Saturday, March 30, 2013


When a non-believing friend visited our women's group lately and had some questions, I was moved listening to other women share their stories. They spoke of their faith, and the Word of God flowed out of their mouths so naturally. I don't really know how to describe it, but it wasn't a "Quote the Bible" moment where everyone recites their favorite verse. It was a time for some healed sinners to share the words they had personally stored up in their hearts; words that were appropriate to the specific questions being asked.

I was blessed to listen to them. That's what I did; I listened. I didn't resent not being able to keep up, but I did wish the words would fly off my tongue like that. There are so many parts of Scripture imprinted in my memory from childhood: hymns and spiritual songs, psalms, memory verses I have purposefully set out to learn. The problem is, they're in English.

On a few occasions I have set out to learn Russian memory verses. But they just don't stick. You hear of missions organizations debating over what an "unreached people group" is. Do they need the Bible in their OWN language, or is it enough to translate it into the most accessible major language? (Why translate if they learn English/French in school, right?)

Well, there is something to be said for "heart language" translation, which focuses on more obscure languages, with the idea that reading the Bible in one's NATIVE language will resonate the most. I have to admit, there is nothing like worshiping in my native language. It isn't better, it's just different. I can feel the words deep in my soul, and my eyes well up with tears.

But I want to learn the Bible better in Russian. They say that even in cases of bilingualism, certain topics will never really feel natural in one or the other of the languages. Maybe complicated literature will always feel foreign to me, in Russian.

However, there are reasons not to despair. When I first started attending my church here, I did not know as much Russian. And yet, whenever someone in the church opened his mouth to pray, it all made perfect sense to me. I didn't know the words and I couldn't tell you in words what he had said. I just understood. We must not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit, nor the amazing tasks God equips our brains to carry out!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Another Russian medical adventure

As an ex-pat and missionary, the question of medical care can be tricky. In general, it comes down to choosing between a state-run clinic and a private one (or waiting until the next time I'm in the U.S.!). Each option has its pros and cons.

Private clinics look more like Western ones. Aesthetically, the facilities are more like what I'm used to, and seem more sterile. Another advantage is that there are no lines. I can call to make an appointment and they'll ask me if I want "tomorrow or the day after". Since many people pay out-of-pocket, it's in the clinic's best interest to accommodate you.

Meanwhile, the private clinics are a business, and they often recommend that you see multiple specialists and order lots of tests. It can be confusing because you're never sure if it's necessary from a medical point of view or if they are just trying to get more money out of you. Equally confusing is when they DON'T insist on you pursuing a certain treatment plan. David's pediatrician never tries to make us come in for regular check-ups or keep up with vaccinations. We are responsible for taking initiative because we're the clients and it's our choice.

I have a lot more culture shock in dealing with the state-run systems. And even though they have departments for non-insured patients who will be paying out of pocket, it seems that not many people choose this option. I tried to see a doctor once in a regular clinic. The department for paid clients was closed and finally a doctor took pity on me because I was feeling so ill and took a look at me, and then she wouldn't accept any money, so that ended up awkwardly. Turns out I should have offered a box of chocolates...who knew?

Now for the treatment itself. The care in state-run facilities may be more Soviet, less of a Western approach. But there is an advantage to them treating so many people: lots of experience. The private clinics may have all the latest technology, but don't see as many cases per day/week/month. I felt that way a little with OB care, though my doctor herself seemed VERY qualified. Actually, I think it's common for private clinic staff to have another job in a state-run facility. But they still might not deal with so many patients.

So here is what we were up against: David's clogged tear duct wasn't getting any better, at 8 months of age. He'd had a fairly goopy eye since he was just a few weeks old. It was diagnosed early on and the pediatricians in the U.S. said to just leave it alone and see what happened. They may have mentioned the massage, I forget.

Once we had seen a Russian doctor, it was the typical contradiction: The Russian doctor wanted to do something as soon as possible (before 1 year of age or else), while information I'd gotten in the U.S. favored more conservative treatment, considering probing the tear duct AFTER a year if there was no change.

We tried the conservative route for several months, cleaning and wiping and administering eye drops and breast milk and whatnot. Oh, and the massage, to an extent. These routines clearly made him uncomfortable, and the skin around his eye was often quite tender from all the rough handling. :(

The Russian doctors pressured us to get the procedure done, while we were nervous about taking the risk unnecessarily.

