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A Walk Through November

Often I believe the lie that I have done nothing for the Kingdom of God, say, in a given day or week or even month. This month that Ben has been gone is no exception.

Because my character is ambitious and performance-based, I classify everything in my head as “ministry” and “missions worthy”, and the things that do not. Then I judge my investment in the Gospel accordingly. And I judge God’s pleasure in me accordingly.

This is false thinking. This is not God’s will for my life. At the same time, old habits are hard to kick. Renewing the mind is not a one-and-done process for this achiever-girl.  

I recognize that God does not classify me and my days as ministry/worthy/high-capacity and non-ministry/selfish/non-worthy/low-capacity. I recognize that this is a lie, and I am committed to transform my mind to have the mind of Christ.

I recognize that God longs most for my obedience, both in the so-called mundane and in the so-called spectacular.God requires that I, as His child,

  • Deny myself
  • Tune into the Holy Spirit’s leading
  • Take up my cross
  • Follow Jesus, no matter where it leads me

The results are up to Him. The classification of my work is up to Him. He knows my heart. And ultimately, whatever I do, I should work at it heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord I will receive the inheritance as my reward. I am serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24, my version mixed with ESV).

It has been a mixed month with Ben gone. Today I was sitting at Dylan’s Christmas performance, scrolling through pictures from the month. As I looked at them, I realized what a varied life we lead. I realized that I can’t see the forest for just the trees. As we soon approach the 10 year mark, this life still continues to be a marathon, not a sprint.  The seasons have changed, and I’m no longer the in-the-trenches 25-year-old youth leader, which I still often mourn. Kiddos and the home and Josiah Venture Ukraine demand far more of my time and strength than I’m sometimes willing to admit or desire to give.

Pray for a better understanding of my role in God’s eyes. Pray that I would stop putting a rank or label on the things that I do, and that I’d find great joy in any and every task that comes my way. Below are some examples, in no particular order or rank, of things that do come our way in a given month. These just happen to be what I took photos of in the month when Ben was gone.

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A four-hour “Worship and Prayer Night” organized by a network of youth pastors representing charismatic, pentecostal, evangelical free and baptist denominations. Five different youth ministries took turns leading us in worship and prayer to our Lord, who gives unity in all things.

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“Pizza Master Class” at a pizzeria for Romek’s name day (like a birthday, but not).

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We continue our Polish and Ukrainian traditions by introducing them to a few of our own. This is our Thanksgiving 2016 crowd. Very thankful for them in our lives.

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The Lumineers show in Warsaw, Poland on November 17th. It was possibly the best concert I’ve ever seen, not only because I knew every song, but because the venue was SO small. The main singer even gave me “five”.

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Dylan performed in the garden. Here he is wearing a mushroom hat. It is not our first mushroom hat, nor will it be our last.

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Another birthday party for Polish friends. It is so interesting to observe how different cultures celebrate.

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Christmas Cookie Party! Olya and I invited the girls from our English Camp 2016 small groups…two could come. For that we are thankful and ask God to do more in their lives.

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While Dylan is a mushroom, Marissa is a leaf. She was quite disappointed by the drab “costume” she had. I’ll see what I can whip up for next year. She literally made me go into a craft store yesterday, looking for a crown of leaves craft.

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Getting excited and decorating for Christmas, advent, the whole thing. These couches reminded me of Willy Wonka, which I also love.

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Girl JV Ukraine Team Time. This time it was to celebrate the soon-to-be-bride, Heather Anderson.

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Right before Ben left we spent a day in Rivne, celebrating Skelya Church’s 15-year anniversary. If it weren’t for this church, who knows what JV Ukraine would be.

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This was the first year I was able to attend a women’s leadership retreat with my church, New Life. Where would I be without this body of believers?

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Pic 1: Pressing on in Polish language study
Pic 2: Pressing on with Whole30 healthy eating. I am currently on day 46.

