What in the world? June was a tornado. It was a tornado of awesomeness and craziness and life-changingness. But yeah, it was definitely a tornado.
May 31: Our sweet Sara left after a month of massage and intern-training. We miss you Saramama!
June 7: We celebrated our kids’ completion of one year of Ukrainian school and our precious Seth’s birthday at a water park in Kyiv. Yay!
June 10: We moved to the Wide Awake Homestead! MONUMENTAL DAY.
June 11: Tara and Christiana arrived! Tara and Christiana are both American girls who came to bless our boys and our team. Their presence was so refreshing. They served and smiled and brought every one of us so much joy. Internet friendships can turn out to be real-life awesome!
June 12-16: Tara and Christiana started going to Romaniv with our team and interns, getting to know the boys. Addy went to a day camp at school and made new friends. 🙂
June 17: The team from Hands of Hope arrived! Hands of Hope is our wonderful partner in Indiana. They have poured much love and support into Romaniv and Wide Awake over many years. They came to help with a Romaniv Day Camp that was put on by Mission to Ukraine and Wide Awake. They also brought an awesome builder with them who served us by building a deck at the Homestead!!!!
June 19: Day Camp begins and a team of medical professionals from Germany arrived to help at the camp and observe our team.
June 22: Sydney, an American friend and long-time Wide Awake supporter was “in the neighborhood” and arrived to visit, help, and see all the craziness we are up to. ALSO a crazy awesome American arrived to begin the in-country process of adopting our sweet Stephan!!! His presence was just the hugest encouragement to our team. We were so blessed to see him open his heart to Stephan and say YES to what God has for his family. Just wow.
June 23: Final day of Day Camp! Hands of Hope threw our team a party and it was awesome. They encouraged us and blessed us all. Our hearts needed it.
June 24: Hands of Hope headed home.
June 25: Our church had a beautiful baptism and picnic at the river. All our German friends and American friends joined in and it was just a really special day.
June 26: The German team provided a training for our interns after observing their work over the past week. Their insight and wisdom, how they saw the boys and the work with fresh eyes was invaluable. They challenged us and pushed us in new ways. A little pushing can hurt, but when done in love it can foster so much growth. We really so appreciated their hearts and hard work!
June 27: The German team did more training for the interns, and then a training for our team. So much good stuff!!
June 28: Good bye German team! Thank you!! Please come again. 🙂
June 29: Good bye dear Tara, Christiana and Sydney. Your wide open hearts and contagious laughter will be greatly missed. Come again!
So there you have it. Tornado.
It was quite the balance of scheduling and transportation and feeding, but the goodness far outweighed any stress that came along with it. I mean, all those wonderful people came because they love our boys and they believe in the vision of what we are doing here. They believe in God’s dream and they see the incredible worth of our boys. They gave up their vacation time and spent a lot of money to come pour into our boys, our family, and our team. We are forever grateful and super humbled by their giving.
I know I promised you a walk-through of the Homestead and I haven’t forgotten. With all the craziness of June we really haven’t gotten a chance to settle at all, and speaking of tornados…well, you get the idea. I’d like to tidy up a bit before sharing with you. 😉 Hopefully this week I’ll have something to show you. Thank you for your patience!
Now for pics.
We leave this morning for Mission to Ukraine’s summer camps for kids with disabilities! There are two camps in a row and they last pretty much till the end of the month, so we’ll be out of touch for a while.
We have had the best time welcoming Sara Rogers to Ukraine! Sara is from Arizona and is a Licensed Massage Therapist in a community for adults with disabilities there. Her experience and passion has blessed us immensely over the past week. She will be here for two more weeks, bringing massage to Romaniv while we are at camp. Sara is teaching the head nurse at Romaniv and providing the boys with awesome, precious moments of peace and beauty. It has truly been miraculous. I am so thankful the boys will keep getting the love while we are away at camp!
Here are a few pics of Sara’s first week at Romaniv. If you follow Wide Awake on Facebook you can see many more awesome pics there!
