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[surgery]

One day, years from now, I envision Sam and I talking to our kids, telling them our story.

“Well, we got married and enjoyed a wonderful honeymoon in Carpathian mountains… then came back and started remodeling the apartment. This included not having doors anywhere, and also no kitchen and no toilet. If that wasn’t enough, your dad’s left hand suddenly started hurting bad and he needed to get the surgery.”

That’s years from now.

But back to the present.

Sam needs to get a surgery next week. He broke his wrist a couple of years ago and while the bones healed, they obviously didn’t heal properly. So a few days ago, the wrist suddenly began to hurt more than usual (usually it only hurt when he attempted to twist it).

This morning we went to the doc (I tagged along because I didn’t want to sit at home, wondering what they are doing to my babe) and he said Sam needs a surgery.

As if we weren’t stressed enough after the remodeling of our home.

Oh well… Better now than later, I guess. Besides, there’s not much choice – either he gets a surgery (that involves the docs taking a bit of his hip bone and inserting it into his wrist) or his arm will get weaker and weaker.

So all this to say, we need prayers.

We need prayers for some rest before the new stress (the remodeling should end this week – woo-hoo!)

We need prayers for the surgery and the doctors, for God to guide their hands as they perform the operation

We need prayers for financial support for this. It’s not a cheap surgery (although thankfully we’ve got some savings and there are surgeries that are way more expensive than this one.)

And finally we’ll need more prayers for the rehabilitation after the surgery. Thankfully, Sam’s right-handed and it’s his left wrist that was hurt.

UPDATE: Thanks for the prayers, y’all. The surgery went well and now we’re onto rehab process! The docs are positive that it should heal well and work even better than before the surgery. So woo-hoo!

This was one of the drawings by a kid in third grade. The writing says "Heroes don't die." There is now a display of kids' drawings down at Maidan, where the bloody events took place.

[remorse and praying for one's enemies]

On my way to work this morning, I was thinking about the situation in my country and what might happen in the future. (Sidenote: it is incredibly great to be able to think again. Sounds odd, I know, but last two weeks I was pretty much incapable of that. See last post.)

One of the things I have pondered about lately was how to pray for the enemies. I never had true enemies until now and I don’t like this feeling of hate.

However, this morning, as I was reading Psalm 40, where David once again reminds us not to be envious of those who are more “successful in this world” yet who do things that are wrong, I wondered…

The worst thing that can happen to Putin and Yanukovych now is that they might become Christians.

Let me explain…

A quote surfaced in my mind as I was captured by this idea… a quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

“Isn’t there any way of putting yourself back together?” Ron asked.

“Yes,” said Hermione with a hollow smile, “but it would be excruciatingly painful.”

“Why? How do you do it?” asked Harry.

“Remorse,” said Hermione. “You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done. There’s a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you. I can’t see Voldemort attempting it somehow, can you?”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Chapter 6

Voldemort, the evil man of the Potter saga, basically “sold his soul to the Devil” or, in Potter-speak, created several Horcruxes. The only way back, the only way to undo this, was to feel utter remorse for the evil deeds you’ve done.

The sheer pain of remorse is so great that, as Hermione says, “it can destroy you.” However, on the good side, you gain your soul back…

So I thought…

If we pray for Putin and Yanukovych to become Christians, they will have to go through that painful transformation that we all experienced when we realized what Jesus did for us on that cross. When we realized that all the things we’ve done and haven’t done yet… He paid for it all. It still is a staggering thought.

So in a way… it would be some sort of revenge.

I know it’s not right to pray for those guys to turn to God just because I want them to suffer (and to be completely honest, I do… I can’t help it.) But it sure helps to at least pray for them with any kind of reason besides “Lord, destroy them.”

In regards to prayers: please pray for Ukraine, but also, please pray for Russia. They already are losing quite a lot because their president decided to create a power show. Just today they have lost $55 millions at the stock exchange market because of their invasion into Ukraine. My country is a strong one and we won’t give in… but Russia is so big and scattered that it is harder for the rural areas to survive. So if the economy fails, then it will be extremely hard for people to survive.

