Thursday, December 31, 2009

The birds of the air

As a preschool teacher, it isn’t difficult to see that some children handle change better than others. You quickly learn that in order to avoid meltdowns, certain steps should be taken. For example, it is best to give these children a warning that change is coming. “Okay, friends, in five minutes we are going to start putting our toys away so we can line up.” It is also wise to give these children a rundown of the schedule so they know what to expect. Change can seem less bothersome or scary when they know what the outcome of the change will be. “After we line up, we will go upstairs for Judiacs…won’t that be fun?!” (…yeah…I taught at a Jewish preschool…) If you’re lucky, these steps reduce the freakout sessions to tears and fists to the ground instead of tears, fists to the ground, hair pulling, and biting. If you’re lucky.

As I sit here, hours away from the New Year, I feel a mixture of excitement and dread as I think of what 2010 might hold. I have been in Russia for about four months now and the reality that soon I will be starting my last semester is beginning to set in. I can see the end now. Home isn’t a distant dream. But things have changed. I have changed. Home has changed. New friendships have sprouted that I have no control over or part in. I feel (unrightfully) hurt and confused by such things. It was my choice to come here. What did I expect… everyone to put their lives on hold so I could come home to what I remembered and wanted? I’m acting like a child. I don’t want to adjust to the way things have become. I don’t want to figure out where I fit now. I don’t know how to embrace the change that has occurred. Bottom line- I’m failing to trust God with it all.

When we told our preschoolers it was time to cleanup so we could move on to something different, it wasn’t to hurt them. It wasn’t to make them angry or sad or to ruin all their fun. We did it because it was necessary. If they played with blocks all day they wouldn’t get to experience the joy of the slide or the monkey bars or be able to feel the sunshine on their faces. If they played outside all day they wouldn’t learn necessary lessons like how to share or paint or count. But if they spent all their time working, they wouldn’t have time to nourish or rest their bodies which is so important for their health and growth. So while keeping things as they are might seem like the safer or easier option for the child, as the teacher I know change is necessary for their growth, development, and well being.

You’d think after being in the position of the teacher and understanding the necessity change I’d be able to accept it a little easier. Tonight we are celebrating New Years with American and Russian friends, the boys from Vologda are coming on Saturday, and on Sunday night my grand adventure to see (parts of) the world begins. Life is so good! Yet the past several days I’ve been battling fear and loneliness and feelings of deep inadequacy with it all culminating this morning with a tantrum of tears that could rival one of my three year olds (I decided to leave out the pounding and biting and hair pulling this time though). The truth is, as necessary and positive as change can be, sometimes it also really hurts. Sometimes it is scary and inconvenient and confusing. God, where was my five minute warning? You forgot to tell me what is coming next! This is harder than I expected…this isn’t what I was hoping for and I just don’t know where to go from here.

God, 2010 is a year of unknowns but may it be your year. It is so evident to me that there is much in my life I have failed to surrender to you. I still want it my way and I carry on like a child when your plans differ from my own. I question you when life is difficult and my heart is filled with heaviness. But if change is necessary for my growth or the growth of others, may I accept it with gratitude. You have brought me this far, I know you will not leave me now. 2010…here we go. Lord, show me how to trust. Father, show me how to love. Teacher, show me where you want me and who you want me to be. This isn’t what I expected, but I will choose to trust that this is what you planned. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

The best is yet to come

Three consecutive days in a row of blogging? People, this has got to be a record. Today as I was being introverted and antisocial, my journal and I made a startling realization. It is almost 2010. I find that incredibly difficult to believe (but I will save the sappy, sentimental post for another day). Today I made a list of all of the goals/things I want to accomplish/do. It's going to be a busy year.

-Run a half marathon (no stress fracture will stop me this time!)
-Continue taking Russian lessons whether I'm in Russia or not
-Be the best teacher I can be
-Learn to how to salsa
-Climb Mt. St. Helens
-Try not to be such a socially awkward/inept freak
-Read Crime and Punishment (I know, I have no right being in Russia...)
-Get Katie Nestor back in my arms and never let her go
-Write a children's book
-Finish this year in Russia knowing I gave my all
-Trust God
-Figure out how to be asexual
-Make a fondant cake
-Find a job that makes a difference
-Eat healthier (I have to add this's tradition)
-"Get" Jamie a magazine subscription for the third time, but this time actually send in the form. (Sorry, Heil)
-Appreciate life
-Better understand, appreciate, and utilize the power and privilege we have in prayer
-Get my second Hepatitus A shot that is long overdue and I was supposed to get before I came to Russia but I hate needles so I didn't. "oops"
-Forgive and forget for good. (Please notice the use of alliteration here)
-Have long hair

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I miss food. Good food.

