The Necessary.

We’re really alive!  Finger still intact, though angry as can be when required to type, hence the lack of posts.  It turns out pointer fingers are super useful.  I’ll definitely appreciate mine more in the future.  

Although I haven’t been able to type it out, my brain has been spinning a mile a minute since we landed back on US soil.  The trip was so good.  When people ask the question “How was your trip?” I say “Good, and necessary.”  It was oh so necessary, in ways we couldn’t have anticipated before going.  I thought it would be necessary in the scheme of houses, visas, and job descriptions, and while all those things were discussed and worked on, they aren’t the necessary I’m talking about.  This trip was another leg in the Journey of Learning to Say Yes.  


Kiev was great.  Super fun, great connections, awesome time with old friends- going deeper and getting stronger.  Kiev was comfy, cozy, and superb.  

Zhitomir was good too…and Zhitomir was reality.  Necessary reality.  

We LOVE Mission to Ukraine (MTU).  We love the staff, we love the vision, we love the people being served.  We are more excited than ever to join them in their ministry.  Jed could be busy there 24/7.  His professional skills are so right on for the areas they have need.  My heart was bursting to think of how I get to help and how our kids get to be involved and learn to serve.  We are totally and completely more excited than ever for MTU.  YAY!


Honestly though, I struggled in Zhitomir.  Nothing personal to the city or the people, I was struggling with doubt, fear, worry as we walked the streets of Zhitomir, and it was all personal to me.  

“What are we doing???  This is crazy.”

“Our lives are PERFECT right now and we’re leaving it all for the unknown.  Why???”

“We’re taking our kids away from their cousins, their friends, their church.  They’re going to hate us!”


And on, and on, and on.  Being the verbal processor that I am, Jed got quite the earful.  THIS was the necessary of this trip I wasn’t expecting.  I had to come around to the fact that although our life right now is the absolute best it’s ever been, the biggest reason for that is because we are smack dab in the will of God.  Yes, there will be challenges about moving to Ukraine.  No, it will not be easy. Yes, there are some major sacrifices, but it will be the best because we will be smack dab in the will of our Loving Father.  After I got over myself and the lies, fear, doubt, blah blah blah, I could truly enjoy our time in Zhitomir.  

Look how far The Lord has brought us!  Oh my, the joy in the journey really increases when you die to yourself a bit more. Ha!

Today my kids and their friend Milaey decided to pick various herbs and plants from the yard and set up a stand on the porch to sell to passerby’s.  Great idea, except for the fact that we live on an extremely quiet, out of the way street.  People don’t just meander down our street for the fun of it. It’s almost like a ghost town, except for us. 🙂  I didn’t want to discourage them, so I just warned them it might be a bit hard to get customers, but they were welcome to try!  


They set to work gathering, pricing, making signs.  Soon they were out on the corner yelling to the empty street about their wares.  “We’ve got carrots, we’ve got herbs, we’ve got stuff to make your house smell good!”  They chanted over and over, then cheered like crazy when a random car would drive by every 7 minutes or so.  


After a bit they came in, discouraged at the lack of business.  Then Milaey suggested they pray and ask God to bring them a customer.  I certainly didn’t have the faith I should have had (hehe), but was so proud of Milaey for suggesting it!  They prayed, and I kid you not, like 5 minutes later a car stopped at the sale!  A random lady got out and said “I never drive on this street, but I thought I’d try a shortcut today.”  Seriously???  The kids were FREAKING OUT.  They hovered, they talked up their goods, and the kindest lady in town walked away with a ziplock baggie full of hedge trimmings.  God is so faithful.  He cares about what’s important to us.  


I got to talk with the kids about the goodness of God, they were thankful, elated, and back to sign-holding and chanting.  Guess what?  Not one other car stopped the rest of the day.  Addy and Ezra came inside an hour later crying (sobbing) about their “failure sale”.  

“Why did no one come?  It was important to us and no one cared!”

How quickly they forgot the Lord’s provision.  How quickly they forgot the joy in the answered prayer, the delight in His care for them.  He provided a miraculous customer right when they asked!

