Friday, October 25, 2013

Drivethru Life

Because 100% of Americans spend 90% of their lives in the drivethru. Or at least, that's what I feel suspicious about nowadays. I find myself parking and going inside just to defy the lifestyle. Or maybe it was being stuck in line for 45 minutes one horrible mistake of a day. I learned my lesson after listening to 6 songs on the radio and getting a luke-warm cinnamin dolce latte. Yupp, I'll just go inside next time! But while I was waiting, I had the thrill of seeing this little sparrow peeping around in some pretty little wildflowers. Just thinking about how God cares for me and that little sparrow changed the whole experience. In fact, it made my day.

A Glimpse of Autumn Glory

Most of Oklahoma City is still green and defiant of the upcoming cold, but this particular road is lined with trees who have taken a bold approach to the holiday air. I was stunned by their brilliant scarlet beauty beginning to appear. What perfection! If only the trees could speak, what would these say of the chilly nights and frosty mornings?

Sunsets on the Heartland

These are real photographs from different nights that I've taken with my camera while driving around the countryside southwest of Oklahoma City. I've been singing to the bedridden at a nursing home there all summer long, and I love that ministry. It does my soul good to see their smiles and the joy in their precious, feeble eyes. While I drive back and forth, I have been captivated by the beautiful countryside. The vast fields of corn and wheat are landmarked by silent giants, the oil rigs moving up and down in timeless rhythm. Almost every week, I pull the car off the busy 70-mile-and-hour highway and turn into a random field where I can sit among the thistles and wild black-eyed susan flowers and watch the fiery sun kiss the fearless horizon. It's breathtaking. The peace in the air, silent and still, far from the pressure of every day life in the city, is such a wonder for me, a girl who was raised in the heart of a teeming multi-million person metropolis. I hope these pictures help convey the beauty that graces Oklahoma just before twilight wraps it into slumber.  What an unprecedented artist is the Creator of this world, to effortlessly spread his masterpiece across the wide western sky with such ease and splendor.


I've been taking pictures of the pretty countryside here in Oklahoma but haven't had the time to sit down and upload them to my computer and go find internet to upload them to my blog! But I am excited to share some lovely photos I've been able to capture since returning here. The weather has been so nice. Most of the time, I spend life on the go and a lot of time in traffic. So I decided I'm just going to carry my camera around in the empty passenger street and find the opportunities to practice my skills! I am blessed to have two crazy amazing photographers in my family, Molly Wood and Steven O'Brien. My photos don't compare but it is still a blissful pastime for me. =) Be expecting random posts as I practice my skills starting each weekend, but they will probably be on the weekends when I take a break and can find the time to download/edit/upload/publish.... yeah. It's more work than you might think.
Speaking of. I learned photoshop is going out. WHAT?! Someone send me donations so I can buy the software before it's no longer on the market!!!! lol

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dynamic Duo

Here's a shout out to another fantastic blog, Working in Faith! This blog covers the quiet labors of Steven and Nina O'Brien in Kharkov, Ukraine, in Faith Baptist Church under the ministries of my parents, John & Cathy O'Brien. They help with everything from interior renovations on the new building to exterior landscaping projects, run the youth group, head up activities, and actively evangelize that dark city for Christ. They have been working since their wedding last year and I've never heard them complain once! What a blessing and inspiration for so many young couple who are complete, 100% focused on themselves and their new lives together. I am so proud of my brother and sister-in-law and miss them very much! They were a big spiritual encouragement to me while I was home this summer. Check out their blog here. Their biggest need right now is PRAYER and SUPPORT. They need funds to eat, prepare for winter, and continue to serve overseas without a normal income. Please follow the blog and give! This is definitely a ministry to get behind!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Happy first day of autumn! My favorite season, finally arrived. As Panera and Starbucks compete to draw in customers with tantalizing pumpkin-inspired holiday treats, the air is growing nippy early at night and early in the morning. When I walk around the lake at night to pray and enjoy the moonlit waters, the air is no longer full and sultry with summer's embrace. Now I can smell the fullness of herbs, the crispness of the leaves, and the briskness of the breeze. This has been one very long, but very fast year. I was thinking about the verse where God talks about making everything beautiful in His time. From the very dawn of creation, he was inspired to craft seasons, shifting solar patterns, and the standard movement of time. In heaven, there will be no time. No seasons, really. It's just this wonderful, special gift God has given to us, now. As I watch the holidays pull near, I am so thankful to God that he is giving more time to reach out to others, to make a change in this weary, hopeless world. What are you doing with your time this autumn? Make it count! =)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Her Name is Margarita

