Exposing the Real Issues in Sochi


Tonight, the big torch will light, and another two weeks of the world’s top in athletics will wow and inspire us with their dedication, determination, and skill in athletics. I’m as excited as the next person to watch the Olympic Games. I love everything about the Olympics, though admittedly I’m always more drawn to the summer Games than the Winter.

But there’s a shadow over these 2014 Olympics Games, and I’m struggling to get excited. In the days leading up to these Games I’ve heard little about the athletes, and much about the condition of the hotels, the discomfort of the visiting journalists, and OH DEAR ME THE POOR SHIPMENT OF YOGURT THAT NEVER MADE IT.

*caps for dramatic effect*

Last year, I participated in three phone calls with the U.S. Department of State on the situation with the law banning Americans from adopting from Russia. I listened as bereaved parent after bereaved parent asked, “Where are our leaders? Who is fighting on our behalf?”

We were given answers that were pandering at best, most of them meant to deflect a question without an answer. Outside of Senator Mary Landreiu and a few of her colleagues, very few of our nation’s leaders had anything to say on the matter of Russian adoption. For months and months, the issue was pushed aside as parents who had already met their children, who promised to return and bring them home, languished with no answers.

So imagine the horror we all feel at this abandoned shipment of Chobani. Within hours of hearing that the yogurt would not be cleared, Senator Schumer fired off a strongly worded statement: 

“Chobani Yogurt is safe, nutritious and delicious and the Russian Authorities should get past ‘nyet’ and let this prime sponsor of the US Olympic Team deliver their protein-packed food to our athletes.” Senator Charles Schumer.

Where was this indignation when innocent children were caught in the red tape? Where was the quick response, the strongly worded rebuke, the balled fists and determined pride, when over 200 families who had already met and bonded with their children were told they could not return?

Forgive me, but this is a gross misdirection of priorities and it leaves me sick.

I’ve tried to ignore Yogurt-Gate, but when I turn away from that story, I’m accosted with the images of what appears to be a slew of uncomfortable, horrified journalists who have shown up to half-finished hotel rooms, yellow water, and bathroom situations that leave them red-faced and confused. I read these stories, and I see the tweets, and I can’t laugh. I just can’t do it.

I understand that the Olympics are a big deal, and that a certain level of service and comfort is expected when one visits the top athletic event in the world, but can I just offer a tiny bit of perspective? People live like that every day, all over the world.

Instead of making an entire country, and the wonderful people inside that country, the laughingstock of the world, why don’t you start doing the thing that journalists are supposed to do:

Why don’t you ask why?

Why do you think the conditions are so deplorable in Sochi?  An estimated 51 Billion dollars was spent on these Olympic Games, with an estimated two-thirds of that suspected to have been lost to corruption.

Please, everyone, stop making fun of the situation, and start asking questions, because the people of Russia are by and far good, kind, hardworking people. They don’t deserve to be laughed at, but by all means, question the man who serves as their “leader.” Expose him as the fool that he is.

I want to enjoy the Olympics this year. I really, really do. But I will not laugh at a group of people that I love, especially when they are operating under a man who is nothing short of a dictator. And I will not grow indignant at a missing shipment of yogurt when I know thousands of children are sitting in orphanages waiting on promises to be fulfilled.

I just can’t do it.


The really important stuff

Join me today over at Together in 10 as we discuss really, really important stuff…namely, how a Little Black Dress will save date night every single time. I mean, really. That last statement simply screams for a winky face, wouldn’t you agree? 😉

Happy, Happy Weekend Everyone!

I believe in adventure

Nine and a half years ago, I set out on quite the adventure to make my dream of writing a book about World War II Ukraine come true.

I had a publisher lined up at the time for what was supposed to be a non-fiction book entitled Letters to Kelli. For roughly three years, Ukrainian World War II vets had been sending me letters with their stories of the war. I met a school teacher when I studied in Kiev in college who believed in my love for the culture and history of her country and she began this Letters to Kelli series in her school newspaper.

I was five months pregnant and figured it was as good a time as any to take off for Ukraine for a month. I had planned on going alone, as Lee had to work, but my husband and parents put their foot down and insisted my mom accompany me.