Thank you Sara for giving so much to our boys. It is life-changing for them 🙂
Summer is in full swing around here and it kind of feels like we’re on a roller coaster at this point. We know we’re safe, we’re all buckled in, but it’s moving a little too fast for comfort and we kinda want it to slow down, but it’s also really good and all the spins are kind of fun, we we don’t want it to stop.
There’s a lot going on and there’s about to be a lot MORE going on, so I better fill you in while I have the chance. HOLYMOLY.
We have a volunteer arriving on Sunday and she’ll be here for 3 weeks! Sara is a massage therapist and works at a community for adults with special needs in Arizona. She will be helping us implement massage at Romaniv and will be doing some teaching for the nurse there. We are excited to have her along on this crazy journey. I’m super interested to see how the boys do with massage! I’m anticipating a strong learning curve…hehe THISCOULDGETINTERESTING.
On July 7th we’ll head to Mission to Ukraine’s yearly summer camp for kids with disabilities. There will be two camps and we will volunteer at both of them. Camp was the highlight of our family’s year last year, so we are very excited to do it again. Woot! We’ll basically be there for the month of July. MTU camp is like my heaven. ILOVEITSOMUCH.
On July 13th we’ll take a little leave from camp because we have our appointment in Kyiv to request our referral and officially begin the adoption process here in country!!! Yes!!! Our adoption dossier was accepted and we are ultra, mega, outrageously excited to get this show on the road. If all goes well we should have our son out of the orphanage and in our arms by the end of August! CAN’TCOMESOONENOUGH.
After the adoption is complete we will all head to the US for our first visit as a family since our move here in 2013. Our new son will need to go to the US in order to become a citizen, and he also needs quite a bit of medical care, so off we go! Actually, before we ever moved to Ukraine we had decided that August 2015 would be the time for all of us to come back to the US to visit family, friends, and supporters. We just had no idea we’d also be bringing back another child! BIGGESTSURPRISEEVAHHHHH.
The plan right now is that Jed will be in the US for about 2 months and then he’ll return to Ukraine to get back to work. The kids and I will plan to stay in the US until we get our new son’s most urgent medical needs met. Then we’ll join Jed back in Ukraine. We’re thinking maybe the kids and I will be in the States till after Christmas? I’m just not sure. We’re open and we don’t want to rush things. But in a way it will probably feel like our lives are on pause. I’m not sure how we’ll navigate that well. I guess one day at a time. I get overwhelmed if I think about it too much, so I won’t. At least not right now. 🙂 PROCRASTINATIONISMYSPIRITUALGIFT.
So, that’s where things stand right now. A lot goin on, and lot yet to come. We are doing well, just maybe a bit overwhelmed at the moment. We have so many ideas, so many plans for the Boys, for the work here. It’s hard to imagine leaving it all and going so far away. Wide Awake is granting our local church here in Zhytomyr with funds to be able to coordinate and continue the work at Romaniv while we are gone, so that is really reassuring. We won’t be leaving the boys without love and care. Our volunteers will continue to faithfully go and love the boys. It will just be hard for us to be away. Yet it will be wonderful to be with family and friends in America. Yet we will also be adjusting to a new son and helping him learn how to be part of a family. Yet we will not be bringing him home to the house and community where we actually live…at least not right away.
Lots of thoughts, lots of emotions, lots of awesomeness happening, lots of everything. I’ll do my best to keep you posted along the way. Thank you all for being such a dear part of this journey. Thank you for your prayer, your encouragement, your friendship, your financial support. We have felt so much love and support along every step of this journey. Praise God we don’t have to walk this path alone! You are a blessing to us. WELOVEYOULOTSANDLOTS.
Pics: Hava in Kyiv with her perty new headband, our beautiful Addy and Hava in Kyiv, St. Andrews Church in Kyiv, our kids with a famous statue outside the adoptions office in Kyiv, St. Michaels Church in Kyiv (my fave), Seth is taller than Hava (and 17 months younger!), my everyday morning view, our garden when it was beautiful, our garden infested with bugs (grrrr…ain’t nobody got time for that!), Seth posing with his new bike, my kids being “special”, our neighborhood!
