Monthly Archives: June 2010
As per many of your requests, Miki has finally put down on paper (or computer) her description of what pregnancy and childbirth was like here in Russia- alongside of experiencing our first year abroad. This six-part series will be out every couple of days for the next two weeks. After the whole series has been posted, we’re planning on posting a pdf of the whole story on our website.
Without further introduction, here’s part one.
PART ONE: Pregnant in St. Petersburg
THE DAY WE FOUND OUT ABOUT JASPER
It was my last day of work. For more than 2 years my family and I had spent our efforts almost entirely preparing for this day. It was time to give up the office job. In five days I would move with Charlie, my husband, and Isabel, our two-year old daughter, to St. Petersburg, Russia.
We had sold and moved out of our home 9 months prior. Since that time we had been staying at different places until all of the financial support we needed in order to move to Russia was committed. We had sold or given away almost all of our possessions except for the things we planned to carry with us to Russia and a few boxes we left in my mom’s attic. For the previous 4 months we had been living in a “missions” house owned by a local church in Atlanta, GA, which was completely furnished, and we had been driving a car loaned to us by Charlie’s parents. In all it seemed we had gotten ourselves prepared, that our loose ends had been tied.
That evening we were expecting the first arrivals of our family, all of whom were coming to town to be with us for our last weekend “stateside”. Isabel had spent the night with my mom, and Charlie and I found ourselves with some quiet time together for breakfast before I left for the office. I remember that breakfast well, how we laughed and talked and marveled that the day was finally here. I particularly remember how relaxed we felt together at that moment in that house, not knowing then the months that would pass before he and I would be able to feel that comfortable with each other again.
After breakfast, I got my things together for the day, and Charlie headed off for the shower. I grabbed the keys and walked into the bathroom to give him a kiss goodbye, when a thought occurred to me: I had not yet started my period that month.
“Hmmmm,” I said to Charlie. “You know what? I think I’m a few days late starting my period.”
“Hmmmm,” he said. “Are you sure?”
“Well, no. I’m probably remembering the date wrong. And, I mean, we are moving to Russia next week. So, probably I am just stressed.”
“Yeah,” he replied, though a little more slowly than I would have liked.
“Well, there’s a Kroger on the way to work. I’ll just swing in there for a pregnancy test just to be sure. I’ll call you later.”
“OK,” he said. But as I gave him a kiss, he kind of smiled a knowing smile and looked at me with an almost amused expression.
“What?”, I asked. “It’s nothing, I’m sure.”
“OK,” he repeated, still smiling. He knew that he was getting on my nerves, but obviously did not care, so I gave him a little glare, walked out of the bathroom and left for work.
Kroger at 7:30 in the morning can be a very quiet place, and I knew I needed to find someone who could unlock the cabinet where the pregnancy tests were kept. Fortunately, I ran into the manager of the store almost immediately, who was able to help me.
I guess Charlie’s little smile was eating at me, because after I paid for the test, I saw the manager again and asked him where the bathrooms were located. He pointed me to the back of the store, where I headed carrying my receipt and my little box holding 2 pregnancy tests. I can honestly say that I fully expected a negative result as I waited in that cold little bathroom.
So when that second little blue line appeared, my tears immediately began to spill onto it. I had to keep wiping my eyes to be sure I was seeing it correctly, to be sure it didn’t suddenly disappear.
Apparently, there either really was very little going on in Kroger that morning or something I did concerned him, because as I walked out of the bathroom with tears streaming down my face, still holding the positive pregnancy test in my hand, I immediately ran, once again, right into the manager.
“It was positive,” I said to him through sobs.
He froze. “Is that good?” he asked.
This question just made the sobs come harder, and all I could do was smile a stupid grin and nod.
As it was my last day at work and given my current emotional state, I decided that I would be a little late to the office and steered the car back to the house. Charlie had yet to actually get into the shower, and as he heard me walk back into the front door of that little house, he simply called out from the bathroom, “It was positive, wasn’t it?”
The first time I’d ever considered working in Russia was in 2000, before Charlie and I were even married. A missionary serving in St. Petersburg visited our church and talked about the orphans there living in institutions and on the streets. It’s difficult to explain what it is like to have the Lord “speak” to you about a particular thing, but I was sure that day that He’d intended for me to hear about those children specifically.
Two months after we married in 2001, I left Charlie for 2 weeks and flew to St. Petersburg to work with a team in facilities for disabled orphans. Six months later I went again, and Charlie went with me. We could never have known then all the Lord had planned for us in this ministry. If somehow at that time we could have seen and understood, I feel almost certain that I never would have gotten on that airplane. And I believe the Lord knew that, too.
