Category: Encouragement

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A Year Without the Socials

A little over a year ago Wide Awake International and we, personally, left social media. At the time it felt like such a HUGE deal to me. I actually cried quite a few tears about it. I had so many fears about what would happen. Would everyone forget about us? Would we become, somehow, “irrelevant”? I worried what people would think of us and I even worried about money. I thought “How will people who might want to partner with us even know we exist?” But even with all those worries I just knew that leaving social media was the right thing for us. I even felt like it was what God was asking us to do. So after a year of fighting myself about it, in October of last year, we left the platforms for good. (Technically our pages still exist, but I don’t know how to sign in to them and I don’t post new content. They’re just historical artifacts now πŸ˜‰)

Annnnnd, I’m happy to report that we are still alive! We still exist- even without social media! πŸ˜‚ I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Kinda.

When we first signed off I felt like I was somehow an outsider to the rest of the world. It just felt weird to not be connected in those spaces anymore and I wasn’t quite sure how to just “be”. Something funny would happen, or the boys would be looking especially precious and I would feel that tug to share them with the world. But then I would remember that there was no way for me to do that, so I would just take a picture and share it with Jed, or with our team instead. Or, I would just be in that moment and not share it with anyone.

Then, after several months of being out of those online spaces, I started to forget that they even existed! I mean, obviously, I still knew about them, but I was so detached that I forgot that other people, in fact most people, still were very much attached. I just didn’t think about Facebook or Instagram, and I guess that’s the space I’m still in now. Social media is just off my radar and I simply don’t think of it anymore. πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ I decided I like that feeling.

Before we finally made the decision to take the nonprofit off of social media I searched high and low online for someone who had gone before us. I wanted to read about other people in the nonprofit world who went off of social media and I wanted to know how it was going for them. Actually, I wanted to hear that they were “better than ever!” without those tools. Ha! I didn’t really find much at all, much to my dismay. I did find some personal stories of people who went off social media and I found those helpful. So in case you are wondering how things are for me personally, I thought I’d write it out here, just in case any of you are contemplating taking the leap yourselves.

What I’ve learned in a year without social media:

1. I’m not lonely. After moving to Ukraine Facebook and Instagram were major players in my relationships with other people. I had so many connections all over the world and I was so afraid of losing those by leaving the platforms. I did lose many of those relationships. That’s the truth. There are people that I only knew through social media and many of those friendships have not translated to real-life friendships. But that’s okay. The relationships right here in front of me, and the long-distance friendships I already had with loved ones far away are wonderful and fulfilling. I’m not lonely. I’m in-real-life surrounded by love. (Watch out. That might end up being it’s own blog post…)

2. I’m a better person without an audience. Okay, the fact that the social medias are called “platforms” has always rubbed me the wrong way. But sometimes I’d have a really hard day here, I’d post on social media, the audience would tell me how wonderful I was and how they were in awe of the amazing work we’re doing here and I’d feel a bit better- for a minute. Guys, that is so gross!!! What the heck? I’m disgusted by myself and I’m so glad I don’t even have that option anymore. The last thing I need to be doing is standing on a platform for everyone to see me and applaud me. I know myself. I know my weaknesses and failures and what I need is more humility, not more attention and more admirers. A life without social media helps keep my heart in the right place.

3. I’m happier when I can’t play the comparison game. Without social media, I don’t see the highlights of everyone’s spectacular lives. I don’t see perfect moms and perfect houses. I don’t see “missed” opportunities for my kids. I don’t see recipes that require alllll the ingredients that I can’t buy here. I don’t see what I can’t have and I am 100% better off for it.

4. Wide Awake International is doing fine. The people who have loved this work and supported it with prayer, encouragement, and finances were there when we had the socials, and they have stuck with us since we moved off. I think fewer people are finding out about our work here, but we’re choosing to trust God on that one. A cool thing is that our base of monthly supporters has actually gone up 25% in this past year! God’s plans for us and our boys are perfect and He knows our needs. We don’t worry about tomorrow. (Or at least we try not to…πŸ˜‰) And to all you wonderful partners out there- we love you!!! Thank you for your trust, love, and support. We could not do this without you!

5. I’m more present and rooted here in Ukraine. This is a big one. Without social media, my world became so much smaller. The world right in front of my face is so important and full. I don’t need to go searching for meaning in other places. I’m digging my roots deep, right here in my little village and it’s much easier to do that without the socials.

6. Books are wonderful. I already knew that before, but I have read so.many.books in this past year. It’s insane! It’s amazing how much reading you can do when you have nothing to scroll. πŸ˜‚

7. My trust in God has grown in leaps and bounds. It’s a little embarrassing to admit how much faith I was putting into Instagram, Facebook, and my own skills in beating the algorithm. For realzzz. πŸ€¦β€β™€οΈ Like I said before, God knows our needs. He cares for this work more than we do. He will keep his promises. He loves Ukraine and her people and his father heart breaks over how many of them are locked away. He will see this work through. We do not need to be afraid and we do not have to put our energy into sharing this work in spaces that are unhealthy for our souls.

And on and on. Basically, my heart is at peace with the decision we made a year ago and I’m so thankful we pulled the plug. Also, I said it last year and I’ll say it again: I am not placing any judgment on anybody who’s participating in social media. The decision we made was our own. Who am I to judge your decisions? Nobody. 😊

So, what’s next? We’re researching, considering, and praying about using some other medium to engage more with the Wide Awake community. We have our weekly newsletters and this blog, but those are mostly one-sided and don’t lend themselves to spontaneity. I do miss that about the socials. We’re thinking about a way to be more engaged that would avoid some of the Instagram and Facebook pitfalls. We have some issues with those companies themselves and really don’t want to be in those spaces, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a space that is healthy for us. If we decide to launch out somewhere new we’ll make sure you all know.

Thanks for all your massive love and support over the years. Thanks for sticking with us, even when we did stuff that didn’t make much sense to most people. We’re a bit nutty. You already knew that, right? 😜

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As Promised, Resources for Reevaluating Tech Use :)

Friday, Friday, Friday is my favorite day…

Did anyone else sing that song as a kid? I remember back in elementary school when my uncle was my teacher for a few years. He was my most favorite teacher EVER, and I remember him singing that song. πŸ™‚ Now I sing it to my kids, and time moves on…way too fast.