The candles were lit, and white lights twinkled overhead. The room was decked out in red and white, tablecloths smoothed, plates laden with treats. We were ready. I looked out the window to see the ones I love gussied up in their finest, smiling for the cameras like the stars that they are. Moms surrounded them with pride in their eyes, snapping photos left and right, attempting to capture this moment and never let it go.
It was our last night at camp and time for our “Ladies and Gentlemen” evening. A night created to honor our campers and let them know how we cherish them. A night without parents, a night to feel young and free, grown up and proud. A night made for them to take with them for the rest of their lives.
We opened the doors and applauded our dear ones as they entered the room arm and arm with their precious volunteers. Oh, how their faces beamed with pride and excitement. They looked absolutely stunning- each one. Pure magic.
Every volunteer had written something special for their camper, and as each one was called up we cheered and hooted and hollered. We told them they looked beautiful. We read beautiful words about them, telling them how they are seen by their friends. Some had grins you couldn’t wipe off if you tried, some blushed furiously, shy with the praise, a few wept, and I know I joined them. 🙂
Oleg shared a poem and dessert was served. I flitted from table to table, wanting to savor each face in my mind, wanting to cement this night in my heart. Volunteers, the waiters and waitresses for the night, served our guests like royals. Feeding those who couldn’t feed themselves, holding hands and pushing wheelchairs, wiping drool and crumbs, smoothing skirts and jackets, refilling cups, and sharing conversation. The cream of the crop was there that night- Zhytomyr’s finest- young people who have chosen to ignore their culture’s definition of value and choose to see with eyes of the Kingdom.
A waltz was shared and all were invited to join. A tall volunteer bends low as he invites a beauty in a wheelchair to join him in a dance. She laughs big as another volunteer cuts in. Every soul celebrated and treasured.
We ended the night with fireworks and the joy on each face was indescribable. Kingdom of Heaven come to earth. God’s Kingdom come here and now- on earth as it is in Heaven.
I wish I could transport each of you back to that night with me. I wish you could see and feel the joy in the room. I want you to meet those we love so. Roma, Vitaliy, Dasha, Natasha, Luba, Andrei, Vitya, Rostik, Oksana, Vika, Anton, Olya, Maxim…real people with real hopes and dreams. They may be limited by their bodies, but there is no limit to God’s love for them. They are of infinite value and worth. They are worth it. They are worth time and effort and energy and love. They aren’t a diagnosis or a mystery in a chair. They are beloved sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and friends, and on Sunday night they were celebrities. 🙂
I won’t be the same after this last month. Our whole family is changed. So much was solidified in our hearts and many, many times this past month my heart knew there was no place else I’d rather be. Yes, it is often difficult. Yes, the language barrier makes me want to scream. Yes, we feel like outsiders much of the time. Yes, sometimes we are lonely. Yes, we miss our family (so much). Yes, we miss our church (so much). Yes, we miss one-stop shopping and dryers and the coast and the beauty of Oregon. But our hearts know where they belong. Our hearts belong in a town full of those broken in body but alive and awake in spirit. Our hearts belong in an institution of the broken and forgotten. Our hearts belong with the royalty of Sunday night and with those who served them.
Praise God for knowing so much better than we do. Praise God for those who have gone before us and paved the way in a society that says their work is of little value. I just can’t thank God enough for placing our family here. Not every day is lollypops and roses, and someday soon I will share some of our struggles. But beyond all that I am thankful. God has flooded our hearts with love that only comes from Him and I can’t even express to you in words how much we love our Ladies and Gentlemen. They are absolute treasures.
How is this our life? Somebody pinch me.
Fun. Laughter. Extravagant love. Joy. Triumph. Compassion. Excitement. Tears. Healing. Hugs and more hugs. Potatoes and buckwheat. Creativity. Singing. Rejoicing. Miracles. Awakened hearts. And….more love.
A little girl, nonverbal, barely in control of her body and unable to walk, claps her hands with joy when she sees her volunteer at breakfast in the morning. She tugs at his beard and rubs his face as he beams with delight over her, like a proud father.