Finally, we decided to do it...

I realized that one of the advantages of doing it at a younger age is that he doesn't see it coming. A few months ago I could suck out his boogers, put drops in his eyes, etc., and he would barely flinch. Now he hates it and sees us coming from a mile away. That means a more traumatic experience.

We headed out to a university hospital that had been recommended. It took us a long time to get there and we were late and I dreaded having to turn around and go home.

The hospital was in a complex made out of all these little separate buildings, and we had to ask for directions. Once inside, we went through the familiar ritual of checking our coats (taking things out of the pockets), and getting little booties for our shoes to avoid tracking dirt through the hospital. Then we squeezed (with the baby carriage) into an elevator with no light, and went up to the designated department.

The post was commanded by the usual matronly staff members. One lady came out and yelled at us for having the stroller in the controlled sterile environment, while asking us which doctor we were there to see. She said if we would do as she asked and take the stroller downstairs, she would go tell the doctor we had arrived.

I was holding David while Andrei took the stroller downstairs, and I was feeling pretty nervous. What if we had to go into the examination room before Andrei got back? I didn't even know the name of David's condition in Russian. I mean, I can understand almost everything, but forget the names of all the medical terms.

The commandant lady came and had me sit in a waiting area, and then Andrei came back. He had stashed the stroller frame somewhere, and carried the other part upstairs. Interesting (though typical) that a children's department doesn't have a place to park strollers. Of course, the same is true of children's department stores and places like that. People just bring a lock or leave one person outside.

The doctor called us in and checked out David's eye. I hadn't done a thorough cleaning so they could see the real condition it was in. Then she asked when he had eaten and said we could do the procedure in another hour. Yikes! Of course we had been planning on getting it done, but we had thought we would have to do diagnostics first and then make an appointment.

Well, we were ready, sort of. We agreed.

We were escorted to a waiting room. We sat on the couch with David and tried to keep him happy, hoping he wouldn't get too hungry before I would be allowed to feed him. A little girl in the room was coughing. She was cute, but I was thinking about cuteness as I was concerned that we were in a hospital and David could catch something. Suddenly she came right over, and the next thing I knew, she SAT right with us on the couch. We got David out of her reach and I practically froze with fear that she was about to give us some awful germs.

Some hospital workers came in and did paperwork with us right there in the room, and then sent Andrei to go pay. He had to actually go outside to another building (which would mean stopping to wait in line to get his coat), and once again I was antsy waiting for him to get back, being unsure of what was about to happen.

A few minutes later, a young nurse (maybe university student) came in, all dressed for the operation, and said "I'll take him now." I had to hand David over. I asked if I could come, and she told me to stay in the waiting room. Of course it wouldn't have done any good for me to be present. It's not like I could have kept him from crying, but at the same time it was hard to think of him there with strangers, being tortured worked on.

Andrei popped in right after they took David, and we let his parents know so they could pray. The doctor had warned us that the price would be higher since David was an American citizen. However, they wrote the regular amount and the cashier didn't adjust it (even though Andrei was honest about it), so the price was the same as for a Russian private client. Well, he IS Russian, just not on paper!

Then David was back about 10 minutes later. He was crying, but calmed down fairly quickly, especially once I started feeding him.

I think in the end we made the right decision. Who knows how long his goopy eye condition would have continued. He was definitely a bit traumatized and hates letting us touch his face now, but I think that's partly the age he's at.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Lessons, Part 6

On productivity... (who has it easier?)

Here is the thing. I read (past tense) all those articles where moms explain to their single/non-parent friends about how busy their lives are. You know, the ones with the "day in the life" play-by-play. Or the memes with "what my friends think I do" showing the romanticized view of motherhood and then the scary photograph showing what her actual life is like.

If there is one thing I can do, I thought, it's "busy."

When I was a student, I swore I'd never forget how challenging that phase of life was. Not in a real world sort of way, but in an exhilarating, chaotic, sleepless, ramen-noodle sort of way. I miss it, but it was hard.

So then I waited for the stable (if grueling) 9-5 work-week to begin.