Earlier in the week I shared our decision to move off of social media. We’ve gotten a lot of different responses, which was to be expected. I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with the decision, but ultimately it’s up to us to do what we feel is right for Wide Awake. I really want to thank you for trusting us in this decision. It wasn’t an easy one!

I want to make it super clear that I am 100% not saying that everyone has to agree with us. And I am 100% not saying that if you stay on social media I’m judging you and we can’t be friends. You know us! We aren’t like that. I’m okay with agreeing to disagree, and I’m okay with your perspective being different from mine. No worries, and no judgement from our end. Okay?

Many of you asked me to share resources that I have been learning from over the past year or so that helped lead us to this decision. So, here you go! I hope you find them as helpful and inspiring as I have. I’m not claiming to be any kind of expert. I have so much more to learn and think over. I’m open-minded and don’t claim to have the market on correct opinions. If you read, listen to, or watch any of these recommendations do let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

For Everyone. These resources have helped me examine my own relationship with digital technology and social media. There is more to this life than the world inside our phones. Social media is one place, but it is not the only place to find information and connect with people. I highly recommend these resources if you would like to learn more.

Books

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (This is a book that I will need to read again and again. Not to be dramatic, but i kinda changed my life. Ha!) https://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Right Now by Jaron Lanier (This one sounds super extreme and fanatical, but it’s actually really informative. The author is not just ranting. He presents facts about how social media works and how it is changing us and our society.) http://www.jaronlanier.com/tenarguments.html

Film

The Social Dilemma on Netflix (This is WOAH.) https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_social_dilemma

Podcasts

An interview about digital minimalism: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/122-digital-minimalism-with-cal-newport/id1054817076?i=1000429472069

An interview about the science and dangers of social media: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/jaron-lanier-why-you-should-unplug-from-social-media/id1344999619?i=1000429216123

My favorite podcast on these topics: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-collin-kartchner-podcast/id1513817377

For Parents. As a mom of many, I find myself more and more concerned with the culture of screens and kids that I see around me these days. My heart breaks to see toddlers playing on iPhones and 5th graders on social media. I just can’t. I know we are all still figuring out how to parent in the smart phone world, and we have all made mistakes or done things we regret. I highly recommend these resources for parents, or anyone who someday hopes to be a parent. You can’t unlearn this information, so proceed with caution- but please do proceed! It’s never too late to make changes in your home. Our kids need us to be awake and alert when it comes to tech use. This is an area of parenting we don’t get to ignore.

Books

Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria Dunckley, MD (This book discusses the risks and dangers of exposing our kids to a lot of screens, and has many practical tips on how to make changes in your home.) https://drdunckley.com/reset-your-childs-brain

Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras (I think the title says it all…hehe) https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27883215-glow-kids

Film

Childhood 2.0 (I have not watched this, but it has been recommended by many reputable sources. I plan to watch it this weekend. I wanted to make sure to let you know about it in case you wanted to give it a go.)

Podcasts

The Collin Kartcher Podcast (He has so many good episodes. This is a podcast not to be missed. I’ll link below to a couple good ones to start with.) https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-collin-kartchner-podcast/id1513817377

In this episode the host explains why his 14 year old daughter doesn’t have a smart phone: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/collin-kartchner-podcast-7-reasons-why-my-14yr-old/id1513817377?i=1000476047501

This is a great episode about the benefits of reducing your kids’ screen time and tips for how to do it: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/collin-kartchner-podcast-how-to-screen-detox-your-kids/id1513817377?i=1000488763813

Last but most definitely not least…

For the heart. I can read all the books and listen to all the podcasts and watch all the documentaries, but this decision was ultimately made because of what God has been speaking our hearts. We can do this work on our own terms and work completely off of our own ideas and what makes sense to us, and I’m sure we could create something nice. We can do all the newest, greatest therapies and build our online “platform” and “audience” and take the best photos, and that would be fine. It might even be really cool. But, we can’t ignore this whisper from the Holy Spirit to do things differently. We can’t ignore this invitation from the Father to do things his way. God has promised us that if we would follow him, one YES at a time, that he would create something really special here. Maybe whatever we could create here on our own could be good, but we believe that God wants to do something better. We don’t know the concrete differences between his ways and our ways, but we aren’t willing to miss out. We don’t want to do what everyone says we “should” do. We want to say YES to God.

If you would like to learn more about our hearts behind this, I recommend the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2520.In_the_Name_of_Jesus

Nouwen was a very well-known author and professor when he left his career to become a priest in a community for people with disabilities. This book is his reflections on christian leadership after making the move. In it he discusses the temptation to be relevant, the temptation to be popular, and the temptation to be powerful. Those three temptations are what kept us from leaving social media a year ago when we first felt we were supposed to. Yikes. It’s a short read and a wonderful treasure of a book. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As always, if you have any questions you can contact us any time. We are excited and a little nervous about this new way of communicating. It’ll definitely be interesting to see how it all pans out! Thanks for joining us on the ride. πŸ™‚

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Why Quit Social Media?

Oof. This is a doozy to write. Ha! But, I just have to be me and be real and honest with you, just as I’ve attempted to be all along this journey. There’s no point in trying to be someone or something I’m not. I just don’t have it in me. πŸ˜‰

A couple years ago I started really disliking how attached I had become to social media. I didn’t like the comparison game I allowed it to incite in me. I didn’t like the time I wasted on it. I didn’t like the demands it made of me to give “all or nothing”. If you want to do well at running social media for a nonprofit you can’t just “kind of” do it. Because of the all-powerful algorithm, you are bound to posting very frequently, or your posts go on the wayside, missed by most people and buried under the next political debate.