Sometimes I’m a little too adventurous for my own good.

I arrived in Kiev, Ukraine on March 16, 2003, days before we went to war with Iraq and the very same day SARS became an international epidemic. In other words, I had perfect timing.

Want to build your husband’s faith? Take your pregnant body overseas during a time of international upheaval and call him the day after you arrive with a deep, chesty cough. He’ll thank you for it.

Or not.

Bless his heart.

While on the trip, my Mom took perhaps the most epic pregnancy picture ever. You’re welcome for this:


For one month, Mom and I travelled the Ukrainian countryside interviewing veterans, walking on land ripe with history (did you know Hitler had an underground bunker in Ukraine and an assassination attempt was made on his life in that country?!) and falling more in love with my home away from home.

It was a hard trip, but it was also beautiful. I heard story after story of survival as aged men and women shared with me their wisdom from years lived under Soviet Rule and the days spent fighting Nazi brutality. I spoke with soldiers who shared their stories with such passion and emotion. As they spoke, I could see them reliving the moments.

“We were more than just soldiers,” one man said to me. “We were people.”

To me, these were just stories, but to them they were memories – experiences come to life.

I spoke with women who fought. I spoke with those who joined the partisan army, performing underground maneuvers to thwart the Nazi’s quest for domination. I spoke with Christians who fought to protect the persectued Jews and who were gravely punished for their protection.

Did you know that Ukraine had the greatest loss of life per capita than any other country in the world during World War II? Ukraine’s population was largely Jewish and the Jews were being attacked and persecuted by both the Nazis and Soviets. In addition, Ukraine was known for its rich soil and land ripe for harvest and Hitler made it a point to focus on that region of the Soviet Union.

I heard these stories from the men and women that lived them and I came home with a new vision. Just translating their stories wasn’t enough, and I couldn’t get legal permission to use the stories verbatim anyway.

So my book is based on their stories. My novel compiles their tales together into four characters and my deepest desire is that it honors them the way they deserve to be honored.

Why has it taken me so long to finish the book? When it’s all said and done, I will have been working on this for a decade.

Why couldn’t I finish it sooner?


I didn’t want to let them down. I love those people fiercely. Most of the men and women I spoke with have passed away at this point, but I want their stories to live on in a way that honors their memories.

It’s taken so long because I can’t afford to mess it up.

I wrote 1,500 words this morning bringing my total word count to just over 86,000. I’m getting so close. I’m going to do this!

Day 8 of 31: I am one step closer to accomplishing this dream.

Join me and the hundreds of others who are participating in Nester’s 31 Day challenge.

Oh, and if you are interested in donating to our adoption fund, we would really love to hit the $1,000 mark this week. I plan to share more about our heart for adoption soon, but for now we would love for you to join us on the journey. There are miracles happening, friends…

In which I ramble a bit

You know that thing where you can’t seem to get to bed before midnight or after because you are relishing the quiet and alone time that comes with three kids nestling snug into their beds?


I wish I could say I was being ultra-productive with my late night down time, but that’s not necessarily the case. Last night I spent an hour reading up on diagramming sentences…for fun.

I fear the salty Florida air has gone to my head.

I’m thinking about teaching Sloan the very basics of how to diagram a sentence. My poor kids. They just don’t stand a chance in this house, do they? But I can’t help myself. I feel like learning how to diagram a sentence is a lost art and is one of the best ways to grasp grammar. I didn’t learn it until I was in college and I hated every minute of it, but it was also the first time that grammar started to make sense to me.

So today the kids are going to get a lesson on Subject and Verb, and will learn how to break up the two in a simple sentence. We are starting easy.

What are your thoughts on teaching kids to diagram sentences? Is it something you think is important?

In that same vein, are you teaching your kids how to write in cursive despite the fact that it isn’t a totally necessary skill this day in age? In general, most public schools have stopped teaching handwriting simply because kids don’t need it, but I kind of think it’s necessary, which is why I torture Sloan every Tuesday and Thursday with cursive writing practice lessons.

