Monthly Archives: July 2010

Above All Else

In the last few weeks, I’ve had love and support poured onto me as a result of my telling the story of our first year here in St. Petersburg. A few have asked that I continue to provide updates about how and what our family is doing here, which I appreciate very much, and which I am planning to do.

First, though, I wanted to share something that has been revolving in my spirit recently, partly due to my sitting and re-reading my own story – and considering how God seems to be using that story. But it’s also been resonated recently in my study of the gospel of John. Specifically a couple of verses have really been sticking out (italics added):

John 4:21-24 – “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… Yet 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.

John 3:8 – “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You can hear its sound, but you know not where it comes from, or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Given our journey this past year, and looking at the words of Jesus Christ above, I’m becoming more and more convinced of two things:

1 – Walking faithfully the journey as a disciple of Christ requires that one be born of the Spirit of God.

2 – Walking a life born of the Spirit leaves almost no room for any concern whatever about your physical circumstances.

Now, I don’t mean to say that God does not have concern for our physical circumstances. But the fact is that God is God, and I don’t think He expects us to let Him off of the hook when His children suffer.

I wrote in a blog recently about how drastically different are my and God’s definitions of justice. Take, for example, the story in Leviticus 24 (vs. 10-23) of the man stoned to death for blaspheming the name of God.

Verse 13-14 says, “Then the Lord said to Moses: Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him (take the Lord’s name in vain -mc) are to lay their hands on his head and the entire assembly is to stone him.” Verse 15 says, “Say to the Israelites: ‘If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death.’”

Now, I’ll be really honest – stoning a man to death for taking the Lord’s name in vain does not seem just to me, but instead seems pretty extreme.

However, looking back through scripture for examples of the Lord’s display of justice, it seems that in all circumstances He seeks the fulfillment of one requirement – that He alone and above and in all things be exalted and lifted up. As a matter of fact, God seems to consistently give priority to meeting this requirement over providing physical comfort and ease to His children.

A few examples:

John 9:1-3 – As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Exodus 9:15-16 (when God is speaking to Pharaoh through Moses) – “For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

And of course, Jesus’ answer to Peter in Matthew 16:23 (after Peter had said “Never!” upon learning that Jesus was to suffer and be put to death) – Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Now, at first glance, this realization gives rise to some questions. I mean, on one hand God says throughout scripture that He loves and adores us whom He created, that nothing could separate us from His love for us. However, at other times one wonders, is God so insecure and needy for praise that He would go to such lengths and let His children suffer such sufferings just so He could be glorified? This seems like a terrible contradiction.

But then I asked myself – could there be reasons, other than God’s seeking to feel better about Himself, that He requires that He be exalted above all else? Then the old scriptures we all know started coming back to me (italics added):

John 3:14 – “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 5:24 – I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

It suddenly seemed so simple – God’s justice requires that He be exalted above all else so that others may see Him and know Him.

The scriptures are full of the promises of God for those who know Him! Take as just one example the 23rd Psalm: Verses 1-4 – The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me besides quiet waters, he restores my soul.. I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Of course God desires to be lifted up, that His children may know Him – no matter the cost – because He knows that it is only in knowing Him that true life, and freedom, and wholeness can fully come to all of His children.

On the flip side of that, however – as in the example above of the man stoned to death for blaspheming the name of God – if glory is taken away from God, whether through insulting His name or through putting His glory onto something/someone else (ie our homes, pastors, selves), then His children become less able to see and know Him. I think it is important for us to understand how seriously God takes this, especially when it is done by those of us in the church. He desires for His children to be free in Him. Any activity that may disrupt this by taking away from His glory is considered by Him to be a very serious offense.

So, having said all of this, I want to conclude simply by stating that if the story we shared these past weeks has had any sort of impact on you, I truly believe that it is nothing to do with me or Charlie or our challenges this first year in Russia. While He may be using these things, God’s intention is to get our eyes on Him, so that we all may know, and believe, and live. Go to Him with it, and thank Him for it, and ask Him to show Himself to you again and again.

Love and blessings to you –

Miki

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“Pregnant in St. Petersburg- Our first year” Part 6

Part 6

DAY FIVE – GOING HOME

When I woke up on Tuesday morning, I felt a great deal of excitement. I knew that Charlie and Isabel were at home getting ready to come to the rod dome to pick us up. Natasha (who’d visited me almost every day since my arrival along with Charlie) was coming to translate for us during discharge. Liza (who’d taken time off of work and had spent hours with Isabel in the last few days) was coming to sit with Isa in the waiting room downstairs while Charlie and Natasha assisted me and Jasper.