When I return to Seattle I plan on eating all of the following and as a result, gaining about ten pounds: (listed in no particular order)

-Thai Kitchen-Chicken Pad Thai and Pad See Ew
-Starbucks- Anything
-Costco-Hot dog
-Wasabi Bistro- Las Vegas roll
-The Rusty Pelican- an omelet and biscuit
-Forza- Peach Te Freeze and Pesto Chicken Tortellini
-Specialty's Bakery-Chocolate chip cream cheese croissant
-Red Robin- French fries!
-Molly Moons- Strawberry ice cream in a waffle cone
-Tawon Thai-Thai iced tea
-Tully's-Antioxidant smoothie
-Noah's Bagels-Pumpkin bagel and cream cheese
-The Powerhouse-Black bean burger
-Taco Time- Crisp taco kids meal

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Satan's Mistress

You'd think after four months of living in Russia, life here would stop surprising me. You'd think.

Today I made the trek to the post office to pick up a package. When I say trek...I mean trek. You see, we've found ourselves in a bit of a snow storm these past couple days and it takes a considerable amount of effort to get to one's destination. But nevertheless, a package is indeed worth the effort so I set out happily to the post office. As I was walking I passed a children's carnival thing in the park. I found it a little strange to have a carnival in December, but it's Russia, so whatever. Then a police car pulled up next to me. A man got out and waited for his partner. Imagine my surprise when a woman got out of the driver's seat and joined him. Now, it is not the fact that the police partner was a woman that surprised me. I'm all for equal opportunities and women gettin' out there and doin' their thang. What did surprise me was that fact that this female police officer was wearing HEELS. Call me crazy but I am of the belief that if you carry handcuffs and there is greater than a 5% chance you might have to chase someone, heels might not be the most appropriate footwear choice. However, I realize trying to convince a Russian woman of this would be next to impossible.

So I continued on my journey, laughing in my head about the carnival, the woman in heels, and the fact that about every fourth step I did a little dance on the ice...blissfully unaware of the tragic events that were about to take place.

I climbed the steps of the post office and opened the door. There, behind the counter, stood Satan's mistress. Really, it was her. I could tell she had just been waiting there all day for me to walk through that door so she could crush my spirit and devour my soul.

"Devushka" she barked. (Which literally means girl)

"Me?" I thought. "Is she talking to me?"

She said it again...only this time much louder and she looked right at me. Then she pointed to the door. Uh...I didn't know what to do. I looked at the door thinking maybe I had accidently left it open. was closed. I told her in Russian that I did not understand. She took this to mean, "if you yell louder at the stupid American girl, she'll magically know Russian." So that's just what she did. She yelled. And pointed. And yelled some more. Her friends must have thought it looked like fun because they decided to join her...yelling and pointing and...did I mention yelling? I could not figure out what event could have possibly transpired to make them this upset (other than my birth, apparently) so I just stood there- stunned, panicking, and wishing I had paid better attention in the "what-to-do-when-mean- scary-russian-ladies-yell-at-you" session at training. Oh wait. We never had one of those.

Finally, a woman from the back came out, told them I was American, said something to her co-workers about me not understanding, and then put her hand out to see my package slip. I felt relief, thinking that perhaps this woman was saving me, when all of the sudden she crumpled up the slip I had given her and started talking to me angrily in Russian. She motioned that I needed to fill out a slip (which I had already done but she had decided crumple). By this time, I was holding back tears but determined not to give them the sastifaction of seeing me cry, I quickly filled out the form to the best of my ability. I handed it back, listened while Satan's mistress shouted a few last words to me, collected my package and walked out the door.

Customer service really is excellent here.

So this long, dramatic story is basically to tell you that I learned several important things today. They are as follows:
1. If I rob a bank, I should pray beforehand that the high heeled unit gets called to the scene.
2. I should avoid the post office from now on. At all costs.
3. Evil does exist. It has a slender build, a mullet and dark rimmed glasses.
4. It really is a good thing that Jesus loves everyone...because I don't.
5. I still have a lot of growing to do.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

"I am dreaming tonight of a place I love..."

I awoke this morning with an excitment and heaviness in my heart. It is hard to believe, but today is Christmas Eve. I remember when I was little, the anticipation of Christmas was almost overwhelming. I would dream of what was waiting for me under the tree and delight in the gifts I had chosen and wrapped for others. As I have grown older, the excitement has faded slightly and the focus has shifted. While I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts, I have realized the enormous beauty and blessing in time spent celebrating with the ones you love. Family, friends, traditions, and experiences have made my Christmases memorable. And still, this year I'm finding my focus has shifted yet again. While the reason behind the celebrations has always been Christ, this year the meaning holds a greater and more genuine significance. Family, friends, and traditions will not make this Christmas this year...distance won't allow it. But even when take away the parties, the traditions, the decorations, and even the warm fuzzies, you are still left with a child. He is the beginning, the end, and the unchangable reason we celebrate.