From the time we found out about Jasper, everything I’d imagined this time would hold for us changed. Many of the difficulties I’d imagined would come immediately became greater:
Suddenly, I needed to get an appointment with my obstetrician and get a prescription for prenatal vitamins filled before our move in 5 days. Suddenly, I could not help Charlie pack or carry our 8 pieces of luggage as I’d planned. Suddenly, I had to be careful holding my daughter whenever she became upset or scared during the move. Suddenly, 4 days before our move, I had to tell my family about another major event in our lives in which they would not get to take part because we would be in St. Petersburg.
And instantaneously came the flood of questions about how this move would impact the life of our second child: How will the physical circumstances of living in St. Petersburg affect this child? How will he/she be affected by the stress of this move?
Or the harder questions: What if this move is too much and the pregnancy terminates? Even if under the best medical care in the world this pregnancy was not meant to be, what would it do to our family if something goes wrong while we’re living in Russia?
Or even harder: During our years working in St. Petersburg on prior trips, I’ve heard terrible stories of doctors in Russia convincing mothers to terminate their pregnancy early, or to give their child up to the state. I’ve heard others of the police coming to a home and taking a mother’s children away because of someone’s decision that the mother was not able to care for them. I’ve met so many of the hundreds of thousands of children there who have been given up and who are currently living – mostly sedated – in an orphanage. And what if this child is born with a disability? Oh, God, what would happen then? Would it be possible for my child to be taken away from me as a result of my decision to move to Russia?
The day after the positive pregnancy test, I went to my obstetrician for confirmation, and then drove to my mother’s house. I had spent the entire morning that day trying to come up with the best words to tell her that I was pregnant. She had already expressed to me several times that she did not want us moving with her granddaughter to Russia. I knew that she had been dreading this weekend for some time, and honestly wondered if she’d even be able to speak to me once she found out.
When I walked in, I asked her how she was doing. She immediately began telling me about how difficult the day had been. “I just don’t think I can handle anymore right now,” she said.
“Well,” I answered, “you’re gonna have to, because I’m pregnant.”
Her eyes locked onto me – I think to see if I was joking. It took about 2 seconds to set in, and then she said, “Oh, s***.”
In the next few moments several similar comments followed. And that was it. Looking back now, I am much more aware of how well my mother – and all of our family – did during that time, given how difficult it must have been for them.
Also on this day I began spotting, which meant I needed to lay down while watching Charlie and his family pack up all of our things for the move. This is significant now because it marked the first day of the many weeks that I would spend lying in the bed due to the pregnancy.
A few days later, we’d completed our packing, said our goodbyes, and were on a plane to Russia. I was still spotting, which had my mother concerned that if the pregnancy terminated during the flight and I was not able to get up and walk around enough, a clot could form in my body from the bleeding. Additionally, we did not yet have a doctor in Russia to whom we could go in the case of a termination once we arrived. Due to these concerns, we took extra measure to ensure I was not over-exerting myself, which again, meant Charlie took care of all of our luggage and Isabel for almost the entire trip. This, along with the exhaustion and nausea that had set in, also meant that I would spend the entire layover in Paris lying on the floor of Charles de Gaulle airport instead of getting out and seeing the city as we’d originally planned.
Upon our arrival in St. Petersburg, a dear friend of ours met us at the airport with a driver and a van to carry us and our luggage to our new apartment, which we’d only seen up to that point on a video made by the prior tenants. It was early May, so white nights had not yet completely set in and it was beginning to get dark. We pulled into the courtyard of the building, and Charlie and the driver begin to unload our luggage. Isabel and I went with our friend to see the apartment.
The apartment had not been occupied at all for about a month, and the heat for the building had long been turned off. So it was dark and cold and smelled dingy. But our friend had stopped by the store for us before picking us up, so we had toilet paper and bread and cheese and a few other items to get us through the first night. Charlie and the driver brought all of our things in, we paid the driver and our friend for their services, hugged and thanked them, and said goodbye. And that was it – just the three of us again, all of the sudden living in Russia. There were only 3 twin beds in the apartment, so we pushed 2 of them together, ate some bread and cheese, all 3 climbed into the 2 beds together and fell asleep.
“By Myself I can do nothing, I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please Myself but Him who sent Me.” John 5:30
I’ve been in the gospel of John recently. I realized that I often avoid this book because it challenges me on so many levels. This reading has been no different. Specifically, this time around I’ve struggled a great deal with what seems to be a pretty significant difference between my and the Lord’s definition of justice.
John is full of references to the system of justice. Just a few examples (italics added for emphasis):
3:18-19 – but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
5:22 – Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the son.
5:33-34 – You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony, but I mention it that you may be saved.
5:36 – For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.
I’m actually beginning to see that my struggle with the Lord’s version of justice didn’t start with my reading of John. Since the birth of our son in January, I’ve found myself becoming more and more entrenched with feelings of anger and bitterness, even hopelessness, about the ministry in which we’re involved here in St. Petersburg.