I bemoaned the need for social media and wanted to quit, just for my own mental health, but felt I had no option to opt out because of Wide Awake. We HAD to be on social media or we would become obsolete. That’s what I told myself. So, we stayed, even though I often didn’t feel good about it.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been deep-diving into all aspects of tech and how we, as a family, interact with technology (By tech, I mean screens and devices. We’re still okay with washing machines and lightbulbs). Tomorrow we’re concluding a 30 day screen detox as a family and it has been really cool. During our detox Jed and I used screens for our work, but as a family we did zero screen time. We said no to tv, movies, video games, and browsing online. But we said YES to playing tons of games, yes to evening conversations on the couch, yes to just being together and yes to fighting boredom with things besides screens.

During the detox I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on the impact of screens and social media on our society today. I’m a mom of teens, so I don’t get to turn a blind eye to these things. I need to know what is happening online and I need to be savvy about it. I went into the education aspect of it with a desire for a game plan for how our family would move forward at the month’s end, but I came out with so much more.

Like I said yesterday, social media can be great. Some of our boys’ lives have literally been saved because of the reach of social media. Wide Awake has been on social media since our beginning, and we have experienced great friendship and wonderful blessing from people we have met via social media.

But, Friends, there is so much wrong with social media. So so much. Sex trafficking and pornography and hate and incitement of fear is right at our fingertips. If we at Wide Awake value every human life, and if we believe in bringing dignity and hope, how can we rely on social media to relay our message? Social media can be great for some, but honestly, it greatly benefits a very few and brings great harm to many.

When I started to feel that gut feeling, that prodding from the Holy Spirit that we needed to change course and share our message in a different way, it scared the heckouttame.

A glimpse of my stream of consciousness: I mean, isn’t that like non-profit suicide??? How can you even have a successful non-profit if you aren’t on social media??? People will think we’re some kind of fanatical crazy people. People might think we’re lazy. No one reads emails anymore. People will forget about us. People will forget about us. People will forget.

I’m still battling many of those thoughts as I sit here writing to you. A big part of me is so afraid of what this will mean for Wide Awake- BUT I know that I know that this is what God is asking of us. He is asking us to do things HIS way and not our own way. He is asking us to redefine success. He is asking us to rely on Him for our provision- and not Instagram and Facebook. He is asking us to trust Him to bring us the helpers we need. He is asking us to allow Him to be our provider, our friend, our source, our encouragement, our reason. He wants to be all those things and when He follows through on His promises He will get all the glory. It won’t be because I posted at 1:00pm Monday through Friday. It won’t be because a post had a beautiful photo or a high engagement. It will be because this is God’s work and He is for it. He is FOR US and He will complete His work here in Ukraine with or without social media.

So, we are choosing to trust, even when it may seem ludicrous to some. It’s okay if you don’t understand. We can still be friends. (Just not FB friends…hehe πŸ˜‰

The work will continue here and we will continue to faithfully share the joys and the pains- just in other ways. I hope you will join us because it’s gonna be AWESOME.

PS: I was thinking of doing a post with resources I learned from on this journey. Would you be interested in me sharing those in a future post?

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The Year to be Present

I love the beginning of a new year. I love a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to start over and try again. Even though my life circumstances on December 31, 2019 were exactly the same as my life circumstances on January 1, 2020 somehow anything and everything seemed possible on the 1st because a new year had begun.

Do you like making resolutions in the new year? I’m great at it. In fact, I’m a super awesome list-maker, life-organizer, resolution-maker. I’m not necessarily the best at not losing my lists, keeping my life organized and sticking to my resolutions, but that doesn’t stop me from trying!

This year though, this year is for real. I’m serious this go-around and I’m determined to change. I’m so serious that I’m about to write my ideas out on the World Wide Web.

Here goes.

My resolution for 2020 is to be present in my own reality. My resolution is to learn to live fully in the reality of my life as it is now, and to spend less time wishing it was something different. My resolution is to spend less time dreaming about becoming the person I want to be, but instead to actually put in the work to become that person.

That’s a lot of wishing and hoping, right? Well, it’s time. This past year was the hardest of my life- by a few miles. I spent a lot of time in this past year wishing my reality was different. I told Jed more than once “I don’t want this to be my life!” I spent a lot of time escaping into the ultra-curated lives of others via social media. I spent way too much time escaping from my own thoughts via podcasts and books.

I don’t really wish this wasn’t my life. I have a habit of spouting off really dramatic things when I’m not emotionally healthy. 😊

I’m certainly not saying that any of the above-mentioned media are bad on their own account. Podcasts, books, and social media, they all have wonderful benefits! -when used in the right way and at the right level of consumption. I was just consuming too much, to the neglect of my mind, body and spirit. It’s time for change. I can’t keep on like I’ve been going and not crash and burn. I know if I don’t make some major changes I’ll regret it forever. I know that sounds intense, Hence the kind of intense resolutions. πŸ™‚

I have realized that I don’t give my mind any opportunity to be quiet. Now, I have a lot of people in my house, so extended periods of silence is total wishful thinking, I know. But, when I do have moments of quiet, why am I so quick to fill them with podcasts or audiobooks or social media or even music? I’ll give you a hint- habit and the desire to escape. I’ve gotten in the habit of filling the fringe moments with something. I have moments of not liking my current reality and I give in to the desire to escape. I give my mind and spirit zero time to rest and to be silent. It’s a shame too, because often those fringe moments, those moments of rest and silence are the moments when the voice of God is most clear and most able to be heard amidst all the noise of the world.

I guess I’m just realizing that I’ve allowed my world to be become too noisy. Podcasts, books, Facebook, Instagram, email, Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp, iMessage, Netflix…thank God I’ve never joined Twitter. Haha! So.many.voices. I listen and seek out so many voices every day and in the meantime have less and less ability to hear the one voice that matters above all else.

Enough. I’m tired. I need to quiet the superfluous voices for a time and tune in to the Father.

How does this play out in everyday life?

A Rule of Life and Digital Minimalism are the two starting points.

Digital Minimalism, using only digital technology that strongly supports the things that I value most, is one of the strategies I’m adopting this year. I read the book. I’m a believer and I really desire to embrace a lifestyle of using technology in very thoughtful ways, not just in reactive ways.

