Anticipation and struggle

It has been too long since I have last written, I know.  This has been an intense and unusual season that has required a great deal of energy and time with little time to spare for activities beyond the basics.  I’m grateful now for the opportunity to share some of the happenings in this season and why I see this as a great time of anticipation and struggle.

Ukrainian Christmas (Jan. 7)

Together with Maxim's Aunt Tanya, Mom Reisa, and Sister Tanya

Together with Maxim’s Aunt Tanya, Mom Raisa, and Sister Tanya

Here they are with all their "kids" ~ see how they enjoy them!

Here they are with all their “kids” ~ see how they enjoy them!

Happy New Year! (in Ukrainian)

Happy New Year! (in Ukrainian)

First, a simple blessing we experienced to start the year was getting out of town and visiting my husband Maxim’s family in western Ukraine to celebrate Ukrainian Christmas.  I actually had a few weeks off of work around that time due to some sickness as well as the fact that schools were closed and students were on holiday, which means there is no work for an English teacher for at least 2 weeks.  Hey, I won’t complain:)  This was a needed refreshment!  We mostly just hung out together in addition to sharing some special Christmas celebration.  We enjoyed a special meal prepared by Maxim’s mom and aunt that included 12 dishes, according to the Orthodox tradition done in honor of Jesus’ 12 apostles.  Also, we visited a nearby Catholic service located in a magnificent church building, which was all in Ukrainian (of course).  Thus, for me this was more of a special time with the Lord since I couldn’t understand a word of what is going on, except for the melodious sounds around me.

Remarkably, that time during the church service was a very special time for me because as I simply sought to behold the presence of Jesus and sit there at His feet, I experienced Him in a very personal way through two scenes with Him that came to me in my spirit (this is the best way I know how to describe it).  First, we were dancing together with Him being the one leading the dance.  I knew that I needed to let Him lead the dance and if only I would let Him lead and stay in the dance with Him, I could know that He would lead me in a beautiful way.  We were dancing so beautifully together and had so much joy in that!  I could see such great joy on His face!  Second, we were playing soccer together where He was playing against me, but not as an opponent but as my coach.  I already knew how to play the game but He was playing against me in order to make me a better player, to strengthen me.  These experiences with Jesus were so striking to me and I know they were pictures to remind me of how I am to live my life and how He is caring for me.  So awesome and sweet!

Oh, the joys of legal requirements . . . 

After the joys and rest of the holidays as well as enduring some more sickness, from February to April there were a great many steps Maxim and I needed to take to enable me to continue to stay legally in Ukraine.  At the end of March my documents were to expire, so new steps needed to be taken since my status in Ukraine had changed after marrying a Ukrainian.  The first gigantic part of the process was simply learning our options and legal requirements as well as preparing all the many documents that were needed.  This was a strenuous (and sometimes overwhelming) time where we felt like we were running a marathon, but the Lord sustained us through it and provided some very knowledgeable and supportive friends and family to enable us to accomplish this process.

The process included the need for me to go abroad to apply for a temporary Ukrainian visa and then to return to Ukraine and apply for temporary registration here.  The most economical option was simply to go to the neighboring country of Poland, which is what we decided to do.  However, then the story gets complicated all the more by such realities as my husband needing a visa to go to Poland if he wants to come and help me through this process (which the Lord did provide).  Whew!  The whole process took a great deal of time, energy and money but, glory to God, we survived and succeeded in this great venture!  We are very grateful to God for bringing us through it and for the blessing of experiencing Him in this hard journey in a way that we wouldn’t have if we hadn’t gone through it.  And I get to stay with my honey!!

We were only in Poland a short time but here are a few pictures from scenes we saw in Krakow, Poland when we went on an impactful Jewish Walking Tour where we learned about the history and atrocities the Jews faced there . . .

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a Jewish synagogue

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The bridge leading into what was known as the Jewish ghetto where the Nazis forced the Jews to go. 15,000 Jews were crammed into an area that had been previously inhabited by only 3,000, and they were imprisoned there by a wall surrounding them.

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A memorial set up at the site of the ghetto in 2005 in honor of the Jews murdered by the Nazis.  The chairs represent all the old furniture that the Nazis forced the Jews to leave behind saying that they were taking them to work on farm when in fact they were taken to their death.

A memorial set up at the site of the ghetto in 2005 in honor of the Jews murdered by the Nazis. The chairs represent all the old furniture that the Nazis forced the Jews to leave behind when they took them out of the ghetto, saying they were being taken to work on farms when in fact they were taken to their death.

Anticipation of a dream coming true!

In my last post, I had expressed the heartbreak of losing a child through miscarriage and yet how the Lord had given comfort, peace and hope in the midst of such pain, as He reminded us of the reality that, ultimately, our child is in His hands and now dwells with Him.  Yet the story did not end there . . . We are now anticipating a second child!  I am currently about 13 weeks pregnant and rejoicing in this great work that the Lord is doing within me as He magnificently creates a new life ~ our child!  As David said to the Lord in Psalm 139,

“For You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written every one of the days that were formed for me, before one of them came to be.” 

What awesome truths are revealed in the Bible!  Though this is a very joyful and special time, it has also been difficult in many ways, as it is for many pregnant women in their 1st trimester.  I have struggled with many typical symptoms that others do, such as extreme (yes, I do mean extreme) tiredness, nausea, and great change in appetite.  Though I had heard about these, I had no idea how HARD it can be to be pregnant!  Sometimes I have felt like, who am I?!?  I’m so different!  Needless to say, I have a new compassion for pregnant women and women with children.  On the other hand, these symptoms are strangely reassuring that things are happening as they ought to.  I’ve repeatedly reminded myself that this is a small price to pay for the great privilege that’s been given to me!  Further, I can see that the grace that I’ve needed has been provided.  For example, when I’ve needed to work, which has been quite a bit, I’ve been able to do so.  Yet, I’ve also been able to have extra time to rest.  My soul is greatly rejoicing in God, my Father and my Savior!

