Category: Loss

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Three Months of War: On My Mind

Caution: Stream of consciousness post ahead. This is my brain vomiting into my computer. Read at your own risk. 😊

I’ve always liked old churches. I like to imagine people worshipping there over the centuries. I like to think about the people who built them and the incredible imaginations and skill they had. These days I think more about the function of the old churches in times of war. Churches have been places of sanctuary, where thousands of ordinary people over thousands of years have cried out to God for protection, for peace, for wisdom, for a way out. 

Yesterday I sat in an old stone church in a European village and I felt the most at home I’ve felt since leaving our little Ukrainian village three months ago. That little church was no stranger to grief, to war, to pain. My prayers joined the prayers of villagers from the time of Napoleon’s invasion, from the days of the Great War and World War II. My prayers of “Why us? Why our country?” and “God, how can you let this happen?” were not the first of their kind uttered in that place, and sadly, won’t be the last. As I sat in the stillness and the quiet I considered the centuries of war all over the world and how war has always been. After the garden, there has not been a moment in time when the world was absent of war. Somewhere someone is always suffering at the hand of war. I just never imagined that someone would be me and my family, my boys. I never in a million years imagined my children would be refugees from a brutal and devastating war. I never dreamed the sound of an airplane overhead would be, to them, the sound of fear and trauma. But why should we be the exceptions?  Why shouldn’t it be us?  In a world full of evil men with imperial ambitions, why should we be immune from the reality that men will always be at war?  Before Putin started encircling our beloved Ukraine with his troops war was always something that happened “over there” to “those people”.  We never considered the possibility that it would be right here and happening to our people – to us! But it has happened and it has changed our lives in every possible way. Our life has become the stuff of nightmares or the stuff of movies. You pick. 

As I sat in the cool of that little stone church, enveloped in the prayers of saints past I felt a tremendous solidarity with the human story. I felt a kinship with refugees all over the world who are clawing their path forward in a new life they would have never chosen. I felt unity of heart with the mothers all through history who have crouched in the dark with their children, covering them with their bodies as the enemy flew overhead, bent on destroying all they held dear. I felt a oneness with all the saints who have cried out to God to have mercy and to deliver them from their enemies. 

I am that clawing refugee. I am that crouching mother. I am that pleading saint. Come Lord Jesus. Save our land. 

These days I think we should just go home. The longing for Ukraine is something solid in the pit of my stomach. The longing for home. The longing for what was. The longing to be understood, to be able to make my own way, to be in a place that makes sense, a place where we are moving forward, building something beautiful together. 

In Germany our bodies are safe, but that is all. We don’t understand and we are not understood. We can’t make our own way but are at the mercy of bureaucracy and the kindness of others. We are in a holding pattern where nothing makes sense. We aren’t moving forward, building something beautiful together. We just are. We are frozen in place- uprooted and undecided. To move forward here would require a massive investment of time and energy- for what?  To build a life in a place where we don’t intend to stay?  So we stay on the fringes of society. Here, but not here. Home is always in the front of our minds. 

But what do you do when your world has been taken from you?  How do you choose next steps when the enemy is as unpredictable as Russia?  Do you stay away, in a holding pattern, hoping against all hope that this ends quickly? Or do you risk it and just go home because no other life makes sense?   

No decision feels right and I’m so angry at Russia for forcing this impossible decision on mothers like me. 

I remember when the biggest mothering decision I had to make was whether to let my baby cry it out or not.  Pacifier or no?  Do we give sugar before the first birthday?  Screen time before age 3? Public or private school?  From the small to the big, all those decisions now feel as simple as pie. Cuddle that baby. You 100% can not spoil a baby. But if sometimes, for your sanity, you need to let the baby cry and go eat some ice cream? No harm done. Sure, give your baby a pacifier if they like it. They won’t suck on it forever. 🤷‍♀️ Give your baby a cupcake. It’s hilarious to watch them eat it and they will be so happy and messy. If you have just one baby it’s easy to keep them off the screens, but if you have more and the baby watches a movie with their big brothers and sisters it’ll be fine.  All in moderation. Cartoons can be an amazing tool when wielded wisely.  Private or public school?  As long as your kids know you love them and are in their corner, any kind of school will be okay at the end of the day. The goal is to create lifelong learners and that happens mostly at home anyway.

