Why would refugees decide to return home to a war zone? It’s a good question that I myself would have probably asked just a year ago. Now we are those refugees returning home to a war zone and it feels like the most obvious thing to do. It feels like the thing that makes sense. It feels right. It’s time. Yes, we and our team have decided to return to our home in Ukraine. Our Board of Directors is in agreement and have voted to that end.
There are so many reasons why people who have fled from war choose to return and I can’t pretend to know the mind and heart of every refugee. I can only speak for myself and the people closest to me. We have rehashed this a bazillion and one times and there are many reasons why we could stay in Germany, but there are so many more reasons why we should go home. We are blessed beyond measure that we even have a home to which we can return. When we left I wasn’t sure it would be the case. But as of today, our home still stands and awaits our return. We’ve explained here on the blog and in recent Youtube videos why life here in Germany has become unsustainable for our group, but that is not the only reason we have decided to leave. I know that returning isn’t the right decision for everyone, but it is the right decision for us, so I thought I would try to explain it to you.
Regardless of War, Home is Home. We have lived in Ukraine for coming up on nine years. Our children consider Ukraine their home in every sense of the word. As a family, we don’t really belong in the US anymore. Jed and I can feel more at home there than our kids because we both lived there for more than 30 years, but still, every time we return it feels more and more foreign. We moved to Ukraine when Obama was still president! So much has changed in the US, but also so much has changed in us. We are not the same people who left Portland, OR with 9 suitcases all those years ago. (For one thing, now Jed has less hair and I have gray hair…😅)
Our little piece of the world, the Homestead, is the only place on earth where our family truly feels at home. We have lived a hundred lives in Ukraine, brought Ukrainians into our family, our kids call themselves Ukrainians, yet we know we will never truly be Ukrainian. Those closest to us, our team, don’t see us as “The Americans”. We are simply their family. But I know other Ukrainians don’t see us that way. There have been so many times here in Germany when I have been out and about in town and have heard Ukrainians around me. I always wanted to walk up to them, to talk with them, to feel that closeness with them, but the few times I tried they were only confused. Why was this American acting like she was one of them? Like she understood their plight? We will never be Ukrainians, but we don’t feel much like Americans. Yes, I know, heaven is our home. But here on earth, our plot of land in our village in Ukraine is our home, and we desperately want to be there again. It is where we are known, where we are understood, and where we are accepted as one of the family. We simply want to be home.
We Want to Stand With Our Country. I know there is such a thing as compassion fatigue and that it is real. There is only so much one person can actively care about day in and day out. I know the attention span of the world is incredibly short and Ukraine’s moment in the spotlight has just about run its course. But while the rest of the world can move along to the next big thing, while most people have the luxury of putting their phone down or simply turning off the tv and forgetting for a while, we don’t have that luxury. Every hour of every day we are thinking about Ukraine and the war. It is all-consuming. But we live in a country where life moves on like normal. That is no slam on Germany! Of course, life moves on. My life has always moved on regardless of wars happening in other countries. I get it. But now our lives don’t get to move on. We go through the motions and watch the seasons change, but our hearts and minds are stuck on February 24th- the day when the world fell apart. We don’t want to be in a world where life goes on like normal and we are mute spectators with our feet stuck in the muddy mess of things. We want to be in a place where we are standing strong in solidarity with others. We want to be in a place where people understand. We want to show up for our country.
The Work Must Continue. The vision of Wide Awake International is to bring hope, love, and dignity to people with disabilities in Ukraine. That vision is lived out through deinstitutionalization. Guys, we have to get back to work. The need for this work didn’t stop because Putin decided to invade. The plight of people with disabilities who are wasting away in institutions hasn’t changed or gone away simply because it has become less safe for us to go to them. The reality is actually quite the opposite. Our boys at Romaniv and others like them need rescuing now more than ever. Our work has always been a frontline work and now is a frontline time. We must not retreat. Ukraine needs helpers and our team is full of them. There is no way for us to continue our mission while in Germany. Yes, we brought Yaroslav and Vova out of Romaniv to us in Germany, but that is the limit of what we can do from here. We simply must get back to work in Ukraine. There is no other way. This is hands-on, boots-on-the-ground work, and our boys can not wait alone for the war to end. We must go to them. While the eyes of the world are on Ukraine and while more people are becoming disabled each day we have to be in there, helping, advising, lending experience. We feel the urgency in our bones. This is what we were created for and the work must go on.