Six sweet souls from Romaniv run and swing and slide without a care in the world. I think they laughed for eight days straight.
Weary moms walk with a new spring in their step. Every day they hold their shoulders a bit higher. They smile with tears in their eyes as they see their children loved with abandon- just as they are. “I didn’t think anyone could ever love my child like that.”
Addy runs across the grass holding hands and laughing with Ryan, a most special young man. Their giggles echo across the field. Addy gushes, “I love you Ryan!”
Vlad, a little guy with special needs, his first time at camp, holds his head high as he belts out the Ukrainian national anthem for a room crowded with people. His mom cries as thunderous applause fills the room.
My own children’s hearts fill with love and compassion as they grow to know these special people God has placed in their lives. They truly begin to understand why we live here in Ukraine and tell me “We have to stay here. The boys at Romaniv need us to love them!”
My prayers are answered.
Ukrainian volunteers give their whole selves to serve and love those whom their society has cast aside. Beauty beyond measure.
I stand in the back watching a slide show of pictures throughout the week and realize there is no place on earth I would rather be.
A week absolutely full of glimpses of God’s Kingdom breaking through into earth.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10
Mission to Ukraine hosts two summer camps each year for people with disabilities. The first camp is for children, and the second camp, which starts on Monday, is for teens and young adults. Children with all levels of ability are present and loved. I can’t begin to describe the beauty. Today we head back for the second camp and our hearts are bursting with anticipation. May the love of God fill every single corner of every single heart. May each soul know the love of the Father like never before. May mother’s hearts be renewed and strengthened. May it be on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for your prayers!
Visit MTU’s Facebook page to see many more beautiful pictures and a picture of Romaniv boys doing a traditional Ukrainian dance!
Tomorrow we set out on a big adventure!
Our family will be participating in Mission to Ukraine’s (MTU) two summer camps and tomorrow the fun begins.
Every summer MTU holds two different summer camps for children with disabilities and their mothers. The first camp is for young children and the second camp is for teenagers and young adults. The children and youth each have varying levels of needs and abilities and all are welcome. These are all kids who receive services at MTU, whether it be special needs preschool, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or life skills classes. Not only do the kids get to have a blast playing games, doing crafts, and learning about Jesus at camp, but the moms get a week of respite and fellowship with each other. We’ve heard it’s just amazing and we can’t wait to see it for ourselves. 🙂
The campers are put into small groups according to their ages and then each camper is paired with an adult volunteer who helps them and cares for them during all the camp activities. During the first camp, Jed will be in a group with the little little kiddos. Havalah and Seth will also be in his group. How cool that all our kids get to be campers too! Addy and Ezra will be with their age groups. I’m not exactly sure how it will work with our kids during the second camp…but I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Twelve older, high-functioning boys from Romaniv get to come for the second camp. YAY!
Originally I was supposed to be with kids, but there was a surprise need for someone to work with the moms, so I’ll be doing that. There is an American woman who has come to camp faithfully, for like 12 years straight and she always serves the moms, but she was unable to make it this year. Sooooo…I guess I’m up! Every morning I’ll be doing a small group with some of the moms of the campers. I feel pretty nervous and completely out of my element, so if you could pray for me I would so much appreciate it!!! I really just want to hear the Lord and His heart for these moms. I can’t even imagine how it is to raise a child with special needs here. It must be so isolating and difficult. I don’t know all that these moms need, but God does and so I’m just praying He speaks through me. Who knows, I might even make some new friends in the process! 🙂 I hope so.
Our goal for this camp is just to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these families. May they experience joy and love at every turn. May they be refreshed and their hearts filled to overflowing. May those who don’t know Jesus meet him during this camp. May each person truly understand that they are seen and they are known by God, and if they will only glance in His direction, He will meet them there. By the way, did you know those things are true for you too?
We’ll be out at camp pretty much until the end of the month with only a couple of days home in the middle of the two camps, so we won’t be posting any updates during that time. Email responses will also be delayed, FYI.
