Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Elections

Election day is here.

Aren't you glad?  I am.  Is it just because all of the activities that go with elections will be over?  Commercials.  Phone calls.  Signs.  Polls More commercials.  More phone calls.  And even more signs.  And more polls.  By the time the presidential elections are over, nearly everyone in America is sickened by all of it and we just want the process over with.

But aren't you also glad that we have this process?  I sure am.  We could live in dictatorship, like many around the world do.  We could live in a monarchy, with a family ruling our empire.  We could live in a "false" democracy, where there are elections, but the results do not come close to being the "will of the people".

Instead, we live in America.  While not perfect, she is a grand country.  I have never known anyone who was hassled at a voting place.  I have never had trouble voting.  I have never been turned away and unable to vote.  This year, I voted absentee ballot for the first time because our travels took us away from home on election day.  I know the process is not perfect, but I believe that my vote, added with the votes of many others, results in the majority deciding the winner.  Yes, I know that for the presidential race, the electoral college gets involved, but it also is based on the majority of votes.  It is my opportunity to make my desires known along with all the other eligible American citizens.

Aliens and criminals do not get to vote.  Just those who either were born an American citizen (like me) or those who became naturalized American citizens (like many people I know).

As an eligible voter, if you did not make sure to vote, shame on you!  Many people died in the establishment of this democratic country and more died to maintain the freedoms you enjoy today.

Having freedom does not mean that I have the liberty to do whatever I want.  Freedom is really liberty with responsibility and restraint.  I demonstrate responsibility when I exercise the rights that have been bestowed upon me as the citizen of this country (such as voting).  I demonstrate restraint when I am glad that those who disagree with me have the ability to express their position openly.

I thank God for America and the many freedoms that we have.  Even if it means I need to put up with the constant barrage of messages surrounding election day.

As I think about the signs of the soon to be complete election, I am reminded of the signs of an even larger event that many of us around the world are waiting for.  In the Bible we are reminded over and over to watch and be ready.  What are we watching for?  The signs, of course!  What are we to be ready for?  The second coming of Jesus Christ, the day that the signs are pointing to.  This is the day that Jesus returns for those who are ready, those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and takes them from this earth.  The Bible calls Christians the "elect" in Christ, so we are waiting for the largest "election day" in the history of the world.

How about you?  Are you ready for that day?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Proud to be an American

Today is America's birthday!  I think the songwriter Don Raye put it well in the song "This is My Country."

This is my country! Land of my birth!
This is my country! Grandest on earth!
I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold,
For this is my country to have and to hold.
I love my country.  It is hard for me to hear or sing "The Start Spangled Banner" without getting a lump in my throat.

I am grateful for the many freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.  I know that it is because of the sacrifices of the men and women who have served, along with their families, that have kept America the land of the free and the home of the brave.  If you served our country - thank you for my freedom!

One of my favorite patriotic songs combines the themes of my freedom as an American and the freedom we have in Christ.  It is called "The Statue of Liberty" by Neil Enloe.  The video is

In New York Harbor, stands a lady with a torch raised to the sky.  And all who see her knows she stand for Liberty for you and me.  I’m so proud to be called an American, to be named with the brave and the free.  I will honor our flag and our trust in God, and the Statue of Liberty
On lonely Golgotha, stood a cross with my Lord raised to the sky.  And all who kneel there will live forever, as all the saints can testify.  I’m so glad to be called a Christian, to be named with the ransomed and whole.  As the Statue liberates a citizen, so the cross liberates the soul.
Oh, the cross is my Statue of Liberty.  It was there that my soul was set free.  Unashamed I’ll proclaim that a rugged cross is my Statue of Liberty!

How about you?  Are you proud to me an American?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Back in America

After serving two years in Ukraine, it is good to be back in America.  In looking back on our time in Ukraine, there are no regrets!!  We would do it again.  In fact, we are going to do just that, because we are preparing to return to Ukraine in mid-2013.