Here are some of the intentional ways I will use technology: Facebook and Instagram will be used for Wide Awake purposes and not for browsing the curated lives of others (except faraway family). Those apps will only be on devices that live in our office, not on phones we carry with us. My iPhone is basically a dumb phone at the moment. It has messaging and calling capabilities, but only the messaging necessary for the logistical life stuff. Example: all the communication for church and school is on Viber, so that stays, but Facebook messenger is not used for urgent matters so that is not allowed on the phone. Email is definitely not on the phone.

Another example would be less family movie nights and more family game nights. That can be hard to do with our house situation and the sleeping arrangements with our guys, but where there’s a will there’s a way!

A fun aspect of Digital Minimalism I’m tackling this year is using only paper recipes for cooking. I’m guilty of too often browsing the internet for new or better recipes. Why???? I already have plenty of good recipes! I don’t need more and I don’t need to waste my time searching for more. I definitely don’t need my phone in the kitchen so I can use recipes from it. I declare 2020 is the year of the cookbook!

See where I’m headed? For me it’s all creating boundaries for myself so I can be more present and less distracted by the thousands of other voices available to me at any moment. I know myself and I know what is healthy for me and what is not. Now it’s time to start acting on that knowledge.

This is something I’ve been working toward over the past year. I’ve felt the nudge to pull back, to be less online and more in person and have changed a lot of my digital habits over the past several months. I’ve tried to create some intentional moments of quiet, have (gasp!) removed most of the apps from my phone. Jed and I have been practicing a form of Sabbath over this past year and part of that includes turning off our phones from dinner on Saturday till dinner on Sunday. These moves toward digital minimalism have only brought blessing and I’m ready to dive deeper.

I mentioned before that a Rule of Life is another starting point for these desired changes to come about. If you aren’t familiar with a “Rule of Life” you can check out the link I’ll add at the end of this post. Basically, it’s a trellis for life that helps anchor you to the things you value most. It’s not “Rules of life”, but more a way of looking at each sphere of your life and deciding how to keep the main things the main things. Jed and I are committed to developing our Rule of Life and to leaning into it this year.

Jed and I have realized over the past couple of years that in some ways our lives have become kind of monastic. Our guys require practices and routines and schedules to ground them. Morning worship, evening prayers…our world has gotten smaller in a way and the daily routines of caring for our boys have us drawing closer to rituals of ancient Christianity. It’s been really cool and formative. That’s how our hearts began to turn toward a Rule of Life.

So there you have it. I might sound super ambitious, but I need to be. This is something that has been growing in my heart and actions for a while, but it’s time to speak it out and fully embrace these new ways of living. As I’ve shared about my desire for Digital Minimalism with others over the past few days I have seen them get a little flustered and somewhat defensive. Please don’t read this post like I’m judging or assuming I know what all people need. I just know what I need and I’m sharing here in hopes that others might be encouraged to search deep and figure out what they need. If you connect with the ideas I’ve shared, awesome! Check out the resources below. If you feel like it’s dumb or unrealistic, okay! We can still be friends. πŸ˜‰

My hope for all of us for this new year, this new decade is that we would create space for the one voice that matters to be heard in our lives. My hope is that we will hear that voice and then answer yes when it calls us to action.

What are your hopes and resolutions this year? I’d love to hear!

Resources:

This is a great resource for learning about a Rule of Life and how to create one. https://practicingtheway.org/practices/unhurry

Digital Minimalism: https://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/

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Superheroes Live in Our House.

Sometimes I don’t know completely what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it out. You’ve been warned. πŸ™‚

When we moved to Ukraine 5 years ago our mission was clear: to bring hope, love and dignity to people with disabilities. Our main goal was deinstitutionalization. Β We dreamed of this work. We dreamed of this reality. We dreamed of the day we would begin to bring our guys out and have the opportunity to show them the love of a family. I dreamed of being a mama to them- to those who had no mama.

Now we are living that dream. It is a reality!

Four of the very ones we dreamed of setting free are downstairs drinking tea at the kitchen table. The ones who can speak call me “mama”. I dreamed of that. πŸ™‚

Yes, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s here, I struggle with the reality of it. The day to day of it is harder than I imagined- much less romantic than I imagined. The reality of deinstitutionalization of adults who are so very broken- body, mind and spirit is non-stop work with very little reward. Yet I longed for it. I wept for it. I dreamed of it. But it’s so dang hard. So.dang.hard.

Where’s the disconnect? I love our guys. I can’t imagine not having them with us. Then why do I struggle so bad with their behaviors? Β Why am I so often annoyed? Why do I (too often) wake with dread in my heart over the hardships I know the day will bring?

I can tell you why. Two reasons:

  1. Β Far too often I try to do this work, live this life, without Jesus.
  2. As much as I fight for our guys to be included and seen as equals by the people around them, in my heart, I still see them as “less than”.

Friends, this work will bring you to your knees. Spending your life with the broken, teaching them to become human is a work that will break you. Well, I guess I can’t speak for you, but it’s definitely breaking me. Every single day I’m confronted with my own weakness, my own ugliness. It’s so yucky. Here I am fighting for justice for our guys; trying to show Ukrainians a new way, and yet I know that I don’t value them the way they deserve to be valued. Somehow, even after knowing all they have suffered, I still have a bit of my heart that looks down at them.

God forgive me.

I put my agenda before them. I dismiss their feelings as less important than my own. I shower love on them when they behave more human, but when they move into old behaviors I withhold my affection.

God forgive me.

I find myself realizing that those who are “lower functioning” (I hate that term but don’t know a better one) are generally easier for me because they require less of me. I can care for them more on my terms- when it’s convenient for me. The “higher functioning” of our boys demand more. Their struggles, feelings and hurts are presented in more complex ways and I’m exhausted with trying to make sense of it all, so I sometimes give up.

God forgive me.

As you’ve figured out, if you’ve read this far- I am far from a superhero (I’m sure you already knew that). I am a super flawed human who screws up on the regular. I function too often out of my own strength, which is consistently running out.

I need Jesus. Guys, I have zero business getting out of my bed and letting my feet touch the ground without first talking with Jesus. I’ll tell you what happens when I try to do my day in Kim’s strength. I’m short- like I have zero patience. I’m easily annoyed. I find more joy in my coffee than in the people around me. I’m discontent. I search for approval from others. I look for distraction. I compare my life to the lives of others and I either envy them, judge them, or puff myself up. Bottom line: Kim minus Jesus equals HOT MESS.