I would give just about anything to be wrestling with those decisions now. These days I think about if it’s possible for us to go home and if my children will be safe there. There is no future for them in Germany so I know we can’t stay here, but are they too traumatized to go back to Zhytomyr?  What will they think of a childhood filled with the sounds of air raid sirens?  And what does it mean if they become accustomed to the sound?  You do all you can to protect your children from the evils of the world, but sometimes that evil comes too close to home and all you can do is try to help them live through it with their eyes on Jesus. My body can’t shield them from the reality that their beloved home is at war. But maybe they don’t need that shield from reality. Maybe they just need to be able to learn to move through it with bravery, with courage, and with their hearts set on Jesus, their shepherd and protector. Many of you have written and told us “Just go home” but I don’t think you understand that this a question that can never be answered with a “just” at the beginning of the sentence. There is no such thing as “Just stay in Germany” or “Just go home”. To stay in Germany means unwillingly giving up all that is dear to us- giving up our dreams. But to “just go home” means willingly moving our children to a war zone. One of those answers is right for us, but neither of them are “just”. They both come with a lot of baggage. War is never simple.

This week we will make a decision, to stay or to go. We are out of options here, so I think the decision is becoming more and more clear. Now we just need the courage to make it and to not turn back.

 

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Stream of Consciousness

Yesterday I tried to get up the gumption to make a video, and then again today, but I just can’t seem to do it. The war rages on. So many lives lost. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight and we are just hurting so deeply over it all. Words can’t express it. It’s a deep, deep ache at the core of me. I don’t know how it will ever heal. I only read Ukrainian news because any news from the west makes me want to scream and cry. Does anyone truly have Ukraine’s best interest in mind, or are all the people who hold the power only interested in preserving their own self-interests?  I think we all know the answer to that by now. Ukraine continues to defend the free world, at the cost of so many innocent lives. How can this be? I’m tired. 

It’s been seven weeks since we left our home but it feels like a lifetime has passed. The 5 months when Jed lived in the duplex with Anton and Sasha and I lived across the yard in our house with our family were hard. It was one of the most challenging and exhausting times of our lives. But I would go back to that life in a moment- in the blink of eye. We were tired but so happy. We were at home, in the place we love. Our kids went to school and youth group. We walked in the city and went to church. We dreamed about the summer garden and prepared the soil. We planned for the future and looked ahead with hope. Life in Ukraine was not without its challenges, but those challenges feel like nothing in comparison to what life has become.  

Now our hearts are broken. We have survivor’s guilt and we mourn what was, knowing it will never again be the same. I hope and dream that we will go home, but it will be different. Will we feel safe there again? Will Ukraine ever truly be “safe” again? How will we even know when to go back? We lived in Ukraine for 8 years while the country was at war..but now things are different. German lessons are offered to us and I refuse to go because something inside of me feels like trying to learn a new language is accepting the fact that we are here for a long while and I don’t want that to be true. So I stumble along with my smattering of German words and mostly get by using English. I don’t want to ingrain myself into the culture here, not because I have anything against Germany, but because my heart longs for everything Ukraine. It feels like a betrayal to accept a life here while Ukraine fights to survive.

I see others going into Ukraine, delivering humanitarian aid and volunteering and I feel jealous that they are there and I am not. I also feel guilty that they are there and I am not, although I am a mom of (now) 11 and my obligation is to my children. Living in a church in Germany isn’t as sexy as being in Ukraine, at the heart of things, and I run out of things to say about life here. I change diapers. I take our boys to the doctor. I cook food. I buy groceries. I mourn for what was and worry about what will be. It’s not exciting or necessarily helpful to the cause of Ukraine, but it’s where I need to be. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

I am thankful to our friends here in Germany who have helped us so very much. I’m thankful that we have a place to all live together because living apart would never work. I’m thankful that my children are safe and have food to eat. I’m thankful that our two new boys, Yaroslav and Vova, are doing so well and that we have the opportunity to give them a life worth living. There are joys in the sorrow, and for that I am thankful.