I have enjoyed the time that we have been able to spend with family and friends so far - and look forward to making more memories and having good times in the weeks and months ahead.

But I also miss Ukraine.  We left a country that I have grown to love.  I said goodbye to many dear friends there.

Because I am not God, who is omnipresent - which is a large word that means everywhere at the same time - I can only be one place at a time.  Just like I did not spend my time in Ukraine wishing I was in America, I am not going to spend my time in America wishing I was in Ukraine.  I am going to be content where I am.

However, I am continually going to look forward to the day when we can return, knowing that means I will miss my family and friends in America.

One thing I had to learn overseas is that "home" is not an address.  Home is where your family is.  That helped me many times when I was not at our place of residence.

Being part of the family of God, I am looking forward to another home - heaven.  I have family and friends there, too.

How about you?  Are you looking forward to something in your life?  Are you looking forward to heaven?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Processing Change

Tomorrow it marks 23 months since we left America and moved to Ukraine for two years. Our family has experienced a lot of change. The weeks before we left America were so stressful. I pray that when we leave America in 2013 that it is much easier!

There have been some difficult days in Ukraine.  My family experienced waves of homesickness and tears more than I did.  But I was physically sick more than the rest of my family.  Living in a place where you do not speak the language (or do not speak it well) can be challenging, to say the least.


I have noticed some changes in myself.

There are many things that I cannot control and, because I cannot control them, there is no reason to let them rattle me.  For example, when there is no water, even though I do not like it, I just wait for it to come back on.  There is nothing else I can do.  I would not even know who to call.

It used to bother me to make mistakes in public.  Early on, I decided that I was going to speak Russian in front of people, mistakes or not, because I wanted to demonstrate that I was trying to speak so they could understand me.  It was painful at times (for them and for me), but the last Sunday in Krivoy Rog, it was great to know that the people in the church actually understood what I was telling them!

As we prepare to return to the states in less than four weeks, which I am excited to do, I realize that I love the country of Ukraine, as well as its people, and that I will miss them.  It will be good to spend time with family and friends (old and new), but part of my heart will still be in Ukraine.  And that is as it should be!

While we are in the states, we will enjoy some good beef, my Life cereal for breakfast, as much peanut butter as I want, driving on good roads, and no trains!  They are economical, but so s-l-o-w.

Change as usually been more difficult for me, but stepping out for the adventure of a lifetime has been good for me.  I have no regrets.  And I'm ready to return in mid-2013.

How about you?  As you look back, do you see changes in yourself?  Are they good or bad?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Visit to Sevastopol

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Sevastopol (a major city on the west side of Crimea about 80 kilometers or 50 miles from Simferopol) to attend a three-day conference about International Teen Challenge and their program for drug and alcohol rehab centers.  It was great spending time with friends - both old and new.

Two of us stayed in an apartment with a family. They were very hospitable people and did what they could to make us feel comfortable. We were thrilled when we found out they had wireless Internet available so we could keep in touch with our family and friends in the evenings.

Sevastopol has been an important port and naval base for Russia for a very long time and continues to be an important naval base today.  The Crimean War, with a major battle called the Siege of Sevastopol,  took place in from September 1854 to September 1855 with the British and French fighting the Russians.  During World War II, the Battle of Sevastopol was fought between the Russians and Germans for more than 8 months.

It was interesting to learn that at the rehab center where we met, there had been Germans fighting on one side of the hill against the Russians on the opposite side who were protecting Sevastopol itself.  The city eventually fell, but both sides had tremendous losses.

In some of the caves behind the rehab center, they kept some pigs for breeding.  They use about half the pigs for eating and sell the other half.  There was one large boar and 5 or 6 large sows, one of which had a litter of piglets.  It reminded me of my childhood when we raised two pigs for meat every summer.  I remember going to get the two piglets in the spring.  I also remember writing a short report about pigs for school.  My friend Kevin reminded me that the gestation period for pigs is easy to remember - 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.