I’m not sure why I think I can do this on my own when I so clearly stink at it.

And yet-

His power is made perfect in my weakness. God has called us to this work and I know that I know if I turn to Him He will give me everything I need. Tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every morning. Amen?

I’ll tell you who the superheroes are around here: their names are Ruslan, Anton, Boris and Vladik.

Our guys have endured unimaginable pain, abuse and neglect. Their childhoods were stolen from them. Their teen years were stolen from them. So many missed opportunities, missed birthdays, missed cuddles, missed “I love you”s, missed adventures, missed family dinners, missed holidays, missed moments of peace and joy. Ruslan, Anton and Boris spent 3 decades as prisoners, innocent of any crime.

They came to us afraid, diseased, malnourished of body and spirit. But every single day they wake up and they try again. They are survivors. They are learning to give themselves to others, learning to become human. I’m certain it hurts them far more than it hurts me.

Our guys are deserving of the best- not because of what they have endured and not because of their likability, but because they are children of God, created in His image, just like you and me.

I’m done. I’m done holding back a part of my heart and selfishly longing for something different. I’m done parceling out my love to those who “deserve it” in that particular moment.

I’m here. I’m planting myself. No matter if our guys are every fully included in society here in Ukraine, they will fully be included into my heart. Not everyone is lucky enough to live with superheroes, but I get to live with 4. I’m one lucky lady. πŸ™‚

BeLOVE[d]

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The Lonely

Yesterday we got Anton and Ruslan’s medical histories from the institution. Oh my heart. Twenty plus years of their life, summed up in doctor’s chicken scratches on paper yellowed from time. We know the basics of how they spent the last 20 years. They sat on benches inside in the winter, and sat on benches outside in the summer. End of story. The medical files are the only hints we have of any significant life events outside bench- sitting.  They are our glimpse of our boys’ past- those, and a photo of each boy from time gone by.

My heart leapt and sank when I saw the photos. My babies! Oh my dear ones, I’m so sorry you had to wait so long. I’m so sorry you had no mama to comfort you, no papa to guide you. I’m so sorry you endured such abuse and neglect when you could not defend yourselves. You were so young, so small. My heart is broken for the little boy left at Romaniv alone and afraid.

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Ruslan, age 10

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Anton, age 16

Our life here is a full one; full of responsibilities and full of people. But our life here is also a lonely one. Our lives are completely absorbed with the care of people whom the society has thrown away. Our time, energy and love is wrapped up in people who are not accepted in this country. Our work is isolating. Couple that with language barriers and cultural difference, and then add the distance from loved ones…sometimes the loneliness of this life threatens to overwhelm.

The other night I was rocking Evie to sleep in a quiet, dark room. My thoughts were wandering and all of a sudden I was completely overwhelmed by loneliness. It washed over me like a giant ocean wave. I’d never felt anything like it. Evie wasn’t asleep, but I had to leave the room, lest my mind wander to a verrrrrrry dark place. I wept as I longed for family and friends far away. I lamented my lonely and often isolated existence in my Ukrainian village. I wished for the peer relationships with other moms that are non-existent at this time of my life when I need them so badly. If there ever was a “woe is me” moment- that was it. Not.pretty. Yikes.

I share that story not to bring pity on myself or to fill my inbox with messages from concerned friends, but to share what I am learning from it.

The feelings of loneliness I have are only the tip-tip-top of the iceberg of the loneliness our guys lived with their whole lives. In Anton, Ruslan and Boris we are seeing the effects of how 30 years of utter aloneness and helplessness shape a person. The effects are devastating. In my own loneliness, which greatly pales in comparison to the life they have known, God is granting me greater empathy and compassion for the boys I love so dearly.

I may feel alone, but-

I am surrounded by my family who love and care for me. They were abandoned by their family.

I chose this life that I’m living, and the sacrifices that come with it. They had absolutely no choice or agency in their situation. They were completely helpless. 

I have always been taught, and have always known that I was loved by God first, and also by many people. They had no one to teach them or comfort them. 

I have hope. I know that this work, this life is exactly what God has asked me to do and I trust that He will give me the grace to do it. They had no reason to hope. They lived in hell and were prisoners, innocent of any crime.

I do believe and trust that God comforted them while they were in the institution. I believe that He fathered them in ways we could not see. His word says that He is a Father to the fatherless, so I know it has to be true. At the same time, there is the reality that they were abused and neglected in every way- for decades. I can’t explain that paradox. I know both sides to be true and I guess I just won’t be able to make sense of it this side of eternity.

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Boris, age unknown

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Baby Vladik

Jean Vanier, a great man who has spent his life living with and loving people with intellectual disabilities, said “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”

Ruslan, Anton, Boris, Vladik. I weep over the many years they had to taste that loneliness. I look at the pictures of them as little ones and wonder at what could have been, had they not waited so long.

In Ukraine alone, there are thousands of children and adults who are helpless and alone in institutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Do you have room at your table for one more? Do you have love in your heart to give? Could you reach out and give of yourself so that one more soul could know the love of a family? No child, no adult should be alone and if you have the ability to help, then by all means- do it. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. If all that is standing in your way is your desire for your own comfort, then it’s time for something to change.

Adoption is messy and uncomfortable and hard. Let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to not adopt. Like 500% easier. But this life isn’t about doing what’s easier. It’s about chasing hard after Jesus and running the race full-on till the race is complete. If you are alive, then your race is not complete. If running hard after Jesus means laying down your life so that another may truly live, then just go ahead and do it. If adoption is meant to be your YES and you are still saying NO, please reconsider. Someone is waiting for your yes, and the sooner you can get to that someone the better. If adoption isn’t supposed to be a part of your race, that’s perfectly okay! Just figure out what your YES is and get busy doing it.

In this month of November, this National Adoption Month, please consider again if adoption should be your YES. Consider again how you can make space in your heart and home for the lonely. Consider laying down your life so that others may live. Say YES!