Also on this day, I was allowed to take a shower! One of the great benefits of the restrictions that were in place regarding visitors to the rod dome was the freedom it allowed the mothers to get up and be out of their rooms for eating, going to the restroom, etc. So when the time came for my shower, I nursed Jasper, thanked God as he fell back to sleep, grabbed my shampoo, my deodorant, my hair dryer (being careful not to forget my converter so I could plug it in), slid into Charlie’s plastic slippers and my robe and headed for the showers. Despite my likeness to Frankenstein as I slowly hobbled down the hallway (it took a few weeks for the pain in my abdomen to clear completely), I knew that I must have been glowing from my excitement!

The shower room consisted of 4 open stalls with a plastic chair in front of each. When I arrived there was already another lady, also being discharged on this day, in the first stall showering. She and I smiled at each other as I walked by her to the second stall and undressed for my shower. Despite the dampness on the old tiled walls and the mildew on the floors (thank the Lord for Charlie’s plastic slippers!), I decided that this must have been one of the happiest rooms in the building. If you made it in here, that meant you were going home!

Later that morning, after the pediatrician confirmed that Jasper was also free to go home, Charlie showed up in my room carrying two large bags full of gifts for the staff of the rod dome. The art of gift giving in Russia is one that I’m only beginning to learn, but with the advice of a couple of our Russian friends (Natasha even asked her mom what we should get the doctor), we decided on a bottle of wine for the doctor and midwife, and boxes of chocolates for the nursing staff.

While handing out the gifts, all of the staff asked me, “So was it different here than when your daughter was born in the states?” I kind of smiled and just answered a simple, “Da.”

“Was it better or worse?” one nurse asked. I thought for a minute, and then answered honestly, “Really both – of course some things would have been easier for me in the states, but there were somethings here that I’ve really loved.”

They all laughed, and then they told me to please come back to rod dome for my next delivery.

I was not allowed to get dressed out of my robe into my street clothes until I’d gone back down off of the rod dome floor to first floor. So the nurse escorting us out picked up Jasper, I picked up my clothes (which were required to be in a plastic bag), Natasha and Charlie picked up our bags (which were also covered in plastic per rod dome rules), and we all walked down the stairs to the first floor. When we arrived at the first floor, Charlie and Natasha were required to go out to the waiting room, while Jasper and I went to a dressing room to get changed.

When we walked in, there was another lady already there with her baby who was dressed and about to walk out into the waiting room where her family was waiting to greet her and meet the new baby. I remembered seeing this lady in the rod dome on prior days, looking like the rest of us, walking slowly through that hall in her robe and slippers, very beaten down and weary. However, at that moment she had her hair fixed and her make-up on. As the door opened and she walked out into the waiting room, I watched her face transform. You could almost see the weight of the rod dome lift off of her as she walked through that door.

After I’d gotten dressed, the nurse dressing Jasper asked me, “Where’s his hat?” “Oh no!” I thought. “Charlie’s got the hat!” She said, “I can’t let you take him out of this room until he has on his hat.” So I opened the door and called to Natasha, “Tell Charlie to get his hat!” Natasha ran outside where Charlie was putting in our bags and said, “Jasper needs a hat!” I watched through the window as Charlie pulled the bag back out of the trunk, and searched frantically through it for a hat for Jasper. The expression on his face as he handed a hat to Natasha to run back inside to us said so much. I could almost hear his prayer through the window, “Dear God, please just let us get home.”

And that was it. We walked through the door to find Natasha, Liza, Isabel and Charlie all smiling and waiting. I held Isabel tightly, who felt as though she’d gained 10 pounds in the past 5 days. We all hugged joyfully, took lots of pictures, and then spent 10 minutes getting Jasper in the car seat in the rental car outside. As the rental car was so small, there was not enough room for all 6 of us. So in their final act of service to our family in those 5 days, Liza and Natasha waved goodbye as we drove away and left them in the snow to walk to the metro and get themselves home.

BEING HOME, RECOVERY, FINAL REMARKS

I wish I could say that all was well after our time in the rod dome – that all was forgiven, healed, made whole, etc. But anyone who’s ever had a baby or ever moved to a foreign country or ever done both at the same time knows that I can not honestly say that.

From the moment we first walked into the apartment after Isabel and Charlie picked us up from rod dome, I was amazed at how easy everything seemed! I’d never experienced that place and felt so good before! I was also very impressed at how well Isabel and Charlie both seemed to be doing. Isabel was so happy we were home and was so gentle with Jasper. Charlie was so patient with us and seemed so at ease.