Some days I feel God’s smile and his joy and some days I wonder where He has gone and how He can allow this to happen. My faith in His goodness is being severely tested and I don’t understand how to communicate with Him right now. Everything feels too complicated and I’m afraid to dig too deep into my own emotions. So, I change the next diaper. Wipe the next nose. Drive to the next appointment and wait. For peace? For home? For an answer? I don’t know what I wait for, but I feel too unsettled to call this life anything but waiting.

I know a house is just a building, and buildings can be made again. I know people are more important, and of course I would choose people over a building any day. But today I just want to see my house. Our house, to me, is so much more than a building. It represents the reason we live in Ukraine. It is an oasis of hope. It is the place where our boys first felt the love of a family. It is the place my children call home. It is a place of joy and beauty and hope. I’m so thankful it is still safe and standing. I wait, with longing, for the day we can return.

Please, don’t forget Ukraine. 💔

Home sweet home, from the garden
Snowy home
This picture is so peaceful…
Grant took this pic when he visited last summer
Evie riding down our street, the day before Russia attacked Ukraine
I took this photo right before we left our home to flee to Germany 💛💙.

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On Being Comforted

On Being Comforted

This one is a little longer, so stick with me. 🙂

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Refugees

Today I’m writing from a church in Kaufbeuren, Germany. We are in the little playroom and Evie is playing with her bag of toys that she brought from home. When fleeing from a war zone, it is recommended to bring along a bag of Barbies, FYI.

Last Saturday, March 5, 2022 we made the unimaginable decision to leave our home, not knowing when we will be able to return. The bombings in our city were becoming more frequent and it was becoming more and more clear that the Russians were targeting civilians. Nowhere in Ukraine is safe anymore. We agonized over the decision, as we had been determined to hunker down at the Homestead and wait it out, but the nightly low-flying planes over our home and airstrikes that shook the house and set off car alarms made us rethink our plans. We are responsible for some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable people and our boys couldn’t tell us how the war was making them feel. They could definitely feel our tension, see the fear in our faces, but their understanding was/is lacking. They couldn’t ask us to please bring them to safety, so we had to make the call for them. I’ll tell you what, I never in a million years imagined I would be crouching in the hallway in the dark with my children as our house shook from explosions a few miles away. I never thought Jed and I would be agonizing over when it might be “too late” to get out safely with our kids, should the fighting move even closer. I never ever dreamed we would need to flee from the home that we worked so hard to make a safe haven for all who entered the front doors. But, here we are, a week later, refugees in a country where we understand nothing and have no idea what our future holds. It’s unbelievable to us all.

There are 36 of us here in Germany together. That group includes 10 people with disabilities, and 14 of our group are teens and children. The rest are our team members and family members of our team. We are living all together in a church. The church body here has opened its arms to us and shown us such incredible love and generosity. I don’t know where we would be without them. They really made our evacuation possible because we knew we had a safe place to land. We will be forever grateful to them.

Back in Ukraine the rest of our team is busy on the Homestead taking care of each other and working with our city and village councils to distribute humanitarian aid to our region. We also have 3 moms with adult sons with disabilities from our big Wide Awake family who are living together at the Homestead. I’m so proud of our team both here and in Ukraine. The work they are doing is important and necessary.

You know before, when we lived in the US, I encountered a lot of refugees. I guess I showed them kindness, but to be honest, I didn’t really give them a lot of thought. I think I assumed they were just happy and grateful to be in the US. I knew they needed assistance getting their physical needs met in the beginning, but their emotional state was completely off my radar. I had no idea how emotionally devastating it is to be a refugee. I’ve never experienced such deep sadness before in my life. I don’t know how else to describe it, except that I am deeply sad, devastated at the loss, and unsure even how to begin to grieve and move forward. I’m stuck in my sadness of losing what was. Yes, I worry about the physical things- our house, the duplex, our dogs…but more than that I grieve the loss of the life we had that I know will never ever be the same. I remember the night before we left our home I was sitting on the couch with my Hava and she was crying. She said, “I’m just realizing that our lives will never be the same again.” Right as she ended her sentence our house shook from an explosion in the distance. Yes, we had definitely crossed over into a new reality: a before and after. One day we were celebrating another birthday party in the duplex with our big Wide Awake family, kids were heading off to youth group on the bus, doing homework together at night, dropping Evie off at preschool that she loved oh so much, grocery shopping, and planning IEP’s for our boys…and the next week we were seeing the sky light up as buildings in our city were destroyed by Russian missiles. In a matter of days, we went from planning the next fun outing for our boys to planning the evacuation of 36 people across the border. It still doesn’t feel real.

