Lewis-Last month we observed the 50th anniversary of his death (which coincided with the death of John F. Kennedy). Andrei and some of his colleagues at the St. Petersburg Christian University held a conference devoted to various Lewis-related topics. It was fun to hear from people that had studied his work and life so intently. And to be in an academic setting for a day. :)



2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer- I finally finished reading the biography by Eric Metaxas! It was a great read. And long, obviously. How long have I been talking about it? Since sometime last year? I recommend reading it, even if you've already read other biographies.


3. Fred Rogers-Looks kind of funny in this list, doesn't he? When I read Lewis I often have trouble convincing myself that he wrote in my native language! But Mister Rogers had a gift for explaining things simply. Can today's kids even relate to his slow pace? I put on a few clips (for David, but also for myself) and recalled my PBS childhood. And then I started to read about his life a little bit. One of the more interesting tidbits I found was this clip of him before the Senate! What a kind and talented person he was.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Family

It's late here and I still want to work on Advent a little bit, so I will just quickly share something that I was thinking about the other day.

The holiday season tends to make us re-evaluate our relationships, especially with relatives. And we may feel fresh pain over those who are far away or no longer with us. When I let myself think about numbers (how many miles, time zones; number of times we have left to see each other in this world), it does get hard.

This week we lit the candle of Hope, and here are a few observations that give me hope:

1) I am not separated from my loved ones due to conflict.

Conflict creates a feeling of emptiness. When we fight with those we love; when we are estranged from them (even for a few hours) and our intimacy is threatened, it makes a hole in our hearts.

Physical separation creates a hole, too. But then I stop to think that I'm NOT in conflict with these people I miss. The distance does not make us love each other any less and we are not inferior to those families who see each other on a regular basis.

God places us in families, but He also scatters us. This calling should not ultimately be a source of grief, even if we have moments of grieving.


2) We will see each other in Heaven.

It is an amazing blessing when we have family members who believe in Christ. We can know that nothing will separate us OR our believing relatives from the love of Christ. They are safe in His hands.

Sometimes time feels short, and we never know how much time we have. But time works differently with God, and He has it all worked out perfectly.





Monday, December 2, 2013

Tidbits

As usual, Advent managed to sneak up on me even while I was working on getting ready! I have all these unfinished projects...oh well. I will share if they ever come together!

Our Thanksgiving guest
Last week was Thanksgiving in the U.S. and we had a new American friend named Emily over for dinner. Andrei cooked shaverma, which is about as far from a roast turkey as you can get (obviously we didn't cook it on a vertical spit, it was a stove-top version). I made apple crumble without crust. I'll put the recipe on my recipe blog soon but basically it's just baked apple slices with a crumb topping, nice and simple!

I can't do an update without mentioning the weather! As I wrote a few weeks ago, November was a very gray month. It was overcast almost every day. However, it shaped up nicely and the weather has been great recently: mostly clear/blue skies, beautiful pastel sunsets/sunrises, light snow, and temperatures just below freezing. David and I have resumed our daily walks.

My little snow bunny!

At church this past Sunday we opened the Advent season. Andrei gave the first sermon, on Hope, while I attended Sunday school with David (see bottom photo). We have quite a large group of toddlers/ preschoolers!

That's all for now, but I've got lots of other things to write about, maybe tomorrow! I want to write a few book reviews, finish up the "church" series, and explore a few other topics.

Stay tuned!

David experimenting with mixed media at Sunday school!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Photographing Life

A July Birthday
I think of myself as a klutz when it comes to photography. My hideous food blog will attest to that. I just want to snap a photo...I don't want to adjust the lighting! And I have no idea how to get non-blurry photos of a toddler, or of people talking and laughing.

Nevertheless, I am a bit of a historian by nature, which means I'm sometimes just a pack-rat, but at other times I'm able to preserve some pretty special memories.

Earlier this year, I came across a blog (maybe another of my blogging friends quoted it?) where the author talked about the importance of being photographed with your kids. They're too little to remember a lot of those moments, but as they grow up they'll be able to look at the photos and know that you were right there with them.

I think of lot of times the adults don't end up in photos simply because we are the ones behind the camera. It's not like we are particularly avoiding it. And then there are the bad-hair days and all the time when the babies are cute and we are not. I think I could count on one hand the number of photos of myself from the past year that I think are flattering. And then there are a bunch where I look okay but I'm wearing pajamas. So, yeah, not too many that would go in an album.

As David's second year progresses, I can sense the photo folders not filling as rapidly. And that's okay, but I'd rather it didn't come to a standstill! There are still plenty of subjects and events to capture.

For the sake of ourselves and our friends and family, and for David when he's older, let the photography continue! Let the imperfect shots not always be weeded out.

And may some of them eventually be made into an album, someday. When I have time...


Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Very Pinterest Christmas

I joined Pinterest pretty recently. I had always sort of avoided it, but then one day the following observations made me want to give it a try:

1) Google Image search drives me nuts.
2) I always have tons of browser tabs open because I want to have all the ideas right there.
3) My hard drive tends to get cluttered with folders of images of projects I want to try.

Pinterest could definitely use some fine-tuning as a search engine, but for certain projects it is great. I think it works well because it is used by people with similar interests, who use the same key search phrases. This isn't to say that it doesn't return those extraneous results (people named "Christian" who make art, instead of "Christian (themed) art").

Anyway, I could probably go into a lot of detail about the pros and cons, but so far I am finding it really useful, especially when it comes to Advent and Christmas.

I still have way more ideas than I will ever use! Last year I didn't even get out most of the decorations. We had just moved and had an infant, etc. This year I will get out a different set. David is old enough to admire the decorations, but not old enough to keep his hands off. I have some hands-on materials with him in mind, though.

So we are starting to get underway here with that, and I will definitely post photos if/when anything gets to that point. :) Here's my Advent idea "board," for anyone interested. http://www.pinterest.com/elizabeth3806/advent-for-toddlers/

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Around here


Like my pillow?






Pillow Variation #2






Chore Time!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Friendship

Andrei and I have been feeling some changes lately related to our church. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising. When we first got married, we each continued doing our thing. When David was born, we stopped everything. Then Andrei went back to some of his things, but not all. And now it feels like while we were "away" we changed. Should we really jump back in where we left off? Do we want to? Are we able to?

It seems like a good opportunity to do some thinking and praying and see if we want to go in a different direction.

But that isn't really what I wanted to write about. It's less about activity and more about people. But the two are inter-related.

During the "single" years, Andrei and I were in a Bible study. Our friends and I were pretty mobile. Each week we met in a different person's home, just to mix it up, see where different people lived. On holidays and weekends we would often go on excursions. We did picnics in the summer. We would jump on a bus and go out to one of the palace grounds for an afternoon. We celebrated each other's birthdays. We searched the church calendar for holidays just so we could do something fun as a group. We knew each other's prayer needs.

This is the current scene.

Andrei is sitting at his desk at 11:59 pm...

Andrei: "Did you wish ______ a happy birthday yet?"
Me: "Not yet."
Andrei: "Okay, I'm writing him on FB."
Me: "Make sure to say it's from me, too!"

It sounds pathetic. It sounds like we prefer virtual relationships and don't have time for our friends. But that's only partly true. Lately I have been getting these pangs of guilt that we have to keep friends at arms' length, even though I know it isn't really intentional.