A Trial and yet a Gift

A further trial we’ve faced this year has been a time of financial difficulty.  This was unexpected, as trials often are, and has been quite a humbling experience for me.  There have been various reasons for this difficulty but one of the greatest causes has been a time of economic crisis at Maxim’s work, which has greatly affected the salaries that they have been able to pay.  There continues to be uncertainty about how long this will last and how great its impact will be.  The reality is that there are many in Ukraine facing similar situations.  The company was started by Maxim’s longtime friend and Maxim has worked with him since the beginning, so to some degree Maxim feels as if he is part owner as well.

I call this both a trial and a gift because though it has been a struggle to walk through it, I have seen the Lord bringing about good through it.  It has definitely challenged my faith and forced me to ask myself who/what I am really trusting in for my security and provision.  Is the Lord really my provider or not?  If He is, as the Bible reveals that He is and I have proclaimed that He is, then why should financial struggle and uncertainty cause me to be anxious?  This situation and our needs are not unknown to Him and, indeed, He has been providing for them.  Thus, I’ve been forced to depend on the Lord and trust in Him in a deeper way and that is the greater thing.  I don’t like the struggle, but I’m realizing that I get to see the Lord in greater ways when I’m really forced to depend upon Him and wait for Him to show up.

Further, as He reminded me this past Sunday through Revelation 2:9, though I am poor (or feel poor) I am indeed rich . . . in His kingdom and eternally!   Then today I was reminded of the fact that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  Indeed, this is true.  But what a glorious kingdom it is!  I can’t wait to see it in its fullness with King Jesus reigning on the throne!

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Dear sisters from my Christian home group ~ Helen, my best friend Anya and her daughter/my goddaughter Amelia

Dear sisters from my Christian home group ~ Helen, my best friend Anya and her daughter/my goddaughter Amelia

Together with dear sisters and brothers from our church ~ (from L to R) Maggie & Vanya, Ira, Mindy & David, Marina & Emily & Volodia, Volodia

Together with dear sisters and brothers from our church Spring of Hope ~ (from L to R) Maggie & Vanya, us, Ira, Mindy & David, Marina & Emily & Volodia, Volodia

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fulfilled dreams, waiting hope part 2

A Year to Dance . . . 

How can one express gratitude for the almost unthinkable gift they are given?  That is how I feel.  After many years of waiting for a life partner, at the end of 2011 I met the man who I would soon discover is my soulmate who would then become my husband, all within 8 1/2 months of that first meeting.  We experienced a dream wedding day this past August 11th filled full with celebration, happiness, gifts, beauty and worship.  But the beyond our dreams reality didn’t stop there . . .

The Dream Trip Becomes Reality

Maxim and I on Masada overlooking the Dead Sea

Maxim and I on Masada overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel!

My dream to travel to Israel and visit that Holy Land, the promise land, the highlighted land of my most beloved book the Bible was brought to reality . . . for my honeymoon . . . with my husband!  The idea still tingles in my ears 5 months later, because it is so remarkable for me – to have a husband such as Maxim is and that he and I shared the same deep wish to travel to Israel.  AND now that I am in Ukraine, rather than in America, I am located much closer to Israel.  Plus my husband doesn’t need a visa to visit there.  Add all this to the generosity of our family and friends who blessed us with gifts for our wedding and our dream trip became reality!!

We had so much happening leading up to the time of our wedding that we barely had time to consider plans for our honeymoon.  We knew what we longed for but we weren’t sure how we could pay for such a trip.  Yet after prayer and a unified sense of God’s peace, we took a step of faith and bought plane tickets to Israel.  We left for Israel a few days after the wedding with still very few plans made, except for a hotel room booked for the first two nights and a list of possibilities and ideas of what we could do.  We sat at the airport in Ukraine with our heads still spinning and our hearts overwhelmed by all the blessings we had just experienced and couldn’t believe we were actually on our way to Israel for our honeymoon!  Normally, we would be much more prepared for such a trip, yet at the same time what most mattered was that we were on our way and that we were together.  We also had the benefit and blessing of my husband having done a study tour in Israel a year and a half before, so ready or not here we come!

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem - believed by many to be the place of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection

In front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem – believed by many to be the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.

marketplace in the Old City in Jerusalem

marketplace in the Old City in Jerusalem

One of the most impactful monuments at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem - weeping souls.  This was one of the most meaningful places that we visited.

One of the most impactful monuments at the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem – weeping souls. This was one of the most meaningful places that we visited.

On a boat on the Sea of Galilee

On a boat on the Sea of Galilee

Play time in the Sea of Galilee:)

Play time in the Sea of Galilee:)

Incredible view as we travelled up to Masada overlooking the Dead Sea

Incredible view as we travelled up to Masada overlooking the Dead Sea in the distance

floating in the Dead Sea - crazy!

floating in the Dead Sea – crazy!

Our 1st ever Mud Bath!

Our 1st ever Mud Bath!

