Fire, Borrowed Balloons and Elvish Fun: A Look Back at November 16th

There is a magnet on my fridge that says, “God didn’t make me a morning person, but he did make great coffee.” It was a gift from a wise friend and it basically sums up exactly what I think about those before noon hours.

However on this morning around 9 a.m. my ears registered a faint knock at the door. I, in turn, retreated further into the comfort of my sleeping bag. Soon I found that warmth being stolen as my roommates jumped on my pull out bed with birthday presents in one hand and a plate of chocolate boasting a lit candle in the other hand.

“Don’t they know I’m dangerous enough in the mornings without fire?” I thought as I groaned and tried to look displeased.

There was dancing and singing and laughing that greeted me and I could help but smile and admit that I enjoyed it. And so it was that I awoke to my third decade of life.

After breakfast with my roommates and much debate over my wardrobe (I’m 30 now, I’m supposed to be an adult… or something like that), I headed out to pick up our speaker for English club. When I made it to club, everyone stood up and sang to me. A few of the students  told me how much they appreciate me and how blessed they are to know me. There were “borrowed” balloons, some gourmet instant coffee, a stuffed animal, some roses and a couple of angels (because I’m “such an angel”).

This was followed by an Elf themed birthday party at the home of my pastors. The Pierquet family went all out to make the evening special and it was. I was honestly surprised at how many people showed up on a week night. There were paper snowflakes, a table filled with candy and syrups, and spaghetti.

Yes, I did eat spaghetti with maple syrup and a load of other candy on top. No, I don’t plan to ever do it again. And, of course, we watched the movie right after I blew out the candles on a batch of Cotton Headed Ninny Muffins.

Finally around midnight I stumbled back into my flat exhausted but thankful. I expected thirty to come with a tearful goodbye to my twenties and at least a few tears shed over my single status, instead it was filled with laughter, a sense of belonging, and a knowing that I’m just where I’m supposed to be.

**Sorry there are no photos, I promise there will be at some point!!

Stained Glass Hearts: A Review

Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy ClairmontThis book caught my eye because a couple of years ago I wrote a blog about my own stained glass heart. Being familiar with Patsy Clairmont, I expected an enjoyable read and was interested to hear her perspective on the brokenness that inevitably happens to us.

I enjoyed Stained Glass Hearts like a conversation with a friend over coffee. Clairmont’s style is very relaxed, chatty and personable. I love the Gallery section in the book, which is her offerings of poetry, music, art, Scriptures, etc. that have touched her heart. As a creative type, I love the hodgepodge collection of finds that Clairmont shares with her readers.

However, the book seemed a bit disjointed to me. It started out strong and seemed to lose steam somewhere in the middle. I love that she shares the many ways God has used to help piece her broken heart together, but sometimes it almost seemed a little ADD.

Some may say that Clairmont seems too joyful, but I see it as a testimony of what God has done in her life. She is opening up her own stained glass heart in these pages and sharing the many ways that God has used to bring her to the place she is now.

For someone on the path of healing this could be a good book to help them put one foot in front of the other again and begin to see that even brokenness has purpose and beauty.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Booksneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Christmas at Tiffany’s: A Review

Christmas at Tiffany's by Karen Swan“Three cities. Three seasons. One chance to find the life that fits.”

That’s the tag line for Karen Swan’s latest novel Christmas at Tiffany’s.

I picked up this book on a whim last week while waiting to catch a flight out of London’s Heathrow airport. After a year in Ukraine I was just excited to see brand new books in English print, but I must say I enjoyed my spur of the moment chick lit buy though most of it is not set during Christmas (a bit of a bummer).

Cassie married the first guy she fell in love with, but ten years later she finds her marriage is torn apart by her husband’s affair. She knows little of the world or who she is without her husband so her three lifelong friends step in to intervene. Cassie leaves behind Scotland and spends part of the year with each of her friends in New York, Paris and London. It is a year of highs, lows, grief and adventure that helps her discover just who she is and who she was meant to love the entire time.

I found Swan’s novel well-written and engaging. The initial attraction to me was Cassie’s journey of self-discovery and the various cultures she would encounter. I was pleasantly surprised at the minimal amount of strong language and blush inducing scenes, though they are present. For me it was a bit like an adult version of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants except Cassie did the traveling part instead of a pair of pants. Regardless, I enjoyed the book.