Nope. Instead, I moved to a big city in Russia. The sleepless part was there again, but without the fun dorm life. I eventually made friends, but we all lived in different parts of the city. My work consisted of commuting 4-5 hours a day, also to various parts of the city, interacting with lots of different people, in a different language. Coming home at 11 pm, eating dinner, etc. And now I'm 30 and I'm tired, which sounds funny, but if you lived in such a city that never slept, you might get what I mean.

So now there's a baby. Notice I skipped the "now there's a husband" part...well, he's pretty easy-going. :)

Before the baby came, I was getting ready for the all-day marathons that other mothers write about. I figured I would be pretty good at the sort of high-energy, constantly active lifestyle that they seemed to hint at. But I guess that is more typical of the soccer-mom life when the kids are in school.

The first year is actually far, far different. One day recently I was sitting there in my pajamas at 1 pm. And I hadn't done very much. I think I had changed two diapers, fed David a bunch of times, and had breakfast. There really hadn't been any big spills or other crises to deal with...just your typical slow morning.

It seems like the new mom's "not-done" list is a lot longer than the list of things she's actually done that day. Things keep getting bumped off my "must" list and onto the luxury list for if the baby naps. Things like brushing my teeth, combing my hair, washing the dishes, and getting dressed. And then there are things like making phone calls/answering correspondence... those get put off for months at a time.

I'm pretty good at stacking the dirty dishes neatly, and then my mother-in-law washes them the next time she comes over.

I guess what I am trying to say is it's different from how I expected. I thought I would be running around doing things all the time, and instead it's lying on the floor with the baby because he wants to play with his toys with one hand and my hair with the other. Or finally remembering to hang the laundry at midnight. Or lingering at the dinner table with my husband, finishing a movie while feeding the baby.

There isn't more to do than there was before. I would say that there is less to do, because I'm not getting up every morning to pack my bags and run around the city all day. It is a great relief to go to sleep each night knowing that the next day I can stay at home with my family. There are a few new tasks related to the baby, and those need to be repeated fairly often, and I don't always get to do other things in between. It's a different pace, and it is slow, but not necessarily predictable. Much depends on expectations and flexibility.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

All they need

Last weekend, we observed "Men's" Day, which is officially for "Defenders of the Fatherland," but in our church at least we honor the men, whether or not they've served in the military. They are heroes to us!

In a brilliant effort by certain church members, our appreciation of the brothers included a little video presentation featuring several of the Sunday school kids. They were asked to share about their fathers.

The children mostly described their fathers as big and strong (even fat), smart, kind, and as very loving of their families.

What did the children wish for their fathers? "Do well at work, Dad," was an oft-repeated reply.

But there was another answer that came up often. Many children wished their fathers success, but at the same time, pleaded, "Come home earlier, Dad." What a simple wish!

Kids say it best! We want our loved ones to do well. We want them to be productive and always be challenging themselves and striving towards their goals. We are proud of them.

But at the end of the day, we just want them to be...home.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Permanent Residency in St. Petersburg

There is no telling what a particular Russian migration office will require, but I can give a few hints as to what worked for me. 

Introduction: (scroll down for application specifics)

There was one seemingly big obstacle to applying for Permanent Residency in St. Petersburg, and that was the income requirement. I squeaked by yearly inspection while on temporary residency, without ever holding an official job. Migration services wanted to see that I'd paid taxes; they didn't seem to care where the money actually came from (mostly from funds in the U.S.).

Making an income statement poses a problem for ex-pats living in St.Petersburg and other parts of Russia, especially if they are missionaries or otherwise involved in non-profit work, funded abroad.

Some missionaries have a "salary" from their home organizations, and can present this statement to the Russian government as sufficient money for them to live on.

Other missionaries are employed by local organizations, whether that's non-profit, teaching English, or some other business involvement.

But what about if I do some mix of volunteering/tutoring/teaching, and I don't have a work permit, and I don't receive a regular salary from anywhere? On the one hand, my calling to be here seemed to be clear enough that I was willing to find employment in order to stay in Russia.

However, what if I ended up being out of work temporarily? Or wanted to stay home with a child? What if my husband and I wanted to live solely on his salary, even if it didn't even meet the minimum income level required for residency?

I could understand having a work visa that would be tied to a specific contract, but I envisioned my activities growing and changing over the years. I seek God's will about these things, but do I want my every move to be dictated by requirements for staying in Russia? Can I live with that kind of restriction full-time?