The pigs live in caves on the hillside - here is the sow with her piglets
These two pictures are of other caves on the hillside behind the rehab center - the side the Germans were attacking from.  The terrain is very rough and rugged.





These pictures are from the opposite side of the hill - where the Russians were defending the city of Sevastopol.



Being here reminded me once again how grateful I am for those who fought to protect my freedom.  Freedom is not free - someone had to pay the price.  Check out this slide show put to the song "It Has Always Been the Soldier" as sung by Doug Oldham.

How about you?  Are you thankful for the soldiers who have fought for your freedoms?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Food for Thought - 6

Today's thought for the day is a statement of confession...

"I confess that Jesus is Lord. I confess that Jesus shares the name and nature, the holiness, the authority, power, majesty and eternality of the one and only true God. I confess that Jesus died and was raised, opening heaven up to unworthy sinners. I am such a sinner, and I gladly embrace his atonement for me. I confess that Jesus rightfully owns me, every part of me, every moment of my time, every dollar in my possession, every opportunity granted me, every responsibility thrust upon me, every hope I cherish, every person whom I love and treasure. I am personal property of the Lord Jesus Christ. He deserves my allegiance, loyalty and trust 24 hours a day, in all places, in all aspects of my life, both public and private. He is worthy of my obedience. He is worthy of my utmost. He is worthy of my very blood."
RAY ORTLUND JR., American minister (1949–present day) [PFG, 143–44]
Bjorklund, Kurt (2011-08-16). Prayers for Today Sampler: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer (Kindle Locations 802-810). Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

"I confess"

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to confess means:
  • to tell or make known (as something wrong or damaging to oneself)
  • to acknowledge (sin) to God
  • to declare faith in or adherence to
  • to give evidence of
In this statement of confession, I will state what I believe and declare it by faith.  I will also acknowledge who God is (and who I am).

"that Jesus is Lord."

Lord.  Master.  Almighty.  Creator.  Jehovah.  In control.  Of everything.  (Even me!)

"I confess that Jesus shares the name and nature, the holiness, the authority, power, majesty and eternality of the one and only true God."

I acknowledge that Jesus is fully God - in every way.  I love that it so specifically mentions authority, power, and majesty - which all relate back to Him being Lord.  There is only one God.  Like the Psalmist says, "What God is so great as our God?"

"I confess that Jesus died and was raised, opening heaven up to unworthy sinners."

I realize that Jesus suffered horribly and died a cruel death on the cross.  But that was not the end of the story.  He came back to life - showing who He really is.  Lord.  Of everything.  Even death!  His victory made it possible for sinners like me to have a relationship with God.

"I am such a sinner, and I gladly embrace his atonement for me."

I declare that I am a sinner.  Through the grace that has been freely offered me, I have been made holy and righteous in God's eyes.  While it is not something that I can understand, that does not make it any less true.  I love Him because He loved me first, even when I was a sinner.

"I confess that Jesus rightfully owns me, every part of me, every moment of my time, every dollar in my possession, every opportunity granted me, every responsibility thrust upon me, every hope I cherish, every person whom I love and treasure."

I acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of me.  That is a lot of "every" things, isn't it?  Every part.  Every moment.  Every dollar.  (My money too?)  But if He is Lord - of everything - then that surely includes every part of me and my life.  Sometimes I fail.   His mercy and grace restore me.

"I am personal property of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Because I have given my life to Him, I am His.  He is Lord.

"He deserves my allegiance, loyalty and trust 24 hours a day, in all places, in all aspects of my life, both public and private."

Because He is Lord, He deserves to be worshipped.  He alone is worthy of my trust.  All the time.  Every where.  Even when no one else is watching.

"He is worthy of my obedience. He is worthy of my utmost. He is worthy of my very blood."

Because He is Lord, He is worthy.  Of so many things.  We obey those we love.  We gladly serve those we love.  And we gladly give everything (even our lives) for those we love.  Yes, that is hard, but there is no place I would rather be than where He wants me to be.  Because He is Lord.

