It’s almost Christmas and we’re coming to you with the third and fourth themes of Advent: Love and Joy.
In this episode, Jed and I shared what we have learned about living lives of love and joy here in Ukraine. We don’t claim to have all the answers and are definitely in progress, but maybe a few of our thoughts will encourage you today. Merry Christmas, Friends! We are thankful to have you along on the journey.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2
Ukraine is a country that has been plunged into deep, deep darkness. We are those people walking in darkness, living in a land of great darkness.
On February 24, 2022 when Russia began dropping bombs on cities all over the country we were immediately plunged into a great darkness. I remember a couple of days into the war when everyone realized that the rest of the world wasn’t sending troops to help. I remember the feelings that came with that realization: horror, disbelief, shock, anger, and isolation. Complete and utter isolation. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling that we had in those early days, the feeling of being forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world. Darkness. I saw a photo of air traffic flight patterns on February 25th and the emptiness that was Ukraine stood out like a sore thumb on the map. Cut off from the world, plunged into darkness, isolated, and under attack. So very vulnerable, our dear Ukraine.
But over the months Ukraine has risen above and shown herself strong, undefeatable. The Ukrainian military has made a laughing stock of Russia’s war machine and huge fans of us all. Their bravery, wisdom, and strength will never be forgotten.
Because Russia can’t seem to win on the battlefield they have taken to plunging Ukraine into another kind of darkness- a literal one. They have been consistently attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and have cast a literal darkness over much of the country. The lights have gone out all over Ukraine and we are truly “living in a land of great darkness.” But, like in Isaiah, there is more to the story. A light is coming.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:1-7
In this season of Advent, of waiting for Christmas, waiting to celebrate the first coming of Christ, we also eagerly and actively wait for Christ to come again. We cry out for his presence to fill us, to heal our land, and to make wrong things right. We pray for justice to flow and for the yokes that burden Ukraine to be shattered. We call for the Prince of Peace to rule and reign in this land.
It is a dark time in Ukraine, spiritually and physically, but we can see how God is with us even in the dark. The absence of light pollution allows the stars to break through in all their glory. The utter and absolute darkness of our village at night brings a hush to our homes and our hearts. The lack of electricity in the day teaches us flexibility, teamwork, how to conserve, and how to pivot our plans on a dime. The lack of electricity in the evening causes us to slow down, to be quiet, and to appreciate candlelight and headlamps in a new way. 😉
There is no doubt that many people in Ukraine are suffering incredibly during this time of darkness. Thankfully, it seems our power outages on the Homestead are briefer than most, so I do not want to romanticize the suffering of others. It is truly devastating, what is happening right now in our country. But I can only speak to my own life, my own little Homestead, which is more than enough to consume my heart, mind, and body. And I can tell you that although the immediate future looks dim, we are not a people without hope. We believe in God’s good character and we remember all He has done and is doing. Therefore, we have hope for the future. We believe a time will come when Ukraine will be truly free. We believe a time will come when a free Ukraine will value every one of its citizens and our friends with disabilities will live with dignity in the country of their birth. We believe that our God can do the impossible because we see him doing it every single day. When our boys laugh and sing and hug we see God’s redeeming, healing hand at work, his Kingdom breaking through into the present. Now we wait for him to redeem and heal our land. We call out for justice to flow like a river and for His Kingdom to break through all over precious Ukraine.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come and make wrong things right. Bring your light into this dark place.
FYI, the Wide Awake Podcast is back up and running. You can find it wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. This week we recorded an Advent episode about Hope and Peace. I hope it is an encouragement to you as you prepare your heart for Christmas. ❤️
Christmas is just around the corner, but there’s more to the Christmas season than shopping lists, Christmas movie marathons, and curating the best holiday playlist (although I’m definitely in favor of all those things!). Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a wonderful time to prepare our hearts as we anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ birth and wait expectantly for Him to come again.
We really love Advent around the Homestead and wanted to share a few thoughts with you about the first two themes of Advent: hope and peace. So, sit on down, relax with your cup o’ nog, and enjoy!
Our team sent us that video this past week and my heart melted. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop watching it over and over. Then I showed it to Jed and he kinda bawled his eyes out. I haven’t seen him like that for quite some time. It was a moment.
That video means so much to us because of the people in it, their stories, how our lives have become entwined and all that has led up to that beautiful moment in time. I’d love to break it down for you so you can see some of what we see when we watch.
The first boy I see is our friend Maxim. He is 34 years old and loves to tell that fact to everyone he meets by holding his fingers up in their faces. He knows how to count and is proud of himself when he counts correctly.
We met Maxim and his mama 6 years ago and have loved them ever since. Maxim is tall, quick to bear hug, only speaks a few words, but is as smart as a whip when it comes to math. He has always lived with his parents, but they are quite elderly, and after his older brother passed away they had no plan for who would care for Maxim after they are unable to do so themselves. A couple of years ago his mama approached us and asked if we would be willing to take Maxim into our Wide Awake family when they pass. “You don’t have to do much for him. Just help him with his clothes and make sure to cook him food.” Of course our answer was YES! And we’ll do more than just help him with his clothes and feed him. We will love him and care for him always. He will never be alone. He will never be placed in an institution. NEVER.