I love my friends in Russia, even when some of their words are like daggers in the back. I love them because they are my friends and I value friendship more than political views. I don’t want to lose anyone – be it my own people or others. So besides Ukraine, please pray for our neighbor that keeps wanting to capture us but can’t.

This was one of the drawings by a kid in third grade. The writing says "Heroes don't die." There is now a display of kids' drawings down at Maidan, where the bloody events took place.

This was one of the drawings by a kid in third grade. The writing says “Heroes don’t die.” There is now a display of kids’ drawings down at Maidan, where the bloody events took place.

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[mark 15:16-20]

If you haven’t heard what’s going on in Ukraine, check out this or this news bit (or simply Google for “Ukraine News 2014″ – it is all over the internet right now).

Mikhail Gavrilyuk, Ukrainian Cossack

Yesterday everyone was shocked by a brutal video of special ops guys making fun of a guy they captured. One of their own made the video and had the wits to upload it. They captured one of the peaceful protesters, took all his clothes (even though it is about 9 degrees Fahrenheit and snow is on the ground), and after beating him, made him pose for a picture. (The video is here, but it’s not an easy one to watch…)

When they have him that stick or whatever it was to stand and hold it while they pose next to him for pictures, I couldn’t not make the connection with the part of Jesus’ trial.

The soldiers took Jesus into the palace, called Praetorium, and called together the entire brigade. They dressed him up in purple and put a crown plaited from a thornbush on his head. Then they began their mockery: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” They banged on his head with a club, spit on him, and knelt down in mock worship. After they had their fun, they took off the purple cape and put his own clothes back on him. Then they marched out to nail him to the cross.

Mark 15:16-20, MSG

The Soldiers Mock Jesus // William Hole

Whether it was a conversation with God or it was just my tired imagination, a dialogue took place in my mind…

“God, so many people are asking where are you in all of this. What do I tell them? How can I help them understand that you don’t want all this violence? That this is not what you want for us?”

“I am there, with you. Just like that guy you saw. I am in him. I am in all of you, just like you are all in Me.”

“We need your help. We are weak. Yes, that man resembled you just before you were killed… We already have people who are being killed… You died.”

“I rose, also.”

“But you died!…”

“Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies… It will not bring fruit.”

“But what does it mean for Ukraine? Do we have to die, all of us?”

“I have a plan. A good plan. And I am there, amidst all that pain and yells and fires.”

I am relying on His plan. I don’t know what to pray for anymore without feeling like a hypocrite. I don’t know what to do – to take care of myself or be there with the other people, being at risk to be killed.

Unless the seed…

[I want it my way!]

I went to another Church’s Bible study group today, something that became a tradition of sorts during the last month. Worship at my Church in the morning, Bible study at another Church in the afternoon.

We came today and guys were having ice-cream. We got ours too, and sat, enjoying the ice-cream and watching Shaun the Sheep on TV (it was a break between their service and the group, and since there was a kid there, we watched cartoons in the meantime.)

Their pastor’s kid is about two years old. I sat across the table from them and watched the dad (D) / son (Y) interactions.

Y wanted to hold his ice-cream and eat it, but D tried to show him that Y should hold it by the stick, not just hold the wrapper (because the ice-cream would then be enjoyed only by the carpet.) Y clutched the wrapper tightly with his small hands, and when D pried the ice-cream away, Y started crying.

“Here, hold it here, see? There is a stick you should hold.” D gently said to Y, who was sobbing into his dad’s shirt. Y looked up, shook his head, and once again let out a wail of despair.

“Come on, here’s your ice-cream, do you want it?”

Y shook his head.

Since there were not a lot of us there and everyone was watching the unfolding situation, D explained “He wanted to hold the ice-cream by the wrapper, but it would fall down.”

D ended up eating the melting ice-cream on his own because every time he offered it to Y, he only got more crying in reply.

As I observed this, I wondered…

How often do I start wailing at God just because I want something to be done my way instead of the way God is gently showing me?

Y forfeited his ice-cream just because he did not want to hold the stick, but instead wanted the flimsy wrapper.

How often do I miss out on blessings simply because I wanted something frail to hold onto [that I thought was good enough] instead of something sturdy [that really was created for the purpose of enjoying this blessing]?

Far too often.

And when God offers me the blessing anyway… do I shout at Him and cry because I couldn’t have it my way?

