Monday, August 30, 2010

One Thousand Gifts - #1

"And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant."   
(Jonah 4:6)

I feel like my brain is overloaded... so many decisions... so many disappointments... still daring to hope...

In the midst of this crazy unexplainable thing called LIFE I do not want to forget that God is with me through both most exuberant moments and most hopeless situations... which is why I will be joining The Gratitude Community @ the Holy Experience.

My #1 Gift from the Lord is... FRIENDS!!!

I am so grateful for my friends... throughout the years God has surrounded me with people who were there for me whether I needed someone to share a laugh with or someone to vent to or someone to cry on...

I challenge you today to contact your dearest friends and let them know that you love them, value them, and appreciate them.

holy experience

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Dream For A Dream

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be a wife and a mother.

I wanted to have children... many children...

I also wanted to succeed in my career...

... and in my ministry ...

... in my friendships ...

... in homemaking efforts ...

I seek perfection in everything that I do.

I am realizing that I have to let go of some things.

And I am ok with that.

Prioritizing is not easy... but necessary.  Oh so necessary!

You can't have it all... You can't be everything to everyone.

At some point you have to give up some dreams to make other dreams happen.

I am giving up my perfectionism so I can be free to love others.

I am giving up my desire for acknowledgement and praise so I can be free to do what is right.

I am giving up having to do everything by myself so I have more time to do what is truly important.

I am giving up my culturally defined notions of success (whether in ministry or career or personal life) so I can eliminate worry.

I am giving up investing in stuff so I can invest in people.

I am giving up trying to be everything for everyone so I can simply be me.

Letting go is not easy.  But a tight-fisted person never receives more.

My hands are open.  I'm ready to live my dreams out.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eating Better While Eating Out

My team went out to IHOP recently.  As you know IHOP is not necessarily the healthiest place to eat.  Even their omelets pack on as much as 900-1000 calories without any sides.  I was terrified.  Somehow admitting that you're trying to eat healthier felt very humiliating and "party-pooping-like".  So instead I studied the menu online in advance - sorted through their healthier options and found a few things that I knew I could enjoy. I had a great meal and a great time with my team.

Tip 1: Do Your Homework.
       - Go online and research the calories and other nutritional info for the restaurant you're planning to attend.
       - Excluding the foods that you definitely do not like - write down on a piece of paper (or type in your phone) all the options that you would enjoy eating.
       - Try to decide on what you want but keep other options in mind just in case.

Tip 2: Know Ahead Of Time What You Will Order
You have already decided what you want - so open the menu on the page where the item is and look like you're picking it from the menu with the words like, "I think I'm going to have                            ". This way it looks absolutely natural and does not cause any awkward feelings with people who are more lenient in their choices.

Tip 3: Close The Menu
If you keep flipping through it - you will have to deal with temptation (especially if you have not developed the taste for healthy eating yet).

Tip 4: Enjoy Your Meal
Talk. Savor. Pause. Chew well.

Tip 5: Say NO to a Dessert.
Or if you absolutely must have something sweet - suggest to split it with someone and only take one or two bites.  This way you get the sweet taste in your mouth without over-indulging... and it's better for your wallet.

How about you?  Are you're striving for a healthier lifestyle? Do you have any tricks that you employ while eating out with friends?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Prayer Calendar

I must confess...

1) I often struggle with my prayer life

2) I am slightly OCD (just very slightly)

The result:
Behold the Prayer Calendar ;)
Mine is basic and easy.  Every day of the month I will be praying for my husband using The Power of a Praying Wife (by Stormie Omaritan) as a guide.  And then I am adding a different prayer target each day of the week.

Every Sunday I will be praying for our church.
odd weeks - praying for actual church services
even weeks - praying for outreaches

Monday: praying for myself.
Week 1 - spiritual growth
Week 2 - physical health
Week 3 - wisdom
Week 4 - ministry

Tuesday: praying for my family in Belarus

Wednesday: praying for Metro Ministries
Week 1 - church, pastors
Week 2 - Pastor Bill Wilson
Week 3 - Sidewalk Sunday School
Week 4 - Indoor Sunday School & bus ministry
Week 5 - donors & finances
If you're interested in praying for the ministry we're involved in - you can find more areas of ministry and detailed prayer requests here.