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Exploring a new city – Warsaw. This was a romantic 48-hour get-away that Ben and I had planned almost a year ago, which had to be transformed into a friend hangout 48-hours with my teammate Christy Owen.
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Pic 1: Trying to figure out Christmas presents for an “off year” (a year we celebrate Christmas not in the USA).
Pic 2: Breaking up bickering between the two children. This Scuttle coloring page has been the source of drama and many tears because Dylan is a messy colorer and because Marissa is stingy with her workbooks.

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Pic 1: Dealing with sick kids is stressful and no fun.
Pic 2: Having to help Marissa learn cursive and all the leaf names in another language is also no fun, just in a different way.

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This seems like a good photo to end the month with…icy roads, snowy days, slippery nights, bumps and even crashes along the way. You never know what is around the next turn, so God asks us to hold on loosely to tomorrow. More than that, He reassures us that tomorrow will have enough problems of its own, so embrace today, and trust that He will provide. In my frustrations and lie-believing and idol-worshipping and self-absorbing, I am choosing joy in it all. He has always been faithful, no matter what the day or month brings.

25 Days of … Ben Gone

Ben’s scheduled to fly into Lviv tomorrow afternoon. He’s been in the US for the past 25 days with 4 Ukrainians that really need to be fully financially supported before we can take on more Ukrainian full-time staff in our organization. This trip was important; this is why we decided to sacrifice the 26 days apart, the Thanksgiving apart, the Lumineers concert apart. We can operate quite independently at times, but at the same time, this was our longest separation.

This is the eve of his return. My throat is killing me. Marissa has had an on-off fever for the past 5 days that she cannot beat, so we’re heading to the dr. in the morning. Dylan is preparing for a Christmas party and performance. Marissa has no idea that she is going to miss her Christmas party (do NOT tell her…she’s already in hysterics about missing school). Polish Saint Nicholas (Swiety Mykolaj) comes tonight, and I realize I have no Christmas wrapping paper or chocolate Santas in the house, but it’s 10:30pm and snowing, so it’s a little too late. God’s kindness has allowed me at least to have small gifts and some kind of secret candy stash for them. I am checking on-line, trying to figure out if this Polish St. Nick leaves the pillows under the pillow or in the stocking. I think it’s under the pillow… and I’d love to go re-park the car right now so that it isn’t several blocks away, but in order to get a decent spot, you have to re-park after 9pm, and I can’t leave the kids here. So the car goes parked elsewhere and not under my watchful eye. I recognize you have to let some things go.

Honestly it has been no fun maneuvering this one alone. I feel so limited. I have given my 100% each day, but I am empty, like this little Christmas tree. I have no reserve; each day has demanded that 100% or even more. I know that God proves strong in our weakness, so God looks really strong right now. Serving is indeed an emptying and humbling of self, like talked about in the Bible: Philippians 2:7-8 but [Jesus] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” I may not be called to the point of physical death, but I am called to deny myself daily, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. This emptiness drives us to Jesus and helps us remember that our fullness is only in Him. And if I think my tree feels bare, I can think of the tree upon which Christ died for me, and understand that my load isn’t really that comparatively heavy…

Pray for our family, that Marissa beats this fever, that Dylan rocks his performance and stays healthy for his belated 5-year-old b-day party this weekend. Pray that Ben arrives home and readapts. Pray that all the work he did in recruiting and helping Ukrainians get financially supporter comes to fruition. Pray that I readjust to Ben being back and somehow get my old self back, including my throat. I know I should look at it as a blessing that I am just getting sick as my husband is coming home, but it doesn’t feel like a blessing right now. I am glad, however, that the time sped by. I didn’t have time to feel sad; the time went by very, very fast, and the distractions of daily life consumed us. How does that saying go? The days are long but the months/years are fast? So true.