Christmas at Tiffany’s  highlights the joys and sorrows of life, friendship and love during a year in some of the world’s most glamorous cities. If you enjoy books with travel, fashion, friendships and romance then you should grab a cuppa and experience Christmas at Tiffany’s.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Opinion totally my own. Nothing gained on my behalf by writing a favorable review. I just like reading and writing. 🙂

 

What Happens When You Show Up Unannounced?

A quick rap on the back door. Confusion. “What are you doing here?” Laughter. Hugs. Tears. More hugs.

This was Monday evening in my household… in North Carolina.

There is something so fun about surprising people. It’s one of the things we love about birthday parties, Christmas, unexpected flowers or small thinking of you gifts. The joy of the surprise.

Most of us enjoy the good surprises (some more than others), but my mom is notorious for accidentally figuring out all surprise plans. Do you know anyone like this?

She happens to see something while cleaning. She happens to walk in at the time when you’re trying to hide or wrap. She picks it up, looks at the size, feels the weight and inevitably declares its contents. AGHHHHHH!!!!

So I set out on a mission to surprise my family for Thanksgiving.

My best friend picked me up at the airport, treated me to some BBQ ribs, and then we set out for home. It was so much fun that I’m still laughing about it, and will be giving mom a hard time about, “What are you doing here?” for a looooong time to come.

The surprise continued into yesterday as I showed up unannounced for Thanksgiving at lunch for Dad’s side of the family and supper for Mom’s. We’ve worked hard to keep me a secret this week.

So now with all this surprising out of the way, I hope you will forgive me for my silence this past week, but I can now happily announce…

I’M HOME!!!!!

I plan to be in the States until January 10th. I hope to connect with all my family and friends during the coming weeks and I’m also free to speak since I am also here support raising for 2012.

Or maybe I’ll just show up unannounced there too…. you never really can tell!

Avoidance Mode: Procrastination’s Older Brother

Currently I am operating in avoidance mode. This is different from procrastination mode, which is my general setting. This is much worse.

This is the mode where I do everything in my power to ignore __________ (fill in the blank). It’s like procrastination mode on steroids and almost always ends badly.

At this very moment I am avoiding the fact that I have to finish getting dressed and I have to walk outside into the gray, frigid, windy day that according to weather.com feels like 24 degrees. Gross!!! However I know that if I don’t choose to stop avoiding this then I’m in big trouble later because it is my only day to accomplish what needs to be done. So logically I’m writing a blog and I may even Facebook and Twitter about it. Sometimes big trouble isn’t good enough motivation. Mature huh?

Why am I avoiding it? Well for starters it’s bloody cold outside. But it’s also because I have to go shopping. Not the go to the store where it’s all labeled and you don’t need to talk to people shopping but the market shopping, requires interaction and language shopping. It’s difficult.

I’m also avoiding, or should I say attempting to avoid, the inevitable.

Tomorrow.

Why would I be avoiding tomorrow?

16 = 30

Today is the ides of November, meaning tomorrow is the day I turn 30. It’s a thought I’ve been trying to ignore all year.

This is the part where I could easily turn this into my “OMG I can’t believe that I will be 30 tomorrow and I STILL am single and to top it off I live in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, and let’s just be honest the guys really aren’t very appealing and besides we don’t even speak the same language” sob story. For your sake I’ll try to avoid that as well.

While I can avoid shopping and suffer the consequences, this one I have to face in less than 24 hours.

I’m so dramatic. I know.

So why do we avoid things when we know we just have to suck it up and deal with it sooner or later? Wouldn’t just handling the situation now, facing it and moving out create a whole lot less anxiety in the long run?

I know that if I just get my shopping over with then it is done and I can check it off the to do list instead of creating more stress for myself later in the week. If it’s a good day, I may even walk away feeling accomplished.

I also know that thirty isn’t so bad. It’s just another day of life and most people think I’m still 26 anyway.

So I’m going to finish catching up on The Amazing Race and embrace the wind and shopping experience and maybe even 30.

(Though presents could make 30 easier to embrace… just saying) 😀

Baby Steps: Learning to Leap

Ras! Dva! Tri! Wooohoooo!!!

The young adventurer spread his arms taking in the exhilarating moment between solid surfaces.