As I read this several weeks back, I realized that these words express the desire of my heart.

How about you?  Are these words the desire of your heart as well?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Belarus - Nesvizh Castle Museum

This is my eighth blog post about my Belarus trip - the Nesvizh Castle Museum. The others have been about travel, activities, money, statues and monuments, buildings and architecture, Mir Castle, and Nesvizh Castle.

We enjoyed walking through the Nesvizh Castle Museum.  Pictures capture only part of the beauty we saw there.

Model of castle complex
Large room that appeared to be a library
with books and family records from centuries past
Large tapestry (visible on the back wall in the above picture)
and globe
A family book
Another tapestry
One of the rooms
Another room
Old furniture
Chair
Another piece of furniture
Fireplace
This room had family pictures like this all around the room
Design on the ceiling in one of the rooms
Another part of the ceiling in the same room
These dishes were beautiful.





We were told that the next section of the museum would be opening to the public later this year and that the next portion would be even more beautiful.

How about you?  Can you trace your family history back to the 16th century?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Belarus - Nesvizh Castle

This is my seventh blog post about my Belarus trip - the Nesvizh Castle.  The others have been about travel, activities, money, statues and monuments, buildings and architecture, and Mir Castle.  There are several more posts planned.

The second site we visited on Tuesday was the Nesvizh Castle.  What a beautiful place!  The day had gone from bright and clear to very foggy, so most of the pictures are different than at the Mir Castle.

Entrance to the castle itself
The following information about the palace I gathered from the UNESCO website. The Nesvizh Castle, also known as "The Architectural, Residential and Cultural Complex of the Radziwill Family at Nesvizh", was added to the World Heritage List because it led to the establishment of a new architectural school in Central Europe, because it represents an important state in the development of building typology in the history of Central European architecture in the 16th and 17th centuries, and because of the family's significance in being associated with the interpretation of the influences from Southern and Western Europe and the transmission of the ideas in the Central and Eastern Europe.

The large sign about the World Heritage List designation
This castle is located in central Belarus. The Radziwill dynasty, who built and kept the ensemble from the 16th century until 1939, gave birth to some of the most important personalities in European history and culture. Due to their efforts, the town of Nesvizh came to exercise great influence in the sciences, arts, crafts and architecture. The complex consists of the residential castle and the mausoleum Church of Corpus Christi with their setting. The castle has ten interconnected buildings, which developed as an architectural whole around a six-sided courtyard. The palaces and church became important prototypes marking the development of architecture throughout Central Europe and Russia.

The gate and to the right
After 1939, it was first taken over by the Soviet army, and subsequently the Germans used it as military hospital. From 1945 to 2001, it was used as a sanatorium. Since then it has been subject to restoration and adaptation to use as museum and as a cultural and visitor centre. In 2002, a fire destroyed the upper part of the residence and a part of the gallery, which were rebuilt in 2003.  The castle was opened to the public in 2010.

The main gate and to the left
The castle has ten interconnected buildings, including the palace, the galleries, the residence and the arsenal, which developed as one architectural whole around a six-sided courtyard.

A bit later without the fog
The buildings are set within the remains of the 16th-century fortifications that comprise four bastions and four curtain walls in a rectangular plan, surrounded by a ditch. The ensemble is in the middle of a cultural landscape that has various design components. The boundaries of the area cover an elongated territory with the main axe parallel to the Usha riverbed and waterfront.

Part of the frozen moat going around the castle
The castle is oriented from west to east. The entrance is from the west through the gate building, the lower part of which is embedded in the rampart. It has an octagonal two-story gate tower, topped with a helm. The original structure dates from the 16th century. The first floor and the tower were added in the 18th century. The principal building of the complex is the palace, which occupies the centre of the east side of the inner yard. It also dates from the 16th century, and was enlarged in the 18th century. This is a three-storey building on an almost square floor plan.