Celebrating the People, Not the Food

Thanksgiving on the Whole30 (I’m doing a 60-day version instead of just the 30-day, in order to kick some bad food habits) will be memorable, right?! Well, Thanksgiving Day happened to fall exactly on Day 31 of a typical Whole30, so I took the day off. I didn’t indulge. I just had all the elements of the Thanksgiving dinner experience. I particularly didn’t want to freak my international guests out because I went all out to provide a very traditional American meal. (Of course I had the worst stomach pains and cramps (like knives piercing) for about 12 hours after the meal, but over all it tasted pretty well.)

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But my mom taught me a phrase that I’ve been repeating to myself for a while now. She said it was a diet mantra from a class she took in the 90s. The saying is “Celebrate the People/Event, not the Food”. This phrase keeps playing over in my head.

The Whole30 talks about food being such an emotional attachment. Why are emotions and memories and good experiences so often about the meal? I know that God created us to eat, and that He gave us pleasure in foods and celebrations. But do we get equal satisfaction in the people or company that we are with? Can we experience an entire event (a Christmas party? a staff lunch? a baby shower?) and be okay not eating the meal? Why would NOT eating at those things be such a joy kill? These are awesome questions! Whole30 is good for me because it makes me remember that my dependence should be only on the Lord.

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Side note: I really needed to depend on the Lord to pull off this Thanksgiving. Ben was in the US. All my American teammates were in Czech Republic. I invited a Polish and Ukrainian family to celebrate with me and the kids. But on Tuesday I found out that Marissa had a performance (See photo. She was the green leaf.) and a parents’ meeting on Thursday, Nov. 24, which was the exact day we were planning on taking off and celebrating with these families, whose kids are in our class. This meant that all of us had to attend a performance and parents’ meeting, so very quickly and stressfully, honestly, Thanksgiving was moved to Wednesday, the 23rd. Having to speed up the biggest meal of the year by 24 hours almost broke me, but God gives strength, even when we are empty. Praising God that we could truly celebrate the people, the act of giving thanks, and then also the food.

But in that order.

The Many Faces of Dylan

I am scrambling to make my year-end photo books in time for Christmas. My brain is literally fried and I’m running only on coffee because I went to bed at 3:45am last night in order to get the CyberSale 70% off from Shutterfly (they are SO expensive without the discounts). Yet I still had to do the family routine in the AM, getting the kids out the door by 8:30 (oh wait, today it was 8:45).  This time of year always feels like a scramble to me. Ben’s absence for 26 days of work in the US is not helping.

When looking through all the photos of the kids for 2016, I realized, “Dylan had a birthday this month!” Now it’s 21 days ago, which makes for lame blogging, but who is counting? I am. It’s been a challenging 3 weeks. Ben also left three weeks ago, and I am REALLY feeling the frazzle of running the home and the kids and the show here at home while he is gone. But because I am tired of being self-absorbed and occasionally pitying self in the midst of Ben’s absence, I’d like to celebrate Dylan. Who cares if it is 3 weeks late. Grace upon grace (My UA teammates will get this staff meeting John 1 reference from today…)

So in the frazzled pointlessness of what page layout I want for my thousandth Shutterfly book I’ve made, I take a breath of fresh air and celebrate my FIVE YEAR OLD SON! Dylan: in Welsh his name means “of the sea”.  He is such a happy-go-lucky kid who currently likes pirates, geckos, LEGOS, costumes, stuffed animals, sports and drawing. He’s all boy (and recently told Marissa that she is not strong because she is a girl). He is also has a keen interest in the spiritual side of life. He came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, the people who pray to Allah probably think that, for example, these pillows that are so great, and that they are a gift from Allah, but we know that they are really a gift from our God, the only God.” Oh my word. Thank you, Istanbul conversations this spring…
Enjoy these photos of Dylan’s 2016 experience.

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No Less Than Yes

Connie Patty got her book published this year. I read it by the Sea of Galilee, all in one gulp. Connie Patty is one of the original founders of our missionary organization, Josiah Venture. She and her husband, Dave, who also happens to be Ben’s boss, have been huge examples of trust and huge faith. Trust in the fact that God is on the move in Central and Eastern Europe. Huge faith in believing that God wants to use youth workers in this region to transform this place for the glory of Jesus Christ.

