On Going Home

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.

BeLOVE[d]

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Three Months of War: On My Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BeLOVE[d]

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Stream of Consciousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please, don’t forget Ukraine. 💔

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

Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BeLOVE[d]

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

BeLOVE[d]

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Keeping Up


Hi Friends

All is as well as can be expected here. I wanted to encourage you to sign up for our newsletter if you want more frequent updates about what’s happening here. I simply can’t keep up with the blog in times like this, but I am sending out frequent emails to our newsletter subscribers so people won’t worry (or will worry a little less 😉)

Thank you for your love and support. We need it now more than ever! ❤️

BeLOVE[d]

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