I’ve particularly noticed an increase in these battles after my visits to the intake hospital we work with near our home. The intake hospital is the first place a child sees after they’ve been removed from their home. The children stay at the intake hospitals for 2 – 4 weeks depending on their health and how quickly they can be placed in an orphanage. For some reason I can’t entirely explain, seeing a little girl with polished nails, and thinking that it might have been her mother who painted those nails before she was taken to the intake hospital, is harder for me to work out than when I’ve met little girls who’ve been away from their families for months or even years.
One of the things those in ministry always tell each other is that we are to lay down the burdens and pain we see in those we serve, every day. We are to give these things to God every night. I always tell myself, “This is not my burden to carry. I need to give it to God or I won’t be able to walk.”
But lately, when I come home and sit down with God, instead of asking Him to take these burdens I’ve seen this day, I’ve found myself beginning to ask him, “Why?”
Why can I be allowed to be with my two amazing children every single day, and to hear them singing or cooing, and to hold them and rock them and put them down to sleep every night, and all of these other mothers can not? It’s clearly not based on any merit system I can imagine. I screw up all of the time. I lose my temper and raise my voice and over react and everything else mothers around the world do on bad days.
Even more difficult than that – it recently occurred to me that the Lord is actually using these kids in these orphanages to draw me closer to Him. Of course we all know that growth comes through suffering. But it’s a bit more difficult – and humbling – to accept that I am more free in Christ because of THEIR suffering. This is justice that I simply can not explain.
It’s been interesting how delicately the Lord has begun to work through this topic with me. It has only been recently that I’ve been able to actually admit fully to Him how I feel, and to say, “I’m so sorry to question You, Father. But I just can’t understand what is happening here.”
Of course, it would be easy enough for me just to say, ‘Well, it was not the Father’s will for these families to have such trials, or for these children to be raised in these orphanages.’ But I know the truth, and the truth is that God is God. Whether it was initially His will or not, nothing happens in creation without His permission.
So in His gentleness, He’s begun to reveal to me some of the sources of my confusion, and some of the flaws in my definition of justice.
First, He’s reminded me (once again) of the vastness, brilliance and goodness of His plan. How many times in scripture does the Lord do His greatest works by showing mercy to the least “deserving”?:
Luke 19 – Jesus goes to the home of the “sinner” tax collector, Zacchaeus, who then decides to give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back four times any amount he ever cheated from anyone.
John 4 – After just having told the Jewish teacher, Nicodemus, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:12), Jesus shares with the Samaritan woman he met at the well, who was living with a man who was not her husband, the beautiful truth, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (vs. 23-24) Because of this meeting, the woman went and told those in her town all he’d said to her and that he was the Savior of the world, and many were saved. (vs. 39-42).
And on and on the list goes: Moses murdered an Egyptian (Ex. 2 11-15), Rahab was a prostitute (Jos 6: 22-25), King David committed adultery and murdered Uriah (2 Sa. 11-12). And of course, He’s reminded me of the brutal suffering His perfect – completely innocent – Son endured in order that we all may be saved.
But second, God’s begun to show me some of the effects of what is really one of the driving forces behind my version of justice – pity. He’s beginning to show me that a great deal of my inability both to help the children we know here and to see God’s hand in their lives is due to the fact that I feel sorry for them.
It’s very interesting how devastating it can be once an individual realizes that others are feeling sorry for him or her. The effects of such a realization include embarrassment and shame, bitterness and resentment.
Further, when a person becomes convinced by those around them that they have reason to feel sorry for themselves, the danger is that they will began to believe they are not able to function in the world as well as others who’ve not had the same, painful experience. It seems that when we pity or feel sorry for these we’ve been called to serve, the result can be that these individuals not only become defined by the suffering they’ve experienced, but that they become crippled with the belief that they are unable to live a full, free life in Christ because of that suffering.
Of course, there is also the effort that is often required to convince these kids that they have reason to feel sorry themselves. I wondered recently how much time I’ve spent in ministry convincing others that they are wounded, or damaged, somehow.
Then I began to consider the types of solutions I suggest to these “wounded” individuals, in order for them to have my version of justice in their lives. These solutions include, for example, learning English, or getting married and having children, or joining a protestant (aka western) church, or even going to the states to study or work.
Basically, my idea of justice seems to require that the lives of others should look pretty much like mine. Oh, and of course I talk to them about Jesus as well.
Lord, You alone are Lord. I thank You for Your perfect justice that flows so freely like water over the jagged mess of our efforts at loving You and serving one another in Your name. You are a good God and Your love for us is pure, and mighty. Through Your Spirit, continue to break down and clean out my version of the justice that comes from You, so that it may flow freely even through me. I love you, Jesus. Amen.