Note: This post was mostly created on November 13, 2016 as I was digesting my time in Russia while flying back to Denver.
I love languages, and I really love a familiarity with language that allows my ear to hear a new slang in the languages cultures use. This happened when I got to Russia this year. I would ask people how they were, and the response would be ‘Нормально,’ pronounced ‘normalna’ and translated to ‘normal’ or ‘usual.’
It made me smile every time, because my life hasn’t been normal for a long time, and as my coworkers were praying for me and our trip before I left, one wise, discerning friend prayed that ‘with all of the transition’ I’ve been through in the past couple of months that I would ‘be blessed by being somewhere that is normal’…Russia. Ironic, right?
Her prayer could not have been more on target. I needed some normal, and not for just a weekend. I needed an extended period of time. I needed a place that I was known and engulfed by people where our love for each other travels in a beautiful symbiotic symphony. I needed people who had been a part of my Kingdom story for a long time.
I needed ‘my people’ who know and accept who I am as a follower of Jesus that is abundantly passionate about working toward God’s Kingdom restored by seeing orphans loved and knowing their worth, while stubbornly wanting families preserved and not torn apart by poverty and sin.
So when ‘my people’ started replying with ‘normalna’ when I asked them ‘How are you?’ I felt it was the literal touch of God to me saying, “I know you needed this, because I have made you a part of this community to know and be known.”
And trust me, the irony and hilarity of having to go to Russia to find some normal is not lost on me. It’s actually bat shit crazy. But it’s my crazy normal and at some point, I more than simply embraced it, it became such a deep part of who I am as a believer, as a friend, a fighter, as a daughter of the One who reigns…I literally don’t know how to separate it. And that’s the tension I feel around people who don’t get that part of me is unable to be separated from my calling to champion the orphan and their families. And honestly, for someone to truly understand me, they need to really get that who God has created me to be is found in many places outside these borders. They need to see with me, and humbly seek perspective through the eyes of my friends. I am endlessly grateful for those who have jumped into the journey with me. Who keep jumping into this reality, and stubbornly advocate for the same things. Over the last five years, the women God has merged into our small group, lovingly called Fondue Crew, has jumped in with both feet to advocate for orphans in Russia and/or Haiti. It’s no mistake we’ve all landed in the same holy space each week. We are all the same brand of crazy, and they all not only know me, but encourage me to follow Jesus in crazy obedient ways.
Because this November as I fly back across an ocean to a life in Colorado I wasn’t anticipating…who I am unashamedly is found in Stas’ small for a 9-year-old body exploding across the foyer running with a massive smile yelling ‘Stevovona!’ and leaping into my arms.
Who I am is found in the midst of giggles and shared memories while quoting of lines with my friends after watching a silly movie in Russian.
Who I am is found in the pride of 16 to 22-year-old students who are doing excellent in living independently outside of the orphanage, going to school, taking care of each other and adopting the Russian hospitality gesture of bringing a guest a gift.
Who I am is found in the gruffness of an orphanage director it has taking 8 years to break through his wall of stereotypical ‘Russian stoic’ demeanor, and reach a level of respect and trust that is found in genuine relationships over Armenian cognac and dark chocolate.
Who I am is found in the blessings received in one culture partnering with a different culture to fill gaps in care provided to orphans by the Russian government that controls orphanage budget and care.
Who I am is found in the stubborn belief that each voice has value and that I am called to champion those voices to find volume and boldness for telling their stories in world that tells them their voice is worthless.
Who I am is found in unexplainably being chosen by a new little girl as her ‘person,’ while her specialization in ‘sneak attack’ hugs consistently startled me and was found so hilarious by my other buddy who then joined in by simultaneously attacking my other side in a mesmerizing show of silent planning.
Who I am is found in the conversations with new kids confused about why Americans show up every year and what that means when we are not there to ‘entertain’ them, but to visit our friends.
Who I am is found within the Russian words that get used to describe me like ‘soomachetya’ which translates to ‘laughing girl.’
Who I am is found in taking the crazy open doors to speak into the lives of those I love when the Holy Spirit opens them despite a culture that values private intimacy with God.
Who I am is found in the giddy joy of being present with my friends every year despite past obstacles of living in Haiti, financial reasons and crazy life drama.
Who I am is found in the sometimes obnoxious, yet passionate, desire for others to step into the orphan window of the world to see what God might have for them to be a part of there.
Who I am is found in calling each of them ‘friend,’ not ‘orphan,’ because there is so much more to who they are as individuals and their potential verses the stereotypes that come with ‘orphan.’
Who I am is found in the deep love and desperate desire to see them have a successful future and stable future family, as well as the opportunity to take care of their parents, siblings and grandparents.
Who I am is found in the Kingdom stories I get to point to and say, “God was present there. It is unexplainable. It is supernatural. It was undoubtedly God.”
Who I am is found in the countless hours spent with kids who want to see the world through a camera lens and talking about why we see what we see in the world, why we want others to see it and how we tell God’s story through it.
Who I am is found in the conversations around a table with friends I only see once a year that feel like our conversations have simply paused then continue a year later.
Who I am is found in reminding the older kids of the memories I have of them when they were much smaller, they are known and someone remembers.
These massive pieces of who I am are found in a small village that takes 48 hours to travel to from the States, then an hour and half drive to get to my friends. It’s not easy. But the things that God uses to create us, are hardly every easy. Russia is where I started claiming and believing who God said he had created me to be for his Kingdom, and many have tried, yet failed, to detour me from that calling. This is where the roots of my life and calling have deepened, strengthened and allowed branches to flourish. Had I never said ‘yes’ to an adventure I wasn’t sure I really want to go on in 2003, I would never have fully stepped in the life God had for me to vibrantly live…it would never have become my normal.