Radio silence commencing….now. Catch ya on the flip side!
*So, we got some mustaches in a package from the US…and one thing led to another…
Last week was a very special week! We had a week-long day camp at Romaniv orphanage! For the older, higher functioning boys the staff of Mission to Ukraine does a full-on VBS type camp for them with games, snacks, crafts, and lessons about Jesus. They had Olympic games, opening and closing ceremonies complete with the Ukrainian flag and National Anthem, and LOADS OF FUN.
Since the doors to Romaniv were open to us all week we just had to take advantage of it and spend some special time with our Boys in Isolation. Our boys could not handle, nor participate in a camp like the bigger boys, so we decided to spend the week taking small groups of boys aside each day in order to have some more intentional interactions with them. It was AMAZING. It was like a dream to be able to be with them one on one, to see them every day, to give them the individual attention they need. Woohoo!
I shared a small glimpse of each day on the Wide Awake Facebook page, but I know many of you aren’t on FB. Plus, there were sooooo many wonderful pictures to share- totally deserving of a big fat blog post. Here you go! I’m just cutting and pasting the FB blurbs and then you can see the pics of that day following the blurb. Mmmmk?
ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 1: I can’t even express the joy that was today. We decided for the Isolation Room kiddos we would use this week to focus on one-on-one interactions with the boys. So each day we will be taking a group of 5 boys aside and interacting with them more intentionally.
The Directors gave us the use of the sensory room and it was like heaven. Today we heard the first laughs ever (for us) from two of our boys. Big, hearty, belly laughs that we didn’t even know they had inside them. It was like hearing your baby’s first laugh- PURE JOY. These boys are growing and changing. It’s miraculous. Praise God for His love that never fails!!!
ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 2
Today we fell in love… again.
It started out a bit rough, with miscommunication and WAAAAAY too many boys with high needs in too small of a space. Ha! We really want the Sensory Room to be a safe place, and boys were stressed and self-harming, so we had to act fast. We switched boys in and out till we has the right mix, and then had a super great time.
Yuroslav, oh sweet boy. He rarely joins us on our Friday visits, content to sit outside in the hall calling out “Mama! Papa!” every so often and sucking his thumb. Today we learned he is strong and he LOVES to play ball. It’s awesome to have the time to connect with the harder-to-reach boys. We can observe them closely and try different ways to make that human connection.
Two days down, three more to go!
ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 3:
Today was interesting and different and goooood. When we arrived, we learned it was “bath day”. We didn’t know, since we never go there on Wednesdays. So, we first waited for baths to be done. It was pouring down rain outside and when we asked the caregivers if we could take a few boys to the other building to the Sensory Room after bath time they WERE NOT having it. So, we winged it!
We brought all the boys together and basically did what we normally do on Fridays. At first the caregivers said we could only have one hour with them because they needed to clip their nails and such (remember, it’s Bath Day), but once we got going they relaxed and let stay for the whole time.
There was some great connection time with several of the boys. Zhenya even fell asleep in my lap! Happy sigh… We got to connect with a caregiver we had never met before and ease her load for a couple of hours. All in all it was a very sweet time. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Pray we have a dry day tomorrow so we can visit the Sensory Room again! Thanks
ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 4:
Today was a day of hopes fulfilled, and dreams dreamed.
The sun was out so we got to take a few boys to the Sensory Room! There were 4 boys in particular we were hoping to work with today and lucky us, the caregivers were like “Go for it! Take whoever you want! Take them all!” Ha! We took our 4, plus sweet Yuroslav and Valera for extra cuteness sake.
We had amazing interactions with two of the boys we brought. They are usually very medicated and they sleep a lot. During our time in the Sensory Room they were alive! They smiled and giggled and responded very well. Just what we had hoped for!
The other two boys are always highly medicated and distant. They don’t interact with others at all. Unfortunately we were not able to break through to them today. Their bodies were in the room, but their minds were far away. We have much work to do before we can connect with them in a meaningful way. We dream of that day- the day we truly see who they are.
