Eight Months In

We’re coming up on 8 months with Anton and Ruslan and I feel like we’re slowly starting to come up for air. Caring for our guys is still pretty much all-consuming, but we have gotten in to a bit of a rhythm, and things are looking up!

Sometimes it feels like their progress is so minuscule, but then we look back and remember things we had to do a few months ago just to keep the peace around here and we see how far the guys have come. Very far!

Anton. Six months ago we were barely sleeping because Anton was up all hours of the night wandering the halls. I remember we used to have to turn off all the water to the house and unscrew all the downstairs lightbulbs before we went to bed every night because Anton would get up and try to take a bath at 3 in the morning, or shriek and hoot and holler at 2am so that we would get him up and feed him. We had to remove all options in order for him to be able to turn his brain off enough to rest and fall asleep. At one point Jed was sleeping on a couch in front of his door to remove the option of nighttime wanderings. Those were the days…yikes.

Now I can happily report that Anton goes to bed easily and doesn’t get up until at least 6:30 every morning. (knock on a biiiiiiig ol’ piece of wood 🙂 ) His sleep success is thanks to a strict evening routine that we dare not stray from, and blessed medication. The combo of the two saved our lives.

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He’s saying a lot of words, and more and more often he says them at the appropriate times! He used to only really speak when he was angry, but now that’s not always the case. There are so many words in there and sometimes he’ll shock us with a “See you tomorrow!” (in Ukrainian of course) or something like that.

Anton gets stressed pretty easily, and when he doesn’t feel good, physically, he gets really worked up. In times of stress he is aggressive toward others, so that is a big bummer. I hate those times because I know he is just repeating what he’s seen his whole life and it’s not the real Anton. When he is in an aggressive mood it just becomes a matter of keeping him separate from everyone else and that is exhausting. I hope and pray that someday Anton will be able to express his emotions in ways that are less painful to others. We are doing all we can to help him learn a new way.

When Anton feels good and is at ease he is so joyful, sweet and fun-loving. He loves big bear hugs, dancing, toy cars and fidget-spinners. He enjoys stirring things in the kitchen and will gladly eat anything and everything you put in front of him. He has started to say “I love you” on occasion and this week he said “Mama” for the first time. Melt my heart.

Ruslan. To be honest, it’s hard for me to write about Ruslan because I’m unsure how much to share. Whenever I share about our boys I want to respect their dignity and respect their privacy. It’s so important for me not to overshare their personal struggles. At the same time, I always want to be honest about this process. It does none of us any good for me to pretend all is unicorns and rainbows when they so clearly are not. This is stinkin’ hard work for us, our team, and our boys every.single.day. Most of all for our boys. Learning to become a human after 20+ years of living like an animal is not an easy process to go through. They need our empathy and our compassion, but they also need our strength. They need to have a standard to rise to, expectations to meet. They need to know we believe in them and we want more for them because we love them!

Ruslan’s trauma presents itself as high anxiety and a need to be in control of everything. At Romaniv his world was small. The stressors were crazy HUGE, but there were few of them. His main priority there was keeping himself safe and keeping himself fed. Here in the real world, the wider world, there are many, many things outside of his control. There are so many more things for him to obsess about and be anxious about. If it’s not one thing it’s another.  He wants desperately to control his environment, but when you live in a house with 10 other people you just can’t control every single detail. That is outrageously hard for Ruslan. Sometimes it seems like it’s only getting harder, only getting worse, but he has actually made some great strides in the past few months. A few months ago he was was having daily meltdowns and those really only happen on rare occasions now. You can see him ramping up for a meltdown, and then most of the time he can wind himself down. Not always, but most of the time. I’m so thankful for that!

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When Ruslan is relaxed and at peace he is hilarious. He has a great sense of humor and a compassionate heart. He really loves Evie and is mostly gentle with her. He loves to sing, and worship time at church is his most favorite thing EVER. The anxiety ridden Ruslan who acts out in fear holds back the real Ruslan. The anxious Ruslan is also extremely hard to live with. It breaks my heart because I want things to be different. So, we will continue to fight for him. We will fight to get him all the help we can so that he can live his life to the fullest.

We have waited a bit to see how things would play out with a highly structured day and several months of safety and now we have an accurate baseline for Ruslan. We are ready to seek out psychiatric care for our guy and see how we can best help him move forward. If you would pray with us for wisdom in this we would really appreciate it.

