I’m tellin’ you what, we have been celebrating like crazy around here! Birthday after birthday after birthday. The past month or so has been a birthday explosion, and I’m not a weighing type person, but if I were, I’m certain the scales would indicate just how much we’ve partied. 😂
Celebrations around here are sweet. They don’t call for many ingredients. Simplicity is at the core. All you need for a Wide Awake celebration is some tasty baked treats (gluten and lactose free for our Anton), fruit, tea with sugar, a speaker, and some music. Decorations are nice, but the treats and the dancing are the main focus of every celebration. Our boys and our team love a good dance party- the louder the music, the better.
I love love love seeing our boys celebrated by so many people. I love seeing the gifts our team members buy for the boys because it just shows how well each of them are known. Our team knows just the thing that each of them will like. For Anton it’s anything that can spin and anything he can eat. For Bmo it’s mainly just candy. Haha. They are known and they are seen as individuals. That is no small thing.
“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” -Jean Vanier
I’ve been a bit absent in this space over the past several weeks. I blame Christiana. 🙂 Our friend, Christiana, has been here for the past several weeks, and since I have her nearby to verbally process with, I feel less of a need to process here. Ha! You all didn’t realize you were my sounding board…or maybe you did. I’m an external processor, so I either need to talk out my thoughts or in absence of an English-speaking friend, write them out. So, I told Christiana I blame her for my lack of writing inspiration. Hehe. How’s that for throwing a friend under the bus?
Lately, the main thing that’s been ringing around in my brain has been my kids. I’m a mom of many, so obviously, mothering takes up the majority of my time and attention. As my kids move into different stages they need more or less of that time and attention, and right now it seems every one of them needs more. It’s a season where I’m seeing a lot of things that need to change and realizing that I need more support than I currently have in order to make those changes. So, it’s been a bit of a stretching season of mothering.
I think I’ve written about it here before, but parenting in our situation feels like parenting in a black hole. We have no peers around to talk with, bounce ideas off of, to watch and learn from. Jed and I feel pretty much alone in this whole parenting gig. The majority of our kids’ closest friends are from here in our village, and those parents are mostly absent. I have no idea what is going on in their homes, and they spend most of their time here in our home or in our yard. That makes things easier for me since I mostly always know where my kids are! 🙂 But parenting without other moms around can be both a blessing and a hardship. On one hand, I have no one with whom to compare myself. I’m not on social media anymore and I don’t have other mom friends to watch, so the comparison game isn’t a thing for me anymore. What a relief! I don’t feel less than, because I literally have no idea what other people are doing. On the other hand, I literally have no idea what other people are doing, so I can’t learn from them or ask for their advice. When things are going well that seems like no big deal, but when things are rough, it’s like a massive hole. I would love so much to have a peer group of moms to move through life together. I had that before we moved here and I miss it so much. I can read parenting books written by older and wiser people and learn something new, but it’s definitely not the same as sitting down for coffee with a friend to just talk through your struggles together. Sigh. Any of you moms out there wanna move to Ukraine and be my neighbor?
Our Addy is seventeen and in her junior year of high school. Can you believe it? Our first little chickadee will soon leave the nest. Noooooooooooo! It’s an exciting time of preparing for next steps and helping Addy to realize her dreams. She would like to take a year after graduation to attend a Bible School in Germany, and then she hopes to enter a German nursing school and study there (free higher education for the win!). To be eligible for studying in Germany Addy will need a high school diploma from an accredited American high school. So, this next year she will be enrolled in a school that is part online and part textbooks. Hopefully, we can cram enough credits in there to get her that coveted diploma. She’s pretty motivated and determined, so I have no doubt that she’ll do it. She also needs B1 level German to enter nursing school, so next week she will begin German lessons. Exciting times for our girl!
Next school year Ezra will be enrolled in the same accredited high school as Addy. He’ll be a sophomore and I’m excited for him to have the opportunity to learn from other teachers. Addy is a very motivated self-learner, but Ezra does better with deadlines and more specific feedback. I really hopeful that this school will be a good fit for him. If he wants to study further in the US he won’t need a diploma, but if he chooses another country for study, like Addy, then he will almost definitely need one. We figured it’s easier to bite the bullet now and just work toward the diploma so his options are more open in the future.
Hava is continuing on in Ukrainian school. She’s finishing up 5th grade and so far, it suits her just fine. She’s still young, but right now she says she wants to attend university in Ukraine and become a teacher. As long as she thinks she wants to stay in Ukraine, we’ll keep her in Ukrainian school. She’s getting a high level of education and thriving in school. No need to go changing a good thing. We’ll just take it a year at a time.
Seth has been homeschooling this year and I have no doubt that bringing him home for school was the right choice. We have just recently started learning therapy for him via Zoom and I’m really hopeful that it will help him grow in his literacy. He has progressed a lot this past year, but I know he needs more than I can give him. Just knowing we have another set of eyes and ears on his learning is such a relief to me! I want so much for Seth to grow into the man God has created him to be and to reach his potential, so I’m really thankful we found this resource. I don’t really foresee Seth reentering Ukrainian school. We’ll take it a year at a time, but for now, he’s better off at home with me.
Evie is 3 and is already wondering when she will get to go to school. 🙂 Here in Ukraine, most people send their toddlers to the local “kindergarten”. It’s free preschool/daycare and you can send your child as often as you like. Our village has a kindergarten that runs half days and we’re considering sending Evie in the fall. I’d like her to go maybe 3 half days a week and see how she likes it. I really want her to enter first grade with confidence and good language skills so that she doesn’t struggle unnecessarily. She speaks Ukrainian now, but definitely below the level of her peers (although her English is great!). She’ll need that extra boost of kinder in order to be ready for first grade when she’s 6. Plus, she’s super social and wants so badly to have friends (mini-Havalah). I’m pretty sure she’s gonna love it. We’ll see!