To be a refugee is to put all your hopes and dreams on pause, never knowing when or if you will get to pick them back up. To be a refugee is to fully and completely rely on the kindness and generosity of others. To be a refugee is loss and grief and pain. It is relief that your children are safe, but also guilt that you left so many behind. It is coming to terms with the fact that no one will understand how you feel because you can’t even understand yourself. It is realizing that your church is spread out across a continent, and not knowing where everyone is and when or if you will ever be all together in one place again. To be a refugee is to reassure your children that all will be fine, even though you know you have no business giving them that promise. Life has already shown you that everything is not fine and will not be fine for a long time. We had something so beautiful and now it is gone. So, we try to recreate what we had here, in this new place. We do this for our boys, for our children. We go on picnics and make borscht and play games. We hug and reassure and comfort. We try to live, not to just exist, not to just wait for the moment we can go home. Therein lies the struggle.

But, we do believe we will go home. We believe that Ukraine will be victorious. We believe that light will conquer darkness, that good will overcome evil. We believe that our soldiers are the bravest and strongest. We believe that our President is the best there ever was or ever could be. And, we believe that the work God began in Ukraine will continue. So we have hope.

Thank you for loving us, for praying for us, for donating, and for reaching out with contacts and offers of help. Please remember Ukraine. Pray for her victory and that it would come soon.

BeLOVE[d]

I didn’t make this video, it was sent to me. But I think it’s important, so I’m sharing it with you. 👇

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In Loving Memory

Two weeks ago we heard the news, but it’s taken me a while to write about it. I’m not sure if I’ll find the right words tonight, but I’ll try, because their lives deserve to be honored. They should be known and celebrated by as many people as possible, because they were valuable and wonderful and their lives mattered.

I’m so sad to share that we have lost two of our friends. Vitya and Vova, two of our dear friends from Romaniv, have died and are now with Jesus. We are just so sad. On one hand, we are thankful that they suffer no longer. We know they are now free and they have no pain, no tears, no fear. But on the other hand we mourn so deeply for what they had to endure here on earth. We mourn that they never knew the love of a family and we weep that we didn’t get them out in time. Lots of emotions- a different one each moment. I guess we all remember anew just how important this work really is.

I’d love to share about our boys, if you’d like to know them better. I want to honor their memories by sharing with as many people as I can, just how wonderful they were.


Let’s start with Vitya. 🙂 I didn’t know Vitya quite as well as I knew Vova. We spent less time together over the years because Vitya didn’t move to the Isolation Hall until the last couple years of his life, and the Isolation Hall is where our team spends the majority of our time.

Before he was moved to the Isolation Hall, Vitya was in the same group as our Anton. He was nonverbal, but he could most definitely communicate! He was really very smart. I think anyone who visited Romaniv with us will remember Vitya. He was always ready with a handshake or a hug. When he smiled his eyes would close soooooo tightly! Vitya loved to dance and when we did our weekly dance class, back in the day, he was in absolute heaven. He had big emotions and was either very happy, or very sad, but his face showed it all. Vitya loved to pray. Any time we were going to have snack, or anytime a class ended, Vitya made certain that we stopped to pray. I will always remember that about him.

A couple of years ago Vitya was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and as his symptoms progressed he was moved to the Isolation Hall. He would fall often and just didn’t understand how to keep himself safe. We really saw him decline before quarantine. It is good and right that he is suffering no longer. But oh, we loved our Vitya and will miss his smiling face and tight hugs. I really can’t imagine Romaniv without him. He was a star and our team will never, ever forget him.

And now on to our precious Vova. Deep sigh.

I can’t help but cry as I write this. It’s heartbreaking to know that our Vova is gone. He is with Jesus, and I’m so so happy that he is free and safe and loved. We all feel that joy. But Vova’s death is a tremendous loss to our team. We planned that he would be the first to move into the second side of the duplex. We dreamed of his future as a part of our big Wide Awake Family. We imagined how he would grow and change and thrive. We wondered how he would transition and if he would maybe ever speak. We fully intended to set him free here on earth, but it will never be. He left us before we could show him that love and our heart break because of it.