Yep, that was me in Zhitomir.  Totally forgetting what God did earlier.  Totally feeling forgotten, wondering if God cared.  Seriously?????  He’s done AMAZING things.  He’s gone above and beyond for our family to pave the way and make it straight.  Seriously.  Once I got my head and heart on straight, stopped looking at the “yikes” and looking at all He has done and promises TO DO things got a whoooooooole lot better.  

Lesson learned for me, and the kids.

Next post will be more details about our time in Zhitomir.  Many of you have been asking and I’m sooooo sorry for the delay.  I blame it on my immersion blender skills (or lack thereof).

Pain:

After leaving MTU today, I just had to walk.

My brain was going a mile-a-minute.

I just finished teaching a seminar on Vicarious Trauma (the cumulative impact of hearing many traumatic events in the lives of the people you help).  It is a serious issue for those who work in the Helping Profession.  
I also attended the funeral of a deeply loved pastor who was integral in the work MTU started throughout the Zhitomir region.
As I walked through my new city, the place we will call home for at least the first year of our lives in Ukraine,
I was trying to reconcile a  part of the training I deliberately skipped over.

I hadn’t plan to skip this part, in fact, I intended to spend some time on this theme.  But as I looked out at the teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses, and staff I could not tell them that a sign of Vicarious Trauma was connected to their ability to see the world as a good and safe place for themselves and those they love.
Now, before I get too far down this road, I believe this world is full of amazingly good things and good people and safe families and safe environments.
In the US, our biggest business is pain avoidance.  We prescribe, self-medicate, anesthetize and pasteurize our lives from as many problems and as much pain as possible.
At the drop of a hat we start to blame God, country and anything around us when our lives become anything less than ideal.  I’m speaking at myself here.
How could I tell these people, who not only see so much suffering, but experience it too, that the world is a good and safe place and you have a serious problem if you think otherwise?  They would laugh me out of the room.
I wasn’t ready to talk about this part of Compassion Fatigue (aka, Vicarious Trauma).
I needed to go for a walk and think about all I have been experiencing on this trip to Ukraine. 
“God, help me to understand this culture and people.  Help me to see the world through their eyes and support them as they work with the most vulnerable in their community.”
After a cup of coffee and some quiet time I had a clear thought. A sign of Vicarious Trauma fatigue is the inability to see the good that is around us and trust people in our lives.  It’s a slight change from the “everything’s coming up roses” worldview that is easy to have when you are hiding behind a shit-ton of missiles and medication.

Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  The right to rule over sickness, death, sin and darkness had begun it’s reign on earth.  
He didn’t stand afar off and point at all that was wrong, Christ came and made wrong things right.  He became one of us and took the full weight of all our bad so we could walk in freedom and goodness and life.  See Isaiah 53:5.
As helpers, our job is to be like Jesus.  To stand in the places where the pain is most severe and cry out for God’s Kingdom to come and when we see healing and wholeness and life and freedom we celebrate it as a sign of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
We must take care of ourselves so we can serve from the overflow of God’s presence  and power in our lives.

I had the honor of speaking at MTU’s morning devotions and I shared from Mark 7:31-37 as model of care for those who work in the helps field.    

Read the passage and think of Jesus’ actions more like sign language than a mysitcal ritual.  
Jesus honors this man by taking him aside.  He tells him, through sign language, that he is going to heal his ears and speaking. He looks up to the Father, so the deaf man would know where the healing was coming from.
When it’s all said and done the entire community said, “Jesus does all things well!”  Or translate, He does all things completely.
Our work as helpers is usually partial healing: bandaging, counseling, listening, soothing, containing, informing and befriending.  But, as Christ followers, we can appeal to His finishing work and say;
“Father in Heaven, make your name great!  
Just like it is in Heaven, let it be here on earth; In my life and in the families and people I serve.  
Give us this day, everything we need to live lives of freedom in you.  
Let us be forgivers, people who give out love and kindness freely and without reservation, as we have been forgiven and loved much. 
Papa, let me learn the lessons I need to learn without going through the fires of temptation.  Don’t let me be so self-focused that I miss your sweet comfort that guides me in the way of peace.
You take all the glory today and I will bathe in the warmth of I life lived near your heart.
Amen.”

