Monthly Archives: June 2010

“Pregnant in St. Petersburg- Our first year” Part 3

Part 3

JAPSER’S ARRIVAL     (Beware – A few details may not be for the squeamish!)

In the first week of January, the week Jasper was due to be born, it began to snow in St. Petersburg.  Now we had heard from many people that St. Petersburg really didn’t normally get a lot of snow, especially in recent years.  “The winters here are mild,” they said.

Well, maybe if I’d been born in Siberia.  However, for a Georgia girl who spent the majority of her first 5 years of life barefoot and shirtless running around Hacklebarney, GA (don’t look for it on the map, you won’t find it), when it starts snowing and keeps snowing for 3 days the week you’re due to have a baby, a little bit of anxiety (or “angzitey” as we say in Hacklebarney) sets in.

That week St. Petersburg saw record levels of snow, and the city was almost completely shut down as a result.   The roads were blocked, the sidewalks were impassable (especially if you were 9 months pregnant).  Charlie was continuously going out to the car we’d rented that week to clean the snow off and dig a clear path in case the time came for us to go to the hospital.  I was nervous.  But it seems that Jasper was also aware of the weather conditions, and so chose to delay his arrival a few days.

On the morning of January 8th, at about 4 am, I woke up wide awake feeling the best I’d felt in months.  I was so excited and at peace, I couldn’t believe it!  (I found out a few weeks later that at that exact same moment in Georgia, my mother was lying in her bed crying uncontrollably for no apparent reason.  She told me that at that time she had no idea why she’d become so sad, and that it wasn’t until she got the message from us the next morning that she understood what must have been going on.)

After about a half hour of thanking God for how good I felt, I fell back asleep.  A few hours later, Isabel came into our room to wake us up.  I told her to climb into bed with Charlie, that I was going to use the restroom (something to which we’d all become very accustomed by this time).  As I was climbing out of bed, my water broke.

Now it’s important to point out that while I was in labor with Isabel for about 6-7 hours, she was actually born about 10 minutes after my water broke.  So as soon as I realized what had happened, and given the weather we’d been seeing, we knew we needed to leave for the hospital as soon as possible.

Charlie made phone calls first to the two amazing ladies God used to care for us during the next few days, Liza and Natasha.  Liza had been sitting with Isabel while we had our Russian classes, and Isabel loved her.  She had agreed to stay with Isabel when the time came for me to go to the hospital.  Natasha was another dear friend of ours who’d agreed to interpret for me during my time in the hospital.  Both ladies had been waiting for this phone call for several days.

While we waited for Liza to get to our home, I decided I wanted to take a shower and fix my hair and makeup.  Seemed a little strange at the time, but in a couple of days I would be very grateful for this decision.

Once Liza arrived, we took off for what we expected to be a fairly difficult trip to the hospital.  However, it happened that this was the last day of the Christmas holidays in St. Petersburg.  It also happened that there had been no more snow for the previous couple of days, so the major roads had been cleared pretty well.  For these two reasons, our trip to the hospital was almost flawless, with very little traffic and perfect road conditions (for St. Petersburg anyway)!

Once we arrived at the hospital, the nurse checking us in had me change into a gown and gave me a rolled up cloth to sit on given my water had broken.  At the time I assumed the cloth would be a temporary thing and that I would be given something a little more sterile or comfortable once we got checked in.

After check-in, I met the doctor who would be delivering Jasper.  He did an exam and said that we did not have to worry, this baby would not be coming in 10 minutes.

Then the nurse announced that it was time for my “shave” and my enema.  And so began the surprises in store for me during those next 5 days…

Jasper’s delivery was perfect.  We paid extra so that Charlie and Natasha could both be with me the entire time.  The doctor and midwife were wonderful.  While I was laboring, I was able to sit and listen to Charlie and Natasha talk and laugh.  To kill the time (I guess they got a little bored), Charlie started an internet search on his phone to find out who else had been born on January 8th.  Those who know him can only imagine his joy at discovering that the list included both David Bowie and Elvis Presley!  This even excited the doctor, who began telling everyone who came into the room that our baby was going to have the same birthday as Elvis.

When the contractions began to be so that I was no longer laughing and talking, the midwife came in and asked if I wanted to sit in a warm shower, which I did.  (I had only brought my fuzzy bedroom slippers to wear at the hospital, and did not think that I would need slippers to wear in the shower.  So I had to wear Charlie’s plastic slippers and he got to wear my fuzzy slippers, as you never wear outside shoes inside in Russia.)

The shower stall was about 5 feet long, and I sat at one end on a stool while the warm water ran over my belly.  On the other end stood both Charlie and the midwife.  There wasn’t room for anyone else, so Natasha waited outside in the hallway.

Honestly, my memory of the 10 or so minutes in the shower is very blurry.  I remember how wonderful the water felt, and that because of it I began to believe again that I could make it.  I also remember that each time a contraction ended, Charlie and the midwife were both telling me to open my eyes and focus on them.