Health. As far as medical stuff goes for both guys, we’ve been slowly but surely getting things taken care of. Fridays have become our “medical day”, so Kenny and I try to tackle the different medical appointments on Fridays. We’re focused on dental stuff right now and that’s super fun since Kenny and I both HATE going to the dentist. I’m not sure how much moral support we provide, but we do our best. Hehe. Anton has one problematic tooth that should be fixed next week and Ruslan has a whole mouthful of problems. I’m not sure he’ll have any teeth left when we get finished. Poor guy. 🙁 I’m guessing we’ll be exploring the world of dentures or implants in the near future. Anton has some physical symptoms that I don’t have answers for yet, but all in all I think they are both in pretty good health at the moment. Step by step we’re getting there!

I have to say that there is no way we could do any of this without our amazing team. Kenny and Oleg are with us Monday through Friday, bathing our guys, shaving them, taking them on bike rides, teaching them how to make tea, keeping them safe, talking them off the ledge, teaching them how to be men, loving them, comforting them, supporting us and all in all just being awesome. This really would be impossible without their help. We would have burned out months ago.

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Masha, Masha, and Lesya are also absolutely essential to the success of this home. “Harry Potter Masha” 😉 comes to our home three times a week. She plans and organizes the guys’ schedule for the week and is learning to implement the plans that Olya, our wonderful OT, recommends. Masha’s work makes it so that we aren’t just spinning our wheels with the guys, but we are hopefully moving toward specific developmental goals. “Second Masha” and Lesya each come once a week and provide great additional support to our guys and the rest of the team. I love our team and can’t express how thankful I am that God brought each of them to our family.

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So, there’s a bit of an update on our two newest family members. If you have any questions about Anton or Ruslan, or the process of deinstitutionalization don’t hesitate to ask! My hope and dream for writing this out is that someone reading it will also feel called to this deep, difficult, and beautiful work. We need help and I know God will call the right people to join us. I also write this so that those of you who pray will know better how to pray for our family and our team.

To all of you who pray, support, encourage and love us from afar, thank you! We can’t tell you how much we need it and appreciate it. Thank you for partnering with us on this journey. We couldn’t do it without you!

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Homestead Happenings- April 2019

I think “Homestead Happenings” is super cheesy, but I can’t think of anything better to write, so I guess we’re stuck with it.

What’s happening on the Homestead?  SO MUCH!

VISITORS. A couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday and ushered in the season of visitors! From now till mid-August we’ll have pretty much constant visitors around here. I feel a tad bit overwhelmed by it, but mostly really excited about it. Jed’s parents AND my parents are both visiting this spring/summer and we are so ready to see them. My parents haven’t been here for 5 years and so much everything has changed since then! We live in a different place. We are in a different church community. We knew basically none of our friends at that time. And we have 5 new family members since their last visit! Yeah, life is a bit different now than it was 5 years ago.  I’m very ready for them to see our life in action and to know all the people here that we love.

BUILDING. The construction team has been hired and the land-use has been approved by our village. Next week ground will be broken for the next home on our property! This is a huge next step. The home will be a duplex, that will be two forever homes for more of our friends from the institution. We don’t know yet which of our friends will live there and we don’t know who will live there with them, but that’s okay. God knows all the details and when we need to know He will make it clear to us. We are praying for God to put it in the hearts of the ones who will join us in this work and give their lives away, and that they will be ready the the time comes. Please join us in prayer about that!

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Evie exploring the building site 🙂

ADDITION. I mentioned before that a couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday. They came to help us build an addition on to our house! I say “us” like I’m doing the building…haha. We all know that I’m not lifting a hammer. They’re helping “us”, as in Jed, and I’m just trying to keep everyone fed.

Our house has 4 rooms upstairs: our room +baby, the girls’ room, the boys’ room, and an “office”/guest room. The downstairs currently has 2 bedrooms. One room was Boris’ bedroom and the other room was for Anton and Ruslan.

After Anton and Ruslan arrived it was quickly apparent that they would not be able to share a bedroom. They were both so full of fear at night and the presence of another person just made things worse. It took us many months to get Anton to sleep at night and his many night-wakings kept Ruslan awake. They would play off each other and amp each other up and it was a recipe for disaster. They were both not sleeping and they were both grumpy about it. Jed and I were pretty grumpy about it ourselves (to put it lightly). Ugh. That was a painful time.

For safety and healthy boundaries’ sake, Ruslan and Anton do not go upstairs at all. But we needed to separate them, so we put Ruslan in Boris’ room and moved Boris up to the office. The problem though, is that Boris is not safe on stairs. He can’t go up or down stairs without significant help, so he can’t access his bedroom during the day. We have a video monitor in his room so we can see when he wakes in the morning and go help him down the stairs. Each morning he waits for us, since he knows he can’t do the stairs alone, but we’re always afraid that one day he will just decide to exit his room alone. He is right at the top of the stairs and he would fall so fast. His bedroom situation is totally unsafe, but so far there has been no other option.

