Don’t talk to strangers.

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Don’t chew with your mouth open. Don’t make a scene. Wear a jacket when you go outside. Eat your vegetables. Don’t cry over boys. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t talk to strangers. 

All things we’ve heard our mothers say to us before.

Last month, my friends and I took a weekend trip to New York city. It was a trip devoted to my now, sister in law. We bought the tickets very spontaneously while all having dinner one night. Someone mentioned it, everyone agreed, and we bought the tickets.

Word of advice for anyone thinking of traveling anywhere: just do it. If you have money for the ticket, buy it. Don’t wait. We definitely needed to save for the hotel and all the other things we did, but buying the tickets right away was a good push towards saving for everything else.

A couple years ago, when I traveled solo for the first time, I met someone at the airport. He was asking me questions and I was answering with one worded answers. After a short conversation, he said “did your mom tell you not to talk to strangers or something?”

Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but don’t talk to strangers? Really? How am I supposed to make new friends?

Going to New York, we heard a lot about the people there. That they are rude, inconsiderate, and to just stay away from the people and do your own thing. I think we all came in with the mindset that New Yorkers were people that just did not want to be bothered with.

People in New York city were actually quite the opposite of all of that. Most of the people that we met were kind, and always willing to help or have a little chat with us.

As soon as we walked off the plane, into the airport, and into the city, problematic things started occurring. From the bustling noise of busy people, to the confusing subway and train systems, we realized that  in order to navigate through the life of New York, we really needed to be prepared. And we were. To a point. We had an itinerary written out, an app to navigate the subways, and a positive attitude to help us with our adventure.

But most importantly, we had the people that we met. Every time we got lost in the subways, or couldn’t figure out the streets, there was always someone who helped us find our way. We just had to be open to it. It forced many of us to get out of our comfort zone, to get out of our bubble, and to speak to people we maybe wouldn’t normally speak to.

It’s interesting how many times I’ve read about encounters Jesus had  with people, but I gave less attention to the encounters that the people had with each other. Sometimes we think that all we need is Jesus. And that may be true, to a certain degree, but I believe God gave us people for a reason.

This experience reminded me of the day Jesus was going to have Passover with his disciples. His disciples asked Him where He would like for them to prepare the Passover. Jesus said, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him.” (Mark 14:13). If I were one of the disciples, I would think, “uhh, Jesus. Can you be anymore vague? What does the man look like? When will he be walking in the city? Where will he be going? Can you just give me the address of the place, please?”

There are many times in my life when I feel like my answered prayers are vague. Like, I would just like a solid answer. But I guess this is where obedience, trust, and faith plays a role.

I think this is also where people play a role. It’s as if Jesus was trying to show the disciples that they need people. This man that they were waiting to meet in the city had something that they needed. Who knows how long they waited for him. Five minutes? Five hours? Either way, they waited for this person. They followed him. And they came to the place that Jesus wanted them to be.

God uses people. Whether it’s to teach us something, to lead us, or just to help us along the way.

I realized this even more when I was in New York. It doesn’t matter how independent I think I am. How capable I think I am. How self- motivated I think I am. I can do nothing without Jesus, and his people.

Meeting a man from England who missed his subway stop because he was chatting with us. We reminded him of his daughters.

Speaking to a Russian lady in her native tongue and seeing her face light up when she found out we were Russian.

Making small talk with all the baristas and waiters.

Being invited to a Superbowl party by firefighters.

Seeing a marriage proposal and then being asked to take pictures of them.

Talking to almost every cop that we saw.

Little interactions like these, are what made the trip memorable for me.

My prayer for all of you today, is that not only do you begin to appreciate everyone in your life, but you begin to be that person for someone else.

I’m the last person to teach you about letting people help you. I hate asking for directions. I hate asking for help. I always want to do things on  my own. But I’m learning, just like some of you, how to break  down the wall of self-sufficiency and allow God to work through people. Life is so short, and Jesus is too beautiful to live your life closed in a bubble of insecurities and  fears.  

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There is still good.

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2016.

Orlando shooting.

Bombings in Brussels.

Zika virus.

Berlin attack.

Creepy clowns?

The presidential election.

What a year, eh?

I bet we can all agree that  2016 has been a crazy year.

I want to encourage you all. Not because I feel like I have a lot to say, but because I believe God has some things to say through me.

Even though this year was a tough one, not only for this world but personally as well, I believe that there is still good in this world. 