But after only a couple of nights at home, the exhaustion, grief, and anger from what we’d all experienced those days began to come out. I was still feeling a lot of pain, and of course being home was finding it much more difficult to rest as I had at rod dome. Also, it seemed that Isabel may have had one of the hardest struggles while we were in rod dome. She began being very rude to me – at times not even speaking at all. She also began to wake up at night with bad dreams. Between her and Jasper, there were several nights in those first weeks home that Charlie and I hardly slept at all.

Then, unexpectedly for both us, on our third night home Charlie and I had one of the biggest fights we’ve ever had. We had known that the time in rod dome was not going to be easy. But we were still amazed at how difficult it had been. We both had so much anger, but for different reasons. Charlie felt angry about how much control he felt he’d lost over my and Jasper’s welfare. His having to leave us there night after night left him feeling helpless and very guilty.

I felt anger about the way that rod dome had left me feeling – both physically and spiritually. I continued to struggle with the sense of shame and embarrassment after I’d returned home. Charlie slowly tried to get me to talk about it, but for the first few weeks, any attempt to talk about things would only make me cry. I finally told him that I was embarrassed to share so many of the things that had happened there with him.

After about a month, we decided to get out and go with a friend who’d invited us to visit his church. It was one of our first outings together as a family of four. Being early in February, it was still very cold in St. Petersburg at that time. But we knew we needed to get out, so we bundled up, loaded up in the rental car and headed to the church.

At church we were blessed to be able to spend some time together in praise and worship of our Lord through music, dance, and prayer. I had Jasper in his carrier, which I was wearing on my chest. So I was able to close my eyes, sing aloud, and lift my hands freely in praise to God.

It was truly an amazing time in the Lord’s presence. I immediately began to feel Him ministering to me. His presence washed over me like water. It actually reminded me of how that shower at rod dome had felt that day. It was like layers and layers of shame and grief and anger were just washing away.

Then I felt the Lord ask me about Jasper, which was a topic I realized I’d avoided discussing with Him. I just put my hand on Jasper, who was sleeping on my chest, and I started crying.

I said, “God, why did You want him to be born in such a place as that? We truly felt that the best thing was to deliver him here, but there was so much shame and grief filling that rod dome. I can’t help but to wonder how much of that he is now going to carry with him.”

Then I felt the Lord’s simple answer in my spirit. “Miki, you forget that you have given your children to me, so they are Mine. Nothing can touch what is Mine.”

One of the pleasures of my first year in St. Petersburg, Russia was going with friends to visit the grave of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Another was having the opportunity as I laid in that bed for those months to read his novel, Crime and Punishment, which was also set in St. Petersburg. So for closing remarks, I think I’ll take the liberty of borrowing his:

But that is the beginning of a new story – the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.

Love and blessings in Christ always be with you.

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“Pregnant in St. Petersburg- Our first year” Part 5

Part 5

DAY TWO

When I awoke, I felt as though I’d been asleep for hours.  I immediately looked at the clock and saw that it was 5:55am.  I’d been asleep for a little less than 2 hours, and it was time for me to get Jasper.

Despite the pain, I almost jumped out of bed, put on Charlie’s slippers and my robe and walked down the hall to the nursery.  The nurse saw me walking in the door and motioned for me to come into the room where the babies slept.

Apparently it was time for eating, because all I could hear were babies crying, so I rushed around the corner to grab Jasper.

As I walked into the room, my eyes immediately found Jasper among the 12 or so other babies lying there.  I was amazed to find him lying in his bassinet sound asleep while every other child in the room was wide awake and crying.  The nurse walked over to him and looked at me, smiling.  “On speet,” she mouthed at me, as she was also clearly surprised at how peacefully he was sleeping in that room.

She brought him over and laid him in my arms.  I thanked her and carried him, still sleeping, back to our room.  He barely opened his eyes as he quietly and easily began nursing.  As I held him while he nursed, I (once again) began to cry as a flood of gratitude washed over me.  I don’t think I had felt such peace and joy in my heart since we’d moved to Russia.

A few hours later, the lady from the kitchen came in and told us breakfast was ready.

As I walked out on my way to the kitchen, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  My eyes were almost swollen shut and there were little red lines on my face due to broken blood vessels from my crying the night before.  Also, my dehydration and exhaustion had become much worse through the night and I was feeling very weak and sore.