Changing topics slightly, I think I may have found a local Russian tutor for the kids. We are going to meet on Tuesday so she can get to know the kids and hopefully we’ll move forward from there. I can’t wait to have them practice with a native speaker again. I so desperately miss their Russian school in St. Louis.

Lee and I are taking the two older kids on our first family mission trip this summer. I am so excited about it. We are going with IsleGo Missions to Jamaica where we will likely be helping with construction of some sort (last year they built homes) and leading a VBS. My kids are going to be amazing at this – especially Sloan. God has outfitted that child with a missionary’s heart and I can’t wait to see him in his element.

I can’t think about leaving Landon behind, though, or I get incredibly sad and anxious. He will be with my parents, so I know he’ll be fine but he is such a Mama’s boy and he and Tia are pretty much joined at the hip so being away from all of us for a week is going to be hard on him.

*sad face*

Lee and I are in the midst of praying fervently about what to do school-wise for the kids next year. We have several options and all are good, but we are seeking which is best for the kids, for me and for our family dynamics as a whole.

I am headed to Blissdom in a couple of weeks, which I’m really looking forward to, but FIRST my friend Bethany is coming to visit and I’m so excited I can barely see straight. Every time I think about it, I girl squeal and clap my hands, which can be awkward in the middle of the grocery store but whatever.


Read this blog post. It’s amazing and inspiring isn’t it?

I should go. The kids are getting restless and I need to prepare today’s lessons. Sentence diagramming here we come! This is the part where my children would likely request prayer for sanity…

Image credit

My People

I was fifteen years old the first time I visited the former Soviet Union.  An entire world opened up before me in brilliant technicolor.  Amidst a backdrop of dark clouds, we stepped off the plane and my soul lit up.

“I’m coming back here,” I whispered.  I knew because it was as if I had stepped into a place already familiar to me; a place that had been carved out for me long ago.  I just needed to find it.

Our trip lasted fourteen days, but I fell in love in less than a second.  It wasn’t just the glamor of the foreign trip, though there was a bit of that.  We were only a handful of years removed from the fall of the Iron Curtain and as Americans we were still treated very much like royalty.  But it was more than that.  I felt like I knew those people.  Their language was like the chords of a melody to me and I soaked it up as though I had been ravenously searching for it my entire life.

It was love at first sight.

And I did go back.  I went back the next year and the one after that.  I minored in the language in college and while others in my class moaned and complained about the work, I asked for more.  I met with my professor in the afternoons and had him explain the grammar to me over and over (I still don’t get it).  I bought book after book and in my spare time practiced translating stories.

I’m only now realizing how weird that is…

I went to Ukraine my junior year and lived with my adopted people.  It was the hardest and most wonderful four months of my life.

This has always just seemed natural to me.  It’s felt natural to meet Russians everywhere I went and to befriend them…because they’re my people.  I don’t speak as fluently as I’d like to anymore, but the sound of the language still sets my heart aflight.  It is a melody that I can’t describe and that has only been recently revealed to me as…odd.

When we lived in Texas and I coached at WOGA, I often attended the Russians only parties because why wouldn’t I?  I fit there.  My favorite memories of that time are looking out to the back porch and seeing Lee standing in a circle with all the Russian men as their mouths moved in rhythmic fashion.  When they laughed, he laughed.  When they nodded their heads, he nodded his head.  He had no clue, but he didn’t care.

He’s my people, they’re my people. You remember him kissing the cross, right?

My husband is so good to push me and prod me to keep up my skills in Russian.  There are many times when we are in public and we hear Russian and he immediately introduces me and makes me start speaking.  Sometimes this drives me crazy because it’s uncomfortable and embarrassing and because people look at me like I’m a nut job.

But I’m so grateful for his prodding because he knows me so well.  He knows how much I love and need to accompaniment of Russians.  Without it, I feel a bit lost at times…

When we lived in St. Louis, I never really thought it odd that my children were the only children with two American parents in the Russian school.  It just seemed natural to me that my children should be there.

They’re our people.

Moving down here I have already, again, been blessed to meet and make Russian friends.  As we all gathered around the table on Halloween night, they asked me…


“Why what?” I asked.