Well, to be fair, this was his reaction after becoming a seasoned jumper. The first time looks more like:

Ras! (One!)
Assured and full of courage.

Dva. (Two.)
Spoken with a bit more timidity and a lengthy pause.

Tri. (Three.)
Even as he speaks he balances precariously on the edge, his facial expression tattling to the world the inner workings of his mind.

The moment of truth.

The courage rises past the fear.

He leaps.

Leap of Faith by Shampie
Leap of Faith by Shampie, Deviant Art

This little scene made me smile on my way home this evening. It took such courage for him to jump off that first tire, but afterwards he just put a hand out to his father to help him climb atop the next one and without hesitancy he announced to the world his next daring leap.

I’m sure to the little boy those few inches off the ground seemed enormous, at least that first time.

Then I considered how often God asks me to respond and to my fearful heart it is like He has just asked me to walk on water or, worse, dive into the water (I don’t swim.).

He helped me get on top of the tire so there is a little spark of courage, but staring down from my sudden elevation change unnerves me and I teeter on the edge uncertain.

Maybe He just wants me to enjoy the view from up here.

He didn’t really put me up here to jump did He?

Sometimes my courage kicks in and I take my kid sized leap. Other times I burst into tears and declare it’s no fun and I want down… NOW!!

But after the first trust fall step, it usually makes the next one a lot easier, dare I even say fun.

May we learn to trust our Father when He leads us to leap.

Are you facing a leap of faith? Do you hesitate or just go for it? Why?

 

 

A Lipton Based Friendship

Winter is reaching out her icy fingers again. Her breathe sends chills down my spine and adds stress to my time management as she demands extra preparation before meeting her each day. She hasn’t donned her snowy white coat yet, but she must have been removing it from storage yesterday because I spied light, white dots falling from the wispy gray clouds overhead.

Downstairs our door lady is in a cramped room about 5 x 5 feet, sitting by a cluttered desk in the pale lamplight. I cannot fathom her job. All day and all night she remains in this room only briefly escaping to sweep and mop the floors, water the flowers, or use the restroom.

Daily I pass her, as I’m sure many tenants do, with my head down, lost in thought and not even acknowledging her presence. Other times I sneak past, praying she doesn’t try to talk to me because I cannot understand and it only frustrates us both.

To me she is kind of a cute babushka, but grandmothers in this country still frighten me. They are a class all their own, strong, independent and quite feisty.

Our lady is always dressed in several layers with a kerchief covering her head, walking slightly bowed as though the weight of a lifetime bears down on her shoulders.

Yesterday I saw her smile for the first time, and a hint of kindness flickered through her eyes.

Sometimes I forget that you don’t necessarily need spoken language to communicate with someone and for days I have had her on my mind. So I bought a simple box of tea. Nothing fancy. It cost me a mere dollar.

As I turned the corner to entire my building last evening I stopped by her door. She looked up at me with a puzzled look, undoubtedly wondering why the American girl that cannot talk to her would be standing there. She opened the door to her small room and I placed it on the desk with a shy smile and my best Russian, “For you. Just because.”

That was it. And that was when she smiled and I caught a hint of grandmotherly love. She thanked me, thanked God and bid me a good evening.

I think the door lady and I may finally be making friends.

I don’t tell you this to make you think I’m some great person because, honestly, too often I completely miss the small opportunities. I only tell you to remind us both that it doesn’t always take large gestures to reach out to people.

What small act of kindness can you do for someone today?

Egyptian Beauties and Taste Bud Tales

Turning the corner in my local supermarket I spotted them, like golden nuggets amid the everyday produce. Everyone else just passed them by, undoubtedly unknowing what greatness they were missing. I felt a tinge of pity for them, and with lightening speed grabbed a bag to fill with…

Sweet Potatoes in Ukraine
You can take the girl out of the south, but you'll never get the south out of the girl!

Sweet Potatoes!!!

A taste of home!!!

I’m telling you those Egyptian imports looked like gifts from Heaven, and I didn’t care what they would cost me.

Now I don’t know how you feel about sweet potatoes, but being a North Carolina girl, which is the top producing state for this amazing food, I hold a special place in my heart and taste buds for them.