However, as I walked through the hallway and into the room with all of the other mothers, I truly felt that no one minded my appearance.  As a matter of fact, I think having them see me that way that made it more possible for them to accept me as one of them, and not just as “the rich American staying in the paid room”.  I also noticed that the shame and condemnation I’d been feeling since I’d arrived was gone.  I began to wonder if God may have had a desire to use me in that place beyond the birth of Jasper.

After eating breakfast and drinking a cup of hot tea, I called Charlie and asked him to bring me bottled water when he came for visiting hours that day.  He showed up with 2 2-liter bottles, one of which I’d almost finished before he’d left.

During his visit that day, Charlie also told me about his experience after he’d left the rod dome the night before.  In order to visit the rod dome, vehicles were required to go through a gate with 2 guards and to tell them for whom they were there.  When Charlie had come in the day before, he’d told me that upon learning he was a new father, the guard said something to him in Russian, which Charlie had assumed was congratulations.  Charlie had simply thanked the guard before driving on through the gate and in to see us.

However, when Charlie tried to leave the facility after his visit, instead of just waving him through, the guard stopped him again at the gate and asked him to roll down the window.

“Seechac?” – “Now?” the guard asked Charlie.  Charlie said, “Sto?” – “What?” The guard told Charlie to park the car, which Charlie did.  When Charlie got out of the car, the guard motioned for him to follow him into the guard house, which Charlie did – nervously.

When Charlie got inside the guard house, there were two other guards there sitting at a table on which sat an open jar of homemade pickles, a package of salami, a half-empty bottle of vodka, and several coffee mugs.  As they walked in, the first guard exclaimed loudly to the other two, “This man has just become a father!”

“Oh, congratulations!!” they said as they shook Charlie’s hand and offered him a seat at the table.  “Devochka eelee malcheek?” – “Girl or boy?”, they asked.  “Boy,” Charlie answered, at which they all cheered, “malcheek!!”

Then one of them poured a shot of vodka into one of the mugs and handed it to Charlie.  I think on any other day Charlie would have probably said, “No, thank you”.  But on that particular night after leaving me and Jasper at the rod dome for the 2nd time, I think Charlie saw this as a little concession from God.  So he graciously accepted the mug, pulled a pickle from the jar and took a moment to relax.  While he was there, the guard brought in another man who’s wife had just had a little girl.  It soon became apparent that inviting new fathers in for a drink after visiting hours at the rod dome was a common tradition at the guard house, and it was one that Charlie easily came to appreciate very much that evening.

DAY THREE

On the morning of the 3rd day, I was expecting to receive my fourth and final dose of oxytocin.  However, when the nurse came in, she only performed a check-up regarding my recovery.  She gave me no shot that morning, nor did I receive any other medications after that time.  I was elated!

Later that morning, during a phone call with Charlie, he once again brought up the fact that he did not want to have to go get the required chest X-ray in order to bring us home with him on Tuesday.  This time, however, after listening to his frustration about this requirement, instead of trying to be patient and understanding in what I knew what a very difficult time for him, I reacted very much out of concern only for myself and became very upset and rude with him.  I asked him how, after everything I’d been through at that rod dome, could he expect me to understand why he didn’t want to go get a simple X-ray.  Then I hung up on him.

Now for the past 8 months Charlie had done everything he could to help me throughout the pregnancy, while also dealing with cultural and logistical issues for the family as we were settling into Russia.  I knew that he was going to do whatever he had to in order to be sure things went as smoothly as possible for Jasper and me, and I knew that included getting that X-ray.  I could see clearly that he was going through a significant amount of culture shock in those days while I was in rod dome, and that he simply needed to be able to let some of it out.  But I chose not to let him do that at that time.  Instead I chose to criticize him and to lash out at him for complaining to me.

A couple of hours later, my phone rang.  I picked it up and saw that it was Charlie.  For a brief moment, I considered not answering.  Then a shining hint of maturity kicked in and I flipped open the phone.

“Hello?” I said.

“Look out your window,” Charlie answered.

“What?”

“Go look out your window.”

I climbed out of bed, put on the slippers and waddled as quickly as I could to the window.

“Can you see us?” Charlie asked.

As soon as I looked out the window, my eyes rested on my precious Isabel, standing beside her daddy in the snow holding a large cardboard sign that said, “WE LOVE YOU!”  I started laughing and crying and said, “Yes! I can see you!”

“Where are you?” Charlie asked.

“Look through the three large cables running from the building, my window is just through them.”