But, that’s about to change! This week our friends are here helping build an addition to solve that problem! The addition will expand our living room and create a bedroom for Boris downstairs. It’s noisier and crazier than usual around here (if that’s possible…hehe), but it’s all for a good cause and I can’t wait for the end result. We will all rest better knowing our B-Mo is safe at night and that he can get up in the morning whenever he wants.

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Thank you, Friends!

SCHOOL.  In the midst of it all we’re trying to wrap up the school year around here. Hava and Seth should finish up local school sometime toward the end of May, and Addy and Ezra should finish up their curriculum in June. I’ve been researching which curriculum we’ll do next year and it’s been really fun. It was very last minute when we decided to homeschool Addy and Ezra and of course homeschooling Seth part-time was a total surprise, so I didn’t get the benefit of doing much research. I’m excited about what I’ve planned for next year and have already done all the ordering so our many visitors can pack-mule all our books here for us. 🙂

So there’s a little peek into what’s happening around the old Homestead. I promise to share photos of the finished addition and of the progress on the new home. Stay tuned!

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Superheroes Live in Our House.

Sometimes I don’t know completely what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it out. You’ve been warned. 🙂

When we moved to Ukraine 5 years ago our mission was clear: to bring hope, love and dignity to people with disabilities. Our main goal was deinstitutionalization.  We dreamed of this work. We dreamed of this reality. We dreamed of the day we would begin to bring our guys out and have the opportunity to show them the love of a family. I dreamed of being a mama to them- to those who had no mama.

Now we are living that dream. It is a reality!

Four of the very ones we dreamed of setting free are downstairs drinking tea at the kitchen table. The ones who can speak call me “mama”. I dreamed of that. 🙂

Yes, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s here, I struggle with the reality of it. The day to day of it is harder than I imagined- much less romantic than I imagined. The reality of deinstitutionalization of adults who are so very broken- body, mind and spirit is non-stop work with very little reward. Yet I longed for it. I wept for it. I dreamed of it. But it’s so dang hard. So.dang.hard.

Where’s the disconnect? I love our guys. I can’t imagine not having them with us. Then why do I struggle so bad with their behaviors?  Why am I so often annoyed? Why do I (too often) wake with dread in my heart over the hardships I know the day will bring?

I can tell you why. Two reasons:

  1.  Far too often I try to do this work, live this life, without Jesus.
  2. As much as I fight for our guys to be included and seen as equals by the people around them, in my heart, I still see them as “less than”.

Friends, this work will bring you to your knees. Spending your life with the broken, teaching them to become human is a work that will break you. Well, I guess I can’t speak for you, but it’s definitely breaking me. Every single day I’m confronted with my own weakness, my own ugliness. It’s so yucky. Here I am fighting for justice for our guys; trying to show Ukrainians a new way, and yet I know that I don’t value them the way they deserve to be valued. Somehow, even after knowing all they have suffered, I still have a bit of my heart that looks down at them.

God forgive me.

I put my agenda before them. I dismiss their feelings as less important than my own. I shower love on them when they behave more human, but when they move into old behaviors I withhold my affection.

God forgive me.

I find myself realizing that those who are “lower functioning” (I hate that term but don’t know a better one) are generally easier for me because they require less of me. I can care for them more on my terms- when it’s convenient for me. The “higher functioning” of our boys demand more. Their struggles, feelings and hurts are presented in more complex ways and I’m exhausted with trying to make sense of it all, so I sometimes give up.

God forgive me.

As you’ve figured out, if you’ve read this far- I am far from a superhero (I’m sure you already knew that). I am a super flawed human who screws up on the regular. I function too often out of my own strength, which is consistently running out.

I need Jesus. Guys, I have zero business getting out of my bed and letting my feet touch the ground without first talking with Jesus. I’ll tell you what happens when I try to do my day in Kim’s strength. I’m short- like I have zero patience. I’m easily annoyed. I find more joy in my coffee than in the people around me. I’m discontent. I search for approval from others. I look for distraction. I compare my life to the lives of others and I either envy them, judge them, or puff myself up. Bottom line: Kim minus Jesus equals HOT MESS.

I’m not sure why I think I can do this on my own when I so clearly stink at it.

And yet-

His power is made perfect in my weakness. God has called us to this work and I know that I know if I turn to Him He will give me everything I need. Tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every morning. Amen?

I’ll tell you who the superheroes are around here: their names are Ruslan, Anton, Boris and Vladik.

