Culture and Language through the Eyes of a Missionary Mom

(This post originally appeared on Assist News Service in October 2014.)

As I write, I’m sitting in one of the cute little cafes that abound in the city where I live in the western part of Ukraine. I love this city. It’s not too large, but big enough to have just about everything an expat like myself could want, including well-stocked grocery stores, markets where you can buy Western groceries at discounted prices, movie theaters showing most of the American blockbusters (not in the original language, unfortunately, but that detail isn’t too much of a hindrance to me anymore), and a wide variety of places to eat out. Granted, there are no American fast-food chains here yet, but I’m not a fast-food kind of girl anyway. In my opinion, the prevalence of unique, inexpensive cafes more than makes up for this lack.

I’m in this cafe for two reasons: to have a little bit of time to myself free from the constant demands of small children and never-ending housework and to experience the culture, language, and city on my own. My husband and I were talking recently and decided that both these goals were important enough to warrant him holding down the home front for a few hours each week.

My husband has been living in Ukraine for much longer than I have. I’ve been here for eleven and a half years, which sounds like a long time, but I still feel like a newbie compared to his veteran twenty-two years.


Between Two Extremes

Hatne Sunrise

(This post first appeared on Assist News Service in September 2014.)

It’s early morning, my favorite time of day, and almost the only time when my mind is alert enough and our home calm enough for me to write. Unfortunately, years of late-night studying in college, over a decade of being married to a night owl, and the last seven years of breastfeeding our four children have so altered my sleep patterns that until recently, if I managed to see the sunrise, it was most likely because a small child’s unwelcome interruption had me stumbling around groggily at that hour than because I got up early enough to greet the new day. Or it was the dead of winter when the sun doesn’t rise until about 8 a.m. at our latitude anyway.

We live in Ukraine. Until recent events brought Ukraine to the forefront of international news, I wouldn’t have expected many people to be able to find the country on a map. Even though I have always loved geography, I had to get a map out myself and look for Ukraine after I met the man I was going to marry, an American who had been living in Ukraine since the age of 16 when he moved here with his missionary parents. All I knew then was that it had been part of the former Soviet Union, but I wasn’t very familiar with all the republics that had splintered off with the break-up of that regime.

Fast-forward thirteen years, and my outlook and experience are much different.

The New Mommy Joys

Storytime CoverFor almost two years I’ve been wanting to start blogging again. It’s never been far from my mind. I had a list of ideas for topics and even a few posts that I was working on. When I finally logged in to start updating this site, I was shocked to discover that I had not posted anything for almost five and a half years! I never meant to take such a long break. In fact, it was not my intent to take a break at all. Writing is a vital part of my life, the most effective tool I have for processing, evaluating, and remaining sane. Much has changed since the last time I posted here (like the birth of two more children in our family), but I have continued to write.

Close-up on my two newest mommy joys, Andrew (a.k.a. “Kenji-kun”) and Isaac, our own little “son of laughter.”

The first set of posts that I will share now are pieces that I wrote for a monthly opinion column on Assist News Service, a great resource for news articles of particular interest to Christians. The late Dan Wooding asked me to write stories about my experiences as an American missionary mom rearing children in Ukraine. They give insight into what it’s like to raise third-culture kids. If you aren’t familiar with that term, come back in a few days, and you’ll be able to read all about it! (Or subscribe so that you won’t miss a post.) It is my hope and prayer that what I share here will be an encouragement and inspiration to many.

Funny Quotes Laughter

Wacky Things My Kids Have Said: #8

I overheard this exchange between my then 6-year-old and 4-year-old. Being practical-minded males, they were discussing the purpose of what is perhaps the single most illogical part of a typical female outfit.high-heels

Samuel (age 6): Do you know that she has a very long dress that comes down to the ground?

Kiyoshi (age 4): Yeah.

Samuel: That’s why she has to wear that kind of shoes.

Kiyoshi: Yeah, with the tall-standing things.

So there you have it, ladies. The purpose of high-heels is simply to keep our dress hems out of the mud. If you dislike wearing high-heels as much as I do, just get your long dresses shortened a bit, and you can wear flats all the time!