Apparently, between contractions I was beginning to behave as though I might pass out.  I remember the midwife asking me specific questions about what I was feeling – for example if I felt like I needed to go to the restroom, or if I felt like I needed to start pushing.  She actually came into the shower stall with me at one point to keep my attention between contractions and she was asking if I felt like it was time.  The first time she asked, I told her that I did not feel it was quite time.  Then, a few minutes later she asked again and I said, “Yes, I feel like I need to push.”  At that point, she turned off the shower, helped me up, changed me into a dry gown, gave me a new cloth, and led me out of the shower back to the delivery room.

Looking back, what I remember of the conversation I had with the midwife during those few minutes was that it was completely in English.  I don’t remember hearing or speaking any Russian.  I don’t remember having to translate anything she said to me.  I just heard her questions and answered.  However, what I wondered about later was the fact that I knew the midwife was not able to speak English.  So how could that have been?

I asked Charlie later if Natasha had actually been in the room translating what the midwife was saying and I’d just not noticed her.  He confirmed to me that Natasha had not been in the room, and that he’d stood there and watched me have this conversation with the midwife completely in Russian.  The first time I remember hearing Russian again and not understanding the midwife was after the shower, while she was helping me into a dry gown.  As soon as we walked out of the shower Natasha was there again, interpreting everything the midwife said.

Charlie and I both know now that it was the Lord who’d been in that shower stall, interpreting for me during that time.  I remember the conversation being as clear as if I’d been speaking to my mother.  All of our preparations couldn’t have prepared us for how vital that shower was going to be for me, or for the fact that my interpreter would not be able to be there in those precious minutes.  The Lord just took care of it perfectly, as He does.

When the time came for the delivery, the midwife helped me up onto the delivery table, and I told myself, “OK, OK, it’s time.  I’m ready to hear Natasha say ‘Push!’”.  But Natasha didn’t say “push”.  Through all of the chaos and voices in the room, I was trying to focus in on Natasha’s voice as she was interpreting the midwife’s instructions, and she just kept saying, “OK, breath through this next contraction, don’t push!”

“Don’t push?!!?” I thought.  “She’s kidding me, right?  Is something wrong?  Why can’t I push yet?”

As a few more contractions came and went with these same instructions, I started saying (in English), “Please, please let me push!”

Then suddenly the midwife said, “He’s got blond hair!”

“What?” I thought.  “How does she know that?”

Then I realized what was happening.  As each contraction was coming, the doctor was standing beside me pushing down on my belly.  He was pushing for me as the midwife was delivering!

I heard Charlie say to Natasha, “As soon as they tell her to push you yell it as loud as you can!”  And she did.

As soon as Jasper’s head was out, the midwife gave me the ok and Natasha yelled, “Push!”

And that was it.  I literally delivered Jasper with only one push.


THE PROCEDURE

Of course those first few moments after Jasper’s birth were wonderful.  There were lots of pictures and tears, I could breathe again, and I got to speak to my mom on the phone (my amazing husband is gifted at the art of communications).  Then after a few minutes, the nurse took Jasper from Charlie’s arms and put him back in the bassinet next to the delivery table where I was still lying.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but then they asked Charlie and Natasha to leave the room, and closed the doors.  A nurse came in and began to prep me for surgery.  Now after Isabel was born, I’d needed a few stitches, and I assumed I’d probably need that again.  I did think the prep was a little overkill for a few stitches, but I wasn’t concerned – I just assumed this was the way they did it in Russia.

Then the doctor came in and sat down.  I took a deep breath because I assumed there’d be a little sting.

In fact what I felt next, however, was a pain like I’d never felt before.  There were cloths over my legs, so I couldn’t see what they were using, but I could tell that the doctor was jamming something pretty deeply into the very tender and sore area from where Jasper had just come.  And he did it again and again.

I tried to use the breathing I’d just been using during the delivery to lessen the intensity of the pain, but it wasn’t working.  I was trying to keep still, but my legs were flailing.  There was one nurse on each side of me holding down each leg.  My hands were gripping some metal pieces on the bottom of the table.  The metal was digging into my hands but I couldn’t let go.

I started crying.  I kept saying, “Eezveneetsay – Ya ne znayu sto vwee delayete.” –  “I’m sorry – I don’t know what you’re doing.”

I tried to call Natasha, but I didn’t realize that she couldn’t come in the room.  She was trying to explain to me what was going on, but I couldn’t understand her through the door.  I found out later that Charlie tried to open the door, but they stopped him from coming in.

Finally at one point I got a glimpse of the sharp metal object, about 8 inches long, that the doctor was apparently using to probe my insides.  Finally, after a few minutes, they did put in a few stitches, did a couple of additional “probes”, and then the doctor said, “vso, vso.” – “that’s all, that’s all.”  After it was finished, the nurses helped me put my legs back down and opened the doors.  I was shaking all over.

But looking back at it now, I think that the hardest part was that I was aware the whole time that Jasper was lying there next to me, hearing me go through this.  I know that he was only a few minutes old, but I can’t help but to think that he must have been aware of the distress I was under and to wonder how that might have effected  him.