I remember the first time Jed and I ever saw Vova. It was when we visited Romaniv in the spring of 2012. We were in Ukraine for the first time, scouting it out and listening for how God would have us respond to this great need, this great injustice. We visited Romaniv with Mission to Ukraine and knew at once that those boys were our people. That first visit was a bit overwhelming, but Jed and I both remembered Vova. He stood out to us because he was in such terrible condition. I’ll be honest that my first emotion upon seeing him, was fear. He was self-harming and blood was running down the side of his face. He was groaning and rocking, fiercely avoiding all human contact. He was just existing, cast away by society. His days consisted of rocking, and searching for string to swirl between his fingers.

I remember his sounds and I remember my fear. But that was not the Vova we eventually came to know. That was just a shell of a man. Our Vova had a deep laugh and an infectious smile. If you could get Vova to smile, then your day was made. Our Vova was curious. He didn’t always love to be touched and he didn’t always love to interact, but I think I can safely say that by the end of his life he had learned that some humans could be loving and good and safe. I pray that he knew he was loved by us. I know that I know that Vova knew he was loved by God. I just have to trust God’s faithfulness on that one. He promised to be a father to the fatherless, so I trust that Vova felt and knew that love. To be honest, that’s a leap of faith because Vova died from something preventable and treatable. He lived a life of abuse and neglect and in a way, he never even got to begin living. I find myself asking God a lot of questions, but in the end I choose to trust that he was near to Vova in ways we couldn’t see.

Our team visited and loved Vova for 6 years, and during 4 of those years the interns were also working closely with him on developing functional skills. It seems to us that out of all the boys in the Isolation he is one of the ones who benefited the most from that time of relationship. He really did change over time. It’s beautiful to look back through pictures and see the change in him.

The loss of Vova was a big shock to our team and we mourn him because he was loved. We will miss our friend. We are honored and thankful that we were able to know him and be witnesses to his life. As we start to bring more boys into the duplex we will remember our friend and our great love for him. His life mattered. You were loved, our Vova. You mattered to us. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to you fast enough. We will never forget you.

I’ll leave you with Vova’s laugh. This is how we want to remember our friend. Happy, curious, and gentle. Precious, and of immense value.

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The First Time

Her heart pounded in her chest and her stomach churned as the van turned onto the gravel road lined with trees.

Two weeks earlier she and he had left their four small children and flew all the way across the world to visit that place. They had heard the stories and knew deep in their souls that they were supposed to DO something about the injustices being done in that place and others like it.

She had cried countless tears over the past year as she washed dishes and changed diapers and swept the floor in suburban America. Her heart was broken for the helpless ones who were trapped in their suffering with no future, no hope. Though she had never met them, in her heart she already loved them. Her mama heart ached to hold them and make everything better.

The van pulled up to a gate and stopped. They stepped out of the van and instantly she heard them. She heard the sounds of the ones she had dreamed of and longed to know. The yelling, the moaning, the cries of excitement intensified- visitors had arrived!

She and he walked hand in hand down the sidewalk of the institution and the noises became louder. She saw curious faces peeking through windows and her heart skipped a beat. Would her heart deny her? Would her body betray her? Would all their preparations and prayers leave them reeling in the depth of their naivety? What if they met the boys face to face and wanted to run away from them instead of embracing them? What if this was not the YES they had hoped it would be?

But then a door opened and she was among them, punched in the gut by the smells and the sounds; all five senses assaulted in an instant.

As she and he were swarmed by faces and hands and bodies, fear melted away and her heart became alive. In that moment she realized that her soul had been longing for those souls in front of her. Her hands were covered in their saliva and their scent, and yet she couldn’t contain the joy and the “rightness” she felt in that moment. She glanced in his direction and their eyes met. He gave a slight nod, yes, he felt it too.

This was what they were put on the earth to do. These were their people. This was their path.

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That first day at Romaniv will forever burn in my memory. I met my boys that day. I met my future that day. I loved them instantly and fiercely that day and I promised myself I would fight endlessly for them. It was a naive love, most definitely, but it was true.