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Connie’s book traces their humble beginnings as college kids, as missionaries, as a family on mission in the Czech Republic. Since those beginnings, God has been developing Josiah Venture into an organization that, I believe, brings His name great renown. Currently we are in 13 different former-Communist European countries, but our dream is to have active networks in 12 more countries that fall under this classification.

It is a pleasure and privilege to soon be celebrating 10 official years of work for the Lord in Josiah Venture. There is no greater missions org to work for, of that I am convinced. How can we make such a radical claim?!
Well, you’ll have to read Connie’s book to find out.

Praise be to the One Who is Faithful and True. This book testifies only to God’s glory and favor on His obedient ones.

Buy Connie’s book HERE on Amazon!

Sponsoring Compassion Children

LOOK AT THIS GUY!

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It just hit me that soon it is our Compassion child, Samuel’s birthday (the cool guy in green in the center of my bulletin board), which he shares with our wedding anniversary. (We did that on purpose, so we’d remember.) I was writing him a letter last night and thinking about how his life is different because he is a part of the Compassion program. It is a pretty incredible organization and one of our favorites.

I was also on Amazon’s website, trying to send Ben some things to bring back to Ukraine before he returns in December, especially since Christmas is just around the corner. There are a lot of things we still can’t get easily or inexpensively here, so I like a full Shopping Cart. But it gets exhausting because this time of year everything feels extra commercialized, and honestly, we don’t NEED anything. We have shelter, food, water, and a Father who loves us and knows our every need and move. That is enough. How can we enjoy the holiday season, especially as we spend it in Ukraine, and relish the time and company rather than the foods and things that come with Christmas? Dylan needs another lego and Marissa needs another doll like they need a hole in the head. What to do about this, especially when my Polish tutor reminded me today that Saint Nicholas comes to Polish kids on December 5-6. Put it on the list of 3 Santa visits in this crazy, blended culture.

How do we beat the commercialism? When the world around me is screaming to make it “all about me”, how do we make it about Jesus? How do we care for other kids and teach our kids to do the same?
I’ve been thinking about this, and then I signed into our Compassion website, in order to make sure we sent money for Samuel’s birthday. He is going to be 16 for pete’s sake!!!!!! I still remember when he was 4 and become eligible for the program. I am thankful to care about him and Ghana, and have my heart spread a little further across God’s vast world.

While on the site, I came across this video. It moved me to tears. This is real gift giving. This is Christmas the way Jesus designed it to be. This is what it means that where your treasure is, there your heart is, also. This is what my kids need for Christmas.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

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When I was in Israel with my parents, I had one non-Israel goal, and that was to read this book. I hoped, too, that my parents would read it.

“It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.”

Wow did that cover statement hit me. HARD. I was convinced that this book would speak to the issue of following Christ in some relationships but remaining a slave to sin and the flesh in others; as in, playing favorites and treating some people well and others like garbage. I figured that this book would disclose

  • why some people have been living the Christian life for as long as I have known them, but why is there still little to no change or maturity?
  • How can a person who goes to church, has a ministry, and prays, yet has no depth in their relationship with God? Why are people still drinking milk instead of eating solid food, like the author of Hebrews warns?
  • Why is it so hard for me to love certain people?
  • What does it take for a person to 1) see his sin and 2) be humble enough to do something about it?

This book did not disappoint! Here are just a few paragraphs that really grabbed me. Join me in praying for emotionally healthy relationships, beginning with myself, but also flowing to my family, to the people I walk beside in ministry, and to the Church.

Look out! The following paragraphs are transformational, if you’ll allow God to use them in your life. I fully recommend this book!