“Why do you speak Russian?”

No one has ever really asked me that question before and I didn’t have an answer.  Because I love it?  I love everything about the culture and the people, the food and the traditions.

Because you’re my people, I wanted to say.  But that sounds odd, so I just shrugged and smiled.

“You are the first American I ever meet,” said the man next to me, “That want to know Russian.  I don’t understand.”

And I don’t either.  I don’t know why God embedded these people so deeply into my soul.  I don’t know why my heart shakes when I hear the language spoken.  I don’t know why I feel at home in a group of Russians.  I don’t know why I long to go back to the country and take my children there so badly that sometimes I physically ache.  I really don’t know why.

I just know I love it.  They are my people and I love them.

The Tapestry of Now

Life’s adventure rarely leaves time for long enough pause to question.  How did I come to this and what brought me here?  It’s only upon stepping back from the tapestry and observing that we’re able to truly see the Artist’s flair.

What looked to be a tangled web of yellow thread was really a sunbeam.

The woven blue lines folding in and out grew into a vast ocean when stepping back.

Did you know that sometimes you can step back and look at even the most recent past and see beauty?  Did you know that if you take just a minute to breathe, you might be amazed at what’s developing right before your eyes?  Did you know that sometimes the present feels tangled and knotted but upon closer examination, it’s really shaping up to be something…grand?

I’m there.  Right now.

I didn’t want to “provide my children with a home education program” as the State of Florida asked me to word it in my letter to the Superintendent.  But somehow I knew I was supposed to.  And it scared me.  It still scares me.

But here we are.  Two weeks in and dare I say we’re having fun?  And if I step back for a few minutes and let the weight of this responsibility slide off my shoulders, I am able to see something beautiful being pieced together.


The root word + the suffix =

My kids and I are enjoying one another.  Naturally there are moments of frustration.  There are certain children who are to remain unnamed who, apparently, are so easily distracted that the simplest of tasks can turn into the most painful.  There are whiny moments and at least once a day I have to stop myself from tossing my hands in the air in exasperation.

But, more than anything else – we’re laughing together.


Russian lessons

We’re living life together and learning as a whole.  Similes, compound sentences, geography…who knew learning could be such fun?  They can label every state on the map and, as an added bonus, so can I.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, eh?


Tia loves to do "hard math."

And suddenly, without even knowing really when or how it happened, I became that mom.  The mom who schools her children in the home…and likes it.  I still don’t know if this is a permanent situation for us.  I honestly don’t know.  But for right now, I’m enjoying this bumpy little ride.


Taking a compound sentence from Sloan’s journal and pointing out the conjunction. He was also required to use one simile. My poor kids…stuck with a mom who finds a freakish amount of glee in similes and compound sentences.  You should feel sorry for them.

As I look back at the tapestry being woven these past few weeks, I’m in awe of the beauty and the masterful way it’s all slowly coming together.

Even if there are a few stray threads still needing to be plucked…

I wrote out a few conjunctions and turned around to talk with Tia for a minute. When I heard snickering I turned back around to find Sloan had edited my writing slightly.  Silly little boys make the tapestry a little more fun and…colorful, wouldn’t you say?



Sveta and Uly

We met eight years ago. Both of us young, married and in love with the world. She was my translator and for one month she acted as my guide. I was on a grand adventure. I was touring the country of Ukraine, interviewing veterans of the great war, World War II. I was five months pregnant and became ill almost the second I set foot in the country. And she made sure that I was well taken care of as we traveled.

We took trains and taxi’s, my pregnant belly bouncing all over the pitted roads, me hanging on for dear life becuase the taxi driver’s seat belts were broken.

“He wants you to trust him,” she said. I heard the sympathy in her voice. She knew I was uncomfortable. Over the course of our adventure, Sveta and I bonded. My mom was with us and the three of us became fast friends – family. Separated by an ocean, but filled with trust and love for one another.

Sveta and her husband, Vova, were fairly newlywed and were devastatingly cute. They were, and still are, madly in love and it just made me smile to see them together. They were mushy and gushy, but not in an uncomfortable way. They just made you happy.