That physical situation today with the ice-cream once again reminded me that I should really trust God. And that I can trust Him.

[BOOK REVIEW: When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey]

I saw this book on BookSneeze, got it, and then saw that a bunch of my friends also are reading it (or are planning on reading it).

_240_360_Book.879.coverThe book piqued my initial interest because it mentioned magic. I love Narnia books as well as Harry Potter series and Lord of the Rings. I believe that when we know what we believe, God provides so many stories we can use to share His message with people we know…but I am getting away from the book.

When Mockingbirds Sing is about a family who moved to a small town trying to get a fresh start. Adjusting to small town ways after living in a big city takes a while – for both sides. The things are complicated when little Leah suddenly develops a gift. Some claim it’s magic and therefore wrong. Some believe it’s from God and therefore should be wholeheartedly accepted. Some are hanging in the interstice, not sure what to believe, yet confronted with the fact that there is SOMETHING there. Everything seems so perfect… yet people are torn between beliefs and are struggling with relationships.

I enjoyed this book. It was not one of the “happy” books you read and everything is working out just as planned. There are difficulties that the characters face and they HAVE to deal with them. Yet the book also provides hope and joy that surpasses just this life. Once again, I liked the magic part about it, the belief in the Maybe. If anything, this book once again shows that we, adults, should learn from kids about what it means to truly believe… even when times are hard and we have to do something that hurts and scares us.

It’s a really cool book and I think it’s going to have a sequel. I am definitely looking forward to that book because I enjoyed Coffey’s writing style. He paints good word pictures and he is also honest about things in our life and questions we are sometimes afraid to ask for the fear we would be laughed at.

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

[Book Review: AFLOAT by Erin Healy]

I am attracted to books that deal with supernatural events and I knew that Erin Healy was a good author because she co-authored two books with my favorite Ted Dekker. This, however, was my first book written exclusively by Erin Healy.

The story is about people who are involved in a building project – houses on water. Considering that I have a lot of friends who are in construction / architects, this topic interests me. Besides an interesting concept (albeit not a new one, architecture-wise) for the housing, Erin wove quite a tapestry of relationships between the characters and up until the very end, you’re held in suspense, trying to figure out what will happen.

_240_360_Book.852.coverI definitely enjoyed reading this book – I couldn’t wait until the end of the work day so I had free time to read! In a way, this book reminded me of Shaunti Feldhahn’s Veritas Conflict and Frank Peretti’s novels because it also dealt with spiritual world and battles, not just physical / emotional side of the world.

The characters are well-written, in my opinion. I do wonder what happened to a few of them after the end of the story, but I hope everything turned out good for them too.

For me, a book where I can find a quote I can use for later, is a good book. One dialogue, in particular, made me smile because that day all my Scripture reading was centered around patience…

“At least, you know you’re doing what you must do.”
“Is it enough?”
“Is it enough? That’s the question of a man who thinks that waiting is a weaker activity. But patience requires the strength of Hercules.”

Overall, I recommend this book for those who are looking for a good suspense story with romance and relationships mixed in.

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

[shoveling the mountain]

I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.

Matthew 17:20, NLT

I have read an article the other day written by a guy who claims to be an atheist. He raised important points in his rant against a law that has been passed in Russia (or about to be passed) that you cannot offend believers’ faith. (Don’t ask me how they are going to judge who got offended and how it would be proved document-wise. It’s a dumb law.)

The paragraph that got my attention, however, was where he said, “But who are the faithful ones? Didn’t Jesus say that those even with a tiny faith can move mountains? I haven’t seen any mountains move by faith, therefore by their own standards all those believers are worthless.”

I mentioned this to a friend who originally posted the link to the post.

“You know, my youth pastor once said, ‘God can move mountains miraculously, but sometimes He gives us a shovel to move the mountain patiently with our own hands.’”

“So if you have a shovel, why would you need God?” asked my friend, who is not a believer himself.

To be honest, I got lost as to what to tell him. Deep down I knew the answer, but somehow I could not formulate it in a way that would make sense.

On Saturday night, my pastor called me and asked if I can do devotions in the morning. I agreed and started thinking and praying about what should I talk about.