Our guys have endured unimaginable pain, abuse and neglect. Their childhoods were stolen from them. Their teen years were stolen from them. So many missed opportunities, missed birthdays, missed cuddles, missed “I love you”s, missed adventures, missed family dinners, missed holidays, missed moments of peace and joy. Ruslan, Anton and Boris spent 3 decades as prisoners, innocent of any crime.

They came to us afraid, diseased, malnourished of body and spirit. But every single day they wake up and they try again. They are survivors. They are learning to give themselves to others, learning to become human. I’m certain it hurts them far more than it hurts me.

Our guys are deserving of the best- not because of what they have endured and not because of their likability, but because they are children of God, created in His image, just like you and me.

I’m done. I’m done holding back a part of my heart and selfishly longing for something different. I’m done parceling out my love to those who “deserve it” in that particular moment.

I’m here. I’m planting myself. No matter if our guys are every fully included into society here in Ukraine, they will fully be included into my heart. Not everyone is lucky enough to live with superheroes, but I get to live with 4. I’m one lucky lady. 🙂

BeLOVE[d]

 

What’s Up With School

It’s been a while since I’ve written about school in this space. Over on Instagram @thetravelingacademy I have the fun opportunity to be on a team of expat mamas living all over the world. Together, we are hoping to create a great resource about all things educating kids overseas. There is a great mix of experience there! Some homeschool, some send their kiddos to international school, some do local school and some (like us) use different methods for different kids. We also discuss parenting “Third Culture Kids” and parenting kids with special needs outside your home culture. So far, it’s a lot of fun.

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Being a part of the team has me thinking about our kids’ education nonstop. I’m constantly thinking about what we’re doing and reconsidering if it’s working or not. It’s been a breath of fresh air and inspiration for my mama brain. 🙂

Since I’m thinking about education a lot these days, I figured I’m waaaaay past due in sharing with you what we’re doing these days for education. So here ya go!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you might remember that it took us quite some time to find our groove in Ukrainian school. We’re actually still finding it…actually, we’ll probably always be searching for it, but at least each year we’re getting closer. Hehe. We moved here in November 2013 and put Addy and Ezra into Ukrainian public school in February, after realizing it was probably the only way they were really going to learn language and be a part of the culture. It was actually a great experience for all of us. It was super hard, for the kids and the parents, but all in all, we considered it a success and decided to stick with it.

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They were so little!

The next fall we decided to try a Ukrainian private school, simply because we were searching for smaller class sizes. Addy and Ezra were a little lost in the shuffle in the big public school classes and we thought a private school could offer them more support. We ended up only staying at that school for a semester because the director of the school didn’t really understand our situation. She insisted that the kids should keep repeating first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian! Ummmm yeah…we weren’t really into that idea. So, at Christmas break we brought them home for school.

Finally, in the Fall of 2016 we found the RIGHT school for our family. Our current school is also a Ukrainian private school, but the administration is very open to our family. They believe in our kids and they truly want them to succeed and to be integrated into school life. At our current school our kids aren’t “The Americans”, they are just students- like everyone else.

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Addy, Ezra and Hava all attended that school full-time for 2 years, and Seth attended first grade there last year. Overall, it has been a pretty great experience. There were (and are) major difficulties and roadblocks, but that is to be expected anytime you are fully immersed in a cultural situation different than anything you’ve ever known. Our kids are the only foreign kids in the school (actually, I don’t know of any other English speaking kids in our city…) so the learning curve has been steep for the staff and for our family.

We are learning, like all parents, that constant revaluation and adjustment is necessary for spiritual, educational and social success. Because of that we’ve made some pretty big changes in schooling this year. Addy and Ezra are homeschooling full-time, Hava is still in Ukrainian school full-time, Seth is part-time at Ukrainian school and part-time at home, and Vladik is doing private lessons at his teacher’s home 4 days a week. It’s a little crazy, but it seems to be working!

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We realized that as the kids reach the upper grades (Addy is in 9th and Ezra is in 7th) that it was a better use of their time and energy to study at home. The struggle then, has been finding meaningful ways for them to engage with others outside the home. For Addy, it’s attending a weekly youth group at another church in town, and taking twice-a-week sewing lessons from a church friend. For Ezra it’s attending a twice-a-week class where he’s learning to make videos. I wish there were more opportunities for them to be with their peers, but it’s pretty hard to find something to engage in here that’s not sports. So, we’re trusting God that He will show us what they need. I easily take on a lot of mom guilt concerning their social lives, so I just can’t let myself go there. Their lives are rich and full in other ways and it’s okay if theirs look different than my life did at their age. Comparison is not helpful or healthy (preaching to myself right now).