The corners are strengthened by four octagonal towers with alcoves. The ground floor, originally used as a treasury, has preserved the 16th-century vaults. On the first floor the interiors date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The south side of the court has the three-storey residence building, built in the 16th century, with a tower. The north side has a corresponding Arsenal building, which also used to house a chapel


These are connected to the palace via gallery structures, which cut the corners of the court. The court is then closed by annexes that connect these buildings to the gate structure.  The plan of the building is based on a Latin cross, with an elongated rectangular body from which project two lateral chapels with five sides and a chancel. At the crossing of the nave and the transept there is dome. The side chapels are roofed with domes without lanterns.

Crest of the family on the gate entering the property
Original construction 1583
Renovation 2010
The inside courtyard is gorgeous!  These pictures circle from left to right, but do not cover the full area of the inside courtyard.




This castle is on the 100,000 ruble note.


We walked around the palace as it was starting to get dark.





We also went through the museum at the castle, but you will need to wait for my next blog post to see those pictures.

How about you?  Can you imagine how much work it was to clean this place or how much it cost to heat it?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Belarus - Mir Castle

This is my sixth blog post about my Belarus trip - the Mir Castle.  The others have been about travel, activities, money, statues and monuments, and buildings and architecture.  I still have more to tell.

Tuesday was a fascinating day as we visited a couple of historic sites, both from the 16th century.  The first of them was a castle near the town of Mir.

Mir Castle

The following information about the castle I gathered from the UNESCO website.  The Mir Castle was added to the World Heritage List because it is an exceptional example of a central European castle and because the region has a long history of political and cultural confrontation and coalescence.

Plaque for being added to the World Heritage List

The construction of this castle began at the end of the 15th century, in Gothic style. It was subsequently extended and reconstructed, first in the Renaissance and then in the Baroque style. After being abandoned for nearly a century and suffering severe damage during the Napoleonic period, the castle was restored at the end of the 19th century, with the addition of a number of other elements and the landscaping of the surrounding area as a park. Its present form is graphic testimony to its often turbulent history.


The region in which Mir Castle stands is graphically represented in the form and appearance of the ensemble. This is a fertile region in the geographical centre of Europe, at the crossroads of the most important trade routes, and at the same time at the epicentre of crucial European and global military conflicts between neighbouring powers with different religious and cultural traditions. The short period of history starting in the late 15th century was marked by a combination of unprecedented changes in the religious, humanitarian and economic spheres. The Mir Castle complex in its setting vividly symbolizes the history of Belarus and, as such, it is one of the major national symbols of the country.



Building had been completed by the beginning of the 17th century with some Renaissance features, after it had passed to the Radzivill family. Following sieges in 1655 and 1706 reconstruction work involved the addition of some Baroque features. After being abandoned for almost a century and suffering severe damage during the Napoleonic period (in both 1794 and 1812), the castle was restored at the end of the 19th century, with the addition of a number of other elements and the landscaping of the surrounding area as a park. Its present form is graphic testimony to an often turbulent history. The old castle survived as a romantic ruin.



The Mir Castle complex is situated on the bank of a small lake at the confluence of the Miryanka river and a small tributary. The fortified walls of the castle form an irregular quadrilateral; there are four exterior corner towers with hipped roofs rising to five storeys and a six-storey external gate tower on the western side. The facades are in brick, with recessed painted plasterwork, and the window and door frames and the balconies are sandstone. The roofs are tiled, some of the tiling being glazed.


Some restoration work was carried out in the 1920s and 1930s, as a result of which some Secession and Romantic elements were added. During World War II it served as a prison camp and a ghetto. Restoration did not start in earnest again until 1982.  The Mir Castle was opened to the public in 2010.

Back side of the castle

These pictures are from inside the courtyard, from left to right.







These are things we could see from in front of the castle.

An Orthodox church with the traditional blue domes

The town of Mir

Near the castle is the Chapel-Crypt of the Dukes of Svyatopolk-Mirsky. Its facade is decorated with a mosaic panel depicting the image of Christ, made from multicoloured tesserae.





How about you?  Are you interested in history and sites like this?