I have seen and heard, just like the rest of you, about the terrible things that are happening all around us.

But I  have also seen and heard, all of the good.

Every year I have some sort of challenge. I wouldn’t call it a New Year’s resolution but it’s just something that I change or something that I do throughout the year that makes me feel good. Last year I prayed for people. I prayed God would show me people that need my help, people that are struggling, people that need money or food, and people that  need Jesus.

I remember driving somewhere and seeing a man with a sign on the side of the road. . Without even any thought, as if my hand was doing it all by itself, I grabbed my wallet and gave him some money. The only words that came out of my mouth were “hey, remember that Jesus died for you and he loves you.” And I’m not over- exaggerating, but the man started crying. It only makes me think that maybe the thing that he needed wasn’t money after all.

We all remember election day (how could we not).  It was a sad day for some people and a glorious day for others. But something that I saw the day after election day was something that I will never forget. I was driving to work when the truck in front of me stopped abruptly in the middle of the road. I was confused at first but then I saw that there was a man with a bike standing on the side of the road. He had a bunch of bags on the bike and seemed like he was struggling. The guy in the truck walked out, asked the man where he was going, and grabbed all of his bags and the bike and put them in the back of the truck. The man with the bike was thanking him multiple times. In that moment, God was reminding me that there is still good. That even in the hardest, saddest times, humanity still loves.

In 1st Peter chapter 2, verse 17 it says “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.” Even though many of us may not be happy about the results of the election, I truly believe the only way we can live out the word is by doing just this. Honoring everyone, loving everyone, fearing God, and honoring the president. Doesn’t matter who they are and doesn’t matter what they’ve done, the new commandment is to love one another.

This last Christmas Eve, I invited a close friend of mine to a church near my house. I was surprised when she said yes. It was pure gospel during the service. She loved it. She is continuing to go there with me and I pray she sees Jesus the way that she needs to. I could’ve just went about my life. Not really caring about anyone’s salvation except for mine. But what kind of a Christ follower would I be? Spurgeon once said “what  I have found of God in Jesus Christ is so wonderful. I am eager for others to know it too- and to know Him.”

I’ve seen and heard about the corrupted world we live in.

But I’ve also seen people who pay for other people’s coffee. People that chase a kid’s ball down the street. People that hold the door for strangers. People that talk and talk and talk about things that they are passionate about. People who have silly laughs, but still laugh the loudest. People that are genuinely excited to see you. People who pray for you.

These people are larger than anything bad in this world. The Jesus inside of them is shown.

This is grace.

This is what it means to be a Christ follower.

A person ready to show love to everyone.

We are all struggling in this world. Showing kindness is a simple way to tell another struggling soul that there is love in this world. So, continue. Continue to invite people to church. Continue to pray for people. Continue to do good things to good, and not-so-good people.

I hope you find peace in doing these things.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Let the love of Jesus overflow so that people around you can feel it too. And remember, there is still good. 

God’s Not Done

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When I was in Middle School, I had to write a paper in my English class about someone that I would like to meet. They didn’t have to be alive at that time and most people in my class chose celebrities. I wrote about Jesus. About what it would be like to meet Him.

I never went into depth about what I would say to Him, but thinking about it now, and knowing myself, I would probably ask Him a LOT of questions. I’d sit down with Him, order some coffee for us, and talk. I’d ask Him about the creation of the world; about the creation of people, of their minds. I’d ask Him to tell me what it was like to create miracles. I’d want to know His opinion on certain controversial topics. But most importantly I would ask Him about my life. About why certain things happened to me. About my grandparents and friends that have passed away. About the mistakes I’ve made in my life and how my choices have affected who I am today.

I don’t know what Jesus would answer. But what I do know is that the disciples once asked similar questions. He answered, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 

Let me take a step back and remind you all, of the time I was arrested in Russia for mission work. I didn’t know what God was doing back then. In fact, I was mad that He would give me desires and passions (to serve people in Russia) and then take them from me. Because of my arrest, if I return to Russia for mission work, I may be deported and not allowed into the country for a long time.

Why, God? Why do you have to give me passions and ways to serve and then close the door?

This summer I returned to Europe again. Spending five weeks with my friends in Germany and living in a different country is  always a learning opportunity. I struggled to write a blog post about it because there were things that I learned and did that may have not been of interest to some of you. But the biggest thing I learned this summer was how much I need God. How I don’t have enough of Him. I don’t have enough coffee dates with Him. I don’t ask Him enough questions.