Hava adores school and is as happy as a clam there, so that’s a no-brainer. 🙂

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Vladik’s situation isn’t ideal, but we’re going to finish out this school year as is, and probably make significant changes next year. His teacher is great, as always, but he’s loving being here at the Homestead more and more, and when construction starts on the next homes he’ll want to be in the thick of it. So, next year I foresee him spending more time working on his building skills and less time doing “seat work”.

Seth. Oh my sweet Seth. Seth and Ukrainian school don’t mesh super well. 🙂 He attended first grade last year and it went okay, but not great. This year he started second grade at the school, but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to work out. We brought him home for homeschool in October and just recently decided to ease him back in to a bit of local school. He really is a social guy and missed his friends, plus he really needs more language exposure. He’s now attending school for 4 hours, three days a week and then is home for the rest of it. I hope this plan works for our guy.

That’s our current school situation. Every child is different and every year is different and we have to just keep being flexible, holding loosely to what we “think” our kids need for happiness.  Our first job is to point them to Jesus, and as long as we’re doing that I think they’ll turn out okay.

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FAMILY FOUND! + An Encouragement

Yes, it’s true. A family has committed to adopting Preston!

WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! So many tears and cheers around here!

Thank you to every single one of you who donated to his adoption grant and shared his face with the world. His mommy and daddy found him via social media, so sharing does work! They are a family who have been around the special needs adoption world for a while now, advocating and supporting other families. Now their time has come, and I’m super glad about it.

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So many of you have asked how best to support Preston, and now his family and I can tell you that there are two BIG ways you can help.

  1.  Pray. If you are a person who prays, please pray for Preston’s family to be able to move through the adoption paperwork with lightning speed. Pray that no roadblocks get in their way so they can get to their boy before he is moved.
  2. Donate. The biggest obstacle to this adoption happening in a timely manner is MONEY. Adoption is sooooo expensive and this family needs our financial support to help them move along quickly. They have decided to commit their lives to Preston. In that commitment they have agreed to all the costs that come with adding a new member to the family: emotional, physical, and financial. Let’s be real, it’s expensive to care for a child with significant special needs. Their adoption journey with Preston will continue on for the rest of his life, and so will the financial aspects of it. I would just love to bless them in this part of their journey. I would love money to not be an obstacle at all in bringing him home. Follow this link to give a tax-deductible donation to the family’s adoption fund: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

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I know many of you were touched deeply by Preston and his story. He is a very special boy who is destined for great things. Many of you expressed to me your desire and willingness to be his family, and for that I thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts.

I know there are some happy, yet broken hearts out there, mommies and daddies who hoped Preston would be theirs. I want to tell you that I know exactly how you feel. Our journey to our life here in Ukraine started out in that exact way. We committed to adopting a boy in Ukraine, and gave our whole hearts to him in the process, but another family adopted him before we could get there. We were happy for him, that he wouldn’t have to wait for us to have the mommy and daddy that he so needed, but at the same time we were absolutely crushed. How could we have such love for a child and then have it turn out that he was not meant for our family? It was a difficult and confusing time. I wrote about it here. 

Long story short, God used that little boy in southern Ukraine who was never meant to be our son, to turn our hearts in the direction of Ukraine, in the direction of our future. God spoke to Jed so clearly in that time,

“Jed, I am so much more interested in the process than in the end result.  You have one end result in mind, but I’m taking you on a journey.  I needed you to love that boy like a father.  I needed you to love him with abandon.  I needed you to have that father’s heart for him because I need you to love lots of little boys and girls like him.”

I believe that is the current storyline for some of you. Preston as your son was not the end result God had in mind when He grabbed your heart, but instead He is using Preston’s story to start you on a journey. If that is the case, please don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Stay in a posture of YES. Do not be discouraged. Do not harden your heart. Do not simply move on. Quiet your heart and ask the Lord what He would have you to do next, because I guarantee there is a reason your heart was so touched. Our end result is us in Ukraine with a houseful of broken and beautiful men so in need of love and healing. Your end result may not be the same (If it is, come on over! We could use some help over here! Haha), but it may be adoption of a different child, or foster care, or advocacy. This gut wrenching, pit of your stomach, can’t eat, too many tears, broken and open heart are unto something. So don’t miss it. These times of prompting from the Lord can be game-changers.

If you need some encouragement (and you have a few spare hours…hehe) go back and read the beginnings of this blog. You’ll see how we had no idea what we were in for, but we just wanted to say YES to Jesus. It has been a wild ride, but I don’t regret one second of it. Not that we’ve got it all figured out by any means! But we have walked the road of disappointment that led to great great joy.

I promise to keep you all updated on Preston and his family’s adoption journey! So stay tuned!

BeLOVE[d]