 There is something magical about a girl and a puppy. I miss my miniature dachshunds, Zubi and Tekel. They were so tiny, so gentle, so sweet and just a tad spunky. Both of them died while I was ten thousand miles away in college, on the opposite side of the world. I miss them. Ever since December, all I've wanted is a puppy. A puppy, and to be home. My landlord wouldn't allow me to get a puppy when I graduated. And I finally got to go home, but just for a few brief weeks. And while I was there, I met a puppy.

Just a scrawny, fluffy, rolly-polly street puppy. Sweet, innocent, and with no pedigree. But so much potential. The very factors that move a Noelle. I fell immediately in love. Snezhok, Russian for Snowflake. But to call him white would be a stretch. He was half white, half grey from the ashen dirt of Kharkov streets. And when I saw him and his four multi-colored siblings rolling around across the street, I wasn't tired and lost anymore. I was just a little girl again, with a whole big world somewhere outside the rotten streets of a third world country. And I stopped work on the construction to go outside and scoop them up and laugh as they wriggled playfully right out of my arms.

All except Snezhok.

He nuzzled up to me and rolled over so I could stroke his milk-filled warm little belly, and then he curled up and pushed his nose under my arm, happy and calm. I brushed his dirty fur, and fingered his precious little pink paws, and I was in heaven.

Well, these street puppies are closely watched over by two little girls next store, Margarita and Nastya. They came running out to see what I was doing with their puppies. Children and I are... an interesting story. Sometimes we jive, more than often we do not. But the little girls crossed their arms and stared at me, and I smiled back at them warily, and the five puppies ran circles around us, urging us to be friends. None of our neighbors let their little girls come to our church to learn about the Bible. They've never heard the story of the ark, about David and Goliath, about Jesus walking on the water. Thank God for puppies.

It was just a little thing. We shared the puppies and soon the girls were waving and running to see me when I came by. It felt so odd, but it made me smile. Who says God can't use anyone he wants to?

Just when this door was opening, Margarita's mom came to talk to us. She worked all day, and her littlest daughter had been bit by a cat while playing out on the street. Now her girl, six years old, was badly infected and lying in the hospital. Had we seen the cat?

Talking to Lilia, she confided that she was worried about Margarita. She left the house bright and early to go to work, and from work to be at the hospital with her baby girl. In my country, they don't provide food to anyone in the hospital, even a child. So it was imperative that Lilia go and feed her sick child, bathe her, and change her bedding each day. While she was gone, Margarita was left to fend for herself. She had forgotten how to use the stove, Lilia told us, and spent the day before unable to cook food. (No box dinners in Kharkov. No plethora of instant cereal at Walmart.) But what could she do? Her husband had just passed away during the cold winter months, and being a member of the Jehovah's Witness cult, none of the neighbors would come near her or Margarita to help.

I thought of Joyce, back in Oklahoma City. I thought of all the people in the world who need help, who need someone to care. Someone to hand a blanket to them on a street corner, or bring them food when their mom is gone for seventeen hours a day.

It was pizza night, and Mom and Nina and I made real, scratch, American pizza and brought some over to Margarita. Who knows if she would have opened the door? But she knew me. The girl who was crazy about the puppies. And she couldn't believe the pizza. Neither could her mom, when she got home that night.
Before I flew out, Margarita came over to say goodbye. I gave her one of my stuffed teddy bears, and she promised she wouldn't forget me. How many Americans would she meet in her life? Probably none. I knew she would never forget me.