Thursday: praying for Bryan's family

Friday: praying for our community
odd weeks - for our neighbors
even weeks - for NYC

Saturday: praying for adoption
We're not in the process yet but this is definitely something we will do in the future.  I will be praying that God will place the right child in our path, that we will have wisdom to find the right agency, for financial provision of adoption expenses, for smooth transition of our future adopted child, for their protection, etc.  Another prayer request that will be made on Saturdays is for Christians to open their eyes to the suffering of kids going through multiple foster homes and group homes - and for them to start opening up their homes and their hearts to those children.

This is just my basic outline.  I am still learning to discipline myself more in my prayer life.  Teri Lynne at Pleasing to You has a more detailed outline of what you can put on your prayer calendar here.

I will be sharing another little tool that I will be using to help me pray some time next week.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Giving Up My Plot

"I am their inheritance... I am their possession" (Ezekiel 44:28)

In Ezekiel 44 God outlines the charge He is giving His priests, their duties and responsibilities, "And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean" (v.23).  He is being very specific that priests must walk in holiness before the Lord.

In this job called ministry the stakes are high.  The outcome is souls - won or lost... in communion with God or in eternal damnation without Him.  You would think with high stakes like that (and following some of the prosperity teachers out there) that the Lord will be giving His priests (ministers) everything.

"You shall give them no possession in Israel..." (v.28)

Excuse me?  Does that really say "NO possession"???

Yes, I did read that correctly.  I wondered often why that is.  Why not give them a little more security?  You know, a retirement plan, sort of?  A little on the side to stash up for their children?  How about some health insurance too?  Constantly being around so many full-time ministers I often see how this is our greatest struggle.  Being in ministry often means giving up our security - our "plot of Promised Land" - so we can serve the Lord.  The more I thought as to why we are required to give it up - the answer became clearer and clearer.

We must serve the Lord with an UNDIVIDED heart!

In times of trouble, war, turmoil, sickness, despair - we must first take care of the things of God and not our own possessions.  And us silly humans - we get so easily attached to "our stuff".

Our "job security" lies in Him and Him alone.  For verse 28 does not end with "no possession in Israel".  This is how the whole thing reads.

"It shall be, in regard to their inheritance, that I am their inheritance.  You shall give them no possession in Israel, for I am their possession".

If you are contemplating the life of ministry - you may have to give up your plot... but do not fear - the Lord will take care of His own.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Escape 2 Africa

Today marks the end of our Day Camp.  The theme this year was "Escape 2 Africa".  Kids had a wonderful time playing in the pool, running through obstacle courses, sliding down the giant water slide, - simply being kids.  For so many of these kids (as young as they are) life is full of difficulties, pain, abuse, neglect, despair.  For many of them that was the only day when they could get out of their homes, and be carefree.

In the chapel we talked about hopeless lives and how Jesus is the only One who can give us hope.  My heart is broken for some of the stories I heard from the children as they came up for prayer at the end... and yet I know that Jesus is the One who can miraculously intervene in their situations.

I put together a quick slideshow/video from the 2 weeks of camp (in case you're interested to see what it looked like).  Hope you enjoy it.

Escape 2 Africa Video

Friday, August 20, 2010

More On Hospitality

I randomly came across this article on Shine from Yahoo!
It has some interesting ideas how to make your house guest more comfortable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Have A Dream

I am a dreamer...

I have so many desires in my heart - some obvious - some unspoken...

Things I want to witness...

things I want to accomplish...

things I want to become...

Lately I am realizing that in order to see some of those dreams come to pass I have to let go of some others.

Prioritizing dreams, hopes, desires is never easy.

I'm right in the midst of the process.

Praying, thinking, figuring it out, waiting... wishing someone just told me which dreams to lay down and which to keep...  but it's my life, my service, my dreams... so I need to know for myself...