BeLOVE[d]

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A Matter of Perspective

We’re settling into a new state of semi-normal here at the Homestead.  Grammy and Papa (Jed’s parents) are still here with us for the next few weeks and OH.MY.WORD. I don’t know what we would be doing if they weren’t here.  I can’t even imagine- nor do I want to try! They have been such a huge help and blessing! I’m just not letting myself think past the time when they have to leave…or I might hyperventilate. We’ll cross that bridge later.

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Evie is the most peaceful sweet baby. She rarely cries…and maybe that has something to do with the fact that she’s never actually put down. Hello Baby Number 7! But really, she is a great eater, a great sleeper and she is easily consoled. Everyone is in love with Evie and she like balm to our hearts. Vladik and Boris don’t seem terribly interested in her, but they have had zero experience with babies so i’m curious to see if they develop an interest in her as she grows and becomes more interactive.

Boris seems to be settling in again and we are breathing a big sigh of relief. That was a rough one, Folks. We got home from the hospital and it was like we had to start at the beginning all over again, but with a deficit. He was frantic, didn’t know what he wanted, was self-injuring worse than ever before and was just overall struggling with a capital S. We know that transitions are hard for Boris and we know that there is so much going on that he probably doesn’t understand. We can say that we understand why he is struggling, and even empathize, but the moment by moment, day by day of helping him overcome is WOW.HARD.WORK. Many tears have been shed (on my part) and many prayers of patience have been uttered (on Jed’s part). All of Boris’ care falls on Jed as I’m recovering, and Jed has been a total rock star, but never have we needed Jesus more. We are nothing without Him, and sure enough, Jesus is coming through for us. He is giving us wisdom and it seems He is granting Boris some peace. We can see the light!  Things are getting better! Thanks for praying.  Please keep it up! We need it and Boris needs it. His poor little face is so bruised right now. God, give us wisdom.

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Boris likes the pressure of legs on him to help keep him safe πŸ™‚

It’s interesting how a change in perspective can really make or break things. Last week, when Boris’ struggles were at their peak, I was so sad and so very frustrated. I was thinking (and this is where I get real honest) “Here we brought home a new baby, this should be the most joyous time and Boris is stealing all the joy! Jed can’t even enjoy Evie because Boris demands every second of his time.” I was struggling with resentment, and in the worst moments, even some regret. But then I started to notice something.  Every night Jed fell into bed, exhausted from a day of caregiving and creative thinking and love giving and behavior managing and took little Evie in his arms. I could see how her presence, her sweet baby smells and sounds were bringing healing to Jed’s heart.  I sat there and watched the refreshing happen right in front of my eyes. She is like medicine for our weary souls. I’m realizing that God gave us precious Evie for just this moment. He gave us what we didn’t know we would need. Boris isn’t stealing the joy of Evie, Evie is bringing a special joy that our family needs to help us love Boris better. It’s all about perspective. How miraculous that God planned this ahead of time- He knew and planned the exact timing of Boris’ arrival into our family and Evie’s arrival into our family. The timing of both arrivals could seem inconvenient when you look with just human eyes, but the timing is actually quite miraculous. Our God doesn’t miss a thing. We are thankful.

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On another note, I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to write about Romaniv for such a long time. The institution has had a quarantine for several weeks (teams are not allowed to visit) and it will extend at least until the end of the month. We have been delivering diapers, but have not been able to visit the boys. I want so badly to be able to give you news on the boys you love so much, but unfortunately, quarantine combined with the end of my pregnancy has made any updates impossible. Hopefully, quarantine will end soon and we can be back in action with our boys! I’ll keep you posted on that.

Happy Monday, All. May our perspectives that need shifting shift today. May we see our circumstances in the light of Jesus’ love and in light of eternity. Jesus is worth it all.

BeLOVE[d]

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The Path to Healing

Yesterday marked a month since our friend, Boris, came to live with us. The range of emotions has been vast. Too many feelings have been felt and too many thoughts have been thought. It’s good and bad and wonderful and terrible and easy and hard all within the same day. There’s no ABC instruction manual for taking in a broken 25 year-old who has lived a life of abuse and severe neglect. He didn’t come home with manual on how to help him heal or how to integrate him into family or how to, as a family, accept him and the new normal that he brings. We are all learning, and in the learning we are all healing.

We’ve been reading a lot of Jean Vanier these days. The wisdom he has gained over many years of living alongside people with intellectual disabilities is amazingly helpful for us- “The wisdom of tenderness,” in his own words. If you haven’t ever read any of his works I highly recommend them!

“As we share our lives with the powerless, we are obliged to leave behind our theories about the world, our dreams and our beautiful thoughts about God to become grounded in a reality that can be quite harsh. That is where we meet God, God who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. There God is present, hidden in wounded humanity, hidden in the pain of our own hearts.”
-Jean Vanier, The Heart Of L’Arche

That quote sums it up. I can stop writing right now. πŸ™‚

But you know I won’t.

Boris has been fighting for survival for most of his life. He is a true survivor- that’s the only way he is still alive right now. He’s a fighter, and he’s a stubborn little dude as well.  Those traits served him well in the institution, and they will serve him well again, but right now, to be completely honest, they are serving to expose the weaknesses in my own heart. The struggle is real, my friends.

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In this next bit Jed gets a little nerdy as to how we understand Boris and what he does to process the world around him.

“For the past 19 years when he lived at the institution the only thing that Boris could do was survive and his survival put him in a state of fear and toxic stress. His life was not one truly lived. He knew what his body needed: food, warmth and safety- and he fought to get those needs met.  

That fight and that environment formed the physical shape of Boris’s body, but also the shape of his brain.  Our brains are absolutely remarkable at processing how we live as fundamentally social beings.

The physical, social, emotional and spiritual world around us and within us create the context where our brain processes, interprets and informs the rest of the body how to act and react (in that instant and next time).  

Our brains are profoundly complex and truly something to be marveled.   How our brains function is entirely state dependent.  If we are calm, we can think clearly and with full access to our intellectual capability.  Think of Elon Musk, sitting in his office, safe, healthy and satiated, dreaming and designing some cool future space travel.  Conversely, if we are in a state of terror, we react quickly and complex processing and abstract conceptualization become non-essential and inaccessible.  Imagine sitting on the kitchen table, trying to help your kid with his geometry homework while a hungry tiger circles.  