One of the stops on our trip was to Sveta’s hometown of Dunaivtsi. We spent two days with her family, her Mom and Dad fussing over me and making sure I was well fed and taken care of. I ate her Mom’s green borscht and it was, quite possibly, the most wonderful meal I’ve ever eaten. Ever.

Sveta and I laughed a lot on that trip. Her sense of humor was so keen and her English so sharp that she was easily able to keep up with my random wit. We visited fortresses and classrooms. We spent time in colleges and she stood by my side as a group of veteran soldiers poured out their hearts, and their memories, to me in vivid detail.

Sveta became more than a friend. She became a sister.

And for eight years, Sveta and I have remained the dearest of friends. We’ve rejoiced in children born and mourned pregnancies lost. Her first born, Ulyana (Ulya) and Landon are just days apart. I’ve watche dSveta, through her blog, as she’s grown into such a wonderful, beautiful, lovely mother. She is expecting her second child now and I’m just so proud of her and excited for her.

But tomorrow Sveta and Vova need your prayers. Ulya was born with specific health challenges that have brought them to a point of needing surgical intervention. The surgery is tomorrow and it’s dangerous and meticulous and difficult. No parent ever wants to see their child suffer pain or discomfort. It’s stressful and frightening.

Would you please pray for Sveta, Vova and Ulya tonight and tomorrow?

Pray for peace as Sveta and Vova wait. They are currently in Kiev, where the surgery will take place and they will remain there as Ulya recovers. Pray for Sveta in particular as she is dealing with major stress while pregnant. Pray for her safety and for the safety of her unborn child.

Please pray for the doctors as they work on Ulya, a sweet little girl with a vibrant personality. Pray that they have wisdom and special skill.  Pray for protection over her little body.  Pray for Ulyana’s bones, that they would be strong and that her body would be able to withstand the procedure.  Pray that this surgery would only enhance her life.

Sveta and Vova have been on my heart for some time now as they prepared for this day. They have been concerned and frightened, as any parents would be. It just felt right to share this prayer need with you all and I’m thankful because I know that you all will lift them up.

Svetochka, I love you and I, along with many others, will be praying for you, Vova and Ulyana tomorrow!

Thank you, everyone, for supporting a sister in need! I appreciate it more than I know how to express.

May Day

On Saturday, Lee and I took the kids to a 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Nazi Invasion of the Soviet Union.

Try saying that five times fast.

For an hour and a half, we heard stories from local veterans about their experiences during World War II.  Most of them were Jewish and experienced the effects of the Nazi hatred as well as the Soviet hatred.  It was emotional and poignant and beautiful and sad.

The kids didn’t appreciate it at all.

“When can we go,” they whined over and over.  And like any good Mom, I shushed them and shot them daggar eyes, melting them from the inside out.

At then end of each testimony, each speaker (most of whose stories were read by younger family members while they stood up front), made very similar statements.  They lauded freedom.  Freedom to practice religion, freedom from oppression, freedom to survive, freedom to love.  Those men and women are deeply loyal to the lands of their birth.  But they are also deeply loyal to their adopted land.

Attending this ceremony cemented my desire to bring the history of the former Soviet Union alive.  It reignited my passion for the people of Ukraine, in particular, as several of the speakers were from Ukraine, from towns and cities I have visited.

We Americans have no idea the depth of suffering other parts of the world have experienced.  That’s not to say we can’t sympathize, of course.  I feel deep pain for the suffering around the world.  But I don’t truly understand it because I haven’t lived it.  My pain at the suffering we endured on 9/11 is even different from my fellow countrymen who were directly affected by the loss of loved ones.  But think of this perspective:

It’s estimated that Ukraine lost up to 10 million people during World War II.  That’s half of the population of the entire Soviet Union and twenty percent of the entire world’s death total.

I know my children are young and I don’t expect them to appreciate or even understand why I continue to expose them and push them toward the language and history of that part of the world, but I hope to the depth of my soul that someday, as they grow in maturity and understanding, they will develop not only a love for Ukraine and the russian language, but also for all the different cultures of this world.