Indeed we had an incredible trip!  What was greatest was the simple fact that we could get away together, have time both to simply ‘be’ and connect as well as to explore, learn, and have fun!  We enjoy being together so greatly.  It is such a gift from God!  Also, another great highlight was visiting some longtime friends of mine who live in Israel and who I hadn’t seen for over 7 years – the Goldbergs!  They are a Messianic Jewish (meaning Jews who believe in Jesus as their Messiah) family who minister through their church and to youth in Israel in Jesus’ name.   It was truly wonderful to connect with them after so many years, to participate in a couple of their youth events as well as to attend their congregation’s Sabbath service.  Something that is really interesting is that a high percentage (something like 80%) of their congregation speaks Russian (also Maxim’s first language) due to the fact that about 1 million Russian-speaking Jews have emigrated to Israel over the past 20 years.  The Goldbergs taught us a lot about Israel and helped bring the Bible to life for us.  Further, I shared a unique connection with the wife who grew up both in Scotland and America and then only moved to Israel after marrying her husband.  It was a blessing to hear about some of her (and her family’s) own trials and victories that have been endured in moving to a foreign culture that speaks a foreign tongue.

Most of the Goldberg family

Me with most of the Goldberg family

I’ve created a digital picture album of our honeymoon in Israel with some commentary on Flickr, which you can view by clicking here.  Click on “Show Info” to see any commentary that I included.

An Unexpected Gift and Loss, A Waiting Hope

May we walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called . . . Ephesians 4:1

Soon after returning from our honeymoon, something very unexpected happened.  We were given an unexpected gift.  I found out I was pregnant.  Oh . . . whoa . . . shock!  But then something else unexpected happened.  Something inside of me changed minutes later after learning the news and getting past the initial shock.  I realized and I knew . . . I’m a Mom.  My identity had expanded.  I had become a Mother.  A burst of joy bubbled up within me!  As the days passed and the realization settled in, my excitement grew.  I’m a Mom!  It felt so right.  I felt ready for this, well, not completely, but mostly:)  Beyond that, I had a wonderfully supportive husband beside me who shared my joy and excitement.  He had wanted this to happen even earlier than I did.  I was going to have HIS child.  This was what I didn’t even know how much I wanted!

I was still very early in my pregnancy and so we decided to only share this incredible news with those closest to us and wait to share it with everyone until I was further along.  Of course, sometimes the news squeaked out of me to others because I was so excited about it.  A couple of weeks passed.  I went to the doctor where he confirmed my pregnancy.  Now it was even more official!  My life was already beginning to change.  I could feel some changes in my body and I started to make some minor lifestyle changes as well.

But then the unexpected happened again.  The experience that I had never dreamed would happen to me happened.  On September 25, 2012, the Lord took our child to be with Him when she was only 5 weeks old in my womb.  I experienced a miscarriage and had to give our child to the Lord.  This was probably the most painful experience of my life. Though it is now 3 1/2 months later, tears still come as I remember our little girl that is not currently with us.  Yes, I believe she is a little girl.  Elizabeth Rose.  Our daughter in heaven.    I am still a Mother.

We don’t know what caused the miscarriage.  Perhaps we will never know.  On one hand, it doesn’t matter.  Because, ultimately, the Lord determined the number of days for Elizabeth on earth.  And, ultimately, He had a greater purpose to take her to be with Him rather than to leave her here with us.  The miscarriage was both physically and emotionally very painful.  I actually had to go the hospital the day after to have a surgery because of some complications from the miscarriage, which certainly made the experience even more difficult.  And, yet, for this greater trial there was greater grace.  I can say this with all of my heart.

Right in the moment that the miscarriage happened, I experienced the presence of the Lord with me, near to me.  Though I was in intense pain physically and emotionally, I felt God’s peace.  This may seem strange, but it’s not something I can logically explain for it is something only my spirit understood.  Before the miscarriage happened, I had already determined that this child was the Lord’s, no matter what happened.  And I sensed His call for me to give this child to Him.  So I did.  Because He is my Lord and I trust Him, no matter what.  So He took what I gave Him.  God was gracious to answer my prayer to allow Maxim and I to see Elizabeth’s body that was still being formed and to allow us to grieve over her, bury her, and let go of her together.  At first, grief and pain was my primary reality because I felt the loss of our child so greatly, yet the Lord gave me His comfort at the same time and truly walked me through this experience, especially through His people and the promises in His word.  This included the great support of my husband Maxim throughout the process, the prayers and love of many brothers and sisters in Christ, and through connecting with some other women who had also experienced a miscarriage.

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” ~Psalm 34:18

“The LORD appeared to us in the past saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with loving-kindness.'” ~Jeremiah 31:3

The LORD said, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” ~Hosea 11:4

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we may be able to comfort those in any trouble, with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” ~2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When you become a mom, your life is forever changed.  You can’t go back.  A change has occurred that can’t be taken back and made to disappear.  So, we look forward to one day meeting our precious Elizabeth Rose in heaven and joining her in the glorious place of being in the Lord’s presence in heaven and worshipping Him together there.  Yet we also look forward to other children that the Lord will give to us to care for on earth, whether through birth or through adoption.  We dream of them, pray for them, and hope in the very near future we will begin to meet them:)  We have a waiting hope that will one day be fulfilled.  Amen.  Cling. To. Hope.

Click here for other Praises and Prayer Requests

fulfilled dreams, waiting hope part 1

“The LORD appeared to us in the past saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.'” ~Jeremiah 31:3

The LORD: “I led them (My people) with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.” ~Hosea 11:4

My time in Ukraine has not been what I expected.  There have been greater joys than I could have dreamed and greater pains than I would have imagined.  Yet God has been present.  The great I AM (God’s name revealed in the Bible), the ever-present One, has been at work.  He has been accomplishing His good purposes.  These past months have been a whirlwind ~ full of life-changing, magnificent moments where the hand of God has been seen over and over and over and over again.  It’s as if He opened the floodgates of heaven and poured out His blessings upon me and my dear Maxim, the man who has now become my husband, my life partner.

I can hardly summarize the past 4 months in one blog post (wish I had time to post more often!), but I can at least share some glimpses into this amazing season of my life . . .

Off to Scotland to meet a new family member . . . 