His sacrifice for my life should be enough for me to want to know Him. His love should be enough for me to want to read His word and learn who He is, constantly. His grace should make me want to make Him known. But it’s been hard.

As I was traveling home from Germany, I got stuck in Amsterdam, around the same time the Delta computers crashed and no one was flying. I was at the airport for two days, all by myself (I slept in a hotel though). On my second day at the airport, I got very anxious. I was nervous, tired, and just wanted to get home.

Why, God? Why can’t I just get a seat on this plane and go home?

I once read something that goes like this: “When God closes a door, praise Him in the hallway.” 

Earlier this summer I was placed into a practicum (internship) that I was not too excited to be in. As a Social Work student in a University, you have to pick an organization that you will “work” in for your senior year. I was having problems for a while being placed anywhere. I rejected my first offer and left to Europe unsure about where I would be working and what I would be doing.

I had the same problem with church. I was very unsure about what my ministry would be, since I haven’t had a solid service in the church for a while.

It’s like, you pray and you pray and you pray…and still no answer.

Most of you will probably know what I am talking about when I say that I prayed this prayer: “Lord, just give me a sign” 

People pray this when they are choosing a school, a job, a boyfriend, girlfriend, you can name anything. A few weeks ago as I was driving home from my grandpas house, something caught my eye. A billboard. A huge black billboard that said the words:

Gods not done. 

An actual, literal sign. You better believe it. If you live close to me, you’ve probably seen it. And I think it has been up there for a while. I’ve never seen it. But at that moment, this was exactly what I needed. I needed to know that God isn’t done yet. The moments where I’m waiting for an answer, God isn’t taking a break and playing golf. He is at work in my life.

So back to my Russia story. God closed that door. I waited. For three years. I tried to go back to Russia, but He never opened that door again. So I praised Him.

God made me wait two days in the airport, all by myself, with only a few Euros left. So I praised Him. 

He had me make choices this summer that ended relationships and humbled me. So I praised Him. 

And you know what? He wasn’t done.

Because the door to Russia closed, I was able to go to Mexico with my dad and a lovely group of people. I was able to open my heart to a nation that not only needs our love, but the love of Jesus, as well. I was able to give 100 percent to a ministry because I knew why God had closed Russia. Because Mexico was where he wanted me to be.

Because God made me wait two days at a European airport, I met a girl, who will most likely become a lifelong friend of mine. She lives in Thailand, the country I have been dreaming of going to for a long time and she’s from Washington, the state that I am from. And by God’s grace, we met at an airport in Amsterdam.

Because God helped me make difficult choices this summer, I found a ministry that I am able to serve in. A ministry that is teaching me to be the person that I needed when I was younger.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” Romans 8:28

Remember, God’s not done.

So have some coffee with Him. Read His word. Open up completely in conversation with Him. Ask Him questions, but don’t question His motives.

Because falling in love with God is such a beautiful thing.

 

Because It Matters

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It’s June now.

I feel like we were just celebrating New Years and it’s already summer. Time seems to be running faster than I did in middle school (hah).

I turned 20 years old in May and I started to think a lot about what God has done in these past two decades. Birthday’s seem to do that to you.

20 years is a long time.

Not long ago I realized how much I love to learn. Whether that be in class, in church, listening to others, or by myself at home, I constantly want to know something new.

I recently went on a trip with my family and I spent the entire plane ride watching Ted Talks (while everyone was watching movies). If some of you don’t know, Ted Talks are just speeches done by people on various topics. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.

I learned about caves, jobs, the brain, lots of different countries, etc.

So I decided to do a little research about “20 years” in the Bible.

Apparently the number 20 is most popularly related to someone waiting for something. For example, Jacob waited to get possession of his wives and property, and to be freed from the control of Laban, his father-in-law, for 20 years. Solomon built the house of God in Jerusalem and his own home for a total number of 20 years.

These people worked, and waited. For 20 years.

Sometimes it’s difficult to wait. You really want to go to that trip that you have planned. Or you really want to get married. Or you can’t wait to have children. Or you just really want to see your best friend next month. Everything requires us to wait.

But how can we live in the moment now, if we are constantly waiting for something? I am not trying to say that it is a bad thing to wait for something better, but how will we know that it’s better, if we do not live today? How will we understand if we have gotten to the point of no more waiting? How do I personally thank God for what I have now, while also looking forward to the blessings that He will give in the future?