At the end of 2012, I learned something useful. Residency requirements no longer called for proof of employment/monthly salary; instead, a bank account balance could be used to prove means of support. THAT I could handle.

And so, I decided to apply. Here are a few helpful bits of information:

1) Timing: I got my medical tests done and began attempting to apply about 9 1/2 months before my TRP ran out. The latest you can apply is 6 months before it expires. When I actually handed in my documents, I had less than one month to spare. In addition, I was 3 or 4 days from my medical forms expiring. Do the math in advance if you are thinking about applying.

2) The application: When I was applying for temporary residency, some friends who had done it ahead of me in the same office graciously let me "copy" their application. There is some very specific wording that you need to use. Thanks to their template, I got it correct on the first try.

Then, when I was applying for permanent residency, I used the same template. Well, it's a different office and a different ballgame. I had MANY mistakes to fix, and had to redo the whole application and come in on a later date to try again.

3) The photos: Yes, they measure them with a ruler :).

4) The documents: I never got my hands on the real "list," but here is what she asked to see, and/or hand in:

  • Passport original, translation, and copies of ALL marked pages (my translation did not have the latest stamps and she let me just submit photocopies separately). 
  • If married: marriage certificate and copy, spouse's original passport and copies of all marked pages
  • Latest inspection receipt
  • Receipt for having paid the govt. fee
  • Application (2 copies, each 4 pages double-sided)
  • 6 photographs
  • Income statement (I used a bank statement)
  • Tax identification number (original certificate)
  • Birth certificate (not sure how strict they are on this one)
  • Medical forms, plus HIV+ results
5) Proof of income: I have some money in an account here in U.S. dollars (long story). It turned out to be enough to meet requirements. The bank would only show the amount in dollars, but the migration officer let me print out the exchange rate from the bank's website, and then I indicated the ruble-equivalent in my application. I think she was a bit lenient on this but maybe there would be a way to get the bank to issue a more official statement.

That's pretty much it! Aside from needing to fix mistakes in the application, I just had to produce Andrei's passport, which I hadn't known would be needed.

I got a note telling me to come back in 6 months. See you in August, Madame Inspector!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Songs in English, and saying Goodbye

Last month, I decided to start learning hymns again. Unfortunately, this resolution often goes the same way of "I think I'll read start reading through the whole Bible again." Short-lived. (However, just typing this up makes me want me to do both. Accountability!)

This recent hymn endeavor was partly inspired by wanting to sing to the baby. I realized that most of the worship songs in my current repertoire are in Russian, so I thought it would be good to go back to my "roots" and relearn some songs in English so that David could hear some worship songs in his mother's first language. (The irony is that the English in hymns is almost like a separate dialect! But still, good to know)

Well, I've only memorized 2 hymns so far in 2013, and started another.

But the very first one I picked became quite significant.

When I realized that I needed 40-something hymns, I decided to poll my friends for ideas. And they responded, with old classics I was familiar with as well as ones I needed to look up.

The first person to respond had been 2 years behind me in my high school youth group. When he suggested "Be Thou My Vision," I was taken back to the youth group years, to those retreats when we used to sing our hearts out, and maybe even buy the worship band's cassette (!) and return home and keep singing those songs. And on a Sunday night meeting we might sing them, too. And then a few (or 10) years later, some of us would get married and maybe use those songs in our weddings, or teach them to our own kids...

So I decided that it would be a good song to start with. And I sang all the verses to David for several days in a row, as I rocked him to sleep.

One morning just recently, I woke up to hear that the very friend who had suggested "Be Thou My Vision" had suddenly become very ill. He had a cold...a cough...he spiked a fever...and then it turned into a very bad case of pneumonia. I scrolled down his page, wondering if there had been any warning signs, any complaints about having the sniffles. Nope. Just the usual groan-worthy jokes and professions of love toward bacon. Plus an amazing photo of him with his beloved residents at a home for the elderly.

Less than a week later, he was gone. My heart mourns for a childhood friend. A young woman from our youth group also passed away a year or two ago due to illness, and I will always remember both of these friends as they were in their youth. Full of light and love, seeking to serve the Lord.

And that was my first hymn of 2013. A memory and a farewell.

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...