Our Goal is Not to Stay Alive. A dear friend reminded me recently of an important truth: “Our greatest goal in life is not just to stay alive.” If our goal is to keep our bodies alive, then we will all eventually fail because every one of us will eventually die. Our goal is not just to stay alive, but to LIVE. Yes, here in Germany our bodies are safe and they are alive. But in a way, we are not truly living. And while we are here not doing the things we are passionate about it feels like we are slowly withering away. Of course, there have been many beautiful, precious, wonderful moments in Germany. We have lived here, but we have not lived to the fullest. It’s like we’ve been stuck in a waiting room. Waiting for the next meal or the next news story or the next distraction. We have been busy caring for our boys, but we know we can do so much more. Our spirits are so much more alive when we are fulfilling our mission when we are creating something beautiful together when there is redemption and light moving into dark places. Of course, it goes without saying that we don’t desire death. I don’t want to die anytime soon and I don’t want that for any of my loved ones. But keeping our bodies alive is not the highest goal. Because at one time or another we will all die. In the meantime, let us be doing the things we love.
“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things —praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
– C.S. Lewis Present Concerns
We would really appreciate so much your prayers as we make the move back to Ukraine. So many of you absolutely flooded the heavens with prayers as we were leaving Ukraine and since we’ve been in Germany. We are very, very thankful. Thank you for standing behind us. I know not all of you will understand this decision to leave physical safety and return to Ukraine, but I hope you will stick with us on the journey home. We are excited to get back to work in Ukraine. Your encouragement and support mean a lot to us, even though we can’t always reply to each one of you individually. This community is truly the best.
If you would like more details about our decision-making process, please feel free to check out these notes from our board chairman. For those of you who like details, it might help you understand how we and our board reached this decision.
Love to you, dear friends. Thank you for trusting us and loving us through this time.
In the first episode, I shared how our eyes were opened to the plight of orphans with disabilities in Ukraine. We just had no idea that world even existed! In this episode, I tell the story of how we responded to that newfound knowledge. I might have gotten a little choked up at one point…I promise not to do that every time! 😆
Every story has a beginning, and today I’m sharing ours! In this episode, I tell the story of how our ordinary family, living our ordinary life in Oregon started down the path that would eventually move us across the world to Ukraine. Mostly this is our story of just saying YES to the next thing God asks of us. Enjoy!
It’s Story Time. 🙂 This story doesn’t have an ending yet. It’s ongoing, but the outcome is looking very promising.
Back in July, we were out working in the garden when we got a call from the Director at Romaniv. He had a mother with him in his office at the institution, and she wanted to give up her adult son. Because of COVID and institution restructuring, they weren’t accepting any new boys at that time. But, the mother was at her wits end, so he called us. He asked if she could come to our house and talk to us about her options.
An hour later we met one brave mama.
Have you ever wondered what kind of parent would willingly leave their child in a terrible place like Romaniv? Have you ever said the words “How could they? I would never ever.”
I have. I have wondered and I have judged and I have said “I would never ever.” But I’ll tell you what, it’s only by the grace of God that I have never. I used to judge those parents, and I judged them harshly. But, that was before I better understood their circumstances. Now I realize that if not for Jesus and the outrageously privileged circumstances into which I was brought up, it could be me. It could be you.
I would never condone a parent leaving their child in an institution. Never. I’m not saying I agree with the practice. Please don’t read that. What I am saying, is that in a country like Ukraine, with absolutely zero safety net for families with children with special needs, sometimes it seems they have little choice. Add in the fact that most of these families don’t know Jesus, are living in poverty, and are in a culture that absolutely does not value their child, – and calling their circumstances an “uphill battle” is putting it insanely mildly.
Take that mama who came to our house on that July day as an example. She is a single mama of 2. She and her husband are separated and he is not involved at all. Her older son, Siri, is 23 and has an intellectual disability. He also has some mental health issues for which she has found zero help from doctors. Siri used to attend a boarding school for children with special needs, and he was happy there. Then, when he turned 20 and aged out of that program she had nowhere else to turn to for help. Siri, a social guy who was used to spending lots of time with peers, was suddenly home alone all day in an apartment while mom had to work. He really isn’t safe to be home alone, but what other option was there? With no extended family willing to help, and no programs offering assistance of any kind, the family was forced into an extremely unsafe situation.
After many months of being home alone all day, trapped in an apartment, Siri began to decline. He stopped using the toilet, stopped feeding himself, and eventually stopped talking. This young man who used to thrive in the company of others, who could even read and write, was now dependent on his mother to (literally) run home every three hours to feed him, change him, and make sure he was okay, before locking him back inside for his own safety. Then an already impossible situation became even more difficult when Siri became aggressive and explosive. COVID forced his younger brother to learn from home, and the two boys at home alone all day was just absolutely not sustainable. But still, what could mom do? She was 100% on her own with no support and no help. In order to keep her younger son safe she felt she had to put Siri in an institution. This hero mama who had raised her son alone for 23 years was at the end or her rope.