A specific friend will suddenly cross my mind. We used to be close. I used to talk to her on the phone. I have dropped the ball on that friendship. How could I be so thoughtless?

Guilt is usually followed by resolution. I will call her. I will get her a fantastic birthday present this time around. I will win her back!

And then I compose a plan of action...making a to-do list, a strategy to get all those friends back. But then I get confused. And I think...this isn't math class. These are PEOPLE. And what's more, GOD is in charge. He knit us together and He orchestrates all the minute details of these relationships.

But the thing is that I do pray about friendships and I guess at times it just seems like too huge of a task. Too many people to catch up with and too many complicated feelings to deal with. And there is too much of a commitment for me, since I have very little to offer at this point. I guess I haven't really surrendered it fully...


So here is the proverbial elephant in the room, also known as...


SINGLES vs. MARRIEDS

I hate that face-off, because we really aren't against each other. I have plenty of single friends who drop off the face of the earth occasionally!

Actually, let's try this one instead:

PARENTS vs. NON-PARENTS

Lately I have seen a lot of these sort of "open letters" to non-parents, trying to delicately explain why their friends with children have been so anti-social lately. I don't really like when it starts to sound competitive as to who is busier, has more obligations, etc.

But if we turn to reality, we have to face some truths.

Scenario #1: Girls Night Out

I really miss my girl gang! I wish they would still invite me places. I'm still fun to be around, right? One of my friends invited me over for her birthday recently, just in case. I was like, "Is it in the evening?" Of course it was. "I can't. I have to be home to put David to bed." Which isn't to imply that Andrei couldn't handle bedtime without me. But it just seems like a good rule of thumb, to be home to put a small child in bed, you know?

Scenario #2: Sick Baby Arithmetic

1 cold every 3 months w/ average duration of 2 weeks (including Sundays)=

a) How many sermons do I get to listen to in person per year, granted David may or may not attend Sunday school with adult in tow?
b) How many friends do I get to chat with monthly at Bible study if most people come every other week and I leave halfway through to put David to bed?

Scenario #3: Baby Boom

Pastor: "We have lots of interesting/fun/important events coming up! I hope some of you will show up, more of you than have been lately..."
Church members: "We have spouses...and babies...and work...."

(We're not all young and single and mobile anymore. If you compare our church body with 5 years ago, there have been tons of wedding and babies, considering the small size. And we just can't so the same types of activities we could before.)

The logical solution is to put boring people w/kids together with other people w/kids, right? I'll make a confession...I like to think we are slightly more interesting than the average parents. Okay, it gives us peace of mind to know that the other party will not be shocked by David's table manners. BUT...

NON-PARENTS+PARENTS!

...I like to vary the company I keep. In fact, when I was a single, those friendships were really important. There were a couple young moms that I would visit, and they would feed me and ask me how things were going. I didn't know anything! I would sit there dumbly as the mom bounced her baby and heated up lunch at the same time! (Seriously, babycare+cooking is one of the hardest things to juggle! But having grown-up company is nice). When both parties are relaxed enough to not care about the messy house or how the food tastes, it is a blessed friendship!


BABY STEPS

You may recall my attempts to boil down life into very simple tasks when David was a newborn. One of the things on my personal to-do list was "Write or call 1 person." That was an attempt to keep myself out of isolation. And maybe, to lift my head out of the baby fog. We need to think about others' needs and interests sometimes, not just our own.

Well, nowadays I still don't get out much. And as I'm going to bed, I realize that my phone hasn't rung for 2 days. I still have one faithful friend who calls a few times a week, but truth be told, the connection is always really bad and I can't always understand what she's saying! And my mother-in-law is always reachable by phone, of course. And I exchange texts with a few real people who live in the same city.

I hate phone calls, in general. But when I haven't talked to a real person other than David and Andrei the whole day, I realize that maybe it would be good to go back and make my friends a part of my daily life again. I have a pretty social Internet life, but I don't think that's enough.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

(Non) Wordless Wednesday

Here we are. It's mid-November. (Yikes, I need to wish my brother a happy birthday!)

It is grey gray here. It has been rainy/partly cloudy for something like 3 weeks in a ROW. It's definitely one of the worst Novembers, weather-wise. Every morning I crawl out of bed embarrassingly late (David comes in and dozes with me)...let's say, after 9. I dart over and throw the curtains aside, waiting for the daylight to give me a little boost of energy.

The daylight is not there.

For awhile there I was really going crazy because I couldn't even leave the house. Of course I could have bundled us up and taken David out quickly with the rain cover on the stroller and an umbrella for me just in case. It wasn't always torrential rain. But you never know. So we stayed home day after day.

I looked up my entries from a similar time of year and I found this December one. But the picture there shows a SUNNY day, which we haven't had lately. Nevertheless, that post is a good introduction to the Advent season (another darkness post I like is this one).

I'm not doing the "Thanksgiving" thing (every day in November). I like reading other people's posts and seeing how they are trying to think in that vein each day. But I can't get into it, and it's hard to put the reason into words. Maybe the challenge for me is to figure out not WHAT I'm thankful for but IF I'm thankful. My LIFE was bought at a price, and everything is from Him. I want to BREATHE thankfulness.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When You Don't Want to Go to Church (Part 2)

We all have a few of "those" people in our church that don't have a very good attendance record. There is always a reason. Sickness, travel, work, birthday parties, baseball games, repair guy coming, car trouble, oversleeping, etc. Something always "comes up."

I was a skeptic. If you really want to go to church, you find a way. Sundays are blocked off on the calendar. You set three alarms so you wake up. You take some cough medicine to ward off that tickle in your throat. You sign up for three different committees so you have to be there. 

It worked for me. I don't want to brag or sound too legalistic. I know not everyone has an easy time setting aside a few hours on a Sunday, although I think it gets easier if you just put it on the calendar and make it a habit. But I think that this is an area where there will always be obstacles, and here are a few examples of how my devotion to regular church attendance has been threatened:
  • In college, it was hard to get up on time (surprise, surprise), and I sometimes missed the bus.
  • I would stay up too late on Saturdays (even with good intentions to get homework out of the way) and fall asleep during the sermons.
  • When I starting attending my church in Russia, I would feel like I was going to throw up from nervousness whenever arriving at church or Bible study.
  • Then there were "digestive issues." Those started around the time I joined the worship team. I had this whole route planned out to make a pit stop on the way to church. It doesn't happen now, thankfully. But it was always specifically on Sunday mornings, not on other days of the week.
  • I would get worn out by the end of the week and come down with something on Friday evening, which would be full-blown by Sunday morning.

Blah, blah, blah. I know these sound like typical excuses, but when I look back it's like there were these little mountains to climb over just to get to my church family. And it was worth fighting for.

Then we had a baby and everyone told us we would be occasional visitors just like the other families with children. We were going to prove them wrong. It's like when I became a missionary and was determined not to do the American thing and hit up McDonald's. Traveling across town with a small baby was an epic trek, but we did it. However, with a baby's immune system, you don't just tough out the cold symptoms. You stay at home. So David and I did start to go less regularly due to those factors. 

Then Sundays mornings started being just...stressful. Nothing to wear (couldn't zip up my pants or button my shirt), not enough sleep, David's needs, David's messes (smearing yogurt in my hair right before we had to leave). There were transportation delays like the tram taking a different route, and I hated walking in late. I remembered being on the worship team up front and how distracting latecomers were.