Natasha asked the doctor what they’d done, and the explanation was that this was a routine procedure used to ensure there were no tears on the uterus wall.  He said they’d found a couple on mine and did a couple of precautionary stitches.

I chose not to share with the doctor the words that were in my head at that time, you know, being a missionary and all.  But I shared them with God, and I’m certain He was fine with everything I had to say.

THE HOSPITAL STAY

All public “rod domes” (“birthing homes”) in Russia provide free delivery and hospital stay.  Of course, if you’re able to pay, then you receive certain “upgrades” regarding your time in the hospital.  For example, women who received the free care were not allowed to have anyone with them during delivery, nor were they allowed visitors during their 4 days in the hospital after delivery.  Also, those women stayed in a room with 3 other women and their babies.  Because we were able to pay, I was allowed visitors from 3 – 7pm each day and was assigned a semi-private room with only one other bed.

Charlie actually asked if it were possible for me to have a fully private room.  The doctor with whom we discussed accommodations told him that this would be arranged.

After the procedure had been completed and Charlie and Natasha were back in the delivery room with me, the midwife brought me a plate of chicken cutlet (it’s like fried meatloaf made from chicken – kind of) and oatmeal, with a slice of rye bread.  This is standard Russian fare, and was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.  She then laid Jasper between my legs on the bed, and she rolled the two of us down the hall to our room.

Our room was painted a kind of orange/peach color and had not been updated in some time.  It was clean, but did not feel sterile the way the hospital room in the states had felt when Isabel was born.  It had in it a sink, a metal changing table, two beds both up against the same wall, a bedside table at the foot of each bed, a metal-wire bassinet beside each bed, and a few chairs, one of which was broken.  There were also 2 robes hanging on the door, one of which I was required to use whenever I left the room, and a couple of Russian Orthodox icons (small pictures of saints) in the window.

One thing I also noticed was that nothing in the room was disposable.  Under the changing table were 2 shelves, one with white cloths on it and the other with pink.  Beside the changing table were two plastic, covered trash bins.  Each bed had a plastic covering on the mattress, then a sheet covering the plastic, and then another sheet folded and laying across the middle of the bed on which the recovering mother was to lie.

When the nurse came in to move me to my bed, she first took one of the white cloths from its shelf and gave it to me to replace the one I’d been given earlier that day when I’d arrived.  It was only then that I realized that for the next 4 days, all I would be allowed to sit on would be those white cloths.  I was instructed not to wear anything restrictive like underwear, to change the cloth at least 4 times a day, and that I would be shown later where the “used” cloths were to be deposited for washing.

I was then instructed that the pink cloths were for Jasper – as a sheet for his bassinet, as a burp cloth, as a cover for the changing table when I used it.  Those were to be deposited into the trash bin on the right for washing.  The trash bin on the left was for trash only.

After I’d been moved into my bed, and Jasper into his bassinet, Charlie, Natasha, Jasper and I were left alone, as there was still about an hour left for visitation by that time.  This was a quiet hour.  I could tell that Charlie was beginning to face the moment he’d obviously been dreading for weeks.  In a few minutes, he was going to have to walk out of that room, and out of that birthing house to go home to Isabel, leaving me and Jasper there without him for the first time in months.

When the time came, Charlie kept looking at the clock and the door for a nurse to come kick him out.  I think he actually considered trying to stay there unnoticed – maybe by sleeping under my bed.  Finally, at about 7:05, with tears in his eyes he finally kissed me and Jasper on our foreheads and walked with Natasha out of the room.  I’m quite certain it was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do.


THE “ROD DOME” – My First Night

After helping me into my bed, the nurse told me that I could not walk or even sit up for 4 hours.  This was hard for me to understand at the time, because after Isabel was born I was up and walking within half an hour.  But I obeyed, and after Charlie and Natasha left, I laid in my bed, looking at Jasper, listening to the footsteps on the tile floor and the Russian voices that occasionally passed by my door.

After about 2 hours, it occurred to me that I had not used the restroom since I’d arrived that morning, and that all of the sudden, I really needed to go.  This presented quite a dilemma, first because I wasn’t supposed to get up, and second because I didn’t know where the bathroom was.  I thought about trying to get a nurse to help me, but I knew that I’d never be able to wait through a process like that.  I considered my options for about 30 seconds before I settled into the fact that I was not going to be able to use a toilet, and found myself suddenly very grateful for the fairly thick white cloth the nurse had given me to sit on a couple of hours earlier.

When the 4th hour of lying down had passed, a nurse came in to help me out of bed and to give me a tour of the facilities.  As I began to sit up for the first time since Jasper’s delivery, I immediately learned why I’d been required to lay for so long.

Sitting up, and then standing, sent such a pain throughout my lower abdomen that I had to catch my breath.