I usually have a few thoughts written down as notes in my iPhone, so I looked through those. Nope… nothing seemed fitting.

I looked though the blog entries. Nothing. There were good topics I could talk about, but nothing felt… right.

On Sunday morning, I came to Church early for a rehearsal. We prepared the songs, had some coffee, and the time for Sunday morning devotionals was coming close. “What should I speak about?” I kept thinking…

And then I remembered the discussion with my friend on Thursday… What I also remembered was a old joke I once heard. So I stood in front of our morning prayer group:

We are often accused that our faith is useless. It’s tiny. We are accused that we cannot move the mountains. And when we say that God gives us a shovel, we are asked “Why do we need God then?”… But if we would not have God, who would give us a shovel to move that mountain in our lives? Where are we going to get it?

And besides, He does move mountains by miracle.

He demolishes mountains of doubt. He moves mountains of fear in our lives. He got rid of the huge Everest of death in our lives.

People always preferred to see physical representation of His power. Even when Jesus was here, all they wanted was miracles – and then some more miracles. (Even after He just performed one.)

Yet the realm where He works usually is hidden from eyes.

It’s a realm of hearts.

I smiled as I found out that the last song that Sunday was “Mighty to Save,” for the lyrics go like this:

Saviour, He can move the mountains
For my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save
Forever, author of Salvation
Where He rose and conquered the grave, Jesus conquered the grave.

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[prayer style differences]

I am currently taking a class that is quite enlightening to me. It is Intercultural and Interpersonal Communication.

I love it. I love that while our teacher is Dutch, the students are from Ukraine, Portugal, and Denmark (talk about intercultural communication!). I love that our textbooks are incredibly interesting and written in a way the reader can relate. I love that finally I know I wasn’t the weird one noticing random things – the differences I have observed during the years of hanging out with people from everywhere really exist.

Last week, I have been thinking about the way we pray.

When I think about it, the fact that people throughout the history of humanity have believed in God / gods shows that people wanted communication. They have felt there is someone bigger who is in charge, but besides simply believing in that someone bigger, people needed to talk with that being – hence, the prayer.

I have observed various approaches to prayer in various religions. Even within the Christian faith, there are different approaches. While I have always been a member of the Nazarene Church, the vast majority of Ukrainians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. Mostly it is because Orthodox Christianity is considered the primary religion of Ukraine and therefore, most people think they are Orthodox just by the virtue of being a Ukrainian. In the US, the Protestants are more numerous than the Orthodox.

However, back to prayer. In Orthodoxy, as well as in Catholicism, you cannot simply approach God with your requests. You have to go through a mediator – usually a saint or Mary, the mother of Jesus. In Nazarene Church, which is a part of Protestant branch, you are welcome to come to God “as you are.”

I have often wondered why the approaches are so different even though it is the same faith.

Both Slavic and the US cultures are very familiar for me. Slavic culture is familiar because I am Ukrainian by birth and have lived my entire life in Ukraine. North-American culture is familiar to me because I have hung out with Americans quite a lot while I was growing up. This experience has given me a chance to observe two cultures from within.

Different communication models. 

In Orthodoxy / Catholicism, prayer is more or less an impersonal communication. You ask something of God through someone else and you get your answer through someone else. In Protestant Christianity, however, the prayer is more interpersonal because there is more freedom in communication and less strict rules on how to pray. As I mentioned above, there is also freedom to come before God yourself, without any human mediators.

Power Distance differences. 

What I have noticed, when I observed myself, is that when I pray in Russian / Ukrainian, my prayers tend to be more timid than when I am praying in English. The change is subconscious and I never really notice it because it is a part of me, but it is there. The reason for it, I think, is subconscious high and low power distances.

When I am in my “Slavic mode,” my mind acts on the ideas planted in school and elsewhere, that there is a person of authority and unless you are clearly given permission to speak, you should remain quiet until asked. When I am around my English-speaking friends, I switch into low-power-distance mode and can be quite outspoken and don’t mind leading the conversation whereas in Russian / Ukrainian, I would think several times before saying something (or anything at all).

Protestantism thrives in Western countries where power distance level is lower and people generally feel more open and free, where people can speak their mind. Orthodoxy thrives here in CIS because of the high power distance level and the idea that there still are respected modern-day “High Priests” who are in charge and who have the power to dictate how everything should be done.