What about you?  Are there any dreams in your life that you had to let go of in order to see other dreams come to pass?

Monday, August 16, 2010

So What's So Challenging?

Today is the last day of Courtney's Completing Him Summer Challenge.  And the question she is asking us today is,  "How did it change you and how did it change your marriage?"

There're so many things that I learned... simply because I focused on learning.

I learned that I need to let go of unspoken and unrealistic expectations.

I was reminded that I must love him without reservation.

I was humbled by the fact that the Lord always hears my prayers for my husband.

I pushed myself to affirm and admire my husband with my words even though it is still out of my comfort zone.

I learned that I cannot allow the problem to be solved be more important than my husband.

I was reminded that no matter how difficult it may seem - I must always follow my husband's lead (I learned a lot of lessons that week).

And as I allowed myself to be open to the Lord's correction - it became easier for me to respect him not for the things he does or does not do - but for the leader that he is in my life.

The main thing is that it helped me refocus from all the things I want my husband to be and do for me - and focus instead on what my role is, where I fit in our relationship, what I can do to make it better.

Awareness Award

Holly from Diamond Potential has graciously awarded us with her Awareness Award for talking about adoption on our blog

Thanks, Holly!

What better way to honor that award than list a few resources Bryan and I got introduced to during the adoption seminar we have attended.

Adopt US Kids

Children's Home Society & Family Services
(with options for international adoption)

Also you will be able to see some adoption ads here and there on my blog - feel free to visit those.  

Some more info specifically for New York residents.

New York City's Foster/ Adoptive Parent Recruitment Hotline
1-212-676-WISH  (9474)

New York City Administration for Children's Services adoption website

New York State Adoption Photolisting Album

You Gotta Believe!
(adoption recruitment agency placing teens and pre-teens)  /  1-718-372-3003

New York Council on Adoptable Children (COAC) 
(adoption recruitment agency)   /   1-212-475-0222

New York City Heart Gallery
(photo gallery of waiting children)

Wednesday's Child
(contact Keema Davis at 1-212-676-9918 or find children online here or here)

Adoption Matching Conferences (certified adoptive parents)
Vanessa Gamble 1-212-676-7327

If you have not read my friend's adoption story - you can read it here - and I am hoping to get some more stories in soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

What Is Really Important...

Yesterday (August 13th) would have been my grandparents' 59th wedding anniversary (my grandfather died 8 years ago a few short months after celebrating their 51st).

My grandmother never had a wedding dress... or much of a wedding really.  Things were tough in 1951 in after-war Soviet Union.  They registered their marriage, ate a simple dinner... Even though they were legally married, Grandma's dad still made his new son-in-law sleep on the couch...  They had nowhere to go when they returned back to the city where they used to live (they both previously lived in dorms).  Walking the streets of the city, looking for someone who would rent them out a room...

Life went on.  Kids were born.  Then - grandkids.

Even as they got older and got their own 2-bedroom apartment, they sacrificed for their kids.  Up until I was 11 my grandparents slept on the pull-out couch in the living room while the 2 bedrooms were occupied by my family (my parents, my brother and myself) and my uncle's family (my uncle and his wife).

Only in 1992 - after 41 years of marriage - their kids moved out and settled and my grandparents finally had their own place.

At times they disagreed, at times they argued... yet they were deeply in love.
At times they wished they had more... yet they were always generous with what they did have.

My husband and I have chosen the life of ministry.  That means we have to make certain adjustments, deal with a few inconveniences.  At times I look at my life and focus on the things I think our family needs...

... then I am reminded of my grandparents' sacrifice and love for each other.

All these things that I think I need are not that important.  So what if we have to sleep on the floor for a while?  So what if my house does not look like the cover of Better Homes and Gardens?  So what if we have to do our laundry at the laundromat?  Does that really define life?

What is really important in life is the love and the understanding, desire to sacrifice what's important to you for the benefit of another, openness, and forgiveness.

Today do not get caught up in what you don't have - focus on what's really important!