To be honest, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. As I grow older, however, I understand the famous quote- “life isn’t a destination, it’s a journey”, more and more.

I am waiting on the Lord. I am waiting to see His glory soon. I am waiting until the day that I get to see my Savior in all His love. But this doesn’t mean that I get to just sit and wait for that moment. I need to work. I need to work for Jesus. I need to know Jesus and make Him known. I need to wait. I need to be in thanksgiving, constantly. Knowing that there is something better ahead should encourage me to live in the moment.

But that’s hard.

It’s hard when you’re 20 years old and not married.

It’s hard when your best friend is in a season of life when she’s having children and the only thing you’re taking care of, is your cat.

It’s hard when you know that your life after graduation is going to be so much better, yet you’re stuck in school for another year.

It’s hard to wait for God to do miracles in your life, when you can’t even see the simple blessings of everyday.

When we are single, we want to be married. When we are married, we want children, and when we have children, we want them to be grown and out of the house. When they are finally gone, we miss them and want them back. The circle of life.

And you know why it’s hard?

Because it matters.

When we look at the Israelites, they were constantly complaining. Always wanting something else. Never treasuring what they had. God brought them out of hundreds of years of slavery, gave them protection, food, and water. Yet , it wasn’t enough. They didn’t want to walk the desert. They didn’t want to wait. And for that, God made them wait even longer.

 

I can only imagine what was running through their minds. We are literally just walking around. How is this going to help us? Where is God? Why are we doing this? What we had was so much better. What THEY have is so much better.

Kinda what runs through my mind when I am in a season of waiting.

It’s like, God isn’t working in this point of my life.

It’s like, I’m just sitting here. Waiting.

But as I read the story of the Israelites, I realized God was doing so much. He was teaching them. He was watering the seeds that were planted in the beginning. And even though everyone that left Egypt was not able to see the promised land, their children did. And their children got to hear amazing stories of God’s miracles and His love.

God is always working, even in seasons when we don’t see much activity from Him. “During the season of planting, when there is no harvest, God is watering, nurturing, fertilizing and containing us so that in due season we can bring forth the fruit of righteousness He desires.”

Knowing this, lets live everyday like it’s a gift. Cherish every moment. Reconnect with old friends. Live as if we’re not waiting, but learning. Love the season that we are in.

Whether you’re single or married, in school or out of school, working or unemployed, remember that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3).

 

The struggle is real

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I would be lying if I said that I have never felt stressed in my life. You would be lying too. One in five Americans experience stress.

Stress: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is simply a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium (balance). A stressful event can trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, causing hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to surge through the body.

Symptoms: inability to concentrate, anxiety, aches and pains, inability to relax, isolation, etc.

Before writing, I sat down and did some research. Researching about stress made me stressed. Ironic.

The #1 reason for stress in the United States is work related. I didn’t even have to research that one. The U.S. is known for overworking, limited vacation days, and no maternity leave. But what does this have to do with me?

When I was in middle school, I noticed that the board that the teacher was writing on was really hard to see. I could see it, but it would often times become blurry and my head would start to hurt if I looked at it for too long. I went to the Doctor, got a prescription, and started wearing glasses.

Years passed and it felt like my glasses weren’t working and my headaches turned into migraines. So I went in again and my Doctor explained to me that one of my eyes could see better than the other one. Because of this, there was stress added to my bad eye because it couldn’t catch up with my good eye (this is obviously simplified), and this was causing all my headaches.

This is a different kind of stress than the one that I talked about earlier, but I began to understand that if there is stress in one part of your life, your entire life will be unbalanced. 

School is one of the biggest stressors in my life. Finishing up my Junior year in University and already thinking about what I am going to do after graduation, scares me. I have to choose a place where I will be doing my internship during my Senior year, I have to take extra classes because I refuse to take summer quarter (I mean, who wants to go to school in the summer??), and honestly, school is just a lot of overwhelming work. 

So because of this, just like my eyes, I can’t see my life properly. Things are unbalanced. More effort and time is put to the thing that is stressing me out and no time or energy is used to help out the other parts of my life, such as relationships with people, family, and church.

The other night I was through with all of it. I sat down alone in my room at 2 am and wrote down every singe thing that stressed me out at that moment on a piece of paper. Then I got down on my knees and reading each thing out loud, told God all my worries.

I know that God is an all knowing God. I know that he knows what I am going through. I know that even if I didn’t ask for help that night, He would still be there for me. I know that. I know all of that.

But Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

And this may sound fake to some of you, and some of you may say “Olesya, you’re totally exaggerating,” but even before I said “Amen” to my prayer, I felt at peace. I felt as though my best friend was giving me a hug. I felt as though all my burdens and everything that I was carrying were lifted off of me.

Psalm 94:19 says, “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation (comfort) brought me joy.” 

And I can’t tell you that I am stress free right now. I can’t tell you that I don’t worry anymore, or that I’ve got this whole thing figured out, because I don’t.

I still don’t know what I’m doing after graduation. I still don’t know where I will be interning. And I still have a ton of homework to do (right after I finish this post).

But I do know one thing.

My God, the God of Noah who built an ark, who was laughed at, not knowing if it was actually going to rain…

My God, the God of Abraham who had to trust God in every situation: from almost sacrificing his son, to not knowing where he was going to live…

My God, the God of Joseph who was sold by his own brothers, not knowing what was going to happen to him…

My God, the God of Daniel who was thrown to the lions…

My God, the God of all the Apostles, all the Christ followers, who didn’t know if they were going to live another day…

My God, is the God of peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” John 14:27

Remember: The struggle is real…but so is God. 

 

After the Resurrection

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Photo caption: That flower in my bible is lavender and I picked it in some lady’s front yard in Germany in July 2015 and it still smells heavenly.

As I was walking to my favorite coffee shop yesterday, I was just about to open the door to go in when I heard a voice say “you’re really pretty”. I looked around and there were two high school boys sitting and looking at me. I said “me?” (because I was genuinely surprised), and they said “yes, you”. Let me tell you, I was having a pretty tough day, and a simple compliment turned my whole evening around and I thanked them sincerely and proceeded with my day.

As a (future) social worker , part of my duty is to talk to people (hence the word “social”). I am already a pretty social person, and it’s never hard for me to just come up to someone and start a conversation. But lately, since I’ve started my program in school (yay for 3 more quarters ’till graduation!), I’ve listened to a lot of people. I’ve heard people’s opinions on various things and part of those things is religion. Not only have I had conversations with classmates about Faith, but I’ve heard even professors mention their opinions on certain faiths and it sometimes worries me.

I’ve heard people call Christians “judgmental” “rude” and many other words. I’ve heard people talk about leaving the Christian faith because of hypocrisy. I’ve heard people talk about God as though he’s some angry old man in the sky and we are all his slaves.

Throughout my entire life, my parents have always taught me how to be like Jesus and what it means to love and be compassionate towards people. Being a “Christian” in my eyes and by what the Bible says is written in one of my favorite books of the Bible. Acts. It is a beautiful book that I never get tired of reading over and over again. It is a storybook, essentially, of what happened to the Disciples after the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit came upon them and they started preaching in all the languages of the world, loving them, and helping people come to Jesus.

I don’t want to seem like a Debby Downer, but sometimes, I get confused about where it was in history that we messed things up. Where in history we made up this thing called “denominations”. Where in history Christians started arguing about doctrine and how to interpret the Bible. Now, don’t get me wrong, I really like my Baptist church and all the other denominations seem to like theirs too, but I have met so many people that say they are one thing, but their lives show something else. But that, my friends, is for another blog post.

Now listen to this amazing passage. In chapter 2 of Acts, in verses 42-47, it shows us how the very first Christians were like. I have this passage underlined, circled, and highlighted, because I feel like this is so important and really, just a beautiful part of scripture. The first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as they had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…”

I don’t know about you, but these Christians seem like a very happy bunch of folks who love Jesus, love to have fellowship, and love people. The last verse was what caught my eye the most when I was reading this passage this week. “praising God and having favor with all the people…”

Having favor with all the people. The word favor means: an attitude of approval or liking. Pretty  much these first Christians were liked by all the people. They were kind souls who have just been saved by a God who is merciful and gracious and they just wanted to be like Jesus.

For me, this is what Christianity is. Obviously we will never be “liked” by all people, Jesus wasn’t. But that never stopped Him from being who He was. Loving, compassionate, generous.

Just because we are saved, doesn’t mean we need to lock ourselves up, stay away from sinful people and make sure that as long as we are saved, we’re good. That’s not why we are on this earth.

I recently read something that goes like this:”Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread” D.T. Niles

My wish for you guys this week, is to tell people where to find that bread. The bread of life. Be happy. Smile at someone. Tell them they’re pretty (like the guys at the coffee shop). Don’t judge people because we are all sinners in the eyes of God. Let the love of Christ and joy overflow so that people around can feel it too. Let’s change people’s minds about Christianity. If all the Christians in the world were like this, imagine how many people would come to Christ because they want to know this Source of love. Just imagine.