It seems like a nearly impossible thing, to raise a child with special needs, alone, in a culture that has some built-in supports like Medicare and public schooling. But it is a whole other beast to raise a child like Siri alone in Ukraine. This society says our boys have no value. Finding appropriate medical care for them is daunting and nearly impossible (no exaggeration). The government gives zero help, and even walking down the street is a constant reminder that this culture will only accommodate the able-bodied and independently-capable. I find raising our boys here a super difficult task- and I have a whole team of help!!! I remember how scared we were when Anton became aggressive toward our kids. I had Jed there to help me- and it was still scary and confusing. We felt so helpless. I can’t fathom the hopelessness and fear that this mom has felt. Whichever decision she made, it was like she was choosing one child over another. Hers was 100% a lose-lose situation.
After meeting with mom on that hot July day, we spoke with our team about how God might be asking us to step in and help. Mom was still pretty determined to place Siri in the institution, but was agreeable to our help while she waited for a spot to open up for him. We started including him in our weekly art class and group activities on Fridays. He was withdrawn and shy, but his mom seemed mostly happy for him to have the outlet.
Over the past several months we have watched Siri change into a different person. It’s actually pretty incredible. We are starting to see the boy he probably was when he was in school. He has slowly learned that our team and our boys are a safe place for him. He has begun to dance, to sing, to hug. He has a light in his eyes when everyone is all together. He has found his people. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. There have still been some pretty rough times at home, but, thankfully, they are countered with good times- times of growth and happiness.
A few days ago Mom called Tanya, our teacher, and told her that a place had opened up for Siri at an institution in our region. She was on her way to check it out. She had only a few days to make a decision as to whether she would place him there, or the spot would go to someone else. Tanya was at our house when she called. We stopped and prayed. We asked our team to stop, wherever they were in the city, and pray. So many people all over the world were praying! We cried out to God to intervene. We asked for his mercy over this family. We asked for His will to be done. After the visit, Mom had a lot to think about. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, and we just waited and prayed. Then, finally, when our team was all together at the mountains Tanya got a phone call from her. She had decided to turn down the placement. Siri would stay home with her! Praise God. A few of us might have cried tears of relief. 😉
Now comes the road of figuring out how to help mom keep her son for the long haul. Now is the time to figure out how to make their living situation sustainable and safe for all. Now, more than ever, we need God’s wisdom for how to hold this mama’s arms up.
Would you pray with us for Siri and his mama and brother? Pray that God gives this hero mama strength. Pray that she would come to know Jesus and his never-ending love. Pray for our team, that we would have wisdom about the best way to help this little fam. Thank you!
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. 🙂 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.
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
The Social Dilemma on Netflix (This is WOAH.) https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_social_dilemma
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.
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
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.)
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. 🙂
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. 😉
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 😉
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?
It’s hard to imagine that I started writing on this blog more than 9 years ago. It feels like not long ago, but it also feels like 5 lifetimes ago. Back in those days, Seth was our foster baby and we were hoping to adopt from Ukraine. We had 4 small kids, owned a house, worked our jobs. We had a pretty typical American life.
Now, 9 years later we have 6 kids, plus 3 adults under our guardianship. (Also a dog, 2 cats, 14 chickens, 2 bunnies…and a partridge in a pear tree) We live in a village in Ukraine and our life is kind of the opposite of typical- by American and Ukrainian standards. We’re some kind of strange, no matter how you look at it. 🙂
When I started this blog we had no intention of moving to Ukraine and I started it just as a way to get the word out about our adoption. Then when the tides turned and we ended up started Wide Awake International and moving to Ukraine, the blog remained a great way to communicate. When I felt inspired, I wrote. When I had nothing to say, or when times were particularly rough, I was more quiet (hence the “more quiet” of the past year or so). It was easier to post on social media during those times, because social media posts didn’t require the “inspiration” that I’ve always felt the blog deserved. So, the blog has kind of fallen a bit along the wayside.
But now, now it’s time for the blog to shine again. 🙂
After much consideration, prayer, and studying, we have decided that in two weeks’ time, we will stop sharing about Wide Awake on social media (Facebook and Instagram).
I think social media can be a great thing when it is used in the right way. It can even be beautiful and it can help save lives. Almost all of our boys, who now live in loving families, were found through advocacy on social media. A large number of Wide Awake supporters would have never found out about this work were it not for social media. We will always be thankful for how those platforms helped us share our dream of dignity and love with so many people.