In the middle of June, I left Ukraine and traveled to the Orkney Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland to meet my new baby niece Eloise (Ella).  She was one month old the day I arrived:)  Oh, how delightful she is!  God also gave the great gift of Maxim being able to travel there with me for the first week of my visit.  This was his first trip to an English-speaking country and was filled with an abundance of new experiences for him.  It was so fun to share in these with him:)  The greatest blessing of all was that he was able to meet some of my family and they were able to meet him as we spent time with both of my sisters, my niece, and brother-in-law.  In addition, the land and ocean views we beheld were glorious and refreshing to the soul.  We greatly enjoyed this sweet adventure together, simply hanging out or taking long walks/hikes or adoring little Eloise.  I was able to stay there about 3 weeks in total and was very grateful for such unique, special time with my sisters as well as great rest and beauty.  I’ve posted a few pictures below, but see more of this gift of beauty and adventure by clicking here.

On a great hiking adventure with my love

My sister Michelle with her beloved Eloise

with my other sister Stephanie and little one on a splendid hike

The Union of a Lifetime ~ August 11, 2012

On August 11, 2012 I began a new life.  This is the day I became a wife.  This is the day I received from the Lord the amazing gift of a life partnership with my soulmate.  It’s the day my name and identity was changed.  After coming to know the Lord and being forgiven and made new by Him, this day was the greatest day of my life!  It was a day full of celebration, beauty, love and rejoicing!

After being pampered by a friend and getting my hair and makeup done, Maxim and I met with our photographer and traveled slightly outside of Kyiv to share in some enjoyable time away and take pictures at a lovely hotel with beautiful grounds.  Our ceremony was then held at Kyiv Christian University with about 100 guests/witnesses in attendance.   We were married by the pastor of our church in the university’s simple but nice hall with everything translated both into Russian and English.  Our ceremony was just what we hoped it to be – worshipful, beautiful, celebratory, and full of the love of God, our love for each other as well as that of our precious family and friends.  I was SO grateful that my mom, sisters, baby niece Ella, brother-in-law, and dear friend Amy could all come to my wedding!  Of course, there were many from back home in America that I greatly wished could have been there!  Also, my dear friend Maggie put together a slide show for us of pictures of Maxim and I’s lives that was shared before the wedding begin.  It was so special for us!

Following the ceremony we enjoyed greeting all of our guests at which time they so generously poured out their love, flowers, and gifts upon us.  It is a tradition here that when you greet the bride and groom after the wedding you share wishes and give flowers and any other gifts and then have a picture taken with them.  It was really delightful!  Then we enjoyed an amazing banquet that was certainly a unique experience from any American wedding reception I’ve attended:)  We were blessed with the traditional pieces of a reception with a great abundance of delicious Ukrainian food, special words from my maid of honor (Anya) and Maxim’s best man, and some dancing.  But beyond that . . .

We also enjoyed some really special and unique happenings, which often occurs at Ukrainian wedding banquets.  Maxim and I both prepared a surprise gift for each other:)  My surprise was that I sang him a love song in Russian that I had memorized, which was so special to be able to do and he loved it!  His awesome surprise was that he prepared a traditional Russian folk dance to present to me with 5 of his friends – and they were dressed in traditional costumes for the dance, which just happened to be skirts!  They were so hilarious!  My stomach hurt from laughing so hard:)  Also, his mom shared beautiful words with us and then my mom sang us a beautiful song that she had written especially for us.  It was such a great gift!  We also had some friends prepare a delightful and funny skit for us as well as a friend who presented us an amazing painting she had done for us.  In addition, two women Maxim knew led us in some awesome Jewish dances and there was even some time for a few fun games.

Our wedding day was really all we could have hoped it to be and more!  Words are not adequate to thank our loving Father for all that He has given us.  Such abundance!!  We are still waiting to receive our professional photographs from this amazing day.  Soon to come.  But here are a few taken by friends . . .

Also, click here to see pictures from my family’s visit as we visited some of the sites of Kyiv.  It was quite an adventure for them (and me!) to visit this foreign land with a foreign tongue that is so different from America and Scotland.  It was a great gift for us to share in this once-in-a-lifetime experience together!

 To be continued soon in part 2 . . . 

The Dream Trip Becomes Reality 

An Unexpected Gift and Loss, A Waiting Hope

Steadfast love and faithfulness go before the LORD . . . Blessed are those who walk in the light of His face, who exult in His name all the day and in His righteousness are exalted. ~Psalm 89:15-16

Click here for other Praises and Prayer Requests

unexpected gifts

Who am I that You, O God of highest heaven, would be so near and so good to me?

Mariinsky Park, Kyiv, Ukraine ~ my beloved Maxim next to the fountain on a recent visit together

The abundant goodness of God is rushing out pouring over me!  I am amazed.  My heart trembles at such goodness.  My heart is like a bubbling brook wanting to proclaim the excellencies of God wherever I go.  Help me to get this out God, I cry!  Let this praise in my heart, first, bring pleasure to You, be a sweet song to You, and, second, turn the eyes of others to You to also praise You from deep within, to sing greatly to you . . . truly.

The past three months or so have been a whirlwind of all kinds of unexpected gifts ~ truly unexpected.  Many have been incredibly delightful and some others at first taste have been difficult to swallow and yet they have had a sweet aftertaste and a nourishing effect.  The Scriptures point to a Father in heaven as the giver of every good gift and every perfect gift, telling us that they are from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17), so I can’t help but thank this great and caring Father of mine for such precious gifts.

the offer of a new life . . . a partnership . . .