If God is for us

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I have a map on the wall in my room. A map of the world. A map that I pray over. A map of all the places that I wish to go to one day. The different colored pins represent places that I’ve already visited.

Belgium is a beautiful country. It has a lot of culture, and has some of the best food.

When the Paris attacks happened, I was devastated. I’ve walked the streets of Paris and I’ve experienced the remarkable beauty of the French city.

When the Belgium attacks happened this morning, my heart was broken. I was in that same airport last summer waiting for my ride, sitting on the floor next to the wall, charging my phone, in that airport that was bombed. Words cannot express the heartache that I am feeling today. Innocent people, innocent travelers, hurt and some killed by the explosions of bombs that contained gas, nails, and pieces of glass.

A wonderful poet, Warsan Shire, wrote a poem in 2014, but I think it fits.

“Later that night, I held an atlas in my lap, ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered, where does it hurt? it answered everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.” 

The world is hurting.

Social media seems to have turned everyone in the world, a Christian. With #prayforbelgium circulating, why is it that only in times of trouble and heartache, do we search for God? On the other hand, why do we think that God is not already there in hard times?

As a Jesus follower, I think it is my duty to not only hashtag the phrase, but also do it. Pray. And not only for the victims and their families, but for the terrorists as well.I honestly didn’t know what to pray for. What do you pray for in a tragic time such as this? So I stood in silence. Listening for God.

It is so difficult to pray for a group of people like ISIS, who have taken responsibility for the attacks, but Jesus teaches us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). They are humans too. They are people that need Jesus just as much as I do.Just as much as you do. And if we continue to have them torment our minds with hate and sorrow, we are just doing ourselves a disfavor. God is love. He teaches us to forgive. Through all of this, however, God is showing us that the times are soon ending. That Jesus will soon come.

So as I listened, and read my bible, God opened up to me in this passage.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience… If God is for us, who can be against us?… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 18-25, 31, 35-39)

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Forget the Mundane

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Mundane: lacking interest or excitement; dull. A word that I do not want to use when describing my life.

I decided to write this post after long prayers and conversations with God about my life. The past two years God has used every single opportunity to teach me something. If I could write a book about it, I would, but I’ll stick with blogging for now.

Since I was about 13 years old I wished to fly away somewhere. The thought of experiencing a different culture was my dream. When I was 16 years old, I left the country (other than Canada) for the first time since I came to the United States. It was my trip to Russia as many of you have probably read about. That was my first super long flight across the country and the ocean and let me tell you, I had a blast. Although I didn’t like heights back then and I hate small spaces, flying made me feel infinite. How blessed are we to live in a time when we can just say “I wanna go here” and just go. God changed me during that trip and is still constantly chiseling away at my imperfections and making me look more like Jesus.

I came back from Russia just in time for my baptism. I was literally on cloud nine. Everything in my life seemed to be perfect and I loved living and serving my church here. But the memories of what I saw and did in Russia always kept replaying in my mind.

Travel was where my heart was back then.

In the next year I got a job as a gymnastics coach and met a lot of wonderful friends who will forever be in my heart. One of those girls was a sweet american girl named Raina who was 2 years older than me. Her sister worked with me and she often came to substitute or just help out when she could. Her contagious laugh and positive attitude intrigued me from the day I met her. We became friends after I saw her Russian tattoo on her arm and she made me translate it to see if I was actually Russian (do I not look like it? haha). Her tattoo said (in Russian), “today’s dreams will be tomorrow’s reality“. How beautiful is that?

Raina was crazy. She did things very spontaneously but always reminded me to live my life to the fullest. One summer, she left to Lake Chelan and slept in her car for 2 weeks because she wanted to earn some extra money serving at a golf course. Crazy. Constantly, she shocked me with her decisions but she seemed to always be happy with them.

So we (my dad, brother, and I), booked a flight to Europe that winter. I’ve always wanted to go there because I mean, who wouldn’t want to got there? Plus, Raina kept reminding me to live my life out to it’s full potential.

The day before we were leaving, I went to work and other than my boss, I was the only coach there. This is not a good thing when you have 8 kids to coach plus the kids of the coaches that are gone. My boss waited to tell me why the two sisters were not at work until after I had finished all my classes.

