Friday, July 31, 2009

Why Do I Go?

Last winter, at a church event, I saw this video. I tried to hold back the tears but a few slipped out despite my best effort. And, I remember, after the event, saying to a friend, “as if having to pray for the kids in Southeast Asia, and Africa isn’t already enough!” I determined then, to give what I could (or shall I say, what “we” could) to help the children in Russia. Our church was planning to help Fund Pchyolka buy some land for a youth center near Kaliningrad, Russia. The youth center will be used by the kids who “age out” of the orphanages with the intent of helping prepare them for life on the “outside.”

The average orphaned child in Russia, once leaving the orphanage, ends up on the streets, either selling drugs or selling themselves. Most are dead by the age of 30, usually a result of suicide. It’s a sad situation, to say the least.

I came home that day ONLY with the intention that we’d help out some way financially. That’s it, just financially! Shortly thereafter we received a list of the anticipated Global Project trips for 2009. Hmmm…let’s see, there was Peru, Seattle, Iowa, Italy (that sounds like it could be interesting,) Argentina, Israel, Australia (which is the trip I was pushing for, but it was postponed), Swaziland (oh, I’d love to go back there), and Russia. John read the trip descriptions over and over and finally announced, “I’d really like to go to Russia.” Russia? Really? I was puzzled (if you could see the look on my face as I type this you’d know I still am a bit puzzled.)

My biggest concern was that Russia was listed as a “Youth Trip.” Somehow, the idea of going on a mission trip with a bunch of teens was a bit overwhelming. But, we checked with our Global Projects' pastor and found out that indeed, we were welcome on the trip. So, before I knew it our money was turned in and plans were underway.

We are, indeed, the old people on the trip, by a significant number of years, but the “kids” have welcomed us into the group (and I know at least one parent who is thrilled that we're going.) The team is actually quite small; two teens, four 20-somethings, our youth pastor, the director of Fund Pycholka, and of course, John and me. We’ll be working at an orphanage that cares for 20 kids, ages 7 – 17.

Today, a friend asked me why, with the outlook so bleak for these children, I am going. What difference could I make? Here's what I'm praying for. I want to shower these kids with love, if only for a week, like they’ve never known. I hope I can help them see, that the love I share with them is not mine really, but God’s, and it’s theirs to keep. And, I pray that they will see that Jesus is THE BEST GUY to walk through life with and offers a hope like no one else can.

When I leave Russia I don’t want the kids, or the orphan care workers, to say “How nice that they came to visit us.” I want them to say, "God made a difference here this past week." I know those kids will eventually forget who I am, but I pray they never forget the love, and hope, that can only be found in Jesus Christ. For you see, it's not about what I will do, it's about what God will do.

THAT is why I’m going to Russia.

Check back throughout the week for updates (hopefully) along the way. Your prayers are greatly appreciated. As we do our last minute packing I can’t help but think of Chris Tomlin’s song, "God of This City." I’ll probably be humming it as our plane touches down in Kaliningrad.

You're the God of this city
You're the King of these people
You're the Lord of this nation
You Are

You're the light in this darkness
You're the hope to the hopeless
You're the peace to the restless
You are

For there is no one like our God
There is no one like You God

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done
In this city
Greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done here

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bone Scans are NOT for Wimps . . such as myself.

Today, I had a bone scan. Nine years ago I had knee replacement surgery and there is some concern that the cement holding everything together, well, isn’t doing its job. As far as reasons for having a bone scan go, this one is pretty benign.

I should have known, when they told me that I needed to be at the hospital at 8:00 AM, that this wouldn’t be good. Let’s just say, I’m not a morning person . . . at all. But, I managed to be on time to the hospital, mostly because it’s just a few blocks from my house and I did some careful planning the night before. Once there, I filled out the necessary papers and was brought back to the trailer that had been hauled to Cannon Falls for bone scanning purposes such as this.

The scan technician, Jay, grabbed a “space like looking” capsule of radioactive dye to shoot into my arm. The warning stickers on the outside of the capsule don’t exactly inspire confidence but I was assured that there are no side effects to this process, at least not that I’ll be able to blame them for in the future.