So Merry Christmas, friends and family! Know that my heart aches for and rejoices with you.

"Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to ALL people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Today was a monumental day. I found cream cheese in the store. Yes, folks, you read that correctly...cream cheese has found its way to St. Petersburg. This means we can still celebrate Christmas because now I can make stuffed mushrooms. Whew, I know you were worried. Of course, I did spend half my pay check securing this little wonder into my posession, but sometimes you need to make sacrifices. And I, because of the kind, giving, generous person that I am, decided to make that sacrifice and buy that cream cheese so I can make stuffed mushrooms and we can celebrate Christmas the way Jesus probably intended. And if those roommates of mine are lucky...I might even share.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Still not who I want to be...

I know I'm on a journey but man...I have a long way to go to be the person I want to be.

Last night I was watching vidoes on youtube of Ukrainian and Russian orphans. Though this was pretty much a weekly occurance in the months following Ukraine and leading to Russia, it is something I haven't done in a while. As I watched them, I felt the stirrings of familiar feelings-grief, love, compassion, anger, and passion. Up until viewing those videos, the thoughts of my week included: shopping, sleeping in, finishing grades, boys (don't worry...not Russian boys), not feeling homesick, and food.

All trivial.

I love it when God reminds me of the bigness of his world, his love, and his work. Such moments remind me of how small and insignificant my selfish thoughts and desires can be. They remind me that there is so much more to life than shopping, boys, food, or even those I long for. It seems that such a realization should bring about disappointment. What? It's not all about me? But the truth is, I can't tell you the relief such reminders bring. Thank God, it's not all about me. What a boring, purposeless life that would be. I'm tired of the smallness of my thoughts and dreams. I'm tired of worrying about stupid things. Life is SO much bigger than foolish and fleeting desires.

Lord, forgive me for losing my focus and reducing life to existence. Remind me who you are, who I am, and who you have called me to be. Bring me to those your heart aches for, teach me how to love like you, and remind me that I am just as broken. God you are good. Your love is inclusive, your motives are pure, and your existence is hope. Make me like you.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Here's the deal

I want to adopt.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Adventures in Underwear

For a while, Seattle was actually colder than St. Petersburg but I think we are doing our part over here to catch up with you Seattleites. This morning I woke up to more snow on the ground and a temperature of -14 degrees Celsius....which is somewhere around 7 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrr. That's chilly. My students love to tell me that it's only going to get colder. I tell them to shut up. (Okay...I only think about telling them to shut up...)

My friend Arina and I have gotten into the routine of running on Tuesday evenings together. It is nice to run with someone because on days you normally would wimp out if you were going by yourself; you have someone there to tell you to suck it up. Today was my day for wanting to wimp out. I tried twice to convince her that today probably wasn't the best day to go running. The first time I texted her and told her my face would be cold (wussy excuse, I know.) She told me she had cream for that. Dangit. Then I reminded her it was really, pretty chilly out there. She said she was aware of this and that she would see me in fifteen minutes. Man, those Russians are tough.

So I sucked it up the best I could and we went for our weekly run. Once I had warmed up enough to feel my fingers and my vision was no longer blurry, I really was glad for her persistence. I got to experience snot freezing in my nose for the first time. It was an odd and disgusting sensation. But that is beside the point.

As we were running, Arina asked if I was cold and I told her the only parts of my body that were cold were my nose and my thighs. She said I needed to wear warmer clothes and to this I replied that I was wearing long underwear under my workout pants. She looked at me kind of funny and then went on to tell me that she was wearing underwear too, but she also had tights on underneath her pants. I lost it.

Sometimes language/cultural barriers can be frustrating. Sometimes they can be downright funny. "Long underwear" meant nothing to my Russian friend. To Arina, it simply seemed like I had decided to wear underwear for our run and was randomly telling her about it. I explained the meaning of this mysterious long underwear and we had a pretty good laugh about it. I still smile when I think about it. But in addition to giving me a good laugh, I also had a moment where life...this crazy Russian life I am currently living... felt incredibly comfortable and normal. I've missed that feeling of comfort and normalcy but I've done a better job this week of embracing and appreciating all that life overseas entails. Sometimes life here is hilarious. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes it is downright ridiculous. And sometimes, on long runs with snot freezing in your nose, laughing with a just feels like home.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


"...I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

2 Samuel 24: 24

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ice Skating

My roommates and I went ice skating with some of my students and we had a blast. I cannot skate to save my life but I made it around the rink mulitiple times with the help of my new friends and I even skated a bit on my own (always keeping the wall at an arms length though.) Next time I'll be a little more daring...the center of the rink awaits me! It really was a great night :-)

Friday, December 11, 2009

What a difference...four days can make...