We are not discouraged. We are hopeful! We are thankful for an open Director who cares, willing and cooperative caregivers, those who have paved the way for this work. and most of all for a God who is bigger. NO ONE is beyond His reach! One step at a time…
ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 5:
Today was the end of a wonderful week spent with Our Boys. Almost all the boys got to go outside to spend some time in the sun and it was WONDERFUL. Their faces lit up when they saw the team arrive for another day. Like “You guys are here AGAIN???” It’s awesome to see them begin to walk, scoot, and crawl to the door when we arrive, hoping they get to go out to play for a bit.
Today after camp all the volunteers, the staff of Mission to Ukraine, and a couple of the orphanage staff went to a park for a picnic. We celebrated the wonderful strides that have been made this past year, and began to dream of the work that is yet to be done.
Our dreams are BIG. We dream of each boy having an occupation- a way to spend his time, a way to contribute to the world around him. We dream of the Boys serving each other in greater ways; we dream of boys learning to read, learning to walk, learning to speak. Mostly we dream of a place for the boys to be where they can know the love of their Father God through the love of a family. I could go on and on.
One day at a time, one boy at a time, one YES at a time. Thank you for sharing in the journey! Today, wherever you may be, may you live this day Wide Awake- ready for the next YES that lies before you.
Our dear friend Olya, from Kyiv, came to stay with our family Monday through Wednesday so Jed and I could both be at Romaniv those days. On Thursday I went, and Jed stayed home with the kids, and then on Friday Jed went and I stayed home. We both really wanted to be at the picnic on Friday, so wonderful Dima, the driver for MTU, drove the kids and me out to Romaniv on Friday to meet the team and go to the picnic together.
Our kids have been longing and dreaming of visiting Romaniv. They hear about the boys all the time. They see their pictures almost daily. These boys have become a huge part of our lives and our kids were dying to meet them in person. We haven’t gotten permission yet for Addy and Ezra to visit the boys with us on Fridays, but we feel like they are ready (Hava and Seth are too young). I wasn’t so sure before- I was afraid Addy and Ezra would be frightened, we didn’t know the boys as well. But they have been asking more and more, so Friday was a good chance to give them a little taste of Romaniv to see what they thought.
Dima drove us to Romaniv and I told the kids if the team wasn’t quite finished and if they were still inside we would ask the caregivers if we could come inside to see the boys just for a minute. You would have thought we had backstage passes to the concert of a lifetime they were so excited!
When we arrived the team was still cleaning up, so I took the kids to the Isolation building. They were immediately greeted by the boys who were outside and I was so proud of them! They looked the boys in their eyes and shook their hands- even Hava and Seth! They looked a little unsure, but not really afraid. Then Addy and Ezra came inside the building and got to meet several of the boys inside. They knew them from the pictures and they were OVER THE MOON to meet them! You could see they were excited, but also nervous. I mean, it’s a big sensory experience even for adults, so I thought they did really well. The boys can look kind of scary, it’s super stinky, but they both really loved it. They have been begging to go back, so we just need to pray and ask God what He has in store for our kids at Romaniv. I hope soon they can be joining us regularly. It’s part of who they were created to be!
Overall it was a fantastic week. I can’t even tell you how extraordinarily thankful we are for those who have gone before us. For years, MTU and several volunteers have faithfully poured in to the boys and the staff at Romaniv. Without their faithfulness and perseverance we would have never had the week that we did. The Directors are so open to the help- that is a huge answer to prayer.
There is a lot of work to be done. There are many boys not pictured here because they were too medicated, or too withdrawn to participate at all. There are many boys still locked inside themselves. Our boys still spend the majority of each day tied to their beds because there isn’t enough staff to keep them safe from themselves and others. Many of them only see the sun when we come on Fridays. Oh there is so much to be done. BUT weeks like this remind us of just how far things have come. God has done the miraculous in Romaniv and He’s not about to stop now.
Praise God for his abounding love for these boys and their caregivers. Praise God that what was once hidden is now brought to light. Praise God that He has a hope and a future for each boy, for each person He created. And praise God we get to partner with him in that!