I started resenting the commute for the first time in a long time. What was the point of going all that way only to miss worship and go feed David right after the sermon? I could just listen to the sermon recording at home or find one online. In previous years I had thought the opposite...it was all worth it just to see my friends for a few hours once a week, and to sing with them and soak up some spiritual nourishment. Not anymore.

The final obstacle was just not wanting to go. Tears on Saturday night or Sunday morning or both.

"Sunday is the worst day." I started to believe that and I even said it out loud a few times, even though I knew I shouldn't speak negativity, but I needed Andrei to help me get refocused.

This is always going to be a battle. There will always be obstacles. Now it is a toddler, later it will be his schoolwork. 

But faith is continuing on when you can't see the fruit yet. When you are investing in relationships but don't have the warm fuzzies yet (and for me they take a pretty long time to show up). Going through the motions doesn't always have to be bad. 

So I have to take back my judgment of people. While I haven't seen any good arguments for not NEEDING church, I can see that there are a lot of reasons one might not FEEL LIKE going. I see that half-hearted intentions play a role, as well as genuine obstacles. And of course there are plenty of good ways to spend a Sunday, but I don't know that they will be more rewarding in the long run. I remain firm in my belief that it's important for believing Christians to be a part of a specific local body, and to be gathering together with brothers and sisters as regularly as possible.

But those aren't all my thoughts on this topic...



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wordless Wednesday



So helpful...



When You Don't Want To Go To Church (Part 1)


The problem with infrequent posts is that the more time that goes by, the fewer posts that make it by my personal filters. Lots of them are sitting in draft purgatory, until I get passionate about them enough to keep going and finally hit "publish."

Here's a topic that comes up every once in a while. See what you think.




Sunday morning church-going is a habit that was instilled in me as a child. I realize it may be partly a cultural thing, but I view it as a key part of being able to hold onto my faith (while God held onto me). No, I don't always feel spiritually-engaged, but it's a discipline, just like reading your Bible (which I'm worse at)-you just keep doing it and trust that it is taking root and will eventually bear fruit.

There are people who go to church and don't believe, but this post isn't about them. This post is about people who believe, but don't go to church. I find this a quite perplexing problem. To me, a person who has found God will inevitably be drawn to fellowship. This begs the question: does it have to be a specific body of people that meets regularly?

Andrei and I role-played a bit about this, after discussing an article about Christian "free-lancers." These are people who freelance not as a job but as a church member. They visit 2 or more churches, having friendly relations with people in each. They hang out with believing friends during the week and attend various church events. They might participate in an occasional service event. And they consider this flitting about a perfectly legitimate form of fellowship. (note: I haven't read "Stop Dating the Church" by Josh Harris, but I'm thinking maybe it hits on this?)

Well, I thought it was ridiculous. Okay, inter-church fellowship is great, but if you are not in any one church for less than 50% of the month, are you really committed? Can you really have meaningful relationships in that situation? Are you really participating in the life of the Body? And what about accountability? 

But my main point was that people who can't commit to one church probably have some other reason. I think there is some hurt or fear or resentment beneath the surface. But I can't prove it. So I guess Andrei won the role-play. I can't prove that people can't be content without Christ, either. It's not a logical argument sort of thing.

Revisiting the church attendance thing, though. What keeps you from going to your main church on a Sunday morning?

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Comic Relief (Wordless Wednesday)



Our Montessori Corners

Some of the mommy parenting forums I've been on mention Montessori set-ups at home. For example, I ran across the idea that a child's room should have everything at the child's eye level. I have to say that a part of me is skeptical. I don't see myself running out and buying/making a child-sized version of everything for David. However, I do have a few ideas for him in mind. And it sure is fun to set something up and see him enjoying it later.

Part of the reason I DON'T want to go overboard is that you can't always predict what a child will find interesting. He doesn't want plastic car keys-he wants yours. He doesn't want a toy house, he wants a cardboard box.

David has gotten to this phase where he likes lounging around on pillows or just the floor. So I decided to pile all the extra blankets and pillows together to make him a reading corner. (sorry, potential houseguests)

So here are A) the reading corner and B) where he actually likes to hang out.

B) The reading corner



B) Under the desk is much more cozy?

I also had the idea to make him a cozy place to hang out in our bedroom while I'm doing things like putting laundry again. Here again are my attempt and his own choice:



A) Curl up under here, David!

B) David thinks behind the curtains is best for playing peekaboo

And finally, David needs a place in our home office when Daddy and/or Mommy is working on something. We even got him his own little hideout, hoping to distract him from his favorite precarious perch, on the ledge under Daddy's desk. But he still likes to play at Daddy's feet.

A) Specially for you, David!

B) Even a roadblock won't keep him from his favorite spot




Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Russian "troubleshooting"

Too many late nights, so I won't write a lot today. This will be a photo post. I am trying to start carrying my camera around again.

Our entranceway could belong to almost any building in this city. This article sums it up well. Our particular building layout features a heavy door, followed by another doorway, followed by half of a flight of stairs. The first landing has the first 4 apartments, with an information display on the wall, then the single tiny elevator, and another 1/2 of a flight of stairs up to the mailboxes. After that it continues with the double flights of stairs. The apartments/elevator landings alternate with landings that have openings for the garbage chute.

Getting back to that entrance...notice that it's not handicapped-accessible. Very few buildings are! Yet the custom for any family with a baby is to take the child out in a huge stroller for at least 2-3 hours a day! Do you think a little staircase is going to stop them? Judging from the view from my kitchen window, those mothers (and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers) have figured out how to navigate the elevators and stairs and heavy doors pretty well.

So how did we do it? Well, we didn't! Poor David only got "walked" when his grandmother was over or when his mother and father were really on top of their game and his father helped everyone get outside. I think I got to the point where I could make it down the stairs, but not back up. Forget going to any stores-same situation with the stairs, and the aisles aren't really big enough anyway. Now we have a lighter stroller and I can handle it.

Then this contraption appeared recently in our entranceway. A ramp that stows away. It lies flat against the wall and when you need it, you slide the lock to release so that it will lie on top of the stairs. I haven't tried it yet though as it might not be the right width for the stroller. It takes me about 30 seconds to hoist the stroller up the stairs on its back wheels. Not sure if setting up the ramp would really save any time. Still...every once in a while there are these flashes of practicality. I wish it would happen just a little more often!

Home, Sweet Home


Oops, I wrote a post after all.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Diastasis Recti update: Belly splinting

Post-Partum "Pooch" Progress

When we were in the U.S. over the summer, I wanted to check with my doctor about the belly splints recommended by diastatis recti rehab programs, to see if I was eligible. It isn't something a U.S. doctor had ever recommended to me, although my Russian doctor had and I didn't listen.

At my appointment (at a new practice), the doctor said, "it won't close any further without surgery." That was it. No splinting, no rehab, just major a little abdominal surgery.

So I didn't get a splint.

Back in Russia, I continued to work on Fit2b's tummy-safe exercises, focused on my core. But I didn't really feel a difference. Couldn't even really feel my muscles working, belly or not.

I was frustrated and didn't want to leave the house tired of looking pregnant and none of my clothes fitting. Andrei brought up the splint thing again, and on my way home from Immigration one day, I stopped off at the maternity shop. They had a whopping two options, post-operational/C-section aimed, but I bought them both. I put them on under my clothes and basked in the slimmer profile.