And on the long, quiet, lonely plan ride back to Oklahoma City... I knew I wouldn't forget them either. Margarita and Snezhok would be in my heart and my prayers.

Monday, August 26, 2013


 I love that I'm home to observe the biggest holiday of the year besides New Years, the birthday of Ukraine and the liberation of Kharkov from the Nazis, back to back. I'm not sure which one is a bigger victory in the scale of history. But now Ukraine is officially twenty-two years old!!! That is incredible. To celebrate, we went to watch our team the Metalists play at the stadium downtown. I felt a little like a tourist, returning home to find that everyone had an official league Metalist jersey except, well... me. That's okay. I have a bumper sticker for the Metalists on my car in the USA to keep up the fan pride. Especially now that my brother Steven is a star player on the Metalist league team! In their last game, he scored 4 out of the 6 goals. I was thrilled to watch him play so well and I got to mess around with my action settings on my camera! They didn't turn out that great, so I have to keep working on them. Next week is labor day for the United States, which is a silly holiday to me, the end of the summer. Here, autumn is already full in the air and winter is just a few weeks away. I cannot wait for my favorite season! Happy Birthday, Ukraine. I'm glad the Metalists won to make the day just a little bit sweeter.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Grand Openings

 It's cooling off in Kharkov, the weather slipping towards autumnal temperatures as September creeps closer. Soon the climate will be rounding the corner towards the death of the trees, and winter will bring in the end of the year. Hard to believe so much time has passed since I've been home, since my graduation, since the beginning of the year. So much has changed on me.
Even my city. The latest shopping avenue, Frantsuski Boulevarde, has opened not far from my neighborhood and Steven and Nina have enjoyed taking me there a few times to hang out. I'll have to post some pictures of the magnificent Eiffel Tower replica and Parisian decor on another post. Frankly, I was speechless. It's downright fabulous. Not what I usually think of when I think of my city, Kharkov. But it's been lovely, really, to see the progress towards civility as the city pulls in resources from the West. And today? A big happening in the Kharkov business circle - the grand opening of another McDonald's restaurant at the Frantsuski Boulevarde shopping tower.
Astonishing enough to open another modern dine-out in Kharkov, whose options are limited to eight McDonald's restaurants for oh... a few million people. And no other options - not a single other Western restaurant has ventured into the eastern side of Ukraine. And now there's nine McDonald's here, a slow accomplishment over twenty two years of freedom. I'm not really sure how my neighborhood was selected for the implant - it's a poor sector, just over the bridge from the massive turbo-atom factories - and the almost all of the others are downtown. But I'm not complaining.
So here we are at the grand opening of the newest McDonald's. It was fun to participate. A good break from long weeks of hard work on the church building construction. At the end of summer, it is simply perfect to share a milkshake with my family in Kharkov.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Coming Home

 Maybe it wasn't the longest time that someone has been away from home, but a year and three months was the longest time for me. Roughly four hundred sixty-something days. Not that I keep track of how time moves around me, or anything... And it isn't really even the place that is home, as in the country, the city, the neighborhood district. Ukraine, Kharkov, Frutzendskii Rijon, respectively. It wasn't even about coming back to a place where I grew up, among dirt streets and cheap Russian cigarette smoke and leather European pumps, a life that no one in Oklahoma City could ever understand about me. Mostly, I think, it was coming back to something that was particularly mine. Something no one else could claim, no one else could take away from me. Something about lifestyle, about missions work of my parents in this city, about waking up on the other side of the planet, about my family just over in the next room. It was coming home. And the first thing about coming home was making a place to come to, for my own room had not yet been built in the attic of the church building. So it was a trip to the market of interior design and, voilĂ , the pieces of elegance I'd long since envisioned began to materialize into reality. But the crystal chandelier tipped in rose-gold finish wasn't all that the room required - but much grueling, hands on construction in a cloud of dust and dirt. If you can imagine, it was a welcome change of labor after so long in the restaurant industry. I'm glad I'm never going back to that, Lord willing. All I can say is, it has been good to be quiet for the summer. But now that summer is over, I have so enjoyed to be home.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