Mama Bear awoke that day. Circumstances and disappointments have made her cower in her cave these last months, afraid to love them like she did before. Living with them was harder than she imagined it would be. In the midst of their overwhelming trauma, her love has not been enough. Their hearts are like bottomless pits that can never be filled. No amount of her love will ever be enough. So she cowers in her cave, afraid to give more, afraid to bring more boys to freedom because of the damage, pain and disappointment that is sure to follow.

But she can not fight for them from her cave. She can not fight for them and remain safe from pain. To love them is to feel their pain and to walk with them through it, even if that walk takes forever.

I am their Mama and I will not be afraid.

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In Loving Memory

I was sitting at the doctor with Vladik yesterday when I got the text.

Our sweet Dima had left this earth, gone to be with Jesus. He was twenty-seven years old and he was my love.

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Dima had been ill and away in a special hospital for the past several months.  We missed him desperately and couldn’t wait for him to get well and return to us.  He did return last month, but to our dismay he looked terrible.  He was so much worse, not at all healthy.  He was thin and yellow and just so sick.  After only a few days he was taken back to the hospital, several hours away.  He died there a couple of days ago and was buried yesterday at the cemetery in the town of Romaniv. We went to see where his body was laid, surrounded by the graves of other boys gone before him.

We are shocked and just heartbroken. It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  He was supposed to be with us. We were so excited for the day when Dima would come live with us at the homestead.  We pictured him in our family forever. He was my special boy and I just knew that someday I would get to mother him the way my heart longed to mother him.  I so desperately wanted to watch him blossom and grow and come to know the love of a family here on earth.  But, God had another plan.

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Can I tell you about my Dima?  I want as many people as possible to know him and to see him for the precious, beautiful treasure that he was.  He was amazing.

When we first started going to Romaniv we hardly noticed Dima.  He was always tied to his bed because he wasn’t able to walk and was a fall risk.  He usually looked drugged and out of it, and just wasn’t able to connect with other humans on pretty much any level.  He was like a dead person. I’ve seen an old video of him from years ago and know that he wasn’t always like that, but somewhere along the way he was lost.

In the summer of 2014 we started taking a few boys at a time to the Sensory Room to get them into a quiet environment where we could try to connect with them one-on-one.  I remember our team debating if we should even try to take Dima there.  He couldn’t walk but was long, awkward, and heavy.  One of the guys would have to carry him. Whenever we did take him there he would just sleep or zone out and it felt almost like a waste of time.  There were so few hands available, shouldn’t we be focusing on the boys who seem to enjoy our company, or at least seemed to benefit from it?

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No, no, no.  Dima had been passed over for his entire life.  Drugged and left to sit in his own excrement for hours on end, his whole life he had been cast aside.  Would we be the next in a long line of people who had passed over him and thought of him as unworthy?  NO.

So, we kept taking him to the Sensory Room. And one day that summer, a miracle happened. Nina, one of our team members, was sitting on a bean bag with Dima in the Sensory Room.  She was just sitting near him, being with him, when she picked up a little toy xylophone.  She tapped tapped it next to his ear and he sat up! He looked at Nina with wide eyes, made some sounds, and gave her the hugest smile.  Our Dima was awake! Nina was crying and laughing. In amazement, we all jumped up and ran over to see. I will never ever forget that beautiful moment.

How is it possible that after a lifetime of suffering, when Dima finally awoke, his first response was a smile?  JOY. I can’t even comprehend it.

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Over the next two years, we had the awesome privilege of watching Dima come more and more alive.  He still had many days when his mind was somewhere else, not wanting to, or not able to engage with us, but he also had many days when he was funny and smiley and would babble your ear off.  We all absolutely adored him. He learned to say “banana” and “Lala” (the Ukrainian word for a doll). Roma, one of our team members had a special love for Dima and was working to teach him to feed himself independently.  Every time he was at Romaniv, Roma would make sure to pick up Dima and get him out of his bed.  He would cuddle him on the couch and just enjoy being near him.  Our baby.

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I know that our grieving and mourning is more about us than about Dima.  He is finally free.  He’s definitely not grieving and he knows no pain.  He is made whole.  He can run! He can speak! He is healed and right now he knows the great love of the Father better than we can even begin to comprehend.