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Other wacky things my kids have said.

Image courtesy of bigjom at

Baby Joys Inspiration

Four Birth Stories, Part 2

This post is a continuation of an earlier post. If you haven’t already, you should read Part 1 first. 

Nothing is as precious as a newborn; this was our third-born (photo credit: Oksana Dyachenko)
To me, nothing is as precious as a newborn; this was our third-born
(photo credit: Oksana Dyachenko)

These contractions were stronger than the practice contractions I’d been experiencing for months, but they didn’t establish the textbook pattern of getting stronger and closer together. I was in frequent contact with my medical-school friend, and we decided that it must be false labor. But false labor or not, it seemed to be accomplishing something, and I was reminded of my first labor, when I had experienced weak, irregular contractions for 48 hours before finally going to the hospital and finding out that I was already 7 centimeters dilated, almost ready to have the baby!

The anxiety I had been experiencing turned into a strangling sense of dread. This oppressive feeling blanketed every waking moment, like the foreboding that a prisoner on death row must feel as his execution date nears. Frantic from the suspense, I was almost ready to check into the hospital and brave the medical system, but my husband, ever calm and logical, convinced me that was a bad idea.

Baby Joys Inspiration

Four Birth Stories, Part 1

Just as each individual is unique, so every birth story is different. I have four to prove it.
Just as each individual is unique, so every birth story is different. I have four to prove it.

My children have been born in four different cities on two continents under four sets of very different circumstances. Of all my births to date, I was the most nervous before the last one, my fourth baby. 

Funny Quotes Laughter

Things I Never Anticipated Saying Before I Became a Mother: #7

"Don't eat your boogers;
eat your breakfast."

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Other things I never anticipated saying.


Writing Again

After a year and a half of finding my stride as a mother of four littles, I'm finally writing again! It feels wonderful to have this creative outlet back in my life. I haven't yet finished anything new for this blog, but I'm working on something. Today I just wanted to let you know that I became a featured columnist for the Assist News Service website, and my first piece is up. You can read it here. It gives some insight into what it's like to live in Ukraine in the midst of the current uncertainties and difficulties. Please check it out, and pray for Ukraine!

Daddy Joys Encouragement

Compliments from my 2-Year-Old

Becoming a mother does something to your self-esteem. I don't know how many times I've thought (or heard) some variation of the following:

"You should have seen me before I had kids. I used to be __(fill in the blank)__!"








I have heard my mother-in-law, who has nine children, fill in the blank with "intelligent." 

I most frequently fill it in with "organized." 

Of course, all mommies know that the children who enter our lives and change us forever are worth infinitely more than all the attributes and freedoms we had to relinquish with their coming. Who cares about stretch marks, bags under the eyes, perpetual fatigue, and appearing like a hopeless scatterbrain? When we're surrounded by the people we love most in the worldthe ones for whom we have poured out our lives and for whom we gladly continue to do sothese sacrifices seem small. The choice was good and right, and given the chance, we'd do it again in a heartbeat.


Happy Valentine’s Day

Hi. Remember me? I used to write on this blog. I still plan to again, but tonight won't be the night that I begin to write in earnest. Tonight I just wanted to check in to say that I've been busy, overwhelmed, strung-out, exhausted, and, well, you get the idea. And I have a picture to prove it.

Today is Valentine's Day. And this evening I took this picture in our living room. In case you can't tell, that's a disassembled fake Christmas tree on the floor and boxes of Christmas decorations on the table in the background.


Yes, I finally took down our tree and decorations today, on Valentine's Day. So in case you were feeling guilty for being disorganized or scatterbrained or un-punctual or anything like that, you can just look at this picture for an instant ego boost, because at least you got your tree down before mid February!

Consider it my little Valentine's Day gift to you.

You're welcome.


P.S. And if you still have your tree up, at least you can know that you're not the only person to keep one around until winter is practically over!

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I would be honored to have the privilege of encouraging you on a regular basis!