The thing about splints is that there are different types used for different purposes. Just like with the exercises, the equipment also has to be specifically appropriate for diastasis recti. But I was told that "something is better than nothing," so I wore the splints I had bought, just being sure not to compress my stomach too tightly.

Then I sort of got into a rut where I wasn't doing the exercises at all regularly, but tried to wear the splint as often as possible and do my core breaths. When I would take the splint off, out would pop the 5-month pregnant-looking bulge. Back to reality.

The other day I was doing my core breaths in front of a mirror when I realized I could suck my stomach in all the way! Way different compared to in the beginning when my "engaged" position still showed a pretty big bump out in front. I also am almost back to having a belly button at this point.

So I think it's safe to say that splinting is a huge help! My stomach has definitely gone down, though it still looks, well, like I had a baby.


Note: This is not a sponsored post. I just haven't found a lot of other sources on the Internet, so I often reference the same one. :) And I really do recommend it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Friends and Families

I have been looking forward to writing this post, because it regards an inspiring story belonging to friends, and is also very relevant to my own story.

Introduction

When I was a child, our family attended (and sometimes hosted) reunions of a few housechurches that my parents had been involved in, mostly before I was born. When you are a child, you are often missing a lot of information. And I didn't really know why we were gathering, how these people had met, and what their individual stories were.

Several of the families had adopted at least one child. Here, again, I didn't fully understand certain issues: adoption, abortion, orphanages, foster care, fertility/infertility, etc.

I remember noticing different colors of skin, different eye structures, as well as some physical limitations. Do we need to mention these things out loud? Grown-ups don't always talk about them in plain language. Of one boy, I finally asked what was "wrong" with him. It turned out he had Asperger's.

Meanwhile, one particular family consisted of Hector and Sue Badeau and their children, and they lived in another state, but we saw them once a year or so. They had a lot of kids! They all looked pretty different, so they were probably adopted, but where did they all come from? How did they all live together? I think when you see a family that big and don't know them personally, it just seems like a crowd. Like that family on TV, the Duggars. How do they keep them all straight?

Well, Sue and Hector answer that question in their book that came out recently. The full title is: "Are We There Yet? The Ultimate Road Trip: Adopting and Raising 22 Kids!" Sue had shared some of it with me back when I was trying to help match some Russian kids up with local families here. But the book gives even more backstory, including from the housechurch days that involved my parents and some other friends from growing up.

I was fascinated to read the stories of each individual child, including all the family dynamics.

Here are a few thoughts that stood out to me. I hope the authors will forgive me for not using page number for now as I'm using Cloud Reader!

1) Adoption always starts with a tragedy. This is what I was thinking about when I read the part where another adoptive mom tells Sue, "Never forget, Sue, your joy as a mom to Jose is built on the ashes of another mother's grief." I remember going to a Russian summer camp with a missions team, and the director telling us, "The orphanage groups have several new kids. If they're new to the orphanage, that means they have some fresh trauma." It's something that is a part of someone's past that we can forget because we're so eager to help them start new lives.

2) God's calling. While praying about adoption decisions, Sue and Hector felt led to focus on children who were "most in need of a home and least likely to get one." I find in my own life that the paradox of God's will is that it feels extraordinary and natural at the same time. I think it's incredible that I ended up in Russia, but at the same time it feels just right. When I think of the 20+ children that Sue and Hector have raised, it is difficult to even fathom, and yet when I read their story, I realize that they are just "ordinary" people who wanted to obey God. Am I His vessel too, ready to be used?

3) Siblings! One of the more specific areas of advocacy that touched me was Sue and Hector's insistence on keeping siblings together. I forget exactly how many sibling groups they adopted, but it often took special efforts. I will never forget the story of Adam, a terminally ill child, and his brother Aaron, who was initially kept in a different family. Apparently, Adam was deemed "too disabled" to even know he had a brother.

"Adam almost never smiles. He’s not generally a pleasant child. He doesn’t snuggle or even like to be hugged. He frequently flinches when someone approaches him to wash him up, change him, feed him, or even give him a hug. His body is often stiff, and his movements are sharp and flailing. He makes some sounds, but unlike Wayne and Dylan, who delight us with their peals of laughter and funny noises, Adam’s verbal utterances tend to be cries or moans more often than contented sounds..."

And then, the reunion of the brothers...

"As soon as the bus attendant lowers the lift and Adam’s wheelchair hits the pavement, Aaron runs up to him and gives him a big hug. “Tubby!” Aaron says gleefully. And then the most wonderful thing happens—Adam’s face lights up into the biggest smile we’ve ever seen."

This sibling issue is something I would love to see fought for in Russia, too. Siblings are often split up among orphanages here. I know part of it has to do with them needing to attend certain schools, but it's sad that they can't have unlimited access to their only family members. I even have mixed feelings about this when the siblings are in the same orphanage, yet on different floors, for example. 

I still haven't quite figured out how this whole advocacy thing works in Russia. I feel like American society is more rewarding towards people who are gung-ho enough about their cause to break down every door until they see results. Resilience is a necessary trait in Russia, too. But there is a different set of etiquette, a different social hierarchy, and a different way to challenge unsatisfactory decisions. Most of it is still over my head. 

So for now I have to trust the Holy Spirit, our Advocate on high.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Adoption Again

Feeling iffy about posting this, but I guess I'll go for it!

I had wondered what my views on adoption would be like after becoming a mother. What do I think of it now, having stepped back a bit, and yet, having gained insight into the parent-child relationship?

I've realized now that part of the answer lies in this post, where I talk about people rejoicing over each other's engagement and baby news. The thing is that everyone knows that marriage and parenting are challenging, yet they STILL are genuinely thrilled for other people to enter the journey. Some have hands-on knowledge and others are still waiting for their turn to come, but not lacking in insight.

So many people can vouch for the joys of marriage and raising a child (or two). If they don't share about the rough patches, it's not that they're being dishonest or insincere. It's just that the trials are worth it, a part of God's design.

There is something of a loss of innocence that comes about once you've come over to this side. Having a "soul-mate." Being responsible for a little person's life. I'm not sure if I can put it into words, but there's no going back to your former state. You become vulnerable in new ways. Your heart is divided in a certain sense. There is pain in loving deeply.

And that's how I feel about adoption. I've seen some of its darker sides. I've felt the sting of disappointment in dealing with the policy/bureaucracy side as well as the relational side. I've seen adopted children and their families struggle to start their new life together. I have siblings who are adopted. I cannot paint a pristine picture. And yet, I weep for those left behind.

So why would I weep for those left behind, if adoption brings such turmoil? It's because I still think children (of all ages) need a permanent home. It's because I still believe that adoption in a relational and legal sense is the best option for orphans and the one that fits into God's design. When we say our marriage vows, we know we will have conflicts with our spouse in the future. We can prepare all we want, but no one can tell us exactly how it's going to be. No one has seen this exact combination of personalities put together, and no one can read the hearts of all involved except for the Lord.

I am an adoption advocate. Whenever I meet an orphan, I desire with all my heart for that child to find a family. However, I cannot recommend adoption to just anyone. I cannot recommend it enough, but at the same time I cannot recommend it without certain caveats. I'm not sure if I expressed this the way I intended, but in the next week or two I'll be sharing some more specific examples.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back to normal life again

This most recent bout with bureaucracy wasn't as frenzied. However, we did have a few snafus which almost created a last-minute mad dash. But not quite.