Whatever the approach we take to pray, it is a natural desire to communicate – and we do it how we know best. However, it is quite useful to identify these trends in our communication and know how to adapt to various styles of worship in different settings.

How do you pray?

Do you claim promises or do you take a more “whatever Your will for me be” approach?

Do you find yourself speaking more officially when you pray or relaxed as if you’re taking to a friend?

Seriously, I am curious.

[new church building thoughts]

Last night we agreed to go on a prayer walk around the district where our new church building is currently undergoing construction.

There were 9 of us – mostly young adults from the Tuesday group plus our pastor with his wife.

As we walked around the area where the Church is, I was the only one for whom the territory actually was known.

We walked, mostly in silence, each one praying for the people in this new area whom we will be able to serve.

It was dark outside and I looked in the already-lit windows, wondering who lives inside this or that apartment.

Perhaps I’ve seen these people in my daily travel to and from work.

Perhaps we’ve crossed each other’s path in a grocery store or McDonald’s on the corner.

I will be the first to admit I am torn between two feelings.

One – joy that our Church is getting a bigger place.

Another – sadness because I don’t know what will happen with our old Church building.

Yeah, I know it’s just a building… but I basically grew up there.

We bought it back in ’95 (I think) when I was mere 9 years old and I’ve spent countless hours playing in the backyard, cleaning it from the weeds that grew there (that were taller than me!), digging (well, helping to dig) the basement… When we got the building, it was just an apartment building built in 1911. Walls had to come down, new walls had to be erected, the whole place completely remodeled and restored… And I was there through it all.

My mom’s office was there all these years, so I have spent lunch times there between classes in university. We stayed there overnight so many times for youth group hangouts.

Too many memories.

The new Church building is actually in my neighborhood. It is 15 minutes walking from my apartment. It’s a completely new building that was designed to fulfill our needs. Yet it hasn’t gained my trust yet…

When we finally came to the actual construction site, we stood in circle to pray… and a verse came to my mind as I glanced at my faithful friends and the building next to us.

I do not consider, brethren, that I have captured and made it my own [yet]; but one thing I do [it is my one aspiration]: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.

Philippians 3:13-14, AMP

That “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” felt like a right motto for me.

I am aware that memories of the previous Church meeting places will be forever in my memories. I can’t help that (unless I lose my memory completely). The very first theater Bravo, a school, a “culture house” at the motorcycle factory, our Studentska #3 building…

But now it’s time to move on.

It pains me to admit it but it is time.

Most of my introverted change-disliking self is screaming in protest.

The other part of me is looking forward to filling the new house of the Lord with new memories.

So who knows… perhaps in a few years, I will read this and wonder, “How silly I was. I didn’t know what was coming! This new place is so wonderful!”

For now… well. Like I said in the beginning, I am torn.

However, there’s nothing I can do about the move, so I guess it would be wiser just to come to grips with this idea.

…straining forward to what lies ahead. 

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[not worried]

I was talking with a friend of mine today and he mentioned that his wife’s mom is undergoing a surgery tomorrow. Thankfully, cancer has been ruled out, yet the tumor (even though benign) remains and it has to be taken out since it’s close to the heart.

We talked about prayer and things, and then he said something that got stuck in my mind…

“Well, I am not worried.”

I know he meant it in a way that “God will take care of her and everything will be great.”

Yet once again I bumped against the wall of “But what is the definition of great?”

I guess it’s good not to worry. That was one of Jesus’ commandments as well.

But perhaps my faith isn’t strong because I still worry about those close to me.

Because sometimes the definition of “great” in God’s eternal perspective drastically differs from our earthly perspective.

It’s not that I worry that something very wrong will happen… but rather, I worry about my own reaction to what He does.

Sometimes what we think is amazing is indeed leading to destruction. (If we want to “have it our way” and no other… He does allow us get our own way at times…)

Sometimes what we think we cannot bear and what hurts us is actually leading to new understanding, wisdom, and discovering God’s love in the midst of pain. (If we are willing and have courage to see the lessons He is teaching us.)

I guess all we can pray for is “Your will be done…” and know that His will is ultimately good.