There are firsts for everything. First steps, first flights, first pets, first failures. But I'm a creature of habit and it's been a while since I've had too many first-time experiences. While I'm ridiculously brave when I have someone there to watch my back, I'd rather stick to the good old familiar when I'm all on my own. I'm always alone nowadays, so a stalker would get pretty bored tracking my lifestyle. Same route to work, same lap around the lake, same breakfast stop on the way to church every single Sunday. Oh, I carry a mace and check over my shoulder enough to be safe, but, it's definitely been a quiet. Sometimes, quiet is okay.

But this last weekend I've had a couple of firsts - I quit a job - just like that. Never even thought about quitting a job before, it's not in my nature, but hey... now I've got that under my belt. Not sure what to feel about it, except sure that it was God's leading. And another first? Standing outside church watching a rainbow spread across the retreating storm clouds, bathed in a combination of raindrops and sunshine. It was unspeakably magical, the sun streaming down on me and an old friend sharing a moment of fellowship, as the raindrops began to fall. Sparkling drops, warm and brilliant, like laughing wet diamonds. It wasn't that great to get wet, but it was great to twirl around and see sunlight everywhere, and no sign of a cloud except for the retreating storm in the distance. A big rainbow, stretching from horizon to horizon, gleamed above the setting sun rays. I wish my camera had been handy, but sometimes it's not about what it looks like as much as what it feels like. And among all the dark days, it was a good first. I wish I could go back and relive that blissful moment for just a little bit longer. It felt pretty special.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why Change, Why?

Why is change so hard? Even change that is painless, really, is still so dreadful to me. Actions and counteractions. Choices and consequences. Saying yes to something is inadvertently saying no to something else. Why do things have to change? There hasn't a day gone by this year that I haven't wished again, and again, to go back to the beginning of this year and change my life. It will never happen. But the agony will never fade, either. In a way, finally finding acceptance and my feet again just makes the loss even worse. Moving into a future I'd never expected to have to face is so intimidating. What happens when I make each decision? What if I made the other? Nothing is safe or familiar. Everything wants to change and I struggle to face each new decision with an open mind and heart but they just keep coming. Who wants change? In the end I didn't want change at all, and now that is all my life resolves around. Even trying to stand still and do nothing, just exist, is a change in itself to who I once was and what I had and loved. It is so frustrating. Even more so, when the change has good factors. Good people involved. I wonder if I will ever be able to stop comparing the options to the past. The new people in my life don't really deserve it. They see me through such shallow lenses, seeing only the surface of the person I am, a brand new HBBC graduate. While I gaze back at them, evaluating through three years of betrayal, confusion, and loss. And the hard part is that I let myself be in that position. Eventually the prison of doing nothing is unbearable and I let myself explore the options of that scary thing called moving forward, toward whatever maybe be out there whether it is better or actually not... and recently the options have been doors to wonderful experiences. I've had a snowcone twice, now. I've explored parts of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City I'd never had access to before. Met extraordinary new people. Gone outside. Ventured into the open of the hazy humid summer afternoon and even played softball with a group of mixed strangers and semi-aquaintances. Been introduced to my church in a new light. But even on the best days, there is very little of the old Noelle left. I hardly remember what it feels like to just laugh. Laugh from joy, not from environment. To be silly. To be a little crazy. To be relaxed, and casual, and contented and peaceful. Even on the best days in my new world, the only familiar companion is the pain and grief of the loss. And in the oddest moments it pierces my heart. Usually in the car driving home at night. No matter how good the day, the night always comes. The night, with the memories, with the questions, with the loneliness of soul. The night with no escape. And the strangeness of my new life rises up to intimidate me into tears. Hot tears, salty tears, tears that haven't stopped falling even after six months. Six months and nine days. Because all these options, all these people, all these places... they are so foreign. Noelle might be there, be in the pictures, be on the rollcall, but it's not the same. They aren't Noelle's places, Noelle's people, Noelle's choices. They have nothing to do with me, except for the fate of circumstances forcing us together. Exiled from the familiarity in the past, an alien in the presence of the future. At times like tonight I feel so transparent, so shallow, so inconclusive. Just a figment, just a wraith, just a shadow hovering in the existence of life, but not home. Everything has changed, but tonight, I just want to forget that and go back to the times when I was at home in living my life. I want to go back to a time that will never be mine again. Why does change hurt so deeply? Why does change happen at all? The great, agonizing, unfathomable question, whose answer is hidden in the mystery of a God who does not explain His ways to us: Why?