At the same time, we find ourselves more and more at odds, personally, with what social media has become over the past couple of years. We have wanted to “pull the plug” numerous times, especially over this past year, but have felt like it was impossible to have a successful nonprofit without social media. But I guess it all comes down to how you define “success”. If we measure success by the size of our audience and the amount of applause, we may be throwing away our chance of success by leaving social media. But if we measure success by our obedience to Christ, then this is the path to ultimate success. So, this is the direction in which we will walk.
Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to share more about how we came to this decision, but I wanted to at least get the word out there so people will know where to find us online and we don’t lose any friends along the way.
Thank you for loving us and trusting us along this journey. We aren’t going anywhere, we’re just switching up the mode of communication. No need to say goodbye! If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment or send us a message below.
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.
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.
Our life and world here in Ukraine is quite small. There’s a simplicity about it that I have grown to love and cherish. Sure, there are things about it that are far from simple. The emotions are not simple. Dealing with trauma is not simple. Speaking Ukrainian is not simple. Navigating local school and raising kids outside of our passport country is confusing and without simple answers. Figuring out how to help our guys become human after living all their lives as animals is about as unsimple as it can get.
And yet, our lives still have a sense of simplicity. Our lives are simple because we have a very singular focus. We aren’t trying to accomplish a bunch of different things in a multitude if different spheres. There are different facets to our work, for sure (family life, internship, building project, funds management, donor relations, legal stuff, budgets, medical care, advocacy, education…and on and on) and much of that is more complex due to where we live. But still, it all revolves around the one focus of building a community of love, dignity and hope for our friends with special needs.
Because of the nature of the work we do and the people God has brought into our lives to love, our world is quite small. Logistically, almost everything happens at.our.house. This house is the hub of everything. The duplex is being built right outside our back door. It’s a little more complicated at the moment because Anton and Ruslan are in apartments off-site, but still, the majority of life happens right here at our house.
Also, because of our guys and their needs for structure and order and consistency, our lives have a very “small” nature to them. We can’t do all the things and go to all the places. We can’t be out late at night and running our kids to lots of activities and spending all day on Saturday at the soccer field (that’s not a thing here anyway…). Not that those things are bad, they just don’t work in this context. We all need to be home for dinner. Our guys need that. Boris needs to be in bed at 8 each night. He does best that way and so we give him that early bedtime nearly every night. Living in the village makes a busy life inconvenient, so the reality is we are just home more. Our relationship circle is also much smaller here than it was in the US. Our friends are mostly our team members and that’s okay. They are the ones who understand this life we’re living. They’re the ones who are with us day in and day out. They are our “people”. They are our Ukrainian family. 🙂
I resented that need for routine and “homebody-ness” at first, but now I see it as a wonderful gift. Having our team here every day means big group lunches every day at 13:00, and B-mo’s need for an evening routine means family dinner together nearly every single night at 18:00. It’s rare for someone in the family to not be at the table for dinner. Our team has spent countless hours at our table eating and laughing and just being together. What an enormous gift.
I’ve been reading a lot these days about the monastic life and I see a lot of similarities to our life here. The rhythms of morning worship and meals together and working together, giving ourselves to each other is reminiscent of some sort of “Order”. God has called us to a kind of simplicity here, a cutting out of the extras, and even though I don’t always love it, I am growing to appreciate it and how He is using it to shape us. My desire to pull back a bit from the digital world this year is a response to this call to a simpler life; it’s a desire to focus on the main things.
As the duplex construction draws nearer to completion we are beginning to think more about who will join us in this life. We don’t want to just look for warm bodies to fill the needed spaces, but we want people to join us who are looking to answer that call for community. We are looking for and praying for people who desire to give their lives to this vision of hope, love and dignity. We don’t necessarily mean give your life away, like the rest of your life, but to give your life away for a season. Though some may decide to give the rest of their lives away, and we will be glad if God sends those people our way. 🙂 To do this life well, this life of living with people with disabilities, you have to die to yourself daily. You have to be willing to serve and live a “small” life- one in which you are not applauded and the sacrifices are rarely seen by others, but you do it anyway because you love the One who has called you to it and you love the one right in front of you.
I know “simple living” and living a “small life” are kind of trendy topics as of late. It can sound really romantic, but we have to remember that in order to live a small life we have to say no to quite a few things. It can be a painful thing to cut out the excess so we have time and energy for the mains, but if we look with an eternal perspective I’m pretty sure we’ll find that pain worth it. It’s not a romantic life here on the homestead in Ukraine, but it is a full one, one that will change its inhabitants forever. I know it is changing me.
If this resonates with you, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are currently finishing up role descriptions and will share them when they are ready.