I’d had no such pain after Isabel’s birth, and could only assume that it was the result of the procedure that had been performed shortly after Jasper’s delivery.  Before I took my first step, I took another deep breath in order to relieve some of the pain.  Then slowly, breathing deeply through every step, I followed the nurse out of the room.

Our first stop was the bathroom, which had in it a bench, a sink, a toilet with no seat, a bidet (a toilet with a faucet attached for washing), and three large trash cans.  Because I was in a “paid” room, I shared this bathroom with only the other women on my hall.  The “non-paying” bathroom was around the corner.

The nurse told me that I was to use the bidet to clean myself after each trip to the bathroom.  I was not to take a shower for the first 3 days, but I could use this bathroom to give myself sponge baths.

The first large trash can was for large trash items that would not fit into the trash can in my room.  The second trash can was where I was to put my dirty gown each day – I would be given a clean one to change into each evening.  The third trash can was where the used white cloths I would be sitting on for the next 4 days were to be deposited for washing.

Then we went a little further down the hall where she showed me the eating area for the mothers.  Since visitors were so restricted, mothers were encouraged to get out of their rooms and walk the halls, eat together, etc.

Finally, I followed her to the last door of the hallway to the shower room, which I would not be using for 3 days.

Then she walked me back to my room.  On the way she showed me the two nurse stations – one for the gynecological nurse staff and the other for the pediatric nurse staff – in case I needed either.  I found I was having a difficult time keeping up with her, given the pain I felt in my abdomen with each step I took and given the fact that I was also having to hold the white cloth up between my legs as I walked.  Having delivered only a few hours earlier, walking without it would have been a disaster.

I had not had anything to drink since that morning before we left our apartment.  Additionally, as with most buildings in St. Petersburg, the heat to my room was controlled from the basement.  So my room was very warm and I’d been sweating all evening.  Once we returned to my room, I asked the nurse what time they would be serving dinner.  She hesitated, and then said that dinner had already been served for the day.  She said she could bring me some oatmeal and something to drink.  Normally, given my southern traditional background, I would have said no to such an offer, but I was feeling pretty famished, so I agreed.

A few minutes later the nurse returned to my room with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot tea.  I had known better than to expect a glass of cold water, as everyone knows you don’t drink the water in St. Petersburg before it has been boiled.  I let the cup of tea sit for several minutes so that it would cool a bit, and then drank every drop.

Around 10pm, the nurse came in and asked me to turn onto my side so that she could check the stitches I’d received earlier that day.  I was lying on my side with my eyes closed when suddenly I was surprised with the prick of a needle as the nurse gave me a shot of something into my bottom.

I looked over at her and somewhat abruptly asked, “Sto eta?” – “What is that?”  “Oxytocin.” she answered.

“Pochemoo?” – “Why?” I asked.  She explained that the oxytocin would help to increase the contractions of my uterus and speed up the healing process.

And increase the contractions it did.  I’d heard to expect the “after pains” to be a little more severe for my second delivery than for my first, as this was fairly common.  But within about 30 minutes after receiving that shot, I could not believe the cramping that I began feeling.  Further, given that breastfeeding also causes the body to create oxytocin, when I would feed Jasper I would – once again – have to use the breathing I’d used during labor to relieve some of the pain of the cramping.

At the rod dome, the nurses worked 24 hour shifts.  This meant that at night, everyone laid down for sleep.  So at midnight, the gynecological nurse came in to check on me and the pediatric nurse on Jasper one final time.  She asked if I wanted to put Jasper in the nursery for the night.  I told her that I wanted to keep him with me.  Then she explained that no one would be coming back in until 6 am, but that they would be available at their respective stations if I needed them.

After she left, I nursed Jasper for a few minutes, put him in his bassinet, rolled over – making sure the white cloth was still under me – and closed my eyes.

Apparently both of us were pretty tired, because we both fell asleep within minutes and didn’t awaken until almost 5 hours later.

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“Pregnant in St. Petersburg- Our first year” Part 2

Part 2

MORNING SICKNESS

In the first couple of months after our move, as we were settling into our new apartment and neighborhood and schedules, I experienced a good bit of “morning” sickness.  The nausea was often further irritated specifically by the fact that we were living in St. Petersburg.

Our apartment, for example, while very large and well-located, was also fairly old.  No repairs or renovations had been done there in many years.  I think partly for this reason, the kitchen of our apartment had an unusual smell to it when we moved in that I was never able to identify.  After the first month or so the smell just kind of went away, but until then I dreaded every time I had to walk into the kitchen.  I especially dreaded having to cook in the kitchen.  There were several times while I was fixing a bowl of cereal for Isabel or standing over the stove that I had to rush out of the kitchen (often to the toilet) due to the nausea that came from that smell.

Another issue was the difference in the food we ate.  For example, as a result of the pasteurization method used in Russia, the milk smelled a bit sour, all of the time.  We tried several different brands and always, it smelled sour as soon as you opened it!  This was not a problem for Isabel, who loves milk.  But the smell of the milk would greatly aggravate my morning sickness.  We kept asking around and trying different types of milk, and finally Charlie brought home a brand that we could only find in a couple of stores, and which was, of course, considerably more expensive than the others.  But it had no smell!  I remember how grateful I felt that day pouring a glass of milk for myself for the first time in about 2 months.