As soon as he saw me in my window, he pointed me out to Isabel.  When she saw me she began jumping up and down and screaming, “Hey, momma! Hey, momma!” I picked up Jasper and held him up to the window for her to see him.  It was so amazing to see them standing down there in the snow.  At that moment I felt my first sense of the four of us being together, even if only through the window, and felt certainty that the Lord had been with us and would continue to be with us through the next 2 nights, when Jasper and I were going to get to go home.  That day God truly used the brilliance of Charlie’s grace and strength as husband, father and head of this household to bring His light to each one of us.

OTHER MOTHERS

After learning during my check-up that morning that I would be receiving no more oxytocin shots, the nurse stepped over to my neighbor’s bed, for whom she had 3 different shots prepared.  As they only spoke in Russian, I never fully understood what was happening for my neighbor, but it was clear after her first night that she had begun to struggle both physically and emotionally.  Like me, before she would stand up, she would hesitate a moment and take a deep breath.  Even after turning over in her bed I could hear her trying to catch her breath from the pain.

Several times over the course of those days I heard her crying silently as she laid in her bed.  A couple of times in the middle of the night I was awakened hearing her talking and crying on the phone, I assumed with her husband.  Every day he was coming to visit her during visiting hours, and just as for me and Charlie, those precious hours when he was there she clearly felt more at ease.

But as on my 3rd day I had begun to feel a little better, her condition only seemed to decline.  She was trying to nurse her daughter, and at least twice a day had her on the changing table giving her a full sponge bath with a wash cloth and then putting baby oil on her entire body with a cotton ball (something I was not doing at all with Jasper, but which is a common recommendation among Russian pediatrics for babies).  But every evening after visiting hours she asked that the nurse take her daughter to the nursery for the night, and she would become very sad.

Throughout those days, I became very accustomed to seeing mothers in the hallway of the rod dome with swollen eyes from crying, particularly in the hallway for non-paying patients.  At the entrance to that hall stood a round table.  Each morning there would be bags on that table with names on them.  These were items that had been left at the entrance of the rod dome for the non-paying patients by their families, as those ladies were not allowed visitors at all.  I learned during my time there that, as Charlie and Isabel had done for me, often fathers and families would drive up to the side of the building where the rooms were for those patients, climb up on their cars, waving to the mothers through the windows, blowing them kisses and yelling out beautiful things like, “Thank you for the birth of my child! I love you!”

On my 3rd night there, Jasper again was having a difficult time going to sleep.  But I was feeling much better physically on this night.  Because she knew that I wanted Jasper to stay with me, the pediatric nurse came into my room with a bottle of sweet water and, as I lay in my bed so he couldn’t smell my milk, she stood over his bassinet with her hand on his chest, holding that bottle until he fell asleep.  With only a couple of minor exceptions, the staff of the rod dome was very gracious and warm with both the mothers and the babies.

Despite these things, however, inside that facility there remained a clear sense of shame and embarrassment among the mothers that I never could fully explain.

DAY FOUR

On the day before discharge, both Jasper and I were required to undergo our final procedures.  All mothers were required to submit to a blood test and an ultrasound to ensure… something, I’m not really sure what to be honest.  Fortunately, Natasha was there to translate for me when the nurse told me about this, and the only thing I wanted to confirm at that point was that, beyond a needle for drawing the blood, no pain would be involved.  I explained, “I’m okay with pain.  I think it would just help me to know that it’s coming.”  The nurse laughed and confirmed that I should not be expecting any more painful procedures.

Unfortunately this was not the case for Jasper, as he was required to have an immunization shot for TB.  This was something I was not expecting, as in the states this immunization is not routinely given.  However, at the time of his birth, Russia – and most of Europe – was experiencing a TB epidemic.  Hence the reason for Charlie’s required chest X-ray and the legal requirement for Jasper’s immunization.

This was also the reason that we were not discharged until Tuesday, as we were required to stay overnight so that Jasper could be observed for 24 hours after receiving the vaccine.

So that morning before breakfast, I stood in line with the 4 other mothers who were also to be discharged on the next day in order to have my blood test and ultrasound performed.  According to the gynecologist who performed her final check up on me later that evening, everything showed up “normalna” – “just fine”.

Then I took Jasper down to the pediatric nurse station, where he received his immunization shot for TB, which he handled like a pro.  As a result he now also has the tell-tell scar on his left arm, which Charlie, Isabel and I do not have, but which all Russians we know do have.  Upon seeing that little scar on his arm, more than one Russian has said to me, “Ahhh, I see he IS a Russian!”

