The Long Goodbye

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Late in 2016 I lost my grandmother. I call it “The Long Goodbye” because she had strokes and was unable to walk and after my mom tried to care for her at home for eight months, we decided to put her into an assisted care living home. She lived there for six long years.

My grandmother was a second mother to me. It was not that my own mother was lacking in any kind of parental attention or love, but our family was and is, small and close. She was my mother’s mother and she and her husband, my grandfather, were a second set of parents to me in the best possible way. They lived about five minutes away and my parents and grandparents interacted with each other on almost a daily basis.

Losing a parent in your life is a milestone. No matter how old they are or how much there is an understanding that it’s “their time to die”, it still is very difficult and painful to let them go. In my situation it was complicated by living on the other side of the world. While my grandmother had dementia, it was the kind that is typical of people her age. She always knew us and me in particular. Visiting regularly only one or two months a year never changed this. Her eyes always lit up when I walked in the room. The difficulty in this was the misunderstanding around our family. People thought she had alzheimer’s and could not communicate or did not know us. There was the assumption that due to her age, seeing her every 2 or 3 days was spending too much time or focus on her. I did not talk about details of her very much. It was awkward for me and I found the topic painful. I said goodbye to her six times and never knew if I would see her again. It was a merry go round of emotions.  We just didn’t know what would happen. She was very frail and if she got pneumonia or had a stroke, she might have died quickly, but at the same time, there’s no way of knowing what was happening. She kept on living for years and years and those were long years. There was more discomfort as many people assumed the perspective that she was nearly or already dead and that I should just accept it and focus on other things in life. I was never going to accept her death as long as she could hold my hand and look me in the eyes. We were always able to have conversations together that were normal. Not for more than about five minutes at the end, but the connection never disappeared. I am so thankful for that.

My grandmother passed when I was in Ukraine. My mother and I knew this was likely to happen and talked about what that might look like beforehand. We knew she was failing the last few months but again, this was hard to gauge. At that point, we were not able to justify an expensive ticket home when we just didn’t know what was happening. Everything was so hard to figure out. Since it was October, I decided to wait and return home early to spend Christmas with my mother and father. I had not been home to celebrate Christmas with my family for eighteen years. I arrived home and then was reunited with my grandmother, this visit not in her care home, but in her grave, buried snugly next to my grandfather.

The death of a loved one is not something to gloss over whether that person is young or at the end of a full life. Yes, there is definitely some comfort when that person has lived out their life span in contrast to when someone dies at a young age. But when that person spent hours upon hours caring and loving you, teaching you and encouraging you into the adult you are now, it seems sad to brush it aside carelessly as if it was not a big deal.

Grief is a lonely road. Only you know the hole your loved one has left in your heart. It is hard when people brush off the condolences quickly and change the subject because it is awkward for them. You have to remember that they did not know them, didn’t talk to them, didn’t touch them or smell them. You are on your own in this.

After a loved one dies, life becomes 100% different in every way. You have to adjust to not only their physical departure, but you have to mentally rearrange everything in your life as well. This is what the period of grief is for and when we ignore grief, we are ignoring the opportunity to grow and adapt to that loss in a new way, that could very well take us into new growth. God’s plan is not for us to linger in death forever, but as that person’s loss leaves us empty, we need to allow God to grow something new and wonderful in our life. We have memories. We have their love. They will be important to us forever.

I saw a video on Facebook where a grief counselor drew a blob of grief on a piece of paper and around that blob drew a circle. She explained how the blob of grief will never leave us but that we will grow around it and discover new life in our lives. We may always experience times of feeling grief over our loss. It doesn’t dry up or heal or go away. To do that, we would lose all our memories of our loved one. We don’t heal up and jump into life like we did before the loss. We change, we grow, we carry the grief and we have an experience that will help us understand and comfort others who go through loss. We are forever changed. That is a profound experience that does not need to be scary but is part of the experience of life.

I am still trying to get used to this thing called, “the cemetery.” While I have visited many on historic trips around the US or in other countries, and enjoy reading headstones and wondering about the people buried beneath the ground, I am now confronted with visiting my loved ones there. I like to walk around and read the plaques of their new neighbors. Near my grandparent’s grave site is a small plaque that reads, “You were so wanted.” Next to those words is just one date and year. Obviously this baby died the day it was born. I find those words so full of grief and yet express everything.