Raina died.

At this point, it’s not really important to explain how she passed away.

At that moment I thought that the world had stopped. There’s really no way to write in words about how I felt at that moment. For any of you that had lost anyone, it’s a devastating feeling. You start wondering if there was anything you could have done and why this happened. But most of all, I started questioning God. Why now and why her?

I want Raina’s legacy to live on. I will never forget the things she taught me and I only pray that my life was a reflection of Jesus, so that I can meet her in heaven soon.

I left on my trip to Europe with only thoughts of Raina. She inspired me to travel and I always have to remind myself that life is too short to do just one thing and the world is too big to just stay in one place. 

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God knew what I wanted. In Psalm 37:4 it says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. My desires are to travel. To meet new people. To experience new cultures. To see Jesus in places and situations that I never even imagined.

Four months later, my grandma died.

After that, I booked another trip to Europe, this time by myself.

I experienced so many new things.

I went paragliding.

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I fed monkeys.

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I went on a motorcycle for the first time in my life (on a no speed limit highway).

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I rode a horse for the first time.

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And I experienced many other things that I would never had been able to do if I didn’t let go of my fears and let God take control.

When you travel, especially without family, you learn a lot of things about yourself. It’s very paradoxical actually.You learn how smart you are, and also how much more you need to learn. You learn how strong you are but how much you need someone to lean on sometimes. You learn how to be independent but how often and how much you need God.

Now if that wasn’t a year of trials, I don’t know what is. God taught me so much about numbering my days. About living my life for him. To always choose love. To ALWAYS keep seeking Him where I doubt He is. He taught me that the best things in life are really not things. They’re people. They’re experiences. They’re the grace of God in flesh and in everyday things.

So forget the mundane. We were not created to go to school or work, sings some songs on Sunday, and sleep. We were created for far better things. If you just forget your fears, the life that God created for you is just around the corner. Trust is the key. So dream, believe, trust, and know that if you are not obsessed with the beautiful life that God has given you, change it.

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth“. -Evan Esar

 

 

 

 

Why I Gave Up Coffee

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Ahhh coffee. What would I do without it? Oh, wait. I am without it. For 4 days already. That’s right. I gave up coffee. Now, wait up. You gave up coffee for good? you may ask. Well, for good, yes, but not forever.

You see, coffee has always been the reason I wake up in the morning and the thing that keeps me going through the day. People that know me, know that I’m OBSESSED  with it. The fact that I judge cafes and restaurants by the taste and quality of their vanilla lattes, should say a little about how much I enjoy this amazing drink.

Through my college years, I have become addicted to it. It has become what I NEED instead of what I WANT. My job requires waking up early, and school has just been difficult, so I depend on coffee to keep me sane.

The reason I gave this life saving thing up, is because of Lent. Yes, the mostly Catholic observance. A quick lesson: Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lencten” which simply means “Spring”. Just an fyi (for your information), I am a Protestant Christian, and observing Lent has never been important in our denomination. But I am a curious person and I think that it’s great that many denominations observe it. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, alms-giving, atonement and self-denial. I believe that a Christian should always pray and repent of their sins daily, but the word “self-denial” caught my eye.

Lent is observed for 40 days before Easter. This year it started on February 10th and lasts until March 26th (46 days if you count all the Sunday’s). The original number of days that Lent was observed, was 40. The number “40” has always had special spiritual significance regarding preparation. On Mount Sinai, preparing to receive the Ten Commandments, “Moses stayed there with the Lord for 40 days and 40 nights, without eating any food or drinking any water” (Exodus 34:28). Elijah walked “40 days and 40 nights” to the mountain of the Lord, Mount Sinai (I Kings 19:8). Most importantly, Jesus fasted and prayed for “40 days and 40 nights” in the desert before He began His public ministry. All of these were important things that people in the Bible had to do before they began some sort of ministry.

But what does this have to do with coffee??

Coffee was something that I couldn’t live without. I wouldn’t give it up if I got paid to. In the Bible, it talks about Jesus saying “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). I realized that coffee was something that I was depending on to keep me happy, sane, fulfilled. And you might think, “it’s just coffee, Olesya.” And I’m okay with you thinking that. But for me, giving up something that I am literally addicted to, in order to deny myself and my fleshly desires, in order to follow Jesus, is a really big deal.

These past 4 days have been extremely hard. From constant headaches, that no pills can help, to not being able to stay awake at work, these days have actually been a God-sent. Every time I crave coffee, a little voice would say “wait, why am I doing this again?” And it always brought me back to Jesus.