Unconsciously, we carry many defensive maneuvers into adulthood to protect ourselves from pain. And in adulthood, they block us from growing up spiritually and emotionally. The following are a few common defenses: 1) DENIAL – ‘I feel just fine. It didn’t bother me a bit.’ 2) MINIMIZING – We admit that something is wrong, but in such a way that it seems less serious than it actually is. ‘My son is doing okay with God. He’s just drinking once in a while’, when in reality he is drinking heavily and is rarely sleeping at home.’ 3) BLAMING OTHERS – We deny responsibility for our behavior and project it out there upon another. 4) RATIONALIZING – We offer excuses, justifications, alibis to provide an inaccurate explanation of what’s going on ‘Did you know he has a genetic disposition toward rage that runs in his family? That’s why the meetings aren’t helping him.’ 5) DISTRACTING – We change the subject or engage in humor to avoid threatening topics. ‘Why are you so focused on the negatives? Look at the great time we had as a family last Christmas.’ 6) BECOMING HOSTILE – We get angry or irritable when reference is made to certain subjects.” (page 141-142)

Emotional Children – are content and happy as long as they receive what they want. Unravel quickly from stress, disappointments and trials. Interpret disagreements as personal offenses. Are easily hurt. Complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge, become sarcastic when they don’t get their way. Have great difficulty calmly and frequently discussing their needs and wants in a mature, loving way. Emotional Adolescents (having grown up a bit, but not far from children) – tend to often be defensive. Are threatened or alarmed by criticism. Deal with conflict poorly, often blaming, appeasing, or ignoring the situation entirely. Become preoccupied with themselves. Have great difficulty listening to another’s pain, disappointments or needs. Are critical and judgmental.” (page 178-179)

“Throughout the process of waiting, Job made a choice. It was a choice to ‘climb the ladder of humility’, something that Jesus described as an indispensable quality for maturing in Him. (Matthew 5:3-10, Luke 14:7-11, 18:9-14). Saint Benedict, in the sixth century, developed a 12-step ladder for growing in the grace of humility. His goal was perfect love and transformation of our ENTIRE personalities. I don’t know too many Christians today seeking to climb this ladder. 

|———-| Step 8: Transformed into the Love of God. Here there is no haughtiness, no sarcasm, no put downs, no airs of importance. We are able to embrace our limits and those of others. We are fully aware of how fragile we are, and are under no illusions. 
|———-| Step 7: Purposeful to Speak Less, with More Restraint. This is near the top of the ladder, because it is seen as an outcome of a life that seeks God and is filled with wisdom. As the rule of St. Benedict states, ‘The wise are known for their few words.’
|———-| Step 6: Deeply Aware of Being Chief of All Sinners. This is not self-hate, but it is meant to make us kind and gentle.
|———-| Step 5: Radical Honesty to Others About Our Weaknesses/Faults. We stop pretending to be something we are not. 
|———-| Step 4: Patient to Accept the Difficulties of Others. Life with others is filled with aggravations. This requires we give others a chance to figure out their weakness in their own way in their own time.
|———-| Step 3: Willing to Subject Ourselves to Direction of Others. We are free to give up our arrogance and all-powerfulness and are open to accepting God’s will as it comes through others. 
|———-| Step 2: Doing God’s Will, Not Our Own or Other People’s
|———-| Step 1: Fear of God. Mindfulness of Him. We often forget the presence of God, acting as if He were not present. “(Page 150-151)

 

Your Mess is Mine ~ adventures in premarital counseling

Recently I’ve been listening to “Your Mess is Mine” by Vance Joy. (Avoid the video; it didn’t go with my marriage theme, not to mention is was not super appropriate! I had to test it for the blog…it did not make the cut.) For me this is a total reality-check song about what happens when two people make a commitment to marriage. All of whom they are, including not only all their strengths and assets to the relationship, but also their messes, baggage and liabilities all get transfered into the marriage and into the other person’s life. That is what it means to become one flesh – all becomes shared.  E  V  E  R  Y  T  H  I  N  G.