What happened was that we were running around to different places and got the schedules wrong on at 3 occasions. And by "we" I mean mostly "me."

RECAP

First, to District A to get Stamp #1: Approval. In order to claim this elusive reward, it's necessary to get in line on a Tuesday to get on the list for Thursday. Unfortunately, we I had the Tuesday hours wrong (I found the information as I was heading out the door, too late). Which meant we didn't get on the list for Thursday, which meant waiting until the next week. Which brought us one week closer to my previous registration running out, but I still had 2-3 weeks left, which is GOBS of time compared to other times when I've been a day or two shy of being deported.

Attempt #2, a week later, was successful. The Tuesday part, at least. But while she was signing me up for Thursday, she gave me a packet of documents. WHAT? Had I known, I could have been working on them last week, for goodness' sake.

Now, here was the catch: My 3-yr registration in my friends' flat was expiring. Andrei and I own our flat, but have been told that our "district" is the worst in the city/region as far as number of people and lines at the Immigration Office. Switching districts could mean waiting in line for hours at TWO different offices. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Know what I'm saying? I'd been down that road before with my last name.

Since registration must be completed within a week, I had 2 days (until Thursday) + 7 days to figure out what I was doing and how.


ONE QUESTION ANSWERED

When I hinted to my friends about renewing my registration, they said it probably wouldn't be possible since there had been 2 babies born (to different siblings) in the past 3 years, also registered in the flat and bringing the number of people per living space up above the quota.

So it looked like I would need to be registered in our flat, or at Andrei's parents'. Since they're in our district, it would be the same packet of documents either way.

I began to feel that it was God's provision that I was "forced" to register in our district, though there were still several hurdles in our way...


THOSE FORMIDABLE FORMS!

One ubiquitous form here is "Form 9." It can be obtained at the housing office, but there are SO MANY of these various offices around the city, called by identical long names differing only by number. I looked up the information and it looked like the office was only open Thursdays and Mondays (for 2 hours each), and Thursday was already booked because of our visit to Immigration. If I got the form on Monday, then I'd only have 2 business days left (the subsequent Tuesday and Thursday) to hand everything in.

That was as far as I got with my research...


DISTRICT 1 AGAIN

We decided to attack the problem from all sides, and on Thursday we got in not one line but TWO. The first line was actually only hypothetical since they were going to call us by name. And the second line was for the registration officer so we could ask her all about the process. Andrei got me on the list in the morning, then went to work. I got up with David, then Nina came to stay with him while I went to resume my place in line. For the first two hours the other line-holders and I kept watch while people slowly went in and out of the little room visiting the registration officer. Then the other inspector started calling people. So I might be called by both at once! Thankfully I was able to have my turn with the registration officer and ask her my questions before the other inspector called me to get my stamp.

After getting my stamp, the inspector reminded me to register within 7 days. "And if you're having trouble getting everything together, you can always just register temporarily," she said rather off-handedly. Say WHAT?


TWO PATHS

"Temporary registration" is what David and other visa-holders have. It seemed silly to have permanent residency without the registration to match. On the other hand, Vladimir had registered David successfully several times in our district, without waiting in line for TOO long. So evidently it was possible, and I wouldn't be left without registration.

On the other hand, if I was going to do the long-term registration at SOME point, wouldn't it make more sense to get the nervous-wreck part over as soon as possible?

So I continued to work on the forms.


RECONNOITERING

On Friday, David and I went to check out the housing office to confirm the hours and see where it was. The sign did indeed say only Thursdays and Mondays. When Andrei called on his way home from work, I told him about the trip and our notes seem to match up what he described from getting the form last year.

Later, we managed to intercept his parents who were also planning on heading our way to check out the housing office. The plan was in place for Monday to go get the form. Andrei only had a 2-3 hour break between his morning and evening classes in the event that I needed him (as the second property owner). But it looked like it was going to work out. We had the temporary registration option as a back-up.


FORM 9

Nina came over on Monday and we went over to the housing office together, though she and David stayed outside to avoid the multiple flights of stairs. I was there a little early, but I asked a woman in the hallway if I had the right day. "Wrong building," she told me. It turns out I'd been wrong all along! But the right building was next door.

In the right building, it was the typical Russian "live line" which means you have to discuss with everyone who is last and each subsequent person also confirms who is last as he enters the room so he knows whom to keep track of.

So there were tons of people, but it all moved pretty quickly and getting the form took about 30 seconds, whew. I had told Andrei to head over, but then called and told him to go home for lunch instead.


YOUNG EMPLOYEES

Next stop: the bank, to pay the government fee. In the past they used to know what I was talking about and give me the proper form or just use the code on their computer and print it out on the receipt.

Well, this was a new low.

"I'm here to pay the registration fee for Immigration."

"What's the code?"

I was completely stunned by the fact that countless people come in to pay this fee and the bank didn't have the information to make the transaction. She told me to go home and look it up on their site. I didn't understand why she couldn't actually use the fancy-looking computer on her desk to look up the site. Then I asked..."So, you don't have it in the database?"

"Oh, we have it in the database." Huh???

She told me to go over and get the "consultant" to help me make an electronic transaction. I still wasn't understanding why this paid employee couldn't look something up for me.

The consultant "helped" me navigate a stubborn touchscreen menu at the electronic terminal. It took a lot of guesswork to try to find the option I wanted, and even as it printed, I wasn't sure it was exactly what I needed. But since it was electronic, there was no way to override the system and write the receipt the correct way. Grumble...


REVELATION

Monday, 11 pm or so. We're all set to get on the list Tuesday morning and then they take people from 2-8 pm. I'm still filling out forms and have discovered that my copier is running out of ink, so we'll have to stop by somewhere tomorrow.

I decide to double-check the schedule.

"They're open Tuesday MORNING, not afternoon!" How could I have mixed that up? Well, seeing as how they work in the morning 2 days a week and in the afternoon 2 days, it's easy to get confused, but....arrgh!

My forms aren't even filled out. We'll have no time to stop at a copy center. Andrei was at work all day and is falling asleep at his computer. But he takes my documents and scans them for his parents to print out and bring to me.

At first glance, I had wondered why my first time filling out the forms 3 years ago had resulted in staying up until 4 a.m. But now it is becoming clearer.

This time, I finish them by 3...


REGISTRATION DAY

Andrei and I are up at 7 to leave by 8 to get there by 9 for opening. I'm stressing that there will be a huge line by the time we get there. I'm also shaky from lack of sleep and feel too yucky to eat breakfast.

There are 2-3 lists already going, and we put my name on two of them. It turns out that all the different processes are divided differently than in the other district. That only makes it more confusing!

At first, we're fourth in one line, which seems too good to be true. Sure enough, it turns out this is the line for temporary registration. So if we'd chosen that option, we would have been done in a matter of minutes. It's good to know for the future. Long-term registration is a different window at a different time, for two hours before lunch and one hour after. Not too long considering people might have piles of documents. It was all one line in the other district office.

The line is moving steadily enough. The first hour goes by and now we have one hour until the break. It would be so nice to be out of here by then. That's probably what everyone in line is thinking. I pace and check my forms over and over again. I shuffle the papers, putting them in order. I check the list. I notice one photocopy missing. Andrei runs to go make a copy. Whew.