Imagine living between toxic stress and terror through your early childhood and on into adulthood, unsure if you will be safe or hurting, wondering if you will get enough food or if your tummy will ache as you try to fall asleep to the sounds of other boys surviving the same terrible reality.

The trauma of daily life and survival is the soil where Boris’s brain grew and deteriorated.  Instead of growing, his brain pruned away things that were of no use, the need for friendship and human connection, desire to play, to understand motion and movement, balance, motor skills and the sense of where his body is in the space around him.  

He reduced his life to mostly brainstem and cerebella functioning.  So imagine trying to process the entirety of your life through the part of your brain meant to maintain core functions, motor skill regulation, simple arousal responses, appetite/ satiety; chances are you might develop some behaviors that would seem strange and maladaptive to others around you.

Boris learned to pull his thoughts to focus, process his feelings, communicate needs and express himself through self-harming behaviors. While being with him in the institution we started seeing him process a bit through his limbic system, laughing appropriately and inappropriately, but development none the less. 

Ok, I’ll give you back to Kim.”

Now, instead of just surviving, Boris lives in a world where every need is met, and not only needs, but wants and desires are met as well.  Now we have a new struggle. Now Boris must learn to distinguish his wants and desires from his need. Because let me tell you, as a mom who has parented many a toddler, want and desire are not equal to need- even though the screaming 3 year-old may not be able to accurately distinguish the difference. Boris is a bit like a big 3 year-old at the moment- only one that has endured more trauma in his life than any human ever should. He wants things and he wants them NOW. His response to wanting things is the same as his response to needing something, and then the self-harm ensues.

If Boris is excited, he hits himself. If Boris is frustrated, he hits himself. If Boris wants attention, he hits himself.  He processes most desires, emotions, needs and requests somewhere between self-harm, disregulated motor skills, laughing, sweating, rocking, increased heart rate and chirps.  We have a feeling it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. He has to learn a new way of being, a new way of communicating, a new way of processing the world around him, and at 25 years old that’s a pretty tall order.

The response his self-harm evokes in me is surprising. It’s embarrassing and ugly to admit, but this is real life and we’re real people. Not one of us is perfect- least of all, me. I’m quickly realizing how much I see Boris’ self-harming, or lack thereof as a reflection of my personal success or failure. When he isn’t self-harming I feel good, warm, fuzzy, but when he hits himself I find myself feeling anger, impatience, and even disgust. And Jed just sits there like a zen master…grrrr.

Of course I don’t want Boris to hurt himself! But it’s humbling to realize how quickly my thoughts turn to myself in those moments of him harming himself. I feel failure. I feel disgust. I feel impatient. I wonder if I can really do this for the long haul. I, I, I.

Compassion and empathy have no room to grow in a space filled with selfishness and self-pity. It appears Boris is not the only one in need of healing.

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Boris’ brokenness is exposing in us the places in our own hearts that are broken.

In meeting his physical needs that he can’t meet for himself we are finding healing. In the pursuit of finding peace for Boris’ heart and mind, we must rely on the Holy Spirit. We need his wisdom so very much. We need strength, patience and love that can only come from above.

It’s easy, in the hard moments, to wonder if this is what it’s always going to be. Are things going to get worse and then better? Or are things just going to get worse and stay worse? No one can say. But does it make a difference? Is Boris any less worth it? Is the YES only worth it when it comes with obvious success?

What if twenty years from now it still takes 2 of us for every diaper change just to keep Boris safe? What will my soul be singing in those moments?  Will I have found contentment in the simple act of serving?  Will I be able to say “It is well with my soul”, or will I be bitter and resentful that my life took this turn?

The sooner we learn to truly walk in the Spirit, the better- for us, for our children, and for Boris. The sooner we stop looking at our own perceived successes and failures and start finding joy in the simple act of caring for our friend, the better.

This is a journey we can not walk in our own strength. We will totally screw it up. So each day we are learning and breathing and (hopefully) changing.

In the practical day to day of life with Boris the journey looks like a patterned consistent routine, loads of sensory integration, boundaries, creativity and good old fashioned parenting. When Boris is hitting himself because he doesn’t get what he wants he has to calm his body down, and only then, when he’s more calm does he get the thing he wants.  It means we have to maintain that calm presence, hands on him at all times. Sometimes it means leaving the table 3 times during a meal. Sometimes it means it takes 30 minutes to get out the door for a walk. But Boris will learn. Over time trust will build, new neural pathways will be built, and more understanding will come.

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When I choose empathy, when I remember where Boris came from and all he has endured and allow my heart to break again and again, rather than hardening my heart in the face of monotony and frustration, THEN healing can come. And when my heart is open to it’s own healing, only then can I be an instrument of healing to my dear friend.

So our friend is a challenge to us and a blessing to us in ways we could not have foreseen. May our hearts remain open and may the hard parts return to softness. May each of us see the loved ones in our lives as the beautiful treasures they are- worthy of our time, our love, our sacrifice, and our dedication.

BeLOVE[d]

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What’s Making Me Smile

I have about 3,462 things I could write about today, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by that thought. I could write about the plans for this summer (it’s gonna be a doozy), or the progress on the Homestead (also a doozy), or about Sara our wonderful massage therapist friend who is visiting (I won’t call her a doozy ’cause that just seems weird…), or about the fact that school is almost out (now thatΒ has been a doozy). But instead I decided to write about what is making me smile right now. Because I want to. The doozies can wait.

(“Doozy” is a really strange word when you really think about it)

THINGS THAT ARE MAKING ME SMILE:

Podcasts. Β Everyone who has talked to me in the past several months has probably discovered my love/addiction to podcasts. I feel like I’m constantly trying to share my podcast recommendations with friends because I so want them to learn to love podcasts like I do. I love a good podcast!Β I download them and listen while I walk the dog, while I’m on the bus, while I’m walking to wherever I’m walking (if I’m kidless), while I wash the dishes, while I clean the house. I felt kinda burned out on the music I’d been listening to so I started podcasting. Now I can’t stop! Here are a few of my favorites if you want to join me in the podcast love.