Still, we grieve.  We miss our friend and we always will.  My heart aches for the suffering he had to endure in this life.  I wonder if he was alone when he died?  Did he suffer?  Was he in pain? Did anyone at that hospital far away truly care for him?  Was he treated well?  Did anyone see him for the treasure he was? My heart longed to show him every day that he was loved, even adored.  I dreamed of how much he would blossom in the love of a family.  I so wanted him to experience that joy and peace here on earth. Why was so much of his life spent waiting for life to begin?  It’s hard to trust God’s ways in times like this.

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But then I remember his joy that day, years ago in the Sensory Room. For many years humans had not been a positive thing in Dima’s life.  Humans had hurt him and neglected him and cast him aside.  But when awakened and faced with humans- he smiled.  The only way that was possible was if God was near to him in a way that we couldn’t see. God promises in His Word to be a Father to the Fatherless, and we have to trust that He keeps his Word. We have to trust that God showed his love to Dima in the deepest places of his mind and soul. We have to trust that even if he seemed to live this life so alone and abandoned, his Father in heaven never left his side, even for one second.

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It was the joy of the Lord that brought a smile to Dima’s face.

It was the peace of God that followed him when he traveled to the hospital far away.

And it was the goodness of God that allowed his suffering to end.

We will never forget our precious Dima.  We will miss him forever.  But may we never ever forget his joy in unimaginable circumstances.  Please, learn from his life. Choose joy today.

Precious Dima, you were loved.  You were treasured.  You were longed for and wanted. We saw your beauty and we will never be the same because of you.

Run free, my love.

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Offended by the Goodness of God

Here are some reflections from Jed. Warning: extreme passion ahead.  I hope you can read this with an an open heart to what the Father wants to say to you.

Church songs are great, right?

The lyrics pick us up in hard times, they carry us through the week and we are so glad to have the simple melody and words to express an emotion to God.
Or, they comfort our broken heart: songs of His goodness, faithfulness, love and on and on.
We’re walking through Gap whistling the tune, “You make all things work together for my good,” as you find your favorite pair of jeans on sale. The person in front of you buys your drink at Starbucks, “Hallelu,Hallelu, Hallelu.u.Yah.” Ok, that might be a bit off topic. 🙂

Good stuff.
Have you ever had a moment when a dear friend shares the depths of pain as a relationship crumbles, or the newsfeed reads of another child dying while escaping a war torn country, and all of the sudden those worship lyrics start to fall flat?
For us there is the oh-so-often overwhelming sense that there is not enough time or hands to give each of our boys the time they need. And even when we do get time and have plenty of hands, we still have to return them to their extremely traumatic lives.

The religious prose no longer feels robust enough to contain the suffering caused by human injustice.
You might find yourself saying, as we find ourselves saying “These lyrics don’t ring true. God, you certainly don’t seem like a good, good father. Where are you????”
Or, maybe you’ve been on a missions trip and when you came home you could barely stand under the weight of western excess in light of the severe poverty witnessed afar. Perhaps you found yourself slamming your fist down, “God, how can you allow this injustice?! This inequality! Why have you forgotten those lovely people?”
“I can’t sing these songs to you God.” You may have even felt some bitterness swelling up in your chest. Dare I say, Doubt…?

Well, if you are brave enough to sit with these feelings for a spell and not ‘numb out’, not head back to the mall or app store to ‘buy out’, you may hear God speak his answer to these questions that haunt our faith.

Think of the story of worship leader Kevin Prosch, who met God in the closet his dad locked him in and learned to play the guitar and worship in the midst of the abuse.
Or, think of the miracle tree growing in the midst of a shanty in the garbage dumps of Nicaragua that provides medicine for the family living there.
Or think of our boys and their amazing capacity to love, despite their circumstances.
God speaks. Are we brave enough to listen?

But, maybe you need more than testimony. Perhaps you still can’t reconcile the goodness of God.

This is me, by the way.

But are you still brave enough to sit with these questions, these accusations…?
Most aren’t.

Many have quietly walked away from God, shaking their heads.
“I’ve just got too many unanswered questions,” is the statement as they make their curtain call from the church community. In that case, there is a world waiting with open arms to receive your weary soul, clinking glasses, “Three cheers for one less fool, duped by faith.”