The suspense is prolonged as a few people step in right as my turn comes up. They need a blank form, they need to ask a question, etc.

I make it up to the window and she starts checking everything, not seeming bothered by my transferring from another district. She seems pleasant enough. I don't know these inspectors yet. She asks where my "photos" are and I respond they I don't have any; they weren't on my checklist. She shrugs and moves on. Piece of cake.

I'm told to come back September 30th for the Final Stamp. I'm almost there.

It is SUCH a relief to have taken this step. And it feels right to have transferred to our district. I think people were wrong that our district is "the worst," though I'm glad to have handed in my initial application elsewhere. A great load has been lifted off our shoulders. Thanks be to God!


Sunday, September 15, 2013

This and That


My residency booklet

"No press, please!"

It's fall. Bet you can guess what this post is about!

I went in to claim my permanent residency this week, and boy was it anticlimactic. I am feeling sort of too lazy to give a play-by-play (maybe I will later), but one of the more frustrating parts was when I was signing up to come in and collect my actual permit, and then the inspector handed me a packet of documents to be filled out for me to get registered (within a week). Say WHAT? If I'd known, I could have gotten a head-start. WHERE IS THE PRACTICALITY?

I guess I just thought I could keep my registration from my temporary residency. Of course I do realize I was registered for 3 years and the 3 years are coming to a close. But redoing it all just seems so symbolic and pointless that I have trouble working it out logically in my mind.

To put it in perspective a bit, I guess it's sort of like being required to have a permanent mailing address. It's called your place of residence, but it's sort of implied that you probably don't actually live there. Now, imagine you moved and didn't inform somebody or other of your new address, and then you got in big trouble. Or imagine you didn't have time to do it right then and put it off for a month or two. Not going to cut it here in Russia-foreigners have to be registered within 7 days. But since the address doesn't necessarily have to be a building you ever set foot in...I don't know, it just seems silly.

So I've been stressing somewhat about the usual combo of filling out incredibly annoying forms with too little space for the amount of text, and standing in lines miles long where fights are known to break out. I don't have to do it myself, though. Andrei usually helps, while Nina is with David and Vladimir does some research into the problem.

I'm plugging away at those forms (read: whining about them without really making any progress), and clinging to a sense of calm from the Lord's goodness. The last time I did this was SO anxiety-producing and detrimental to my physical and emotional and mental health. I even have trouble going back and reading about it, 3 years later.

In lieu of attending a church picnic, we stayed home today to unwind a bit. David slept until almost 10 a.m. and that was quite a gift.

I can't wait to have this next step over with. There are so many other things I want to focus on. I'm even starting to think about Christmas!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Journey with Diastasis Recti

Introduction: After spending a lot of time thoughtfully typing out this post, I peeked back at an older post, only to find that I'd already written almost the exact same description, ha ha! In lieu of deleting most of the following story, I think I'll leave it as is. I want this particular experience to have its own tribute. So there you have it. Sorry to my more observant readers for the repetition! ;)

Post-partum Bellies

I was "all baby" when I was pregnant. And I figured it would just melt right off. Well, I think it would have if it weren't for a problem which I hadn't foreseen.

It can be hard to gain explicit information on the post-partum body. To be fair, there is so much variation that it's difficult to pin down a common path of healing. However, there are plenty of conditions that are more common than we're led to think. And why are we not told, or at least checked for them? We need more information than to look for a fever, excessive bleeding, or to just "give it time."

The thing is, that "common" isn't the same thing as "normal." What about looking for remedies, rather than just accepting certain aches and pains as your fate? It seems that a lot of post-partum issues are presented as inevitable or just common battle wounds that go with the territory; "accept your new body and move on." I am thankful that I live in an age where I can ask questions and get information on the Internet without needing to be embarrassed.


Diagnosis

Several months after David was born, I started Googling things like "baby bump not pregnant" and "stomach sticks out post-partum." Of course a lot of the initial results talked about "Mommy Tummy," and having a "pooch" that you try to eliminate by doing intensive workouts and LOTS of crunches. In other words, Welcome to the Club.

Not that I was eager to take up fitness in the first place, but even with the added incentive of wanting to look my best, something just told me my body was broken. And when that's the case, you don't want to work it harder. I didn't want to abuse my poor body until I knew what was going on.

At the moment, it's hard to find those original search results thanks to Royal Baby publicity. ;) But I eventually found a condition that perfectly matched what was going on: a separation of the abdominal muscles, as opposed to just extra flab. It's called diastasis recti.

I did go to a doctor to have this diagnosis confirmed. Guess how the doctor did it? She had me lie on my back and lift my head up a little. BINGO! Funny alien ridge in tummy.

That was 13 months post-partum.


Prognosis

"It will never close without an operation." Sounds harsh, right? But if we back up a few months, I'd had plenty of time to investigate on my own while I was waiting for my appointment. In fact, what the doctor said may as well have been scripted-I'd heard that medical professionals will mostly recommend the surgery and nothing else.

In her assessment, there was nothing that could be done. The flipside to that is the intense ab workouts you see advertised, guaranteeing a flat stomach. I really wasn't into that, and once I'd read up on diastasis recti, I realized that those could make the problem worse.

But I wanted to get better, and I was encouraged when I stumbled upon a handful of resources that offered healing via gentle exercise, as well as testimonials of women who had seen improvement even YEARS after having babies.

Fit2B Studios is where I first ran across the idea of "tummy-safe" exercises. You pay a membership fee to access the workouts, but there is lots of information on there too. I'm able to memorize the basics of the workouts, to use throughout the day whenever I get a chance. And even when I don't necessarily use the videos a lot, I don't regret supporting this cause.

Other than specific exercise routines, I found a community of other diastasis recti sufferers, both on Fit2B and on other women's blogs. It's one of those things where the problem is common enough that a LOT of people have it (though may not know it), but not common enough that your closest friends and family would be aware. This has happened to me with a lot of women's issues, actually. What's a bicornuate uterus? What's an umbilical cord cyst? What's granulation tissue? What is diastasis recti? Again, I'm thankful to be able to check this out in a larger community via the Internet.

After my official diagnosis, I also paid a visit to a physical therapist. I told her that I was concerned with closing my diastasis and working on my core strength. She did an assessment and confirmed that my hips are really weak (chronic). While she didn't talk much about my abdomen, she did make sure that any of the moves she showed me were "tummy-safe." In fact, she was impressed with how I had already learned how to safely get up from a lying-down position. That's thanks to the diastasis recti material I'd read online. So she didn't solve my problem, but she helped me work on other underlying issues, and hopefully that will contribute to a healthier me (if I can remember to do the exercises!).

So, my treatment plan went/is going like this:

-Internet research
-Diagnosis by a medical professional
-Support from an online community
-Assessment by a physical therapist
-Exercises appropriate for the situation

And of course, those of my real-life friends and family who know about this have offered prayers and supported me in looking for help.

This post is getting too long, but I just wanted to say that I've become interested in raising awareness of diastasis recti. So if you are anyone you know seems to be suffering from this condition, I'd be happy to recommend some resources. :) And of course I'm interested in any ideas you'd have to share, as well!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

12 months and beyond

David is growing in leaps and bounds. I know that probably sounds cliche as they change so much day-to-day. But he really is transitioning in major ways. One thing is that he is more "teachable" in that we can show him how to do certain things (intentionally or not) and he repeats them. He's waving, "snapping" his fingers, and using certain tools. He takes laundry out of the washing machine and puts it back in. He takes lids off containers and tries to put them back on. He takes his socks off and mimics fastening and unfastening velcro straps. Etc., etc...