The advantage of living so close to the hospital allowed me to come home after the “shoot up” and do whatever I wanted for the next three hours. I was to return at 11:00 AM. As things go, Jay wasn’t quite ready for me when I returned so I was able to get a little reading in as I waited. And, I even had a few minutes to visit with a couple of friends who were at the hospital for tests today, also. Ah, the joy of small town living.

When it was finally my turn, I followed Jay back to the bone scanning trailer and waited for his instructions. Well, the first thing he had me do, after removing my jewelry is climb onto a “table” that was clearly designed for a size 4 runway model. It felt like I was attempting to get onto a raft without tipping the whole thing over. But thankfully, I didn’t fall off, and hopefully, there wasn’t a hidden camera that captured the entire procedure.

The next thing I know he’s “strapping” my feet together with a giant rubber band type of thing to help me not move them around. At this point he emphasized how important it is that I don’t move during the scan – at all. Clearly he’s never been to the movies with me. It sounds lame, I know, but I have restless leg syndrome, which pretty much propels my body into motion about every 30 seconds. I’m sure it drives those around me nuts, I know it does me.

At this point I inquire as to how long the scan takes and he says, “oh about 40 minutes.” FORTY, as in 4 – 0 minutes? That number hasn’t sounded so bad since I actually turned that age. He had to be kidding. I tried to explain to him that this would not be possible without the aid of a sedative. To this, the ever sympathetic Jay said, “well, if you move, you’ll have a blurry scan and they won’t be able to see anything.” He seemed nice enough at first but, I couldn’t help thinking, at this point, that I was grateful not to be married to him. Before I knew it the machine was turned on and, though I was told to relax, I was gripping the table with the same kind of intensity I use at the dentist office.

I tried to calm myself down by praying. I started to cry (I know, it’s pathetic) but then I realized that if I cried, tears would flow out of my eyes, and snot out of my nose and there I’d be, unable to do any wiping. I prayed some more. I thought of my friend, Lacey, and prayed for her. She has cancer and I knew that this bone scan would be like a picnic compared to what she’s been through. I prayed for the kids that we’ll be working with in Russia. And, I prayed that God would help me hold still and that I wouldn’t cry. I took a lot of deep breaths, hoping that would help. And, I thought about writing this blog, which somehow kept my mind off of the fact that I had to hold still.

As much as I tried to stop them, a couple of tears did work their way down my cheek. Well actually, kind of down the side of my head, and towards my ear. Oh great, now I had salty tears burning the corner of my eyes and there I was, unable to move. Crying, as it turned out, was a really bad idea. I wasn’t about to ask Jay to wipe them for me. Sympathy was clearly not part of his job description. Eventually, the scanner made its way to my knees and I asked if I could wipe my eyes. Jay gave me the go ahead as long as I didn’t move my legs. Phew!

The praying must have worked. The forty minutes went by rather quickly and I was able to remain still. That, my friends, is proof that prayer indeed works!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Noticer - Book Review

Women of Faith president, Mary Graham, recommended The Noticer, by Andy Andrews, in a recent issue of the organization’s bi-monthly Connection magazine Sure, Women of Faith is associated with Thomas Nelson publishers so I suppose it’s her job to promote their books, but the last book she recommended (Same Kind of Different as Me) was excellent so I decided to trust her advice and buy this one. I was not disappointed.

The Noticer
is one of the few novels that I’ve marked up with a highlighter for later reference. When I read a “learning book” (as I like to call them) I have a highlighter ready for marks at all times, but generally, when I read a novel, I just enjoy the escape. But, there was just too much "good stuff" in this book NOT to highlight a few spots.

In The Noticer you’ll meet a man named Jones. . . just Jones, not Mr. Jones. The book is an allegory and unless you are doing some serious sleeping during the first chapter you’ll notice that Jones has qualities very similar to Jesus. Though he doesn’t come to the town of Orange Beach, Alabama through a virgin birth, he does seem to know everyone (though they might not know him) and offers wise counsel to the residents. Through the book he encourages people who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, failing marriages, businesses, and dreams. He offers them a little “perspective,” as he calls it.

The Noticer is a quick read, but you won’t want to rush through it. You’ll want to relish each chapter to find a new nugget of Jones’ “perspective.”