The greatest gift I’ve received in these past few months is a life partner:), which in reality is the start of a whole new life.  I’ve met a man that I believe God has led me to unite my life with, a man who sincerely loves and seeks God, who longs to honor God and, thus, genuinely seeks to do so, a man who delights in me and so readily and generously supports me, an authentic and tender-hearted man with a humble servant’s heart, a man who I share much in common with and yet with whom I share complementary gifts and abilities, a man who has captured my heart ~ Maxim Stakanov.

how it all begin . . .

I met Maxim back at the end of November during my dear friends’ Thanksgiving celebration, and we started to get to know each other at that time but nothing progressed further.  We didn’t meet again until Christmas day in Ukraine on January 7 when I started visiting my friends’ church called Spring of Hope where Maxim has been actively involved for over 10 years.  I continued to visit this church every Sunday and so I began to regularly see him.  By the end of January we started communicating by email . . . went on our first date on February 11 . . . got engaged on March 17 . . . and are planning to get married on August 11!  Whoo!  Talk about a whirlwind . . .  a changed life!

On one hand I know that this all sounds very fast and yet on the other hand, I know that thousands of prayers have led up to this moment and that the peace of God has covered this time.  Both Maxim and I have waited a long time for this spectacular moment, and the waiting has only made us more prepared and more grateful for this moment now that it has arrived.  There is nothing in our spirit holding us back but only joy and peace and hope in moving forward, though we continue to pray seeking God’s will.  It is impossible for me to communicate the entire story of these past three months, but let me share some highlights with you ~

Our personal communication started when Maxim invited me to join a Christian book study in English that he was a part of on Saturday mornings over Skype.  It was a very unique study in that it was a group of Ukrainians doing a Christian study in English over Skype with an American who lives in America actually leading it.  It has been a real blessing for us as it has given us the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level as well as provided me with some needed Christian study in English.  Soon after this study started, Maxim pursued dating me.  Our first date was at an entertainment center called “Blockbuster” (said with a Ukrainian accent of course), which was amusing to me since this was such a well known American brand name.  There we went ice skating, shared a meal, and talked and talked.  Maxim knows English quite well but doesn’t speak it perfectly and my Russian is very limited so we were both somewhat concerned about our communication, but – praise God – we’ve been able to communicate quite well and even greatly enjoy each other’s accents as well as sometimes get some great laughs out of our “unique” ways of saying certain things:)

our first trip . . .

Another highlight was our first trip together in the 2nd week of March to visit Maxim’s home region and town.

Maxim with the flag of Ukraine

Maxim is from the city of Chervonograd in Lviv region, which is located in northwestern Ukraine very close to Poland.  We took about a 9 hour train ride from Kyiv to the city of Lviv, which is both beautiful and historic, where we spent two days sightseeing as well as visiting dear friends of Maxim’s who live there.  They are a Ukrainian family with 3 children who are missionaries with Campus Crusade. The father of this family is the one God used to lead Maxim to Christ when he was 17 years old, so it was especially great for me to meet him.  We greatly enjoyed this time, both the fellowship with this precious family as well as seeing some of the sights of Lviv together.

the precious friends we stayed with in Lviv

view of Lviv

Then we took a bus for about an hour and a half to Chervonograd to visit Maxim’s mom and sister.  This was also a great time of connecting with them as well as enjoying rest and the outdoors.  They were very welcoming to me, and I felt very cared for on the entire trip.  As you can imagine, this was a very significant time for Maxim and I to get to know each other with greater depth in sharing such a variety of experiences together as well as having so much time together.  Click here to gain a glimpse of our trip through pictures:)

the engagement . . .

Maxim asked me to marry him on March 17th ~ such a significant, amazing day!  When we were in Lviv, I shared of my longing to go bike riding after seeing someone doing so, which is also something Maxim really enjoys.  So he invited me for a very adventurous bike ride that day through a beautiful forest and park (thank God for friends who let us borrow them).  We traveled through the city, through snow, through little lakes of water, and through mud as we delighted in the beautiful places.  The day was sunny and the warmest of the year to that point.  Maxim packed a lunch for us and so after some time we stopped and enjoyed it together and talked for some time.  Then the moment came where he pulled out a beautiful hand written card and red heart shaped ring holder with a rose on it.  He had written his heart for me in a poetic way, which he shared with me with the all important question at the end of it.  Of course, I said yes! and he gave me a lovely ring that was perfectly matched to who I am.  Such a sweet, precious, thoughtful, deep man!  Here we are in that moment:

Moment of engagement!

Our wedding day is scheduled for August 11 in Kyiv, Ukraine!  Anyone want to come to Ukraine?!?

Something else to celebrate . . . 

On April 27th, I celebrated my 8 month anniversary in Ukraine as well as completion of my 8 month contract with the English school where I was teaching!  I am so thankful to God for bringing me through this very intense and yet meaningful time of teaching and adjusting to my new life in Ukraine.  Here is a picture of one of my favorite classes with students I had for the past 2 or 3 semesters:

This class gave me gifts at the end of each semester. This last semester they gave me the lovely, traditional headdress I am wearing. AND they sang me an AWESOME song all together on the last day to express their appreciation. It was so awesome, I was left speechless and even asked them to sing it to me twice:)

And another class of precious students I was able to teach for numerous semesters:

a final word . . .

This psalm says it best ~ The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; You hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.  I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.  I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure . . . You have made known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:5-9, 11)

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gloried in the abundance of lilacs in bloom in Kyiv’s Botanical Gardens last week ~ only one small glimpse of God’s creativity and abundance

tis a gift to dream

When I left America and moved to Ukraine (can’t believe that was over 5 months ago!), I had a significant amount of decluttering to do where I needed to make the hard decisions about what “important” items would make it to Ukraine with me.  One of those items was this Christmas ornament of a sweet  little angel whose shimmery wings read, “tis a gift to dream”.  Now that the Christmas season has passed and the decorations are put away, I have hung this angel on a nail over my bed to remind me of the truth that truly tis a gift to dream.  In the midst of a busy life with many responsibilities and cares, the beauty and joy of dreaming is so often forgotten as it is set aside for the more pressing concerns of the day.  Yet when this happens, it seems that something is lost.