Though not walking around freely yet like some of his peers, David is a VERY interactive child. He is always aware if someone new has entered the room and he "yells" at him/her until he gets a greeting. When he is proud of himself, he looks around and makes eye contact with EACH person to make sure everyone is looking and praising. He adores having little "conversations" with people even if it's just a game of peekaboo.

So here's the challenge...David is at an age now where I take him OUT of the stroller when we go on walks.

That might mean more dirty clothes for us, but it ALSO means more social interaction. And as a bilingual parent, I feel a little awkward. In Russia, my language is less dominant. So I feel a little funny speaking it in public. And yet, I don't want David to feel that one of his languages is something to be ashamed of.

The neighbors on our street in Massachusetts this summer had a French-speaking nanny. We could hear her speaking French to them from across the street. Maybe I could create a cool nanny image for myself?

I just get into those situations where it's more necessary to be verbal, and that means speaking Russian. So do I:  A) Speak Russia with the other people and English with David, B) Speak Russian with other people and switch to Russian with David when in public, or C) Just keep a low profile and improvise depending on the situation?

Even the SOUNDS of childhood are different. The "oops," "boing," "whee," "vroom." Those sound different in another language! And they might sound funny to onlookers (but hopefully not obscene).

On a Russian playground, there is a lot of instructing going on. It's constant commentary from the mothers (and grandmothers and even fathers) accompanying their charges. Here is how you go up the ladder, here is how you go down the slide, here is how you share your toys, here is how you brush your clothes off if you fall. It is great for language learning, I'm sure. But to be honest, I also get a little overstimulated being privy to all that information.

I park David near the slide to watch how a little girl goes down. Her mother sees a teaching opportunity and brings her over, saying gently, "There's a BOY. See the BOY? Say HELLO to the boy. Are you being shy? What's the matter? Go on."  The little girl manages a little grin and giggle and David offers a jerky wave in their direction after their backs are already turned and they're walking away. I didn't tell David to say hello to them. I didn't know what language to use.

David will learn the Russian well enough. He's got a Russian father and grandparents. For English language purposes, we may need to find ourselves a playgroup. And he'll learn his second language, too. It's just figuring out the mixed situations that's a little tricky.

I've linked to a few bilingual blogs in my sidebar. I guess I'll take a look and see if any of them address this.




Friday, August 30, 2013

New Beginnings (5 a.m. musings)

As I lie in bed unable to sleep, I scroll through the faces of everyone that we saw this summer, to set them in my memory. Sometimes we sleep 3 (2 1/2?) to a bed here at a certain someone's request, and one or more of us may be snoring. We didn't get to see all of them-all of you-this summer. And a few encounters were quite brief, maybe from across a room. But I still think of you.

I know we've been away a long time because I have forgotten where we keep things. I had to scramble around looking for bedding on our first night back. My wardrobe seems to be filled with summer clothes-only, and David's are all too small. I am excited to do some home improvement projects, though I don't know when exactly it will work out. I have a whole new blueprint for the kitchen...in my head. ;)

There are things I want to do with David this year that I couldn't last year, because I was in a different place emotionally and physically. I want to go on walks with him more regularly, explore the world together. I want to teach him that bathtime can be fun. I want to start reading to him more.

Maybe the time has come for me to do some "extracurricular" activities again. But then again, maybe not. There's the question of "can or can't," the question of "want or don't want," and...other questions. Andrei's work situation is a little bit vague, too. Some knowns, some unknowns. Some negative changes, some positive, and others still to come. We are hopeful, always. Though we (I) don't always practice it.

I think I like this year, in general.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

A "Christian" wedding reception

How does one go about planning a wedding celebration among church-goers? Should there be alcohol or not? What about dancing? If dancing is to be included, then what kind of music should be allowed? If there won't be dancing, then how should the guests be entertained? And do they need entertainment?

While pondering this question, Andrei and I thought about some types of weddings that we weren't particularly excited about (though we understand elements of them can be fun for other people).

-Typical Russian: lots of entertainment, with skits (depicting how the couple met, etc.), drinking, dancing, stealing the bride, having a fight, and other merry-making.

-Russian Protestant Christian version: Games are kept g-rated: tug of war, jousting with balloons, Bible trivia, giggles about what the offspring will look like or how they will divide chores.

"I'm looking for a volunteer": words that strike fear in the hearts of many mild-mannered wedding guests. Will they be dragged away to don costumes or ad-lib on stage?

We decided to go with the assumption that people just want to be left in peace to enjoy their meals or (gasp!) actually exchange a few words with tablemates.

And so, we put in a request to our friends for musical contributions. We asked a trusted friend to be the emcee.  My mom created some unique favors, sets of playing cards with our childhood photos on one side. And as a compromise, we burned a CD with a playlist of dance music, just in case the opportunity arose.

As it turned out, Andrei and I were teary-eyed with emotion for much of the reception. Our friends and relatives had prepared a whole concert. They had picked out each song with love. Other friends and relatives made speeches. Our plan to let people eat in "peace" backfired...the food was delicious, but how could we sit there munching while being serenaded by friends? Our plates kept getting cleared before we'd had more than a few bites. When it was time to cut the cake, I got ONE bite before something else happened.

We nixed the dancing and went with the final song. Through some oversight/misunderstanding, the leftovers didn't get sent home. Not even the cake...sigh.

BUT, we arrived home to find everything taken care of. Some friends had taken our millions of bouquets and put many of them in water-in the bathtub, buckets of water, anything they could find. Our gifts had already been delivered to our apartment, too. It was done with such thoughtfulness.

Not a bad start to life together...










Wednesday, August 14, 2013

More entertaining

When I published the last post, I felt something nagging me.

I realized that it was the part where I divided people (potential objects of hospitality) into "brothers and sisters" and "strangers."

The problem is that for many people these groups may BOTH be made up of strangers. Are you close to people in your church, or do you find it hard to get to know people? Maybe the potential is there, but you've recently joined a new church.

I found myself going back to the passage and wondering about the context. How well did the people in that particular church know each other? And if Paul says "keep on loving each other," does that mean they're already good at it, or just that it's to be a continuous goal?

I guess we're not really off the hook here, because it doesn't say to love other Christians once we've gotten to know them and decide we like them, it just says to keep on loving them.

As for the strangers, is it safe to say that they are people whom we believe to not share our beliefs? After all, if we thought they were believers, we would welcome them as "brothers and sisters."

So, to edit my last post, it isn't really about showing hospitality to friends vs. strangers. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that we are called to love those we are in Christian community with (buddies or not), along with new acquaintances whom we suspect to belong to other religions.

Is that better?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Entertaining thoughts

"Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers..." -Hebrews 13:1, 2a

A really elementary observation of this passage that our pastor pointed out today is that we are called to love 1) our brothers and sisters in Christ (philadelphia) AND 2) people we don't know (philoxenia). So we have a constant calling to care for our close friends and care for people who don't mean anything to us yet, at the same time. I think this is a good summary of the challenge to managing our social lives.