My dear cousin Brett sat outside of the garbage dump in Nicaragua, having seen the immensity of inequality and suffering caused by poverty. But then he noticed the healing tree I mentioned earlier, and he saw the comfort siblings were able to provide for their dying baby brother.
As he held these accusations out to God, “How are you working all things together for their good…? How are you perfect in all of your ways?” God met him and said, “You equate my goodness with material wealth and well-being. But goodness looks far greater than what you deem as good. You don’t get to define me and my goodness. You won’t see all that I do for my people and don’t assume that my “lack of material provision” means that I am unmoved by their suffering.”

As Kim and I sit in the midst of suffering with our boys, we hear God say, “I am so near to these precious ones. Their capacity to love comes from my nearness to them, despite all that this world has done to their bodies. I am holding them close.”

Yesterday, I was reflecting on this while watching Cousin Brett sing songs with my boys, who were rocking, singing, clapping, crying, screaming, self-harming or off in their own world.
A thought came to me, maybe a revelation. When time wraps up and we stand before God we will see the truth. We will see how He has been with each of us in our highest joys and our deepest suffering. We will see His goodness, the way He defines it, for everyone, and we will say “God, you are righteous and just in all of Your ways.”
And at that point, some real worship is gonna go down.

Until that day comes, we have some great words in the book of Psalms to help us process, petition, and bring our accusations to God. Psalms is a book in the Bible where the writer rages at the sight of injustice, pours his heart out in places of pain and loss, and at the end of the day, he still has a price on his head and a heart full of love.
Maybe Psalms and all its honesty and sometimes offensive accusations might be a little more helpful than quoting pop church songs when we’re struggling through life’s deep questions. God is not surprised by our questions, nor is He offended by them.
Maybe that big book in the corner needs a little dusting off.

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Be Still My Soul

“Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side.

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In every change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly Friend

Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.”

Be still, my soul.

My soul is restless. My soul is fighting. My heart is grieving for our Boys more than ever these days and my mother’s heart for them is growing more than ever these days.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on their side.

Do we trust that our God is good?

Do I trust that God is good, even to our Boys, even now- at this very minute as they rock back and forth in their beds?

Do you trust that your Heavenly Father is working on your behalf?

Do I really and truly trust that God is working on behalf of our Boys and He is keeping His promise to be their Father?

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on their side.

The Tuesday before I left for Switzerland we had just finished up our morning at Romaniv and the time had come for us to hop in the taxi and head home.

Sweet Dima, one of our highest functioning boys in the Isolation Hall began to ask his usual questions.

“When are you coming back?”

“Are you coming on Friday?”

“Is Jed coming on Friday?”

“Is Mama Nina coming on Friday?”

“When are you coming back?”

“Will you come tomorrow?”

Dima gets very fixated on when we are coming back and who will be present on the team. He gets super excited when we answer “Yes, Dima, we are coming on Friday. Jed is coming, I am coming, Nina is coming. We can’t come tomorrow, but we will come on Friday.”

He needs to hear those words. He needs to know.

Well, last Tuesday I had to stray from the normal response. I told Dima that I wouldn’t be coming on Friday because I had to go on a trip. There was no use of explaining Switzerland or fundraisers or supporting churches, I knew Dima wouldn’t understand. All he could understand is that I said no, I wouldn’t be able to come on Friday.

Dima was so unhappy. He didn’t understand. He kept asking why, and I tried to explain.

If only Dima had known. If only Dima could have understood WHY I wasn’t coming on Friday. I was traveling far away on his behalf. I was going to share with people who love him from afar. I was going to share about him and to be his voice. I was going there for his good. But all he knew was that I wasn’t going to show up on Friday.

I’m not saying that Jed or I or our team are God or something. Not even remotely. 🙂 But I use this as an example to look at myself as Dima. How often am I Dima, upset because God doesn’t show up when I want Him to and how I want Him to, when He is really working on my behalf and I just can’t see it?

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on my side.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side.

Do you trust that He is good?

Do you trust that your Father is working on your behalf?

Do you trust that He is working for your good?

Be still. Trust. I know how much I love Dima and want only good for him. How much more does your Heavenly Father want only good for you? Vastly, infinitely more.

God is working on our Boys’ behalf in ways I can’t even see. His love for them is endless and perfect.

Be still, soul. God’s got this.

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“Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on

When we shall be forever with the Lord.

When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past

All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”

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