There is the saying that “time heals all wounds.” I find this not to be true. wounds do heal up, but scars remain. But instead of resenting them, I am learning to be thankful for the loving memories I have and to be open to the new things and people that God brings into my life. No one will ever be as special as my grandma, but that’s what made her so precious.  She can never be replaced.

 

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Special Volunteer

When I first arrived in Ukraine, I volunteered at a center for children and made friends with a special boy named Anton.  He was bright, inquisitive and full of fun.  He was one of my first Russian teachers.  Time passed, and I moved on to other ministry projects and always wondered what happened to him.  I found him on facebook this week and he has been very busy with his life.  Very busy indeed.  I am so proud of him!

 

Let’s Talk About Truth

Truth. It’s a rare commodity these days. People want it, yet they don’t want it. Politicians hide yet, but want to show a shadow of it. People crave attention and ignore the truth of themselves. Truth makes our hearts beat faster. Truth can also scare the heck out of us.

If you check any kind of media these days, (I would say read a newspaper, but those days are long gone.) You will get a hundred different versions of the truth on any one subject. The “truth is relative” philosophy hasn’t worked well for traditional journalism. The resulting chaos is making most people think the world is spinning on fire out of control into the outer atmosphere never to reenter our galaxy.

A couple of months ago one of my friends posted this on Facebook, “The world’s not getting worse, things are just being revealed.” I found that saying profound. Instead of thinking that everything is getting crazier or worse, think a minute about the fact that the truth about things are being revealed.

This will naturally create a lot of different emotional reactions in various different kinds of people.

I went through a period of life where I felt there was a lot of fake thinking and lies around me. I begged God to reveal the truth to me. I knew it could possibly be uncomfortable or I would have to see and deal with things in my life or in the lives of those around me that I didn’t want to deal with. But I knew that unless I understood the truth about what was going on around me, the quality of my life would not improve. Truth can bring about changes. People tend to move away from ideas and things that can make them have to change. Change can be for the better, but that can be uncomfortable too. Someone once said, “The truth hurts.” It can hurt but it also can reveal things that are so amazing and if you let God in on that, he can turn your thinking and your whole life around.

Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free.” – John 8:32.

Think about that for a moment……..revelation can bring about truth and the truth can make you free.

PONY Ukraine in Kremenets!

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PONY Ukraine took a team from Lviv to Kremenets to play in a weekend tournament/camp  and I was able to go and meet some of the new kids in Lviv who are have started playing in Ukraine’s PONY league.

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We had a lively group of kids.  We stayed in an internat(orphanage)/boarding school.  Many of the internats in Ukraine are being phased out so they have extra room in them.  We were warmly welcomed by the staff with tasty Ukrainian food and comfy beds.

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A lot of training went on as well as baseball games.

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It was pretty cold, but that doesn’t stop baseball players in Ukraine!

For more information on PONY Ukraine, click HERE!

 

The Super Awesome Segue Way In Psalms 73

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I have a friend who told me once that if I ever came across a question that there was no seemingly possible answer for it, that I should just rub my fingers together.  The answer would be “money.”  For the most part, I find that this works.  But every now and then I run across people or a situation that really stumps me.

Wicked people are unlike anything you will ever see on the face of the earth.  They prosper like no one else around them. They always seem to be so smooth and never get in trouble.  They are proud of how great their lives are going.  They tend to oppress people and use people to gain power and abundance.

It’s quite frustrating when people with a conscience or those of us who are struggling with a close relationship with God watch these people in action.  Their success is unjust.   I always relate to the frustrations spewed out in Psalm 73.  (I’m not going to post the whole Psalm, you need to look it up in your bible to read, or if you don’t have one check out http://www.biblegateway.com.)

But every time I read Psalm 73, I love, love, LOVE this part,  “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me…..until I went into the sanctuary of the God; THEN I understood their end.”  vs 16,17.