Whom do I personally prefer to spend time with? I think it's typical for people to feel comfortable with those they already know, rather than expending energy on getting to know new ones.

But to say entertaining one group or the other is easier or harder oversimplifies human relationships. Close friends, relatives, and especially fellow church-goers may be downright difficult to please at times!

In addition, our family has been discussing lately how we tend to find examples of kindness, thankfulness, and generosity in people who are not particularly religious. It might be a neighbor with impeccable manners, or a colleague with a heart for the homeless. Why do they seem to get it "right" without attending church and hearing these sermons?

What are our excuses? As Christians, we may try to overspiritualize simple good deeds, either by waiting for a "worthy" opportunity or in not wanting to offer praise to men lest we appear to be make idols out of them. In holding back, we may miss the opportunity to bless someone; to speak good things into their lives.

When I've had a sleepless night, the hardest part of the morning after is actually emerging from the covers and getting my feet to hit the floor so that I can start my day. After that, I may face a challenging day because of being tired, but by far the hardest part is actually waking up.

I think it is like that with hospitality sometimes. It is a lot of work to prepare for and entertain guests. Whether or not they are hard people to be around, there is always the cooking and cleaning and just setting aside our precious time. I think that for me the most challenging part is right before they arrive, with my stomach tied in knots just waiting for the doorbell to ring. But as soon as we are conversing, the blessings pour down.

We need to go back to serving a meal to people while not neglecting spiritual food. This is something my parents try to do on a regular basis. But identifying this as our calling is only half the battle. So many people around us are brothers or strangers. How do we know where to start?

I guess that brings me to my cozy bed and the breaking dawn. I just need to throw the covers off, grab my robe, and put my feet on the floor. But I'm not sure exactly what that means! What do I need in order to wake up? It is something to think about...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rejoicing and coping

I'm always amazed when I'm at a doctor's appointment or filling out paperwork related to David and someone congratulates me. For example, being at the dentist and the ladies saying "Awww, you have  a 13-month old?" Or when we went to the ENT last year to have David's tongue tie clipped and the surgeon said "Congratulations, you guys!" We were there to fix a minor medical problem and what she saw was a near-perfect newborn baby. That was her perspective.

In the middle of the most mundane (or even distressing) moments, people remind me that I have a CHILD. When we have to spend days or months renewing visas, we don't always remember that...oh yeah, there's a reason for all this...and he's pretty adorable! When I'm boarding a plane with the little rascal noisemaker cutie, I might have a pretty tiring journey ahead of me, but look at all those smiling faces admiring his chubby cheeks and toothy grin.

That is one perspective: in the midst of all the messy details, there is a child who brings joy.

But unfortunately, there are hardships that need attention, and that are lost in the light of giving attention to that child.

People may look at David and see a sweet baby. I love babies, too. But when I look at other mothers now, there are a lot of other questions running through my head.

If it's a newborn, I may wonder how her labor was. 

If the baby has teeth, I wonder if he/she has bitten Mommy yet. 

Did the mother get all of them dressed and looking like that by herself, or did she have help? Does she have stretchmarks under those cute clothes?

I guess my point is that at 13 months post-partum, I still feel post-partum. And I project that onto other mothers, too.  Even though David is going to be a toddler soon, I feel like I am still getting used to having him around. If the first several months were survival mode, then now is the time when I'm able to stop focusing on survival so much and able to add some more normal tasks back into my routine...with him in tow. I am able to enjoy it, too.
 
It's always good to focus on the blessings in life, especially when people can offer each other a positive perspective. But I think it's also important to remember that people who have experienced major changes in the past year or couple of years (love, loss, childbirth, adopting or being adopted, miscarriage, illness, moving, job changes, etc.) might still be learning how to cope. There is more going on than what's on the surface!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ex-pat Life

We were going through Immigration/Customs control in Boston, and I had written "U.S.A." as my place of residence. But after interviewing us, the Customs officer said, "okay, just cross that out and write Russia next to it." Gulp.

I know I live in Russia, but I'm not Russian. And they'll never give me citizenship. I don't know if Andrei will ever get U.S. citizenship. I always write U.S.A. as my permanent address. I'm supposed to be granted permanent residency in Russia in the fall, but I still want the U.S. address. I know it's probably weird for Andrei and me to have different addresses, though.

I think part of it is always feeling like a second-class citizen in Russia. I feel like a real person with rights in the U.S., even while living/working abroad.

BUT...even that has its limitations. It gets sort of complicated with things like healthcare, having part of it happen here and part of it there. Bank accounts here and there, tax declarations here and there. I start to feel like I should be apologetic for having unusual circumstances; an exotic last name (exotic middle name to the Russians); a job that doesn't have an easy description. But then I think...why should I feel BAD about not fitting someone's mold?

I don't know if I'm necessarily patriotic, but I definitely prefer aspects of American life to life in other countries, and I prefer to have the freedom to come here if/when the need arises. It feels safe to have that option to fall back on.

Maybe that sounds like I am putting my hope in earthly comforts; in a misplaced sense of security. But God is faithful in testing me. He helps expose my idols. Missionaries or not, we all go through those same basic sin issues.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How it went, part 2

When we got to the church, I went to "hide" in a side room while the guests kept filing in. It seemed like a really long time went by! I got my bouquet and met up with the flower girl and the other girl who was going to sort of hold my "train" (although it wasn't THAT long). I didn't have any bridesmaids or anything.

Finally my dad and I were getting ready to enter the sanctuary. We hadn't actually even practiced to the music! In fact, the music was being cued by one of our friends. He kept running into the back room to turn it on or off.

We found it actually hard to make a right angle turn because of the way the doors were. I reminded myself to relax and smile as I walked down the aisle. This was a wonderful day! Andrei looked nervous, however. I thought he was feeling emotional about getting married. And then I saw his father running around onstage for some reason. I later learned that Andrei had forgotten to take the rings out of his backpack, so Vladimir was quickly putting them in place as my dad and I were approaching the altar!

I may be biased, but it was a beautiful ceremony. We had looked for someone outside of our church to marry us, but ended up having our own pastor and friend perform the ceremony instead. And we were glad. His sermon spoke right to our hearts. Translating the ceremony for my relatives was a guy who'd translated for us the very first time we'd visited Russia in 1996-and then he'd become a good friend.

There were so many details we just hadn't had the energy to plan. A large part of this is related to having spent most of my emotional energy on getting documents formalized prior to the wedding. I also think that neither Andrei nor I thrives on planning big, fancy events. We both have a creative/artistic side, but when it comes to execution we do better to keep things simple.

There were no bridesmaids. There was no bridal shower or bachelor/bachelorette event. There wasn't really a color scheme. I didn't get my nails done. We didn't write our own vows. We didn't make programs. Some friends made us invitations, but most of them didn't get handed out until the day of the wedding. There were family and friends helping, and we gave them the freedom to put their own personal spin on it without running it by us.

As I've mentioned before, we were just touched by people sharing in our joy. I'm amazed just scrolling through some photos and noticing that I can even pick out the smiles on the blurry faces in the background. Why all this for us? I suppose, it is a testimony of God's faithfulness. All of the people there had their own stories, their own problems to work out. What were they thinking? For me, weddings are usually a chance to forget about everyday life and just have fun. But in some way or another, I also got a glimpse of the Mystery that is marriage between two person and between the Church and Christ.



And that's not all...