Warm Buses and Warm Hearts…hehehe

It’s a well-known fact among my real-life friends and fam that I’m an extra warm-blooded person.  I rarely wear a coat, and Jed constantly bemoans the fact that I’m passing that trait on to our kids.  Who needs a jacket?  They’re so bulky!  I’d much rather run from the house to the car to the store and back, than to be suffocated by a bulky jacket.  Don’t even get me started on the suffocation factor of scarves.  I get it that they’re cute, a little pop of color for an otherwise bland outfit, but am I the only one that can’t handle the strangulation?  Just the thought of a turtleneck makes me feel like my airway is about to close.

All that to say, warm weather and lack of airflow is a major downfall to my suitability as a missionary.  If you’ve ever traveled overseas you know what I mean.  Think warm bus, no windows down, stalled in traffic.  I have to talk myself down from the ledge.  “You actually won’t suffocate.  There is air available, just breathe deeply.”  
The vent right above my head…doesn’t work. 

Where am I going with this?  I have no idea.  I just had to talk it out because as I write this we’re on a fairly warm bus headed back to Zhitomir.  I’ve been sweating for the past 12 days, and so it continues today.  (I’m a Bittner.  We sweat.) Anywayssssss….I just needed you to feel my pain for a sec.  I feel better now.  🙂

Now, on to more pleasant topics that don’t involve sweat and strangulation.  
This past weekend was loads of fun!  We drove back to Kiev on Friday afternoon with our friend Oleg who happened to be heading that way.  He dropped us at the metro and we headed to the church where they were having a concert to reach the unreached.  We took the metro to the stop we knew was closest to the church and then hopped off.  It’s like a 20 minute walk from the metro to the church, and Jed, with his bat-like sense of direction, led us straight there without a hitch.  What a guy.
Jed promptly filled in on the bass and we got to see lots of people we love.  It was a good time.  
After the concert we went home with our friend Sergei.  We had the BEST time staying with Sergei and Alyona.  Seriously.  Being around their kids made us miss our babies something fierce, but we managed.  🙂  
Alyona cooked for us and fed us nonstop.  Yum.  Who am I to complain?  Her love language is feeding people, and we’re eaters; a match made in heaven.  

On Saturday morning we met Jim and Marianna Peipon (remember Olya and I went with Marianna to visit the baby at the hospital?) at their flat to tag along with them to a picnic.  Fun, fun, fun!  The picnic was for a coalition for children at risk.  Basically, a group of people consisting of Ukrainians, Americans, Russians, and Mexicans, who work with children at risk in various ways around Kiev got together to fellowship and eat together.  They welcomed us with open arms and we had a great time.  It was so fascinating to hear about what others are doing to help kids and how God led them to Ukraine.  We made some new friendships and some good connections.  Who knows what God plans to do with those relationships in the future?  We are open, and excited to find out.  Thank you new friends for making us feel so welcome!  We’ll see you again soon with kiddos in tow!
Saturday afternoon and evening we hung out with various friends and laughed a lot.  
Sunday, oh I loved Sunday.  It started out with Alyona feeding us some more delicious food, and ended the same.  Hehe
We headed out to church by taxi after the frantic rusharound of your typical Sunday morning.  It was hilarious to talk (sign/google translate) with Sergei about how Sunday mornings are the same for families all around the world.  “Hurry up!  Eat your breakfast!  Stop hitting your brother please.  Grrrrr.”  Then you get to church “Hallelujah….”  Yep.  Sunday morning in Ukraine is just like Sunday morning in Salem.  Why is that?  Hilarious and true.  If your Sunday morning isn’t stressful, let me in on your secret. 😉 
After a great time at church we joined our friends in their typical Sunday afternoon hangout.  Everyone takes the marshrutka to our fave: Puzata Hata!  Puzata Hata is a cafeteria-style Ukrainian restaurant.  Delish and cheap with plenty of space for hours of chattin’ it up.  As our friend Andrei says “Sunday afternoon is for relationship.”
Sunburned…my bad.
After the deliciousness of Puzata Hata we walked for a bit, talking more, till we got to the metro and parted ways.  Sergei and Alyona went to go buy their kids a pet mouse (yep, that’s totally not happening at my house) and we went with our friend Elvin to chat more since we won’t see him again before we leave Ukraine.  
After that it was home again home again jiggety jig.  Alyona fed us some more, and Jed and Sergei drooled over guitars online- just your typical Sunday night when you live with a musician.  