It made me realize that actually, there are way more things that I am dependent on. My person, my life changer and savior, has not been the center of my life.

Whether it’s social media (this is a big one for me),  a boyfriend or girlfriend, a TV show (so is this one), a kind of music, or even my example- coffee, if something is holding you back from surrendering your life to Jesus completely, my advice- give it up. Someone once said “If you gave something up for the Lord, tough it out. Don’t act like a Pharisee looking for a loophole.” The pharisees always looked for shortcuts and ways to show people that they’re “perfect”. Don’t do that. Surrender yourself before the Lord. If that means slowly giving something up and not all at once, do that. If that means talking to someone, do that. If that just means having a quiet moment with God every day, do that. But don’t let your fleshly desires keep you from completely serving and loving your Savior.

I have over a month left, and I know it’s gonna be really tough. But who said denying yourself was gonna be easy? Giving up coffee was just one small example, as I am constantly giving up my worldly pleasures for the Lord. But let me tell you, it is so worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Still and Know

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My dad always says, “if we fully understood God and His ways, He wouldn’t be God.”

How many of us struggle to understand God’s ways? How many times have we said “Why?” to God. How many times have we dropped our heads and said “I can’t do this anymore”? For me, its way too many to count.

As I was praying and asking God for inspiration about what to talk about next on my blog, I began to read scripture. I have been reading the Bible using a chronological plan, but I tend to stop and go back to Psalms once in a while. How amazing it is that God always seems to open up new things every time you read His word.

When reading Psalms, I kept noticing the same theme in the chapters that I read. Trust.

I am not an expert at trusting God. At all. This is something that I have been struggling with since I was probably 12. But the great thing is that I don’t have to be perfect at anything. I serve a perfect God, who always loves, forgives, and gives second, third, fourth chances.

“God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved” {Psalm 46:5}

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you ” {Psalm 55:22}

“But I will trust in You” {Psalm 55:23}

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust: I shall not be afraid” {Psalm 56:4}

Sometimes, I have to keep reminding myself that God is not some old guy in the sky with a mean look on his face, ready to throw me into hell for the next sin I commit. I have to tell myself that He is love. That His anger is only for a moment, but His favor is for a lifetime (psalm 30:5).

Sometimes He puts us in crazy circumstances and we pray and pray and pray, but the situation seems to get worse and it feels like we are never going to get an answer. How are we to trust God then?

He uses these circumstances to change our hearts. He uses them to make us more like Him.

1It’s okay to breakdown

Sometimes all you can ever do is just breakdown. Cry. Yell. Sit in silence. However you do it, know that God hears that. In Psalm 56:8 it says “You have kept count of my wanderings, put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Not only does God take our tears and puts them in a special place, he also writes that down. Whenever we breakdown in front of God, we are showing our humility and asking Him to help, because He is greater than the circumstance that we are going through.

2. Worship

I can’t remember a single time when I prayed and I didn’t feel better afterwords. God gives us peace. When we give Him our time and talk with Him, His peace flows over us and instantly we feel better. The circumstance may not have changed, but our heart has. “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). Worship is not just a song that we sing on Sundays, it’s a way of life. The way we connect with God. David says in Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You.” If you still feel like something in your life is better than Jesus, worship Him, pray to Him, and your priorities will begin to shift.

3. Trust, trust, trust

Remember: He made the heavens and the earth. He made you and me. He helped us through this day. He hasn’t turned his face from us. He continues to love us. He DIED for us.

I went through a tough time last year. I lost two people who I loved. Things didn’t go according to “my plan.” God kept sending trials my way that I thought would kill me spiritually.

But through all of that, the same verse kept replaying in my head.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)

How amazing it is to know that He is God. I may never understand why exactly I need to do this, or why I am going through what I am, but the fact that he is God, gives me peace. He sent His Son to die for me. He saved me out of eternal darkness, and He never forgets me, even if my own mother will (Isaiah 49:15).

He is so much more than I will ever dream of or comprehend.

“The hands that cradle the stars, are the hands that bled for me” -Hillsong (Aftermath)

I also like to listen to my favorite spoken word during times like these. If any of you are interested, its called “Trust more” by Oscar Urbina.

I hope I have encouraged some of you that are going through a hard time. I hope God uses his amazing powerful love to change your hearts and to teach you, like He’s been teaching me, to trust Him.