The Lord provided for my and Jasper’s dietary needs throughout the pregnancy.

Another example was when my mother filled my prescription of prenatal vitamins in Georgia, and mailed them to a friend of ours who was planning a trip to St. Petersburg that month.  Our friend put the package my mother had sent her into her luggage for the trip, but by the time she arrived in St. Petersburg, it had been confiscated somewhere along the way, which should have left me without prenatal vitamins for a short time had it not been for the Lord’s provision.

A team from a supporting church had just left St. Petersburg at that time.  One of the members of that team was a lady who knew of our pregnancy, and who was the wife of a physician.  Therefore, she had access to samples of prenatal vitamins and had decided to bring me several in case I needed them.  She carried enough of the vitamins to last me until I was able to get another refill of my prescription (a side miracle – the insurance company agreed to refill it after the pharmacist explained to them that the first bottle had been confiscated!).  Because of the Lord’s blessing us through these people, I did not have to go a single day without taking a prenatal vitamin.

Further, the prescription that had been confiscated was later returned to my friend in the mail!  Since she had left it in the package my mom originally used with her address on it, the airport authorities knew where to send it and sent it back to her.  So not only did I have vitamins available to me during the pregnancy, but I also ended up with vitamins to take during the months after Jasper’s birth while nursing – a true miracle and example of the provision of almighty God!

BATTLING CULTURE SHOCK

In the months before our move, our family spent several weeks in training with other missionaries preparing to go onto the field.  The type and source of these training sessions varied, but in each session there was one significant, recurring theme regarding a missionary’s first year on the field  – culture shock.  During this time we heard many stories of other missionaries who’d had to leave the field and go home after just a year or two because they’d become almost paralyzed with fear, paranoia, and isolation due to culture shock.

We were taught that one of the worst things a person experiencing culture shock can do is isolate themselves. We knew that we were going to have to get out every day if possible, in order to learn the new culture and language and in order to help minimize the effects of culture shock on our family during our first year in Russia.

So I began making plans.  I had big plans of getting out with Isabel every day – getting around other kids her age at the playground and in the stores.  We were going to go to the beach and to see all of the palaces and to ride the boat at the lake and to the theater and on and on my plans went.

As the pregnancy progressed, however, so did muscle and joint pain.  Most mornings I felt so much pain after waking up that I would spend the first hour of the day limping around the apartment.  I can’t explain why the pain seemed so much greater with this pregnancy than the first.  Looking back on it now it seems like a blurry dream, most of which involved my lying in bed, looking up at the high ceiling of our bedroom, feeling sometimes that the walls were closing in on me.

So many days Isabel would come into the bedroom where I was laying and ask, “Mom, can we go outside today?”  Sometimes, the grief and shame I felt because of my inability to help her more during our first year in Russia overwhelmed me.  In the mornings especially, when the pain seemed the worst, I would often just lay in the bed while Charlie would get up with her to get her breakfast.  When I was finally able to get out of bed, I would sometimes try to sneak out of our bedroom into the shower without either of them seeing me.  I found myself not wanting to face them.  Having Isabel run up to me, hug me, and say, “Oh Mommy, you’re up!” after I’d let her sit inside all morning just made me feel more ashamed.

But some days I woke up feeling pretty good.  One of the major benefits of our apartment was its location about a block from a very large park, with a huge lake and 2 large playgrounds.  On good days we’d go there with Isabel and she’d beg us to take her to the “big” playground, because she knew that it would be full of other children at almost any time of the day.

Of course, on this playground, all of the children spoke Russian.  It’s hard to know exactly how long it took for Isabel to begin to grasp exactly why she couldn’t understand the children on the playground, and why they couldn’t understand her.  On more than one occasion I would have to hide my face from her while we were there because I didn’t want her to see the tears that had formed as I watched my usually gregarious, very chatty 2 year old become silent and confused when the other girls on the playground didn’t say “hey” back to her.  Or when she didn’t know how to ask if she could have a turn on the slide, and so she’d just stand back, holding her hands together with a nervous smile on her face until all the other kids were finished.  Or when another child began to be mean to her because they thought she was dumb because she couldn’t speak Russian.

I would watch the other mothers on the playground talk about their kids or their husbands or their work, and would long to be able to just understand one story they were sharing.  A couple of times other mothers tried to talk with me.  At first it was totally hopeless.  Even as the months and my Russian progressed, I was still rarely able to tell them much more than the fact that I was from America, and that I was living in St.Petersburg with my husband and my daughter, and that I was due to have a little boy around New Year’s.