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“Pregnant in St. Petersburg- Our first year” Part 4

Part 4

MY FIRST FULL DAY IN ROD DOME

The next morning, after I fed Jasper around 5:30, he and I fell asleep in the bed together, dozing on and off.  As I was the only one in my room, the lights remained off even as commotion had begun in the hallway as the new day was starting.

At about 8am light came into my room from the hallway as a lady opened my door and said ,”zaftrak gotove” – “breakfast is ready”.  I said, “spaceeba” – “thank you”, and let my head fall back down onto the pillow.  My first day in the rod dome was here.

I laid for a minute thinking that I’d rather sleep and that I could hold out until lunch.  But I was very hungry and knew that traditionally lunch in Russia is not served until 1pm or later, so I knew that I needed to get myself down to the kitchen for some food.

As I started to roll over, I could feel the extreme weariness and soreness that had settled in from the activities of the day before .  I moved Jasper to his bassinet, slipped on Charlie’s plastic slippers, and took a deep breath in preparation for the pain that I knew was coming when I stood up.  I stood slowly as I held the white cloth I’d slept on in place, being sure not make a mess on the floor as I stood.  Slowly I walked across the room to get a new white cloth from the shelf and then out the door (putting on my robe before leaving).  In the hallway as I walked towards the bathroom, I passed a few of the other patients, all of whom were walking as I was, very slowly while hunched over and breathing heavily.  One lady was carrying her baby and crying as she walked.

The bathroom was occupied, so I went back to my room to wait a few minutes before I returned to give myself a sponge bath, change into my fresh gown, apply the fresh white cloth and dispose of the used into it’s respective trash can (which was almost full).  I went back into my room to check again on Jasper who was sleeping – I’d left the lights off in our room – then pulled the door and walked down for breakfast.

When I arrived at the area where the mothers were all to eat, I got in line behind the couple of other ladies waiting to get their food from the little service window between the kitchen and the tables.  Other mothers – maybe 8 or 9 – were already sitting at the tables eating. When it was my turn, I received my bowl of (yes) oatmeal and a boiled egg and grabbed an apple out of the bowl sitting on the table next to the window.  Then I sat down at a table (being sure to hold onto my white cloth) across from another mother whose head was down as she sat silently eating.

That’s the first time I really noticed it – no one in the room was speaking.  We were all sitting with our heads down silently eating our oatmeal.  I couldn’t help but to feel so embarrassed to be there.  I imagined Charlie walking in at that moment and seeing me sitting there slumped over in my robe and plastic slippers eating my oatmeal amongst all of the other women, and I began to cry.  I put my head down, but I’m sure the lady across from me knew that I was crying, and I felt certain also that I wasn’t the first lady sitting at that table to have done so.

From that moment on, I became keenly aware of two things I’d not expected:  First, the sight of 15 or so women slowly walking hunched over and breathing heavily through the halls of one of the oldest rod domes in St. Petersburg, Russia is kind of like a scene from the Night of the Living Dead.  Second, a spirit of shame was hanging heavily over that entire place, and I couldn’t help but to keep asking myself, “Is this what all of the babies in this country are born into?”

When I returned to my room (I grabbed another apple to take with me), it was only a short time before the nurse came in to give me another shot of oxytocin.  I said, “paschalsta, nyet” – “please, no”.  She gave me a smile that said, “I’m sorry, but I have to.”  I said, “horosho” – “ok” and rolled over to receive my shot.

A few hours later, the doctor came to see me.  I told her that I didn’t want to receive the oxytocin anymore.  She told me that I was only to receive 2 more doses.  I tried to explain in my very limited Russian that, especially since I was nursing, I felt like my body didn’t need additional oxytocin to recover.  Mainly, however, I was just tired of the intense cramps that came especially when I nursed Jasper.

I also asked her when I would be able to go home.  “Poneedelnik?” – “Monday?” I asked.  This would mean only 2 more nights at rod dome.

“Oh, nyet, nyet, nyet.” – “No, no, no.” she answered.  “Not before Tuesday.”

That did it – the tears started streaming down my face.  I was sobbing right in front of the doctor, and I could not stop.  “Why are you crying?” she asked.  “Don’t cry,” she kept saying.  She tried to console me, but I’d only been there 24 hours, and alone there only 15 or so.  Three more nights away from Charlie and Isabel seemed like more than I could do.