Or sometimes it is that we just don’t want to dream.  Sometimes I know I don’t want to dream.  True dreaming involves allowing the hopes, desires and disappointments of our life to come to the surface as we ponder what we really want to see happen in our lives, in the lives of those we care about, in the places where we are.  We see more clearly what isn’t yet, what maybe we’ve been waiting for for a long time, even what we’ve been deeply longing for.  Simply put, dreaming can be painful.  Yet, to dream is to come alive.  I am convinced of this, for I have lived it ~ both the pain and the alive-ness.  I’ve come to realize that when I fail to dream, I fail to see the full picture of my life, the full picture of who I am, the full picture of what is possible in this world and in those around me.  I fail to dwell with The God of Hope who, by the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams] (Ephesians 3:20, amplified version).  Wow and amen!

The start of a new year always causes me to dream more, yet I have been inspired to dream for other reasons as well.  One of the great gifts from God in bringing me to Ukraine at this specific time was that my best friend here, Anya, was pregnant with her first child.  Just this past week, one of the dreams of her heart was fulfilled with the birth of her little girl who they have named Amelia, meaning “work of Yahweh(God’s name in Hebrew) and “industrious”.  The work of God and her industrious spirit were already shown in her life as she faced some serious difficulty in her delivery and overcame, even the doctors praising this little one’s strength.  Praise be to God!  She is even more special to me because Anya has asked me to be her godmother.  What a privilege and blessing!  Behold this gift:

the rejoicing parents beholding their precious gift

She has already captured my heart.

Two other special notes related to this ~ Amelia was born on January 31st, the same day as someone else very important to me ~ my sister Stephanie:)  Also, as I think of and pray for Amelia, I cannot help but think of my other precious godchild in America ~ Asher, the son of my dear friend Josalynn in Nebraska.  Another precious blessing of God was that within a day of Amelia’s birth I received a package from Josalynn with an abundance of pictures of their family, including updated ones of Asher and a homemade card from him with his own handprints and handwriting – awesomeness!

How God loves to interconnect our lives across the world and show His hand on the little details!

Another inspiration to dream came through my friends Maggie and Ivan, an American-Ukrainian couple here that I’ve mentioned in my blog a couple of times before.  They have become dear friends of mine here in Ukraine and I have been visiting their church called Spring of Hope over the past month.  They have shown such great hospitality to me and to many, carry such joy with them, and have such a heart for others to know and experience God, that they are a great gift to be around.  Within the past few weeks, Maggie, who also teaches English (as one of her jobs), shared a beautiful vision with me of her and I starting a daytime English school and ministry that is especially geared toward moms who are home during the day with their children.  There seems to be a need for this in Kiev and it could be a great blessing for many reasons.  This school could provide not only the moms and their children with the practical skill of English, but also a break for the moms to grow while someone else is caring for their children, as well as opportunities to invite them to an English Bible Study and support them in other ways, such as through counseling.  This is a big dream but an exciting one that God can certainly bring to reality, if it is His will.  That is where you can join us by praying with us about this!  God moves mountains through the prayers of His people ~ Matthew 21:21-22!

Here we are all together in January ~ Ivan, Maggie, Anya, Ruslan and I 🙂

Also all of us in my apartment, including my roommate Christy

winter scenes in Kyiv

I have found that this dreaming ~ a way of envisioning hope in tangible ways ~ is essential in this difficult land where so few seem to truly know God or have hope for a great life in this country.  Ukraine has such a devastating history as a land that bridges the East and West that has been vulnerable to invaders from all sides, a people who have been exploited and ravaged at the hands of foreign powers, only just becoming an independent state for the first time in 1991 (Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid).  I have heard over and over from the people here of so many difficulties and worries – corrupt politicians who are only looking out for themselves, the necessity of bribes to accomplish so many things, rampant acceptance of the need to lie and sometimes even cheat to get by, polluted air and water, negligent landlords, decrepit buildings, outdated technologies, superstitions, and so on.  And this is only what has been openly discussed with me.  There are so many other pains and darkness, including great numbers of abortions, human trafficking, alcoholism, . . .

scene from my kitchen window

Certainly, these problems and burdens are too big for me, seem like such large boulders that they can weigh so heavily on us.  But I must declare they are NOT for The Creator of Ukraine, of each Ukrainian life who has been made in the image of God, of The One who gives life to the dead and calls into existence that things that do not exist (Romans 4:17), of the One who so loved the world (i.e., Ukrainians) that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  God is here in our midst and He has plans to bring more Ukrainians into His kingdom at work here, plans to greatly advance His kingdom in this place.  So my heart cries, how can I join You, Lord?

As I mentioned, I have been visiting a new church here (well, new for me) called Spring of Hope, a small evangelical church, as I have been seeking and longing for a church home and hadn’t yet really found one.  I have been drawn to this one and so am prayerfully considering making a commitment to it.  I’ve already met numerous people there through various gatherings and many of them thankfully speak English:), though the service is in Russian and Ukrainian with some translation sometimes.  I need God’s help to get further connected and involved here, especially since the language barrier and my work schedule make this more challenging, yet I strongly desire this.  Please pray for God’s grace upon this process.

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“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” ~2 Corinthians 10:3-5

be strong and very courageous

The Gift of a New Year ~ 2012.

One of my favorite quotes ever (taken from The Lord of the Rings): “Become who you were born to be.”