I’ll share with you one of the passages I highlighted. “Think with me here . . . everybody wants to be on the mountaintop, but if you’ll remember, mountaintops are rocky and cold. There is no growth on the top of the mountain. Sure, the view is great. . . . . . . but, . . . . It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.”

And that’s just in chapter one! I concur with Mary Graham – The Noticer is a great read!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Christmas Sanity Plan - Part 7

I can’t believe it is already July and I’m over halfway through my Christmas Sanity plan. I must admit, at times I seem to be getting that same “Christmas is closing in feeling” that I generally get in late November. Crazy, I know. I think it stems from the fact that I don’t have the complete plan in place, but at least I’ve got a few months left to figure it all out.

I had fun this month preparing a special surprise for the girls that work in our church office. I always want to do something for them at Christmas and it never seems to happen because I’m so busy. Since I’m doing “Christmas all year” this year, I have plenty of time to focus on them during July. I had a little help with an idea from my friend, Leslie. For my birthday last month she gave me a gift bag full of fun things, one of which was a beautiful bottle of pink sparkling lemonade. How can a bottle be beautiful, you ask? I’ll show you in a minute but, what says "summer" more than sitting on the porch sipping a cold drink with a friend? When I found out that the same lemonade was available at Home Goods (known to many as TJ Maxx without the clothes) I set out to find them. I wasn’t able to find enough of the pink lemonades but I did find a variety of flavors, all in the same kind of beautiful bottle. After emptying the shelves, I was still short a few gifts so I found some cute packages of flavored ice tea to add to the mix. (We attend a large church, which means we have more than your average number of administrative assistants, making it necessary to find more than just a few lemonade bottles.)

Of course, I thought it might be fun to attach some lemon cookies. (You know, so they’d have the whole snack thing ready to go.) After I made the cookies and tied them to the bottles, I realized that the lemonade alone would have been just fine.

I had a bit of an epiphany as I was tying curling ribbon to the bottles. I realized that what I really want to do is let people know that I value and care about them. What they “get” doesn’t matter nearly as much as the thought that goes behind it. So, after all these years the saying, “It’s the thought that counts,” is starting to make sense. I also realized, in the process, that if you add enough curling ribbon, even a hot dog can look more appealing.

The fun part was being able to deliver the “goods” to everyone’s desk on Sunday knowing that as they started the week they’d be greeted with something other than the work they left on Friday night.

Now remember, I’m not posting a Christmas Sanity Plan every month for my own benefit or to make myself look good. I want to encourage the rest of you who get that “crazy feeling” in December to join me. Hopefully my ideas will spur you on to some of your own. Please share the ways you keep your Christmas sane and focused on the reason we celebrate.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I’ve been a bad blogger lately. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to write about, it’s just that I don’t have time to write it. Perhaps it’s the 30 minutes a day I’m spending trying to learn Russian! I’m pleased to tell you that I’m almost ready for lesson 4! It’s doubtful I’ll complete all 20 lessons before I leave in August but I’m hoping that I’ll at least learn how to say, “Where is the bathroom?” That seems like a critical sentence.

Speaking of Russia, some amazing things have happened this week that are too exciting not to share. There are a total of ten team members going on the mission trip. Each of us has an assignment, and one of mine was to plan four craft projects for the 20 kids at the orphanage. This is complicated by many factors, not the least of which is my lack of crafting ability. One idea I managed to come up with involves decorating composition notebooks (chosen mainly because they are fairly inexpensive and can be done by a wide range of ages.)

Last Tuesday night John told me one of his patients had called offering a huge box of school supplies. She didn’t care where they went, as long as they were used for missions. So, even though we probably won’t need many school supplies for Russia, I said I’d take them to send to Africa when a team from our church goes in December. I stopped at her house on Wednesday (just hours before going shopping for the craft supplies) to pick up the items. And what was in this box of school supplies? 26 composition notebooks! Perfect – six more than I actually need!