I also hope that they will grow with the understanding that they have been privileged to be born in the most amazing country in the world.  It is a flawed nation, to be sure.  But America is a land to be loved, a loved to be applauded and a land that deserves our deepest appreciation.

That’s the lesson I’m hoping to teach my children as they grow.  One of them, anyway.

Handstands in Heaven

Alternately titled: Car Ride of Random

We were heading home from Russian school, altogether as a family (in our smokin’ hot minivan that we now officially own, no less.  HAWT!).  It was raining.  Again.  We were tired and a little hungry since I failed in my mom duties and forgot to pack us dinners to go.  But we were together as a family and  that made everything a little bit better.

“Hey Mom,” Sloan piped up.  “Why do girls always pick on me and bully me?”

“Probably because they like you,” I replied.  I know the girls in question and I’m not entirely sure that’s why they’re picking on him.  I think they’re just ornery, but I felt compelled to give the standard issue Mom answer as clearly directed in Article 16, Section C of the Mom’s Bylaws for Dealing with Difficult Questions.

Lee turned around and grinned at Sloan.  “Told ya,” he said.  It’s the standard issue answer for Dad’s as well, apparently.

“But why do they like me?” he asked.

“Because you’re cute and you’re smart and funny.  Why wouldn’t they like you?” I answered.

“Hey Mom,” Tia yelled from the back seat.  It was raining hard, we had to yell.  “When I go to school and I wike some boys, I’m donna bully dem, okay?”

*This is the part where I desperately thumb through the Bylaws. There are no instructions.  No INSTRUCTIONS!*

“No, you shouldn’t pick on boys,” Lee answered quickly.

“Why?” Tia asked.  “You said dats what girls do when dey wike boys.”


“Just don’t pick on boys.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

WAM!  The Golden Rule.  Works every time…

“Hey Mom,” Tia yells again.


“Can we do handstands in heaven?”

Laughter ensues, but then I look in the rearview mirror and see a very serious face.  She wants an answer.

“Well, I don’t see why not,” I say.

“I think you’ll be able to do all the gymnastics you want in heaven,” Lee answered.

“Hey Mom, LOOK!” Landon screeches from his seat.


“I saw a kangaroo back dere by da road.”

You saw a kangaroo?!”

“Yeah!  Turn around.  Mom, turn around,” he’s quite serious.

Lee looks back at him.  “Did you see a kangaroo back there buddy?”

“Yeah!” He cries.

“Was it a real kangaroo?” Sloan asks craning his neck.

“No.  It was pwetend.  It was a pwetend one, Dad.”

And then we were home.

Who says riding in the car is boring?

Compassion International: Tell Us Your Story

It is no secret that I love Compassion International.  Sponsoring a child has been such a great experience for our family.  Our kids love to talk about our sponsored child, Jonri, and what he’s doing.  We love to receive letters in the mail with a picture he’s drawn.  And there is no sweeter prayer than that of our four year old daughter: “Deaw Dod.  Pwease be wif Jonwi an helwp him know about You.”

Let’s all say it together…Awwwwwww.

So when I received an email today from the Compassion team asking if I would join with others to tell my own story of how I was impacted as a youth and how the praise and love poured into me by an adult has shaped me into who I am, I quickly jumped at the chance.  First the premise:

Wess Stafford, President of Compassion, shares the “Tell Us Your Story” idea here.  You can read his words and his encouragement, or you can watch the video.  The basic idea of it is that all of us have been impacted in some way or another by someone in our past.  Whether positive or negative, we are all a product of our youth.  So what or who shaped you?  Who are you today and what led you to that point?

In thinking back to the many adults who have poured into my life in the past, I realized how deeply blessed I have been and how much encouragement I received in my formative years.  But when I thought about who I am today and what weighs most heavily on my heart, one specific incident came to mind that forever altered and shaped who I have become.  Here is my story:

“You have a real knack for languages,” he told me as I sipped my cup of hot tea.  I was freezing….the kind of cold where you can no longer feel your extremeties.  We were in a pizza parlor in Red Square, right in the heart of Moscow.  I was fifteen.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean you hear the sounds really well and you repeat them perfectly.  You should study russian.  You could come live with Helen and I.”