"Do not let what you do not have 
stop you from making a difference 
with what you do have."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Giving Up All

"Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down." (Ezekiel 24:16)

Ezekiel's wife died because the Lord said so.  As we have chosen to give our lives to the Lord, our whole lives belong to Him.

Should the Lord require of me to do such a thing, I need to be willing to let go of the things and people in my life that I think I absolutely can't live without.  I need to stop holding on to the relationships I think I need and trust Him completely.  I need to love my husband fully and without reservation because we never know when he can be taken from me or I from him.

Am I there yet?  I wish I could say a resounding "Yes!"...  but I have a long way to go.

Is there anything in your life that you're holding on to so tight that you'd be unwilling to give it up?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Back At Ya

Here's a quick update on our life:

we're doing good

really :)

How's that for an update?

Now how about some audience participation here?

Ask me a question in the comment section.  Anything you would like me to answer or write about... or any suggestions and ideas... or feedback.  I am trying to figure out what this blog means to you... and me... and Jesus.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Let Him Kiss Me With The Kisses Of His Mouth

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth."
(Song of Solomon 1:2)
I hear keys in the door.

Down gets slammed the laptop... and I rush into the hallway... for a kiss ;)

Our schedules are crazy and often I am not home when Bryan comes back from work.  But I have resolved that whenever I am - I will run to him and kiss him at the door telling him how glad I am that he is finally home.

That little resolve has done a lot for our marriage.

Passion...  often semi-forgotten in the shuffle of life and familiarity of living with someone for some time now... restrained to a well-defined time of the day and area of the house...

This is often how marriages fall apart.  And you and I both know that a falling apart marriage does not always have to end in divorce - sometimes just co-existence.

Our husbands long to be longed for.  It boosts their self-esteem like no dinner or washed floor ever will.  When they see that we desire them, long for them - they can conquer the world.

So if you're married today - make your husband a priority - and kiss him like you mean it!!!


On a side note: we are starting day camp today.  Will you please lift it up in prayer as hundreds of children will come for a day of fun and an opportunity to accept Jesus.  The main focus of our chapel time is HOPE.  Often they find ourselves in seemingly hopeless situations - and we need them to know that when that happens they need to seek God instead of losing hope.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Wonder What Happens If...

"Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you", says the Lord God.  (Ezekiel 16:14)

God is speaking to the nation of Israel.  Israel's fame and "beauty" among nations came about because of God's splendor upon them.

I believe America has become a great country because it was built on Christian principles by people who honored God and sought to worship Him freely.  The Lord blessed this country because of the obedience of many who came before us.

I wonder what happens if our nation turns away (as it is already doing)...

Friday, August 6, 2010

Guest Post: A Beautiful Word


This to me is a beautiful word.

It encompasses so much.

I am sure for some it has a negative connotation, but I can't help loving it and wanting to talk about it as much as possible.

I will start with a bit of background...

My name is Deanna and I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I am married to Sean, the most incredible man ever (I am sure many say so about their husbands, but it's definitely true in my life).

We have two delightful daughters.  Liza is 12 (13 in a few short weeks, sigh) and Elina just turned 11.

Our family
Sean and I knew that we would adopt even before we were married.  We planned on having lots of babies and then plan to adopt.  God decided to change that a bit.

We were married in 1996 and had a miscarriage the following year.  We were devastated.  Ever since I was a little girl if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell you that I wanted to be a mom.  My dreams were dashed!  Little did I knew that God's dreams are bigger than mine.

I was scared to death to try for another baby, so I worked and Sean worked... and we pushed the thought of babies to the back of our mind.

In 2001 I traveled to Belarus without Sean for 2 weeks to work in a camp for Orphans.  This is when I fell in love with Eastern Europe and Orphan Ministry

It changed my life.  This was my first time away from Sean since we were married.  I was expecting to count the days until I was home again and be extremely home sick.  However, when I arrived in Belarus I felt like I was home.  I loved everything about it, but it was the children who stole my heart!  I went back home and Sean was a little surprised that I wasn't super excited to be home.  In fact I was home sick for Belarus.  I couldn't get back into my daily life.  I felt like I left a part of me there and Sean couldn't understand it.