One of the non-craft related things we’d like to bring for the women and the older girls at the orphanage is make-up. It’s very expensive in Russia and we felt like it would be something fun for them. We also plan on doing manicures for the women at the orphanage to make them feel special. Basically, we want them to feel as loved by us as they are by Christ (even though our love can’t begin to compare to His.) And, as much as I’d like to set them all up with an entire sets of make-up, it would just be cost prohibitive. So, I offered the girls in my small group the opportunity to donate some products. (Do you love the wording? Offered, not begged.) Many of them brought some things and one woman even got a bunch of perfume samples donated from another department store. Still, we were short a number of products.

I decided to ask a friend of mine, who works at a local, big name department store, if she knew anyone in the cosmetics department, and if so, would she mind inquiring about getting some mascara samples donated. There are 7 women working at the orphanage and 8 girls, not all of whom are at make-up wearing age. Not only did we get mascara, but we got 15, count them, 15 make-up kits, complete with mascara, bronzer, eye shadow, lip stick, lip gloss, eye make-up remover and “lifting cream” (which I shamefully considered keeping for myself!) And the best part, each kit comes with an adorable case which will be fun for all ages, with, or without, make-up!

On top of all that, my friend, Annette, who owns The Family Salon in Cannon Falls, is donating manicure kits for us to use. Is that not the coolest?

So, why am I amazed? It’s not because of the generosity of the people involved, though that is awesome. It’s the numbers. 15 make-up kits! 26 notebooks! More than enough perfume, and plenty of manicure kits. Only God could pull that off. As the song goes, “I Stand in Awe!”

Now, I just have to figure out how to actually do a manicure! Painting fingernails backwards just baffles my brain. But, if I can learn Russian….

Monday, July 6, 2009

Russian Lessons

In less than a month John and I will leave for a mission trip to Russia. We will be working at an orphanage with about 20 kids, ages 6 – 17. In many countries the young people learn some English in school. To my knowledge, this isn’t the case in Russia; at least not with the kids in the orphanage we’ll be visiting.

As it so happens, John has a patient who is originally from Russia. She is married to an American man and in an effort to help him learn Russian she bought him a CD set of Russian lessons – the Pimsleur method. She has graciously loaned the CD’s to us in hopes, I think, that we’ll be more successful than her husband was at learning Russian.

I had some Spanish in middle school, a year of Spanish in high school, and another year in college. Even with all that time invested, I still only know a few basic words of Spanish and had serious doubts about my ability to learn any language – most especially Russian; particularly in a month’s time. But, we have use of the CD’s so it’s not like I've had to invest a lot of money to try.

I started with the first CD – the introduction to the Pimsleur method. It was easy enough; it was all in English. The man on the CD promised me that this method was far superior to other methods used for learning languages and that I’m not really stupid just because the other methods didn’t work. I listened to that CD twice.

Then, it was time for the first real lesson. I had a 30 minute car ride ahead of me so I stuck the CD in and confidently turned it on. After “welcome to session one of the Pimsleur method for learning conversational Russian”, I heard, “esventja eio’eond iesleidienyosleofigneos t.” Suddenly my hopes for learning ANY Russian started to fade. But then again, the man on the intro CD had PROMISED I could do this.

The Pimsleur method involves doing one lesson a day for 30 minutes. Once you can respond to the questions correctly 80% of the time, you can move to the next lesson. I spent three sessions on lesson one. Unfortunately, I didn’t follow the directions completely, as I missed a couple of days, but still I can proudly say that I now know how to say a few helpful phrases like, “Excuse me", "Do you understand English?", "Yes, I’m American" (because I’m sure someone will ask,) "No, I don’t understand Russian" (this is probably the most helpful phrase I’ll learn,) and “a little” as in “I understand a little” Russian (which I fear will be limited to the few words I just told you about.) The word for “a little” cracks me up. Since all learning is done on the CD and there are no books to look at, I’m going to spell it phonetically – mmmnnyoga. Hey, I wonder if they have “Hooked on Phonics” in Russia?

After three days on lesson one, I decided it was time for lesson two. I was so confident, in fact, that after having a successful morning session, I turned lesson two on in the afternoon. I sometimes struggle with rules. By the way, MY criterion for advancement is that I remember at least two words for more than five minutes after I turn off the CD.

I forged on with confidence into lesson two and after a brief review of lesson one I heard, “esventja eio’eond iesleidienyosleofigneos t.” Oh no, here we go again.