Then, shortly after the doctor left, my door opened again and in came the nurse with another patient, who’d just delivered, and who was going to be using the other bed in the room.  She clearly was unaware of the agreement Charlie had with the doctor, and simply gave a warm, “Zdrazvootsee!”- “Hello!” as she wheeled the new patient and her baby in to the room.  I knew that Charlie was not going to like this, but I honestly felt a bit of relief that I would not have to be in the room alone any longer.

At 3pm, visiting hours began, and despite difficulty getting a sitter for Isabel (Liza took more time off of work), Charlie was there right on the dot.  I was so happy to see him.  He did give kind of an irritated look when he walked in and saw that I had a roommate, but I think he could tell by the expression on my face that I did not mind her company.

He also told me he’d found out that, according to a relatively new law, the hospital was not allowed to let Jasper and I go home with him until he’d gotten a chest X-ray to show that he did not have TB.  This upset Charlie very much.  As a matter of fact, the first thing he said was, “I shouldn’t have to do this, I’m not a Russian.  If we have to go to the consulate on this, we will.”

I didn’t tell him at the time, but his reaction made me very uneasy.  “Not do it?” I thought.  “Go to the consulate?”  I pictured Charlie at the consulate trying to get them to convince the hospital to let us take Jasper home without Charlie’s chest X-ray.  I also pictured all of the children who I’d met over the years at the intake hospitals who’d been taken away from their mothers for different reasons.  “Could they really not allow me to take Jasper home because Charlie won’t get this chest X-ray?”  I thought.

At that moment, Charlie and I were walking very different paths in the same story.  Charlie didn’t realize how much I was beginning to struggle with the circumstances at the rod dome, and I wasn’t planning to tell him.  On the other hand, I didn’t realize all that Charlie was going through while I was there in the way of caring for Isabel (who was not handling my being at the hospital very well), seeing me experiencing so much pain and lying in that bed (which now had my blood stains all over it), getting through security at the hospital to come see me, getting through St. Petersburg traffic to get there on time, and getting almost no sleep due to his concern for all of us.

In any case, at that time, nothing more was said about the required X-ray by either of us.  In what seemed like minutes, visiting hours were over, and Charlie was gone again.

On my second night in rod dome, I hit bottom.

Shortly after visiting hours, my roommate asked the nurse to take her baby to the nursery.  Then she rolled over and tried to go to sleep.  I had not intended for Jasper to leave the room at all.  So on this night, around 11pm or so, I nursed him and put him in his bassinet hoping he’d fall asleep the way he had the night before.

However, for whatever reason, on this night Jasper was wide awake.  I don’t know if it was the heat in our room or the new roommate or whatever else it may have been, but Jasper would not sleep in there on this night.  He stayed awake crying so much that around midnight I finally picked him up and walked out into the hallway with him so as not to keep my neighbor awake.

For the next hour I walked with Jasper up and down the hall of that rod dome while everyone else slept.

He’d fall asleep in my arms occasionally.  However, as soon as I’d attempt to take him back into my room and lay him in his bassinet, he’d come wide awake and start screaming.

At one point I called Charlie, who I knew would be awake, and talked to him a while as I sat in the hallway.  At about 1am, the pediatric nurse came out of her station and saw me and Jasper sitting in the hallway.  “Oh no,” I thought.  “She’s going to ask me if I want to put him in the nursery.”

Which she did.  The conversation was in Russian, but I knew she was trying to explain to me that maybe he was struggling because he could smell his mother’s milk.  She said, “Momma dolshna spat” – “Momma needs to sleep”. She was one of the kindest ladies I’ve ever met, and I could see genuine concern in her face for me.  Since I’d arrived I’d only had hot tea to drink and had been sweating profusely in my room due to hormones and the heat.  At this point I’d begun to feel very dehydrated.  Plus I’d not gotten very much sleep that day, and had not had a shower since that glorious one I had taken at our home almost 2 days prior.  As much as I hated to admit it, I knew she was right.

However, all of the sudden the thought of Jasper being taken from me and put into the nursery terrified me.  I told her I really wanted to try to let him sleep with me, so she agreed and went back to her station.

When she came back out an hour later – now around 2:30am – and saw me still sitting in that hallway, rocking Jasper, I felt my heart kind of sink in my chest.  As she walked up to me smiling, I knew that it was time.  She sat beside me and said, “Vwee oostalee” – “You are tired.”  She asked if he’d eaten and if he’d had a good diaper, both of which had occurred in the last 30 minutes.  She said, “Let me take him to the nursery with the other babies.  I promise I will bring him to you at 6:00.”  I said in broken Russian, “I do not want him to have a bottle, I want him to nurse if he’s hungry.”  She said, “I will bring him to you if he gets hungry, we will not give him a bottle.”  I hesitated for a minute, looking at Jasper, and then said, “OK” and handed him over to her.  As I watched her walk down the hall with him and into the nursery, I started crying.  I sat there for a minute to be sure she didn’t walk right back out with him, and then went into my room and laid down on my bed, still crying.