  1. The Daily Audio Bible. We’re still going strong on our daily Bible reading with good ol’ Brian. We listen to the Old Testament during breakfast, and the New Testament in the evening after dinner. I love the rhythm it brings to our life right now in all the crazy.
  2. This American Life. They have interesting stories every week that grab my attention. Sometimes I learn new stuff and sometimes I’m just entertained.
  3. God Centered Mom Podcast. This one is encouraging and informative. It helps me be a more intentional mom.
  4. Two Fat Expats. LOVE IT. Two Australian women host this podcast about the expat life. They talk about all sorts of things from boarding school to keeping long distance friendships alive to social media and the expat child…tons of interesting and applicable info for expats of any sort. Plus they make me laugh. πŸ™‚
  5. The Popcast With Knox and Jamie. This one is just purely for the laughs. I laugh out loud every single episode, which can make things kind of awkward if I’m listening on the bus! Knox and Jamie talk about random pop culture stuff and it’s just stinking’ funny. Their episode about misheard song lyrics is the ultimate. I think I love this podcast because it’s just a little taste of America when I’m so far away. FUNNY.

There are many more I listen to that I could add to that list, but those are the ones that are making me smile right now.

Sara. Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to write about Sara, but I just have to. Sara makes our whole family smile countless times every day. She is just full of joy and life and spirit and God did an amazing thing when he joined our hearts together.

If you don’t remember Sara you can read about her in this post. She came here two years ago, never having met us before, and spent a few weeks teaching massage at Romaniv. The work she did was beautiful and incredibly meaningful to the boys and they had been consistently asking for her since she left. We are so happy she’s back for the whole month of May! She is working at Romaniv Monday through Friday, and when she’s not at the institution she is loving our family and making us laugh non-stop.

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In the mornings at Romaniv Sara teaches the interns specific massage techniques for the individual boys on each of their caseloads, and then she spends the afternoons massaging the older boys. It’s not just physical work that she does, although that is important and super healthy for the boys, it’s also spiritual work. Before the massage and during the massage Sara is praying over the boys. There is peaceful music playing and lovely essential oils. The Sensory Room becomes an oasis of peace for each boy who enters. During their massage, they get attention, love, and dignity. They are told in that time that they are special, that they are beautiful, that they matter. It’s an important work that I believe is truly life-changing for the boys.

Thank you, dear Sara. We love you!

The New Floors at the Homestead. I LOVE how the house is turning out! The downstairs floors were finished last week and they are bringing me loads of joy. They are beautiful and they brighten up the room. I absolutely adore how the house is coming along. Yay! We might be able to move in at the beginning of June. Now that’sΒ something to smile about!

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Dance Class. Oh, my word. Romaniv Dance Class makes me smile from ear to ear. I wish with all of my heart that you could each come visit our class. You would leave changed forever.

A couple of months ago one of our team members, Olya, Addy and I started doing a Friday afternoon dance class with the higher-functioning boys at the institution. They love it and we love it equally as much- maybe even a little more! We gather in the sports room with our music and water bottles and white t-shirts and socks and dance our hearts out. There’s this one part of the class when we all sit down and each boy takes a turn dancing solo in front of all of us. You guys, it is the best thing EVER.Β I seriously want to bottle up those moments and treasure them for the rest of my life because they are just so darn precious! Β To see the boys so free and alive, it’s just incredible. We conga line till we’re exhausted and it’s the highlight of my week.

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Honestly, there is a lot that is hard about our lives and work here in Ukraine right now. Sometimes Jed and I look at each other and we wonder out loud if we are going to spend the rest of our lives fighting, or if there will ever be a time when we can just rest. We get weary of fighting for the boys, fighting injustice, fighting broken systems that are designed to beat people down, fighting corruption, fighting heaviness in the culture, fighting to do things that have never been done before. Fighting and fighting and fighting. It’s wearisome, folks. But then we have to choose to lift our eyes up and see all the joy. Β There is also a ton that is going right. There is evidence all over the place that God has his mighty hand on this work and that He is going before us. And of course, there’s no question that the boys are worth fighting for! But we have to choose to see those things that are right and good. Today I choose joy. I choose to look around me at all the things- big and small- that God has given that make me smile. So.many.things.

So, Happy Wednesday! Β What is making you smile today?

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UNBELIEVABLE.

I am in awe. My heart is so full it’s about to burst.  

Another one of our boys will soon have a family!!!

I.CAN’T.BELIEVE.IT.

Last March we introduced you to 7 of our boys who were available for adoption in this post, and this post.  I held my breath and hit the publish button, wondering what God planned to do about it.  For many months it seemed that nothing was going to happen.  And then all of a sudden…BAM! The families started rollin’ on in!  We now have FOUR families in process to adopt our boys!

Like I said, I.CAN’T.BELIEVE.IT.

God loves our boys so much!

First Vladik was set free, 

 

then a wonderfully brave family found Alex,  

then a family saw Jonathan and knew he was theirs, IMG_2512

then Ben’s family fell in love,  

 and now Isaiah’s family has found him!
  

I can’t even tell you how much this builds our faith.  We love these boys like they are our own, and we know that adoption will save their lives.  Literally.

The gates of the institution are about to be busted wide open! 

As long as everything moves smoothly, the families should be adopting one after the other in a pretty small window of time.  This is so good!  It’s great for the local government to learn that there are people who love these boys and see their value.  It is also great for us as we work toward opening our group homes and deinstitutionalizing the other boys.  People’s eyes will be opened and we pray that God does His miraculous work in the hearts of government officials in the town. It’s just unbelievable. 

Please pray for the four families who are in process.  All of them are private at this point, but as soon as I am able to introduce you to them you can bet I will.  If you would like to give them a note of encouragement just send it to me and I’ll pass it along.  

To God be the glory for the great things HE has done!!!  

PS: Now only two adoptable boys are left!  I’ll spend the next two Fatherless Fridays on Aaron and Stephan.  My faith is big right now, what about yours?  

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