Additionally challenging were simple trips to the grocery store, or to the doctor’s office for a check up.  As we didn’t have a car, and as we didn’t know the bus routes very well, these types of trips during those first few months were exhausting.  Not knowing each day how well I would feel, on those days when I did feel well enough to go to the store, for example, meant that we were going to need to shop for several days.  However, we also had to keep in mind that whatever we purchased would be carried home in bags on our shoulders.
The closest grocery store was almost 2 miles away.  Even using the metro meant that I was going to be carrying our groceries (whatever Charlie couldn’t carry) almost a mile home.  Given the effect the pregnancy was having on me physically, typically the whole family knew that the day after a trip to the grocery store or to the doctor I would likely need to spend in bed.

On one occasion, when the three of us were coming home on the metro, a young man wearing a “Russian pride” shirt got on our car who’d obviously had a lot to drink.  He asked Charlie a question, I think asking for directions.  When Charlie answered that he didn’t understand Russian very well, and the young man realized we were foreigners (American foreigners at that), he became obviously irritated.  He started becoming angry and loud and asking Charlie questions about why we were here, while moving closer to him and looking at me (about 6 months pregnant) and Isabel.  I became afraid that once we got off of that train, he would follow us and that he might try to hurt us.

Then like an angel from God, at the station right before ours another young man got on the train who was wearing the same “Russian pride” shirt, who appeared to be completely sober and very friendly, and who obviously knew the first young man very well.  I guess they may have been going to the same place, but at the moment he stepped on to our car, the man who had become so agitated with us completely calmed down.  By the time we reached our station, he was talking and laughing with his friend so that he didn’t even notice that we got off of the train.

I wish I could say that despite the challenges of these first several months in Russia, we were all able to maintain our positive attitudes and healthy relationships with each other, or even with God.  But in reality, the circumstances of the culture shock we were experiencing along with the somewhat crippling effect the pregnancy was having on me really began to take its toll on all of us.

Isabel has never been a good sleeper, but shortly after we arrived in Russia, she began regularly having “night terrors” during which she would begin screaming at the top of her lungs about nonsense, almost always while she was still asleep.  Charlie and I would try anything we could to calm her down, but many nights it could take almost an hour before she was calm enough to go back to sleep.

These fits would escalate during the timing of special events, such as holidays or her birthday.  I could see her confusion turn into anger and then sadness over the course of a few days as she began to realize that she was not going to see her family in Georgia on her birthday, or that she would not be going trick-or-treating with her cousins on Halloween.   But the worst for all of us was Christmas that first year.

In Russia, Christmas is celebrated in January.  The major holiday of that time for Russians is actually New Year’s.  So on December 25, Isabel had school.  We knew we would not have time before school to do the traditional Christmas morning gift opening, so we told her Santa was going to come while she was in school that day, and we set out cookies and milk for him before we left.  We also explained to her that her family in Georgia was sleeping at that time, so we’d have to call and talk to them after school as well.

That day was the last day for her school before the Christmas holidays began in Russia, so her teachers had planned a special Christmas program for the parents.  Of course, Isabel could not participate because it was in Russian and she wasn’t able to learn any of the lines.  But she sat up front with the kids and Charlie and I sat in the back watching her classmates put on the show.  About 5 minutes into it, looking at the back of my daughter’s head as she sat silently among the group of kids while the rest of them chatted and laughed, and remembering how the previous year we’d spent Christmas morning in my mom’s living room opening gifts and talking and laughing, I finally broke down.  Charlie put his arm around me and we both cried silently throughout most of the show.

Earlier that year, Isabel and I had been given the opportunity to fly to Georgia for a couple of weeks.  It was a wonderful trip, even if a bit exhausting.  My family and friends threw me a surprise baby shower, we saw all of our family, and we ate American foods we’d been craving.

I noticed over the course of the trip that Isabel’s behavior changed somewhat dramatically.  In the first few days we were there, she behaved like a perfect child.  Too good, as a matter of fact.  I told Charlie that I was actually a little concerned that she wasn’t expressing any more discontent given we were back in Georgia after so many months.

Then towards the end of our first week, her night terrors started again and her behavior began to get worse.  By the time we left, she was having melt downs and night terrors every night, sometimes 2 or 3 times a night.

This behavior continued after she and I returned to St. Petersburg.  We could not understand what had happened while we were in Georgia to cause such a reaction in her.  Then one day Charlie and she were talking about the trip to Georgia, and she gave an indication that she thought she was going to have to stay there.  Charlie was confused, and he said, “Did you think Mommy was going to leave you with your Grandmother?”  She hesitated, and then nodded her head.  For some reason it seemed that Isabel thought that Jasper’s coming meant she was going to have to leave our home in Russia and that she and I had gone to Georgia so that she could live with her Grandmother.

The week following our return from Georgia, all of us left again for a trip to Turkey for a retreat with other missionary families serving throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia.  By the time we arrived in Turkey, Isabel was still waking up every night with night terrors, and we were all becoming more and more exhausted.

Then in Turkey, there was another break through.  Isabel met and played with other kids her age, all of whom were Americans, and all of whom were growing up in the field away from their families – just like her.