For weeks I have been questioning Americans and Ukrainians alike for any sign of sweet potatoes here. There were rumors that they could be found, but not easily and not cheaply. Still, I have been a crazy woman scanning every produce stand I pass with hope of comforting my Southern taste buds.

And so I paid $3 USD for three sweet potatoes. The lady gave me a quizzical look when I put them on the scale but I could have cared less in that moment what she thought of me and my find.

Last night as I tackled my “to do” list after a week of being sick, I was comforted by the warmth of the oven and the aroma emitted from it as it baked my autumn goodness.

And I thought…

What if I approached seeking God and His Kingdom the way I did my pursuit of those sweet potatoes?

  • Always keeping my eyes open for any hint of His presence.
  • Talking to others about Him, fully convinced of His goodness, longing for them to also taste and see.
  • Willing to do anything, to pay any price, even if just for a few moments to be with Him.

I’m certain it would transform every aspect of my life.

“God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.

Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.”   Matthew 13:44-46 (MSG)

 

 

 

 

Drumroll Please: Announcing the Future…

fried chicken
Completely unrelated in every way to this post but LOOK MOM I MADE MY FIRST FRIED CHICKEN!!

Red, silver, gold tinsel. Baubles of various size and coloring. And those little metal hanging hooks that always get tangled or spill out and stick in the carpet as you try to gather them back into their plastic home.

It is almost that time of year again.

I had this realization a few days ago when I walked into a local store, noting the above decor and more as I frantically searched for twine or string for our costume party. Thankfully, for me, even though Ukraine doesn’t celebrate Christmas until January, they are already gearing up for the holiday as well.  So I ended up purchasing gold and red tinsel to use for hanging apples. Whatever works, right?

With this realization came another. I have been silent concerning what lies ahead. I did only commit to 2011 in Ukraine and it seems that end is quickly drawing near.

So I guess it’s time to make it known to the world at large that…

I will be home for Christmas. I have a very important birthday date on New Year’s (see, Amy, I haven’t forgotten). And I plan to return to Ukraine January 11th, 2012.

I prayed about it a lot. Support raising is kind of like a form of torture to me, and I never thought I’d say it but some days I really miss my 9 to 5 job. Ukraine has brought it’s fair share of emotional and physical breakdowns to me this year, but in the end my heart is still here and I still feel it is where God has me.

And as I was praying about it someone gave me a check for half the cost of my round trip flight with a note that it was to ensure my return to Ukraine. That alone was enough for me to be like, “Ok guess I got the answer to that prayer.” Check yes.

So, God willing, I will be in the States in December and early January enjoying time with friends and family, willing to speak and share if desired, and looking forward to lots of coffee dates to catch up!! I have so much to share with you!!

Defend the Cause of the Fatherless

Hanging out with my boys in Haiti (Feb 2009)
Hanging out with my boys in Haiti (Feb 2009)

“Defend the cause of the fatherless…” Isaiah 1:17

There are 143 million orphans worldwide.

30,000 of those orphans are in the orphanage system of Ukraine (see explanation here).

Today is Orphan Sunday, a Sunday dedicated to making us aware of the need and of God’s call to each of us.

 

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.” Exodus 22:22-23 (NIV)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27 (NIV)

As I sat and listened this morning, I couldn’t help but venture back in my mind to the orphanages I worked with on the World Race. I am not exactly what I would term a children kind of person. They are beautiful and amazing and kind of like little aliens that I don’t know what to do with, especially if they can’t talk to me yet.

Regardless I was still able to love the children. I didn’t have to be the one in the middle making the funny faces and entertaining, there were always a few on the outskirts that just wanted to be held and THAT I could do.

We aren’t all called to move to a foreign country and work with orphans, but we are ALL called to SOMETHING.

What can YOU Do?

Blogs of Note if you are interested in Ukraine specifically:

  •   Beauty from the Ashes tells about orphan work and adoption in Ukraine. The blog belongs to my friend, Karen Springs, who works for Orphan’s Promise. She also runs a hospitality house in Kyiv for families coming to adopt.
  • More Love to Give is a journal following the Bollinger family’s journey of adopting in Ukraine. I had the privilege of meeting them last summer. They have a huge heart for God and adoption and they have a pretty amazing family.

Below is the video from ICA Kiev‘s Orphan Sunday, put together by Karen Springs.