After about 5 minutes, the nurse came into my room and quietly said, “On speet.” – “He sleeps.”  At that moment, finally, the sobs began.  She put her hand on my head and tried to console me.  She told me over and over, “Don’t cry.  He’s fine.  I promise if he wakes up I will bring him to you.  I will bring him to you at 6:00.”  But I was inconsolable.  I kept apologizing to her through my sobs, and I told her I would be fine in a minute, and I thanked her.  Finally, she went back out of the room and pulled the door behind her.

For the next hour and a half, I laid in that bed sobbing.  I could not stop crying.  There I laid in that rod dome in St. Petersburg, Russia, separated from both of my children.  I turned towards the wall because I couldn’t stand looking at the empty bassinet next to my bed.

A very unpleasant, ungracious side of me came out in those moments.  I told myself that this was as much as I could take, and I made the decision that as soon as we were out of that rod dome, I was buying our plane tickets and we were going back to Georgia.

“I don’t care what people say,” I thought.  “The Russian people don’t even want us here.  Why am I here trying to convince orphanage directors and government officials to let me help them while I’m away from my family and my home, and now my husband and children?  If the people here don’t want to repent for the sins that have been committed and to let their lives be set free by God from the oppression that is so evident here – if they want to continue to kill themselves with alcohol and drugs and to let their children live in institutions, fine.  I’m going home.”  I cried out to God in anger, “Why?  Why have you brought me here just to take my children away from me?”

And that’s when it dawned on me.

For so many years, I’d known that God was calling me to Russia to work with the orphans there.  I’d had a sense of it even on that first trip back in 2001.  Then I remembered the day that Charlie and I had our first meeting with our sending agency about our desire to live and work in Russia.  A month after that initial meeting, we found out we were pregnant with Isabel.

I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but learning that we were going to have a baby ignited in my spirit very significant fears, that I now know had always been there.  Having met so many beautiful children in Russia over the years who were growing up in institutions without their parents, and I think also due to the fact that I and my siblings had experienced so much separation from either of our parents when we were children due to divorce and other painful trials, I realized that night that I had been living with an intense fear of losing my children.   I had been blaming God not only for the loss that we’d experienced in my family, but also for the incredible loss that the children – and their mothers and fathers – were experiencing every day in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I realized that night, that one of the major reasons I had agreed to move to St. Petersburg was because I had believed that doing so would ensure that God would never take my children away from me.  Further, I had believed that if I’d NOT moved to St. Petersburg, knowing God’s call on my life there, that He may have decided to take my children from me in a manner similar to the way I’d believed He’d taken these children in Russia away from their mothers and fathers.  This was not the first time that this possibility had occurred to me, but its reality in my life had never been so clear as at that moment.

In the minutes that followed, though I continued to cry, I became very silent before God.  I felt such conviction in my heart that I had been trusting Him so little with my children, and with my marriage, and my family in Georgia – with my life.  I had gone to Russia for very selfish reasons, as a part of a deal I was trying to make with Him.  I had judgment and bitterness in my heart.  Because of my own sin and weakness, I had become angry with the people who I’d come to serve, even after so many had given so much to serve me and my family.

As I laid there, I truly felt as though the Lord were lying there beside me with His arms around me, telling me, “Miki, I’ve got you.  I know of your weaknesses.  I know that you don’t trust Me fully, but I know you want to, and I promise you that despite this I will NEVER leave you and I will NEVER leave your children.  I promise you will get there, and I will be with you the entire way.”

And then, silently I began to repent.  “Father, I’m so sorry.  Please forgive me.  Please heal me.  Please heal my marriage.  Please help me to give my life fully to You.

“And please help me to give Isabel and Jasper fully to You.  They are Your children, and it is my honor and pleasure to be called their mother in this world.  I know that each day You give me with them is a gift.  Help me to see each day as that, for I know the condition of this world is not as You desire, and I pray that in all of their days here they will walk with You through it.”

As the Spirit of the Lord continued to wash over me in His grace in those minutes, I began to feel my eyes get very heavy and knew that I needed to sleep.  I felt my spirit calm within me and soon drifted off to sleep.

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