Anya and I did this:
I give this past weekend two thumbs way up.  We are so blessed to have good friends in Kiev who love us.  The feeling is so mutual.

 

Being Human

Have you ever tried to cut back blackberry brush?

If you have, you are already feeling that sense of dread.  If you haven’t, imagine fighting off the huge squid on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

You’ll spend hours fighting a blackberry bush and when you step back it looks like you were sitting on your hands, “Oh, that’s nice Honey.  What have you been doing out there all morning?”

Shoulders slumped, you head back out to the fray, hoping to make a dent in the seemingly insurmountable task.  Hands bleeding, mud up to your calves, the stench of something that died at the far end of the brambles but you push on.

Though this is a bit of a crass example, there is a similar feeling that must come across the beautiful men and women who faithfully go to Romaniv (an orphanage for boys with special needs) every week.  “Am I making any difference?”

I’m just assuming they feel this way some days, cause riding in the van out there yesterday you wouldn’t have known they feel anything but joy.  These folks are my heroes.

Kim and I have a favorite place at Romaniv.  It’s called the Isolation Room.  Most of the boys and men are mobile, though with varying levels of difficulty.   I am reticent to show you pictures because it is quite traumatic and I want you to meet them, not just see them.

Let me tell you about Zhenya.  If I showed you a picture you would see a quiet boy, drooling and hunched over.  With his head down, his eyes would be looking up at you with a precious, but distant smile across his face.
But as the music started to play and I had the honor of cuddling Zhenya, his stiff body softened.  As I rubbed his head he leaned into me and fell asleep.  He woke up and smiled at me and I looked into his eyes and smiled at him.  I prayed Jesus would be near to his heart.  That he would feel the love of God.  That he would just feel human. I will continue to pray for Zhenya.  Will you?
Now I need to tell you about Vova.  If you saw him you would see cuts, scrapes and bites all over him. You would see his hands and wrists bleeding and mutilated by years of wounds trying to heal.  You would see an old man in a boy-size body.  But his scowled face softened as a wonderful nun started to play music.  She comes every week.  Vova’s posture relaxed, just a little.  I crouched next to him and put my arm around him.  There was a part of me that felt afraid.  I’d like to say I’m in perfect peace at Romaniv, but some moments are harder than others.   He got to spend an hour and a half where he didn’t feel the need to self-stim by biting himself.  
Our over-the-top “need” for cleanliness and purel puts up a lot of barriers for us folks in the west, but Vova needs to know he is worthy of love and affection.  He needs someone brave enough.  The amazing people who volunteer weekly to come play with these boys are astounding.   Jesus, be near Vova’s heart.  Let him feel your love, Father.  Holy Spirit bring peace to his mind and body.
Lastly I must tell you about Misha.  Last year he was the little boy in the corner who was very closed off, self-stimulated by hiting the bridge of his nose and his temple.  
A year later he looked much healthier, though he has the same wounds he was more engaged with people.  When Betta, the nun, began to play he immediatly softened.  His face relaxed, with the slightest smile.  He swayed side to side with his eyes closed and it was beautiful to see the change in him.  Jesus, be near Misha.  Father, pour out your love onto Misha.  Holy Spirit bring your peace.
The consistent faithfullness of Mission to Ukraine and the volunteers who come every week is making a difference in these boys.  They are changing, growing, healing.  God’s Kingdom is coming and it is beautiful.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Matt. 5:3
It was our absolute honor to come alongside MTU yesterday and love on the boys and men of Romaniv.  The mutual love and excitement in the air was almost tangible.  We can’t wait to be weekly participants in this mission of love once we move to Zhitomir.  
As we rode home, I marveled at Betta’s smile.  She didn’t need to know that what she was doing supported brain development and attachment.  She just feels God’s pleasure as she loves on His children.  Glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven breaking through in the most unlikely of places.