This week began with tears. You see, every Monday evening I have my Russian lesson which I absolutely dread. I don’t know exactly why I dread it. My teacher is kind, patient, and very sweet. But Russian is hard and I hate feeling stupid, which is exactly how I feel during 95% of my lesson. Currently I’m working on word endings using present tense verbs. For one of my practice sentences I wrote, “I don’t want to study.” It was a joke, okay? I wasn’t serious…well…not completely serious. At first when my teacher read this, she laughed. Then she said, “Elizabet, pacheemoo(why)? Pacheemoo, Elizabet!?” I told her that Russian is hard and she responded by saying that I’m only on the third lesson. What she meant was “ of course it is hard…you’ve only just begun.” What I heard in my already emotional, overly sensitive head was, “you idiot. You’re only on the third lesson and this is hard for you?!” So I cried. I just burst right into tears in my living room in front of my Russian teacher.

Low point.

She tried to change the subject and get my mind off Russian so I would stop crying so she started talking about how it must be hard being so far away from my family and friends. It was a noble effort but if she wanted me to stop crying, that was definitely not the thing to say. More tears.

So suffice it to say, the week did not start off in the best of ways. Ever since returning from our Thanksgiving adventure in Estonia, I’ve struggled with feeling homesick and inadequate. I hate to admit it, but in the past couple of weeks I’ve thought on multiple occasions, “what on earth am I doing in Russia?”
Then last night I was emailing with my best friend, Katie and we were sharing the latest happenings in our lives. She is preparing for her own big adventure… studying abroad in Australia for a semester. I remember what I was feeling as I was preparing to come to Russia…excitement, uncertainty, anxiety and more excitement.

This morning I was thinking about this some more and I realized I have forgotten why I am here. My excitement has been replaced with discontentment; I’ve traded joy for apathy, and gratitude for longing.
I am in Russia! Let me say it again, I am in Russia!! In difficulty and loneliness, I have forgotten the answered prayers and gift God has given me in the opportunity to be here. I have forgotten the love he has given me for these wonderful and sometimes difficult people. I have neglected to see the beauty in each day. God, forgive me for treating your gift like a burden.

So as the holidays present many opportunities for me to long for home and miss my family and friends, I will choose instead to focus not on what I am missing, but what I’ve been given. I will love my new home and be thankful for my own little Russian family and friends. This year not only have I been given the gift of a savior, but also the opportunity to share the hope He brings with group of people that live in hopelessness. I’d say Christmas of 2009 has the potential to be the best one yet….

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thanks to Russia...

Thanks to Russia I now have a new and/or greater appreciation for the following:

1. English speakers
2. Cottage cheese
3. Red fingernail polish
4. Boots
5. Personal space
6. Lines...and the ability of people to wait in them
7. Tea
8. Skype
9. No smoking laws
10. Daylight
11. Toilet paper
12. Free water at restaurants
13. High heels
14. Laxatives
15. Fur lined hoods

Friday, December 4, 2009

and they will call him Immanuel...

“…and they will call him Immanuel- which means, ‘God with us’” Matthew 1:23

It sneaks up on me in the quiet moments. It finds me on sleepless nights. It waits for me in holiday celebrations. These are the moments when loneliness abounds.

Sometimes I wonder why God first brought me to Ukraine. I wonder why it was my heart he decided to shatter and my plans he chose to change. My experience transformed me and broke me and made me feel slightly separated from those I know and love. Out of fear and insecurity, I’ve asked God to change his mind, let me forget, and choose someone else. And yet, two and a half years later the memories are still vivid, the ache remains, and my plans have clearly been altered.

In the process I’ve realized obedience does not ensure a mended heart. For as I’ve moved to the part of the world my heart was aching for, I’ve left behind the part of the world that has made me who I am. And so, no matter where I am, my heart aches for that place where I am not and I realize I am only understood to a point.

I’ve come to Russia and truly I do love it. I believe whole heartedly that this is where I’m supposed to be and I find joy in that. But some days I just want to feel normal again. I want to ride in a car or read a menu in English. I want to be with my friends or have someone smile at me on the street. I want to be understood. I wonder, if I'll ever feel known again. Will the longing and loneliness ever be completely filled? Why is it that I feel most alone when I am surrounded by the people I’ve come here to love? When will the aching stop?

Tonight as we read the story of Christ’s birth in our Bible study, I heard but one verse: ““…and they will call him Immanuel- which means, ‘God with us’” Why I suddenly feel weak and stricken with thoughts of home, I do not know. But for some reason, tonight just feels harder than most. So as my heart is aching and longing for those I love and miss, I will cling to Immanuel, for God has come to us. In our trials, He is with us. Through our fears, He is with us. In the midst of our questions and confusion, He is with us. When we feel alone and struggle to fit in, He is with us. When we long for just one person to understand and we come up empty, He is with us. Thank God, He is with us.