When we were at the sea in the fall our team felt like we needed to start incorporating Maxim into the life of our team, so every week, twice a week, he joins our boys for lessons and special time together. Because Maxim has always been loved and cared for, he doesn’t carry trauma like our other boys. His joy is like a little child. He adds something special to our family and is God’s gift to us all.
Next I see Ruslan, and then a glimpse of Anton: my precious boys. They wasted away for years- for decades- living like animals. Now they are celebrating Christmas, surrounded by people who love them and have given their lives so that they could live. They are known. They are happy. They are growing and thriving. In the good and in the bad, they are loved and accepted for who they are. BELOVE[d]
Then Kostya, sitting next to Masha, pops into the scene. Oh, my heart was so happy to see him there! Kostya lives with his courageous mama and is a great addition to our little group. Kostya has Down Syndrome and is also autistic. His autism makes it very difficult to engage with him. He is nonverbal and can get easily overwhelmed by new situations. But, oh man, he is perfect for us. He is just the kind of boy we love to love. He can be easily passed over in social situations, and it’s hard to know what’s happening in his mind, but our little company is great for him and his mom. Our teacher, Tanya, has worked really hard to keep connection with them and to help insure they are not isolated. They belong with us.
Oh, and then there’s Sergei! Look at that sweet smiling face. He’s showing us the ornament he’s made and he’s so proud of his work. Man, he looks so good, so healthy.
We met Sergei and his mama a few months ago when they were referred to us by the director of the institution. Sergei’s mama has been raising him all on her own and had reached the point of overwhelm many months earlier. Their situation seemed impossible, and his mama felt the only situation was handing him over to the institution. She couldn’t see any other way to move forward. Since then our team has worked so very hard to help keep Sergei in the home. They have encouraged mom, included Sergei in our classes and activities and brought him into the life of our team. We are praying and acting, doing whatever we can to keep this family together. We don’t know what the end of the story will be, but for now Sergei has new friends and he and his mama are a part of something bigger than themselves. Oh, my heart leaped when I saw his smiling face- happy and loved by friends. Please pray for his mama. She has been brave for so long. Pray that she will open up to our help and that she would know the Father’s love.
I see our team and Kostya’s mom, looking on with love and care. I know them and I understand what they had to do behind the scenes to make a little gathering like that come together. Oleg must have traveled all over town, picking everyone up and transporting them from their homes. Masha arranged the work schedule so there would be enough helping hands. Tanya planned the craft and made sure it was ready and developmentally appropriate. Max was there next to Anton, helping him to regulate his emotions within the bigger group. The candle was lit. I know music was playing- the atmosphere of love and warmth thought out and intentional. A gathering like that, with a group like that doesn’t just happen. It has to be thoughtfully created. But it is worth it that our boys would know they are loved and valued, and that they would feel Christmas cheer. 🙂
When I watch that video I remember the stories of how God brought so many different people together, people that 7 years ago we had no idea even existed, but are now our family.
Now go watch those 26 seconds again. Look into those faces and see what I see. I see beautiful, precious friends who were overlooked for too long, but are now celebrated. I see lives changed and I see love in action. Annnnd I’m thankful.
It’s December, folks. I can now officially listen to Christmas music without incurring the judgement of Jed. Our Christmas tree is up. The lights are on. The cupboard is stocked with staples of the season. Our hearts are full.
And we have hope.
This past Sunday was the beginning of Advent: the season of expectation, the season of longing for Jesus to come and make wrong things right; the season of searching for glimpses of God’s Kingdom come to earth.
On Sunday at our home, and across the world, millions of candles were lit. Millions of prayers were whispered. Millions of hearts were filled with hope.
We look back at all God has done thus far and our minds are blown. In two short (yet sometimes unbelievably long) years He has made so much wrong right.
-Hearts of directors have been opened and softened.
-Youth from our city have risen up and claimed this cause as their own. They have chosen time and time again, to spend time with their beloved boys instead of pursuing other things. This is not a project to them- this is their life together.
-Doctors and nurses and physical therapists and speech pathologists and many loved ones have traveled across the world to give of their time and talent to our beloved babies.
-Hearts of nannies have been won over. They may not understand why we do what we do, but they love us and they appreciate us. They are our friends.
-Two teachers from the town of Romaniv have been hired to devote their lives to the boys. They are opening the eyes of their neighbors.
-God laid our boys on the heart of a generous church in Switzerland- and a van was provided.
-One amazing boy now runs free. Cherished son and brother.
-Thousands of people ALL OVER the world have given and given and given. Provision abounds.
-Countless prayers have been prayed, day after day after day by so many believers in so many countries. “God come. Have your way. Set the captive free. Be near to the boys we love so much. Bring healing and hope. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
And we have hope.
Of course, there is so much yet to be done. There is so much wrong that has not been made right. There are injustices and there is so, so much pain. There are nannies who are cruel. There are people in high positions who do not understand. There is unbelievable suffering every minute of every day.
But we have hope.
God keeps his promises. God sees and He knows. God has not forgotten our boys, tucked away from the world for so long. They are tucked up right next to His heart.
And we are so full-to-bursting with thanks. Thank you for traveling this journey with us. Thank you for praying. Thank you for loving. Thank you for giving so incredibly generously. Thank you for carrying the torch of hope with us. Thank you for believing that these boys are worth fighting for.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2