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I've been wanting to write something lately, anything, anything at all. Sometimes it feels like a huge empty void in my head, where once burned a galaxy of words and images. It's hard to know what to write about, what to think about, when there is not much going on in my life. Existence, merely. Having no family in Oklahoma City and all my friends gone as well has been a lonely existence for sure. But someone once told me with tears in their eyes, "Sometimes we are the most afraid of being alone, because that is when God can use us the most." I don't know if that's true or if God can use us more powerfully in teams, but all I know is that it's awfully quiet in my life right now. Oklahoma City hasn't gotten that hot this summer. Humid, blissfully warm, and quiet. It's a change. All I know is the quiet is okay. I sure don't want winter to come again.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Day in Moore, Part II

And here are the photos of some tornado damage around the Warren Theatre in north Moore, Oklahoma. The large demolished building was a hospital. The parking lot was filled with ghostly, abandoned cars. It was the cars that shocked me most, crumpled and shattered. I didn't realize that wind could do that to a car- blow out windows, crush in doors, rip off tires. There was a strange, sick silence to the bright sunshine to the day. It was very similar to the time I visited Aushwitz at fourteen years old. A beautiful summer day, paled by the cold linger of death and destruction. God is very real, very powerful, and the tornadoes have been a great opportunity to witness to my coworkers, for which I am thankful. Even now, almost a month later, so much of the city lies in ruins. The girls and I found some small souvenirs in the rubble. We also took some scrap metal and formed a heart, which we hung on the gate by the hospital. The girls kept the card and I kept the flower. The roll of duct tape made me smile and think of the Myth Busters' episode on how you should always have some handy during a crisis. It's true!

A Day in Moore Part I

Not long after the tornadoes of late May ravaged through the south side of my city, I threw on a pair of boots and and gloves and drove down to help clean, salvage, and organize the mountain of rubble. It was almost traumatizing, even though I wasn't directly affected, to stand in the middle of a city completely bombed into debris. There was so much loss, so much grief, so much shock. It was good to be able to do something tangible to help, to do anything. Later, I went back to the tip of the demolition zone with my camera and took some pictures.
On that same day, I was able to have the privilege of spending the afternoon with two of my high school girls whom I taught all semester in Norman. I have missed my kids!!! Student teaching was such a huge experience for me... I miss their faces, their stories, and seeing them each day. I miss being a teacher, in a small way, in that I miss my kids. I wonder where they will all end up in life. Who knows? Life is strange and uncertain. When I left Community Christian School on my last day, the tears rolled down my cheeks as I retraced my journey up the highway for the last time. I cried on the first day, too, but in dreaded agony of what was to come. God was merciful to me. He gave me such a wonderful classroom, such a wonderful teacher, such wonderful kids. Sometimes, it doesn't feel like that semester was even real. It came, it went, it will never be again. That is life.
After we went to get snow cones, we went to lunch and then to see the wreckage around Warren Theaters. It was my first time to have a snow cone, which the girls were sure to make fun of me about =) I was so thankful that God spared all of my precious teenagers who lived in the direct area of the tornado. He is so full of mercy!!! Here are some of the photos from that day, starting with the early afternoon at The Lake, the snow cone place, and TGI Friday's. =)