Welcome here everyone.  The ending of a year and the start of a new one stirs me to remember, to reflect, and to ponder what has come to pass over the past year and what I hope for in the coming year.  Now I’m enjoying a 3 week vacation from work during the long holiday season here in Ukraine:), so I’ve been given the gift of time to look back and to look forward in the midst of this strange moment in time and space where I find myself.

A theme for me in 2011 and even now as I step into this new year has been God’s call in my heart to be strong and very courageous.  It was this call from my good, faithful, all-powerful Lord and Savior that got me here to Ukraine.  It is this call that empowers me to make the hard choices to live a life that would honor God even when my feelings and fears dictate otherwise.  It is this call from Him that keeps me going.  And now, quite fittingly, the women’s group I am a part of has decided to study the book of Joshua in the Bible where this call to courage is a theme, this way to live is a necessary command to fulfill the will of God and show the power of God on earth.

This study has been so poignant and rich for me as I ponder this story of God bringing His people to the promised land, yet a foreign land, where they and their leader Joshua (even more so) is called not only to courageous faith but also aggressive action to partner with the Lord in accomplishing many miraculous powerful works to bring about God’s kingdom on earth and to destroy all God’s enemies, yet for some who were saved by faith.  Yet the Lord also makes clear that they will only have success if they hold fast to the ways of God, are not only aggressive with the enemies of God but also aggressive against their own unrighteousness, aggressive against the tendencies of their own hearts to turn away from God . . . to their own destruction.  To follow the Lord’s commands required great, great faith in God’s magnificent character and promises as well as great courage and strength to carry out the part God gave to them in this great battle.  If Joshua and the Israelites could do that, surely can’t we?  Surely can’t I?  Yes, I believe – God at work in me.

I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment . . .

Another call I am pondering as I enter this new year, this gift of time ~ A great woman of faith named Elisabeth Elliot, who left her homeland to live in a foreign land to follow her God and there experienced great trials and pain and yet great triumph in the midst of it all, wrote in her book Through Gates of Splendor, “Wherever you are, be all there” (p. 20).  I keep pondering this because, as Ann Voskamp points out in 1000 Gifts, “Time is a relentless river.  It rages on, a respecter of no one.  And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention . . . I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment . . . This is where God is.  In the present.  I AM – His very name (as revealed in the Bible)” (p. 68-69).  The full life, another name for the abundant life – isn’t that what we all want?  I know I do . . . I long for it, long for it, long for it . . . in 2012.  Now.  Am I fully present in the now that I have or am I distracted by the yesterdays or strained by the tomorrows?  How about you?

So now, here are some of those precious life moments I want to share with you that I have been given over the past month ~

I am still in Ukraine after 4 months and I still want to be here:) This is the ongoing moment, the ongoing awesome reality that is still at times unbelievable to me.

On the main street in Kyiv called Kreschatik on New Year's Day

By God’s grace, I completed my second semester of teaching English in Ukraine! It continued to be quite challenging, yet certainly easier in some ways.  Here are some pictures of my favorite class from this past semester (2 slightly different groups because I had most of the same students in both a conversation class and a grammar class):

Stimulating Conversation Group

Now they are showing off their funny side:)

Engaging Grammar Group ~ amazingly almost all of them are smiling! Ukrainians never used to smile much in pictures. It wasn't the Soviet way. Thank God for this change - look how great they look:)

Celebrating Christmas in Ukraine has been a very different experience.  First of all, Christmas is celebrated here according to the Orthodox church calendar = January 7th.  So, technically, Christmas hasn’t arrived here yet.  However, of course, Christmas is on December 25th in my blood so there still needed to be some kind of celebration at that time!  Thankfully, I was able to enjoy a special Christmas weekend.

As a precursor to the Christmas holiday, I was able to attend a meaningful Christmas play in English at Kyiv International Church (my roommate’s church) as well as sing Christmas Carols like from home.  That was a special treat for my heart, yet also made me really miss my own church back home and our delightful Christmas celebrations.  Highlights of my Christmas weekend: Christmas party held by American teachers from my school on Saturday where Americans and Ukrainians together enjoyed some good food and drink, conversation, dancing, and white elephant gifts (a new concept in Ukraine). Special Christmas church service celebrating Jesus and the greatest gift we’ve ever been given ~ Jesus Himself ~ never ceasing to amaze me!  I was especially thankful because one of my friends who does not yet know or believe in Jesus also came to the service.  Then celebrated my best friend’s husband’s birthday with some of their closest friends, a really special time of enjoying each other’s company, blessing our friend, and eating really yummy food ~ Ukrainian style:)

Our on-the-wall Christmas tree ~ my roommate's creative idea of how to have a Christmas tree in a small apartment so everyone can enjoy it:) If she had waited around for me, it never would have happened so, thankfully, one of us was motivated to bring in the Christmas spirit!

Celebrating New Year’s in Ukraine is definitely a unique experience because this is most often the biggest holiday of the year here.  I had the wonderful opportunity to celebrate this holiday with my best friend’s family – with Anya, her husband Ruslan, and Anya’s parents.  It is traditional here to make an abundance of homemade dishes to enjoy at midnight on New Year’s Eve night together.  Well, there was an abundance alright, probably the most amazing homemade meal I have ever experienced with the variety of dishes, the beauty of their presentation, and the amount of labor involved in preparing them.  There was so much food that we sat down for our second feast on New Year’s Day:)  What a gift of hospitality!  I truly experienced a traditional Ukrainian family’s New Year’s celebration.

Can you tell I'm excited?

This is called delicious, generous hospitality!

An interesting experience of New Year's is all the singing and performances they show on TV all night . . . and we had them on playing next to us all night, well, until like 3 am when we went to bed:)

My dear friends Anya and Ruslan - aren't they cute?