In Turkey she didn’t receive any special attention because she was a missionary kid.  I think for one of the first times in her life, Isabel felt like a normal child around other kids who understood everything she had been feeling.  She loved it in Turkey and she loved playing with the kids there more than I had ever seen anywhere else.

Further, I had the opportunity to talk with other mothers who’d raised their children on the field about the episodes Isabel was experiencing.  One dear friend made the following simple suggestion:  “Miki, why don’t you ask her if you and she can pray to Jesus before going to sleep that she won’t wake up scared and angry, and that if she does she can just come and get you or Daddy?”

So that night, that’s what we did.  I asked her if I could pray for her before she went to sleep and she said yes.  That was the first night in 2 weeks that she slept throughout the night completely undisturbed.  She continued to have minor episodes after that, but by the time we returned to St. Petersburg, she was having normal sleep almost every night.

It seems that the effects of culture shock can be even greater on adults than on children.  During those first months, Charlie and I learned a lot about ourselves and each other.  For example, despite the fact that Charlie spent so many years on stage as a musician during school, he had a strong tendency to seek out places where he could be alone.  We also began to see that since he and I had been married 9 years prior, I had generally been the one who sought out social scenes, and who’d always kept him from becoming to immersed in the isolation that drew him.

However, now that we were in Russia without a common circle of friends, unable to speak the language, and unfamiliar with the happenings in the city (or a babysitter), we found ourselves both struggling to get out of the apartment as we should have.  Further adding to this problem, of course, was the fact that I so often felt so poorly due to the pregnancy.

Over the course of weeks and months, more and more bouts of depression, fear, or even feelings of panic about our living in Russia would set in on either one of us or both of us.  We didn’t feel close enough with anyone in Russia to go to them, and we felt that if we went to anyone in the states, they’d have probably not understood, and might have tried to convince us to come home.  So that left both of us feeling that we had no outlet for what we were feeling except each other.

I admit that there were several occasions that I did want to give up and go home.  My tendency towards self-deprecation and guilt often left me vulnerable for the enemy to begin to tell me that our coming to Russia was endangering our children, or my marriage.  I would lie in bed and cry and cry feeling convinced that I had taken on more than I could handle -that I was not a strong enough mother or wife, that my relationship with God was not ready for such a step as we had taken.

Additionally, the challenges of this period brought out Charlie’s tendency to seek out isolation during difficult times.  Given these circumstances, what we began seeing was a significant increase in my need for Charlie’s attention and validation, while Charlie was feeling a greater and greater desire to be absolutely alone.
Literally, some days I would follow him around the apartment trying to talk to him and get him to talk to me, and he would begin to feel smothered and to shut himself off more and more.  What often resulted were blow ups – emotional breakdowns from me and fits of rage from him.  Usually these would take place in the middle of the night when Isabel was sleeping, and almost always would leave us feeling totally broken and hurt.

Following are a couple of excerpts from my journal written during this time:

July 2, 2009 (one month after arrival in St. Petersburg)

Funny after reading the prior entries how I feel as I sit here now.  Since arriving in Russia, I have been sick – in the bed a lot.  Currently I’m sitting in our IKEA bed, it is after 11pm at night and the sun is still out (white nights), I am feeling sick but don’t want to tell that to Charlie again, my right hip is hurting from laying on it so much.  Charlie and I have hardly spoken for 2 days.  The family and friends with whom I was struggling so just a few weeks ago seem like a dream to me.  I’d give almost anything to be home with them.  I’m blown away by how hard this is.

All of our training said that we were supposed to go through some sort of “honeymoon phase”.  I’m scared to death that we’re in it, and that this is only going to get worse.  I’m blown away by how hard this is.

I’m so lonely.  I have no friends here.  Charlie is sick of me.  Isabel is even sick of me.  She has become very rude to me in recent days.  I can’t believe how hard this is.  I can’t believe that we gave so much, I can’t believe that we did this.  I can’t believe I’ve given so much of my LIFE to this for so long.  I can’t believe this.  I’m in total shock and am completely ashamed and embarrassed.

Charlie loves this place, I believe because no one can reach him here.  He loves solitude.  Solitude makes me crazy.  The thing is that if I were say any of this to ANYONE I know, I know that they would secretly be amused, some even pleased, to hear how hard this is for me.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so alone in my life.

Then there is the shame for all of this that I’m feeling.  We know so many who are orphans, who don’t know their family at all.  What they would give to have someone to miss.

And there is the deepened realization of just how lost the people are here.  Oh my gosh, the people here do not know love the way I do.  They do not understand freedom the way I do.  Missionaries who’ve served here for years are weighted down by the battles they have fought and are fighting against the enemy.  I can’t believe how strong his grip is here.  Some feel like God has deserted them.  They read the truth in the scriptures that the enemy will flee from them, but they say the enemy doesn’t flee when they resist.  They feel totally abandoned to him here.  What’s going on?  Why has God abandoned them here?  Is He going to abandon us as well?  I feel like I’ve brought my daughter into a pit.  I want to take her out of it.  I want to take her back to the bubble of the U.S. so at least she can know her family like I do.