Ben and I long for healthy relationships among youth and young marrieds in our midst. We’d never claim to have the perfect marriage, but long ago we submitted to the fact that his mess is mine, and vice versa, and we are 100000% committed to getting those messes of sin “shapped up and shipped out” (see lyrics below). We are not going to allow Satan, the destroyer of marriage, to get a foothold in our relationship. We will go to radical lengths in order to work on purity and holiness of body, soul, mind, and spirit in order to put any issue once and for all to bed.

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So as we’ve been doing two parallel premarital counseling sessions for the past summer and fall. One couple was done in English; one couple done in Ukrainian. Honestly it is not easy to enter into the personal lives of our staff and counsel in this way, proving once again that missionary life has no natural boundaries. Join us in asking God to bring health into relationships. May these couples be dedicated to bringing God glory in their marriage, whatever the cost. Sacrificial love that submits to one another out of reverence to Christ is not for the faint of heart.

Talking like we used to do
It was always me and you
Shaping up and shipping out
Check me in and check me out
 
Hold on, darling
This body is yours,
This body is yours and mine
Well hold on, my darling
This mess was yours,
Now your mess is mine
Your mess is mine
 
 You’re the reason that I feel so strong
The reason that I’m hanging on
You know you gave me all the time
Oh, did I give enough of mine?
 
Your mess is mine
This body’s yours and this body’s mine
Your mess is mine

Five Days In Israel with My Parents

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MaryAnn and Mike Schneider in front of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, Israel, just upon arriving in country.

You only turn 60 once. Therefore, months ago I was talking with my parents about how to best celebrate the life that God has given them. Considering their various health concerns over the decades, this is an amazing milestone, and they are doing great – great enough to travel to Eastern Europe AND the Middle East for their birthday celebration.

Our gift to them was creating a trip that would show them the Holy Lands without signing up for a major tour. (My mom’s work schedule at the hospital keeps her busy, so we knew it would have to be less than 2 full weeks, and that it needed to include Lviv to see the kids (Dad hadn’t been there since 2007!) and then Israel.)

Only by God’s grace I was able to pull this one off. It was not easy to arrange all the logistics, and I am no travel agent, but it turned out okay. And it was a joy to be back in Jerusalem and the Galilee (the two places we stayed). Here are just a few of my favorite pictures with them. They had an absolute blast.

Praising God for LIFE, and that His promises never fail. They are new every morning; great is God’s faithfulness to us.

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Looking over the Dead Sea and the mouth of the Jordan River.

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Looking over Jericho from the Wadi Qelt. This may have been the location of the 40-day fast of Jesus. No one knows, but it is easy to imagine.

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My first time on Temple Mount, currently controlled by Muslims as the Dome of the Rock. This was my 3rd time in Jerusalem, but I’d never been up there. It was fascinating to see such a historically holy place.

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Jordan River with the country of Jordan behind us…somewhere along here Jesus and John met, and Jesus was baptized. This was my Mom’s dream – to see the Jordan River with her own eyes. She even got to put her feet in. So happy birthday, once again, Mom. 60 years ain’t nothin’ on eternity in the New Jerusalem with our Lord.

I’m grateful that my parents know Him as their Lord and Savior, and I pray that they’ll grow in their knowledge, love, and obedience to Him in this next stretch.

Bob Dylan Wins The Nobel Prize!

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Oh my gosh, how embarrassing. I almost started crying on Thursday when I was talking to my language teacher, in broken Russian, about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016!

  • Was this hormonal?
  • Was this because my teacher, Ludmilla, Ben and I are all reading a book in Ukrainian about the Soviet Union by Svieta Alekskievich, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2015?
  • Was this because of the statistic that, since 1917, no musician has won this literature prize?
  • Was this because Bob Dylan’s family is a Jewish family from Odessa, Ukraine?
  • Or was it because we’ve seen Dylan in concert 13+ times, we have all his books and all his albums (except one terrible Christmas one!); for pete’s sake, we named our son Dylan. He writes the most interesting, thought-provoking lyrics and poetry.

I think the tears are because I love the guy. Congrats to Bob Dylan, age 75, and winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Amazing.