The month I came home from Belarus I found out I was pregnant only to miscarry again at 14 weeks.  We were again devastated and felt like our dream of children wasn't going to happen.  The first time we lost a baby I wanted Sean to be my savior.  I clung to him and wouldn't let him leave my side.  I didn't cry out to God, I cried out to Sean.

This time was different.  I allowed God to be my Savior!  I felt like He was with me through it all.  On bed rest in pain shouldn't be peaceful, but I knew a peace that I couldn't explain.  It was during this time that I wondered if we should begin the adoption process.  Maybe God had plans for our family to come about in a different way.

Sean and I decided to go to Belarus together in 2002 and again in 2003.  We loved it.  We became different people.  We looked at life differently!  We knew that our life would have to involve orphan ministry, and what better ministry than having a little person leave the life of orphanages and come home with us!!!

In 2004 we didn't travel to Belarus for summer camp.  We heard from some local people that there was a group of orphans coming from Moscow to spend a few weeks in our area.  The goal was to bring Special Needs Orphans (5 years and older makes them special needs) to visit with families, return home to Moscow and maybe be adopted by these host families.

We couldn't wait to begin the paperwork to make this happen.  We did a mini home study, criminal checks, and a basic questionnaire about what type of child we were looking for.

We chose a girl and let the agency do the rest.  We waited and waited for the information.  If you adopt - you realize waiting in the name of the game.  Our agency called and asked if we would be open to a sibling group.  Hello?  I would have been happy with 5 children.  So we found out that the little girl we were getting was 7 years old and had a little sister who was 5.  Only the older child could come because they needed to be 6 years old to travel.

Needless to say, Liza came into our lives for 3 weeks in August of 2004 and we loved her instantly.  Love at first sight really does exist.  She called us Mama and Papa instantly.  It wasn't a perfect three weeks.  We all had to adjust and she wasn't used to having men around so her and Sean didn't click right away, but we knew she belonged with us...!

After the three weeks finished we contacted our agency and told them we wanted to pursue adoption.  This sent us to a whole other pile of paperwork.  So much paperwork, but so worth it.  We had interviews, home studies, and classes to get through.

So Liza came in August and we traveled to Moscow in April the following year.  We were able to visit with Liza and meet Elina.  It was wonderful.  Liza was still very shy with Sean, but Elina welcomed him with open arms.  I was so thankful.  We stayed with friends in Moscow and was surprised that the courts let the girls stay with us.  After 8 days we traveled back to America so Sean could work during our 10day mandatory wait for the girls.  If anything I learned a lot about waiting and even more about patience during this time.  It must be what birth parents feel like those last few days of waiting to meet your child.

So after what seemed like forever, we traveled back to bring our girls home!

We came home April 20th 2005.  This is our official 'Gotcha Day!'  We always do something fun to celebrate.

Girls with Grandma & Grandpa
Not many people told me what to expect those first few months.  I cried a lot.  The girls cried a lot.  I would lay in bed at night and tell Sean, " I think we've ruined our lives."  Truthfully, it was a horrible first 6 months.  The girls were with me all day, everyday.  I don't feel like I had anything in my life that could have prepared me for this.

And yet...slowly - things got better.  I remember the exact moments I knew that these were my children.  Forever.  And I loved them!  I loved being their mom.  Sean was an amazing and patient dad.  It took over 8 months for Liza to really trust enough to stay with him without me.  He was the image of God.  No matter how hard we try - He isn't going to leave us.

In 2007 we traveled back to Ukraine for a month to see how the girls would do being 'back.'  They had forgotten all of their Russian within 6 months so it was interesting to see them immersed in it again.  We knew that God was calling us overseas and we didn't want to rush things with them.  They loved Ukraine.  They were sad to leave.  We loved the life of ministry.  We went back in 2008 for 3 months and began home schooling.  This was a great option for us....being together all day has helped attachment more than anything else that I can think of.