I can see that prayer is the only way here – serious prayer.  Not this “let’s take a minute to bless our meal and pat ourselves on the back for it” prayer.  Healing prayer.  Prayer of deliverance.  Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Things that I wish I’d prepared more for before coming here.  Ironic that we spent so much time raising support, and I didn’t feel like we had time to study healing prayer, and now I feel like a sitting duck.  I feel like my family is a sitting duck.

Not to mention this child growing in my womb.  I’m barely showing.  If I didn’t have a positive pregnancy test, I would just think I was gaining weight and really sick at the same time.  When I was pregnant with Isabel, there was so much joy!  I’m feeling so ashamed that this child may feel the grief and depression I’m experiencing while he/she is in my womb.  I’m so sorry that I can’t get out from under this.  I’m so sorry for everything.  I’m so sorry that I’ve hung so much on this.  I hope that God is stripping me right now, and that this is not just because He’s gone.  I’m not going to make it if He’s not in control of this.  I feel totally at His mercy alone, because if He does not hang with me right now, I fully believe that I and my family will be broken by this.  If we’re here in 2 years, if somehow we find in our hearts a home of love and peace and joy in this place, there is no doubt that it will be only because He did not desert us.  For now, however, I just have to hope and wait.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So it’s September, and we’re still here.  Looking back on old posts, I don’t think I have anything new to add. Charlie and I are going through another period of barely speaking – when we do speak it is only in disagreement.  I have become nervous about the delivery.  It is more and more clear to me that no family will be coming, and I’m pretty sad about that.  Isabel wants to see her grandmother so much, but her grandmother is not going to come here.  I’m mad at how the people at home have not made any plans to visit us here at all. Abbie and her husband are the only 2 who really seem to want to support us in this.  Everyone else just seems to want us to fail – to come home.

The sun sets now, so we have night time.  That is a big help.  I’m also sleeping in a different bed, which seems to be helping the pain.  I’m ashamed that this time has become so much about survival, and so little about doing anything to help anyone here.  There have been times that God’s efforts to keep us separated from certain people has been obvious.  Charlie and I are not handling this isolation together well, and the shame I feel for the way it seems to be effecting Isabel is a bit overwhelming.  The grace of God is really being put to the test here – I’m struggling with the feeling that our time here is only going to leave a detrimental mark on this family that would not have been there had we just stayed home.

GOD’S WORD

During those first months, I felt strongly pulled into the book of Isaiah.  I’d read and reread the same verses over and over again, for days at a time sometimes.  One particular verse strongly stuck with me from Isaiah chapter 25:

“He will bring down your high fortified walls and lay them low; he will bring them down to the ground, to the very dust.”  Isaiah 25:12

This verse resonated within my spirit, as I could almost literally feel the pain of the stripping that the Lord was doing in my life.  As I meditated on this verse and others like it over the weeks and months, I repented to the Lord for the idolatry that was so evident in my life as I lay in bed mourning over foods I missed like Diary Queen blizzards, Frosted Mini Wheats, or milk that didn’t smell.  Or as I cried longing for the back porch of our old house in Georgia, or for our van that used to sit parked so conveniently in our garage, or for the ability to get in my car and be at my mother’s house in 20 minutes, or at my father’s house in 5 hours.  As I cried because I couldn’t walk into Publix grocery store with Isabel and buy us a pint of chocolate milk and a Krispy Kreme donut whenever we wanted.  As I cried because I couldn’t just drive to the warm Georgia coast or even to the running track at the local park in our hometown in Georgia.  As I longed to be able to meet up for dinner with my girlfriends and have a glass of wine and talk about things other than survival in St. Petersburg, Russia – things like  going to see a band coming to town, or a new awesome restaurant, or where we were all planning to spend our summer vacation.

The Lord also shared His word with me through a few dear friends at various times during that first year.  One friend wrote us the following words in an email:

Date: Friday, June 12, 2009, 11:44 AM

Dear Charlie, Miki and Isabel,
I prayed for all of you this morning. I prayed, among other things, Ephesians 3:14-21 over you all. I could not help noticing once again how our God is the immeasurable One- “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit.” Again in verse 20 it speaks of His mighty power that is able to accomplish “infinitely more.” Every characteristic and attribute about Him is unlimited! In reading through the Psalms each month now for several months, I have discovered that two character traits that surface over and over and over are His “unfailing love and faithfulness.” It is hard for us to imagine someone that never fails- never. And this is the One who lives in us, who loves us, who promised that He would never forsake us!!  May we constantly keep our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish (Hebrews 12:2).

Then another friend wrote to say she felt the Lord had wanted her to remind us of His word in the 2nd half of  Romans 8:  For example, vs 18-21  “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” or vs. 23-24 “..we ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.”  or vs. 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In those months God’s Word was truly a source of life for us time and time again.

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New Series: “Pregnant in St. Petersburg- Our first year”

Hello All,

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.

THE MOVE

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.

OUR ARRIVAL

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.

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Justice

“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.

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