So many times in life we are confronted with situations that we cannot understand and every single time, we can come to God.  We can come into His sanctuary….meaning spend time with Him in prayer or read and learn about Him in his word and find wisdom and understanding about anything or everything that is bothering us and does not make sense about the world around us.  He has blessed me every time I come with him with questions I cannot find answers to.

“Whom have I in heaven but You?  And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.  My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” vs 25,26

The World Needs Leaders

This WORLD needs leaders.  We need people who will take a stand for integrity, justice and treating people with respect.  It is easy to go out and interact with people everyday and do just what needs to be done or to go after goals that only affect yourself.

This morning I was reading about Esther and when Mordecai relayed to her that Haman was going to kill their people.  She didn’t waste too much time ruminating what to do.  She showed wisdom in fasting and praying and then went directly to the king who could have killed her.  No one was allowed to come into his presence without being killed unless he lowered a golden scepter.  She approached the king and fortunately, he allowed her to live.  She didn’t hesitate to risk her life to save her people.

When Nehemiah heard that the survivors of the Jewish people living in Jerusalem were in distress and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and falling apart, he did not waste much time but began to pray and fast.  He mourned for his people.  His personality became so downcast that his boss, the king asked him what was wrong and he told him.  He then asked the king if he could go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall.  He took action for his people.  He was one of the men who organized the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.  He left his cup bearing job in a palace and became a leader.

When David ran supplies to his brothers at the war front and he found out a giant Philistine was threatening the army, he didn’t hesitate to find out more details and offered to take on the giant himself.  When the armor provided to him didn’t fit him right, he shrugged it off and picked up some stones and his sling shot and took down the giant quickly.  He wasn’t even in the army.  He didn’t wait to be promoted.  He took the opportunity in front of him to do the right thing and destroy the enemy.

To walk and interact with others with integrity is a choice.  It’s a good choice.  Sometimes this requires us to grow or to learn how to think differently from the pack mentality, but if we ask God, He will help us to do this and show us how to do it in any situation we find ourselves in.  This is how the world changes for real.  One person at a time.

 

What Ukraine Used To Be Like

I got an email from someone stateside who wanted me to write a blog post on what Ukraine is like.  From his questions, I could tell he had the standard, post soviet ideas running through his head.  Dark, orthodox church bells, heavy food, oppressed people, women running around with just black purses on their arms…..standard enough thinking for someone who hasn’t been here.

Last night a friend took a look at a photo of me sitting in a cafe next to the river and couldn’t believe it was Ukraine.  “That doesn’t look the way I thought it looks.”  The brand new river front area in Kyiv, looks like nothing from the soviet era.

The thing about Ukraine that most people don’t recognize or understand is the country has been through TWO revolutions in the past twelve years.  That’s not one, but TWO revolutions since it became an independent country severing it’s ties from the Soviet Union in 1991.  Because politics are pretty complicated in this part of the world, it took a long time for the reality of separating from the Soviet Union, now Russia to happen.  It’s still happening.  Heck, Russia, annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, they were so upset with the separation.

Another friend commented this week how much Ukraine has changed in just the last two years.  That it was more….she hesitated to explain…….European now.  Listening to a popular singer here who regularly plays a circuit of concerts in the former soviet union and Russia, I noticed that her act seemed so….so…..retro Ukrainian soviet.  Pre Maidan music culture.  And suddenly, I started to process how much Ukraine and the culture has changed in two years and how it continues to change at lightening speed.  Kiev is Kyiv, and the Ukrainian language is heard everywhere in Kyiv.

So, I’m not going to try and explain what it’s like here because trying to explain it is too complicated. All I’ll say is that if you haven’t been here in a while or haven’t been here at all, all I can say is it has changed.  Just forget about state bread houses and the standard white “baton” bread loaf….now your bread is baked fresh in a restaurant or market and there are many different kinds and styles.  I’m in the middle of the change, so I’m just trying to hang on and process with the rest.

All I know is that young people are smart, sophisticated, and interesting…..I am so excited and blessed to be here at this point in Ukraine’s history.

(I had 19 people from Sweden check out my blog this month!  Welcome to my blog!   My great grandfather immigrated to America from Sweden!)