So - here we are in 2010 - praying about doing it all over again.  Adoption!  Love it!  Not sure what it will look like this time..domestic/foreign/foster?  Only God knows!


Deanna is a
 Wife to Sean (love him more everyday!), 
mama to Liza (sounds like Leeza) (13) and Elina (sounds like Eleena) (11), 
teacher in our home school,
lover of 'real food,'
reader of anything and everything,
non-profit junkie,
daughter of the Most High,
coffee drinker,
city loving,
and more...

She blogs at The Story of Us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Uncontained Joy

I know "uncontained" is not technically a word - but that's how excited I am about tomorrow's post.  My wonderful friend Deanna has agreed to share her adoption story with us.  It is my prayer (and I believe Deanna's as well) that you will be blessed and encouraged - even challenged - by reading it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don't Break His Heart

"I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me" (Ezekiel 6:9)

I had my heart broken before.  By someone I loved dearly.  It was devastating.

When I turn my eyes to things other than the Lord and my relationship with God - I do the same to Him.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Read To Yourself

My phone starts singing Hamster Dance.
It is 5.15am.

I have committed myself to waking up daily between 5.15 and 5.30am to make sure I get uninterrupted time with my Savior.

My Bible is open.
It is 5.35am.

I read.  I say a quick prayer as I get more and more comfortable on the couch.
Wait!  What was that I was reading about?

I go back to the Bible and re-read the passage.
The words get blurrier as my eyes get heavier.

Ever been there?
Ever made a sacrifice in your effort to get closer to God - and then it's still not what you had hoped for...

This is what I do now.  I read OUT LOUD.  Not in a manner that would wake anyone up - in a gentle steady lowered voice.  I read to myself.  I read the Word of God AND I hear the Word of God.  And that helps me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Oh No! The "R" Word Again...

I grew up in a household where everything had to be earned. Bringing home an "A" was not enough - I had to stay at the top of the class. Being second was simply not acceptable.

I am grateful for that because I developed a spirit of excellence where nothing but my very best would be enough. That carried me through many times and brought success to my career.

I am used to earning things. Earning a position, earning honor, earning respect. And I feel like everyone else should earn theirs fairly.

That means - when I got married - I expected my husband to earn the respect due to him. Whenever I felt like he was making the right decision - I would respect him. Whenever I disagreed - I didn't.

Respect can mean so many things but I loved the definition I found on Wikipedia, "Respect denotes both a positive feeling of esteem for a person or other entity (such as a nation or a religion), and also specific actions and conduct representative of that esteem." It's not just a feeling - it has to translate into how I treat my husband.

Courtney's challenge this week was to respect our husbands. It did not seem difficult at first. She said, "R-E-S-P-E-C-T! No complaining, criticizing, rolling your eyes, nagging, or giving him any friction this week. Enjoy a week of peace in your home!"

Whew, done, over. That was easy! Ha ha - anything is easy for a week - the real challenge is to keep it going for a lifetime.

Let me share another thing I read. "Respect should not be confused with tolerance, since tolerance doesn't necessarily imply any positive feeling, and is not incompatible with contempt, which is the opposite of respect." (this is again taken from Wikipedia)

The Bible commands all wives, "let the wife see that she respects her husband" (Ephesians 5:33). King James Version uses the word, "reverence". The word used in Greek is 'phobeo' where we get the word phobia from meaning fear (in later transcripts 'phobeomai'). The Bible is telling us to be in awe of our husbands, to fear them exceedingly (not as in being scared of them but as holding their opinion in such high regard similar to our understanding of 'fearing God').

In modern day culture women often tend to take the lead in their families (and they grow weary fighting battles that are not theirs to fight). Women feel like their husbands do not step up to the plate - and consequently lose the respect due them by the order of the Word of God.

We must be careful to lay aside every thought and understanding of marriage that is instilled in us by our culture, or by the family we grew up in - and dig deeply into the Word of God to find out what He wants. Amazing things will happen!

Your husband should not have to earn your respect
just as you would not want him
to make you earn his love.
(Courtney from Women Living Well)
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