So, I’ve been researching diploma programs and learning therapy. I’ve been emailing and consulting and googling. We just have to work extra hard to access the resources that we need here. It’s a stretching time, but sometimes stretching feels good, even when it hurts a little.
Life at the moment feels especially full. I’d love to take the time to be reflective and self-aware, but I just don’t have it in me. Life is just happening and I don’t have the time to think much about the deeper things. But, what I can think about is what is bringing me joy!
Pinky Malinky. A couple of weeks ago our sweet Wendell dog died. We don’t know why. We don’t know what happened to him. He was neutered on a Tuesday and all seemed well and good, but then on Friday he was found in the trees behind our house and he had died. Oh, our poor Seth. He was so devastated. Wendell was his dog and Seth had found him as a small puppy on the streets of our village. He was a naughty, but sweet dog. Seth’s little heart was broken.
Enter…Pinky Malinky! Seth had a puppy-shaped hole in his heart, and it needed filling. We found a local ad about a puppy who had been found in a dumpster on New Year’s Eve and needed a home. So, we brought that little pup home and Seth named her Pinky Malinky. 🙂 She is so sweet and the perfect addition to our family. She’ll be more of an inside dog than Bluebell. Bluebell is a worker, but Pinky is happy to cuddle. She’s good for us.
Survivor Night. Friday night at the Homestead is “Survivor Night”. We all look forward to it in eager anticipation. 🙂 Around 8pm Max and Morgan make their way over from the duplex and we cozy on in for our weekly dose of Jeff Probst and island drama. There’s usually some sort of treat included (of course). I think we started watching Survivor when we were trying to survive jet lag, and then it became a tradition. Seeing as how there’s like 40 seasons of Survivor out there, it’s a tradition that should carry us for a good while. You can read Morgan’s thoughts on Survivor Night here.
Garden Dreaming and House Plants. The snow has melted (for now) and we’ve got the garden on our minds. During the long, snowy wait I decided to try my hand at house plants (everyone who knows me in real life is shaking their head and laughing at me right now). In the past I’ve been pretty vehemently opposed to house plants, simply because I was so overwhelmed with keeping the humans and animals in my life fed and watered, I couldn’t imagine trying to add needy plants to the mix. I have one house plant that has survived for like 3 years here in this house and I honestly have no idea how that is even possible. I don’t even remember where that plant came from, but it is one determined plant! This year, as the snow lasted on and on and refused to melt, I started thinking I had the mental capacity to try out some plants. Annnnnd so far so good! Our friend, Christiana, who is here visiting, has helped me a ton, and I’m finding joy in seeing my plants not die. Haha. Jed and I are beginning garden talks and scheming how we want to switch things up this year. So exciting! Bring on the sun and the dirt. We’re ready.
The Fence. What a glamorous life I lead. When things like a finished fence bring you immense joy you know you’re deeeeeeep in country livin’. Oleg finished our fence and we now have a fully enclosed back yard. The reason this makes me unreasonably happy is because we have approximately 226 stray dogs in our village and they were all making our back yard their personal playground. Poor Bluebell was working from sunup till way past sundown, chasing them out of our yard. I was throwing shoes at them. It was super annoying and super loud. But now, thanks to a finished fence, they are no longer making a party pad out of our back yard. Thank the Lord!
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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This week has been one for the books. It has been a week in which dreams have been fulfilled and what once seemed impossible became possible!
This week the duplex has a family! It’s no longer just a building site, but this week it became a home. We are so thankful and so excited.
For a while we had been thinking about and praying about the possibility of Anton living in the duplex with Max and Morgan. We are still waiting for Sasha’s guardianship to become official, and we felt pretty strongly that Anton would be happier if he lived in the village, closer to us, and in a place with more support. Lesya and Masha have lived with Anton in an apartment since June and they have done a wonderful job with him. He is healthier and stronger than ever. He is also more emotionally healthy. Still, living with him is plenty challenging, and everyone agreed it would be more sustainable for all if Anton was in a place with larger net of support.
So, this past weekend Masha, Lesya, and Anton joined Max and Morgan in the duplex and we are all just really, really happy about it. The girls have agreed to live in the duplex till the summer, in order to help with the transition of Anton, and later, Sasha. They are helping Max and Morgan learn how to live with our boys, and also helping them with all the language needed to communicate with the boys. It seems like it will be a great fit. Ruslan moved into Anton’s old apartment with Luda and Nazar, and that’s great too, because Anton’s old apartment is nicer and bigger. Win win!
I can’t even accurately describe to you how it feels to have life in the duplex. We have dreamed of a community like this for so long. We have an amazing community in our team, but to have community, right here, out our back door is a literal dream come true. We are living life together, with our boys, as friends and family and it’s just so beautiful. I’m sure it will have it’s challenges- because…humans. But, I really feel God’s smile on this. This is the life our boys deserve.
The timing seems just about perfect too, because today Jed finally began the guardianship classes required to bring Sasha into the family. We have been waiting since September for these classes to start. FINALLY!!! The classes last until mid-March, and then hopefully all will be in order for Sasha to move into the duplex. That gives Anton enough time to get adjusted to his new digs before Sasha joins. We are all eager to see Sasha again and bring him from darkness into light. So much love awaits him!
Thank you, thank you, thank you to each one of you who has prayed and encouraged and given money over the past years. The dreams are becoming reality. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of this work. Wahoo!
PS: If you haven’t heard yet, we are doing a BeLOVE[d] t-shirt/sweatshirt fundraiser! It ends on March 2. 100% of the proceeds will go toward finishing the second side of the duplex. Click the link below to buy a t-shirt 🙂