Sweet picture of Anya and her mama Margarita (mastermind behind the feast)
Anya’s papa Serge – what a joyful face and a joyful man, a man completely transformed by the Lord!

“But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’  My times are in your hands; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!  Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love . . . Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind . . . Love the LORD, all you His saints!  The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.  Be strong and take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!” ~Psalm 31

Become who you were born to be.

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hope

Hope . . . such a small word and yet one would die without it.

Survival tip number whatever, not just in a foreign country, but in life: Fiercely hold to hope and don’t let it go no matter what!  Life bumps us in so many ways, bruises us, tries to suck us dry and break us.  If we don’t have hope, we will give up and let the darkness win.  But the Bible says that God has set eternity in people’s hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and that the very nature of God, the Creator of every living breathing being, is hope (Romans 15:13).  Hope.  I love this word.  It stirs my heart to believe beyond what I feel, see, touch, hear, taste.  I could not survive without it.  Surely, life would crumble me and overwhelm me without it.  Yet it is only so meaningful to me, so solid for me because it is not just some vague, nice idea but is based on and supported by the only one who can truly make all things possible, the One who is hope – God, called Yahweh in Hebrew, the infinite I AM who is ever present everywhere, has been forever, and will be forever.  Let us not doubt His solidness.

view captured on my recent trip to Budapest, Hungary

I didn’t intend to start this post on such a serious note, but this is where I am and life is oh so serious because it is so precious and fleeting . . . it mustn’t be taken lightly.  Moses, who was called the most humble man on the earth, asked God “to teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  I must speak of hope because sometimes this life is very hard and there are days when my heart aches intensely for more than what is now, and it is only my hope and faith in God (even gifts in themselves) that keep me.  What is the more that I am aching for?  Well, that could be a long list, but one thing I have been especially aching for is for the Ukrainian people to behold the glory of the Lord, to see their need for Jesus, to turn to Him, and receive a hope they have never known that goes so far beyond this life to the forever life after death that will make this life seem like an instant, I am sure.  But to have their lives changed even now from the inside-out as they drink deeply from the overflowing living waters Jesus promised that would be given to all who truly believe in him (John 4:14, 7:38).  This is refreshment.  This is deep joy and peace.  This is the true love our hearts hunger for.

God is giving me a growing love for the Ukrainian people.  It is the inside-out work He is doing in me.  I can’t even explain it really.  But I am SO drawn to this strange land, well, what seems strange to me, as I know I am sometimes to them:)  I watch the people and I wonder their stories ~ What have they faced?  What have they endured?  How have they dealt with it?  What keeps them going?  So many are so serious or with strong faces . . . often expressionless, except for a moment when their faces give a glimpse into their soul.  I see their faces, especially the older generation, and they tell a story of a hard life and maybe strength and maybe weakness.  As I talk with Ukrainians, there are moments when I am let in on the oppressive life under the Soviet Union, which Ukraine was once a part of, or of the desperation faced after it crashed.  Yet then I see the faces of my students or the face of a child and there is optimism and smiles.  There is yet hope.

As I just passed my 3 month anniversary here, I realize I still understand so little of the people, the culture, the language here.  And I can be frustrated (sometimes even to the point of tears) over the language barrier and how this can greatly hinder connection, and I can intensely miss my dear ones back home (which can also bring tears).  Yet, I desire very strongly to be here.  I fight to learn the language, which I am graced by God to enjoy studying and have been given a wonderful teacher (well, teachers really since I am surrounded by native Russian speakers) to do so.  I fiercely hold to hope that God is at work here and, out of His kindness and grace, has some part for me to play here.  Please pray that I would know my part and do it.  One thing that does excite me is that Anya and I will be starting a Women’s Bible Study this week in English.  We need prayers for God’s leading and blessing upon this.

Last time, weeks ago now, I wrote about the dare to unwrap 1000 gifts of love as we take time to write down the things we love.  Have you been doing so?  I am in process at #337, yet stirred to more thanksgiving, to a more thankful heart in spite of any circumstances . . . asking God to help me to become more aware, to see more clearly His intended blessings.  One of the many blessings He brought me since I last wrote was a gift that I did not even know I wanted until I unwrapped it ~

Ukrainian Consulate

A trip to Budapest, Hungary.  I needed to go there to seek a necessary visa for staying to work in Ukraine.  This was a trip not exactly of my choosing and yet a great gift bringing me adventure, beauty, and rest as I took a train across Ukraine to Budapest and enjoyed some days of beholding this stunning, historical city with some of my fellow American teachers.  You can see all my pictures on Facebook or by clicking here to see them in my Flickr account.  Here are a few of my favorite shots:

Parliament

My fellow adventurers - Joyce and Beverly - teachers from my school

Another gift I received was the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving here last Saturday with some Americans and Ukrainians.  I have to say that it was so weird to be in a place where it is as if this holiday doesn’t exist, since it doesn’t here.  I was able to enjoy some flavors from home, especially my friend’s homemade pumpkin pie and whipped cream as well as hot apple cider with spices – yum!  For the Ukrainians, this was their first time having such a holiday, but I’m quite sure they liked it:)  Here are a few shots from our special time:

the lovely Thanksgiving spread at my friend Maggie and Ivan's apartment

The Thanksgiving group - my friend Maggie and her husband Ivan (in front of American flag), Ivan's family, an American missionary couple, and a few other Ukrainian friends

A verse the Lord encouraged me with in the past few days calling me to dwell in hope:

“Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD” ~Psalm 27:14

And another promise He reminded me of today:

He rewards those who seek Him. ~Hebrews 11:6 (the chapter on faith)

This is a call to expect this reward, so I pray, “Let me truly be seeking You.”  He does what He says.  Hope.