Five years later, I did just that.

Sergei Petrochenko was the interpreter for the squirrley group that made up our missions team on my first trip to the former USSR.  I shared with you how I wound up taking that trip and the man responsible for it here.  Gary Varner is another person I can quickly point to who spoke wisdom and grace into my life as a youth and drastically shaped who I am today.

Sergei and his wife Helen were young and adorable and I shared an immediate connection with them.  Maybe it was because I took such an interest in their language.  Perhaps it was because the moment I stepped off the plane I fell in love with their country.  It’s likely because when God Himself knit me together He placed a special place in my heart for that area of the world.  It was ordained from the beginning of time.

As Sergei and I stood and ate pizza, a dirty, wild looking man approached our table.  He held out dirt encrusted hands and mumbled something in russian.  I looked at Sergei who studied him closely then gestured his hands toward our unfinished pizza.  The man mumbled Spaseeba, grabbed two slices and quickly exited the building.  I looked curiously back at Sergei who for a solid week had engrained in all of our heads never to feed someone who came begging.

“Why did you give him food?” I asked.

“Because he needed it,” Sergei replied matter of factly, taking another sip of his tea.

“How did you know?”

“He had russian eyes,” Sergei replied.  And that was the end of the conversation.  It is a brief moment in my life that I have never forgotten. 

Fast forward five years.  I am twenty years old and I am spending a semester in Kiev, Ukraine with Helen and Sergei studying russian.  It turns out Sergei was right.  I did have a knack for languages and I had fallen in love with the nuances of russian.  It was during my four month stint in Kiev that I experienced another defining moment…and this moment was a direct result of the pizza parlor conversation with Sergei five years earlier.

I was on a taxi bus when I noticed an old man laying in a busy street.  He was close to the sidewalk, but fully on the road and he looked injured.  I tossed money at the cab driver and jumped out of the van, dodging cars as I dashed across the street.  I knelt down in front of the man, who smelled of liquor and had a deep gash on his forehead.

Pomogeetya, Podjalusta, he wept.  Help me.

I pulled off my scarf and pressed it to his head and began yelling for help.  And people just passed me by.  They looked right at me as they walked by on the sidewalk.  Two younger men laughed at me as they passed.  I heard one of them say to the other, “Stupid American.  He’s drunk.”

But as I looked into his eyes, I knew there was more to the story.  This wasn’t a man who stumbled in a drunken stupor into the road.  He had the “russian eyes” that Sergei had mentioned.  Eyes that conveyed a true sense of need, of pain, of desperation.  Yes, by the smell I could tell he had been drinking, butsomehow I knew that wasn’t what caused his fall.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, someone stopped and offered help.  In my broken russian I told the story as an ambulance drove up to us.  They loaded the man into the back of the truck and whisked him away…I never even knew his name.  The man who helped me shook my hand and introduced himself.  Pavel.  He spoke english.

“The man was robbed.  He said he was in the street for much time.  Why did you stop?”

I shrugged and offered the only explanation I had – “He had russian eyes.”

He looked at me for a moment, nodded, then turned and walked away.

I have the distinct blessing of having been poured into by many, many people over my lifetime.  A few names of the people who have impacted me: Gary Varner, Robert Burkhart, Mrs. Baumbach, my high school Liturature teacher who told me I had a gift with words, Richard and Candy Martin, the list could go on and on…

But Sergei Petrochenko’s words when I was fifteen set me on a path that God created me for from time’s inception.  Because of Sergei’s words my children are learning russian, my husband and I are praying about how we can have an impact in Russia as a family, how we can minister to orphans, if we should even adopt an orphan.  The last time I heard from Sergei was December 30, 1998.  After I came back to the States he and Helen divorced and I lost track of him.  How my heart longs to see him again.  How I yearn to show him the impact he had in my life…to introduce him to my children and let them show off their language.  I hold out hope in my heart that God has that reunion planned for someday…

Words have a powerful and life altering effect.  They can change a life for the worse…but, as in my case, also for the better.

How were you impacted as a youth by the words of an adult?  If you feel so inclined, please share your story.  I would really love to hear it.