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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We Are Safe

Dear Friends,
Thank you for all your love and care for us during this uncertain time. We are still in Ukraine, on the Homestead, and we are safe. There have been rumors that some kind of invasion could happen today, but so far all is well. Assistants are with the boys, I took the kids to school, and am now sitting down with coffee to write to you. It feels almost like a normal morning, except Jed is on the phone right now with Ruslan planning the route for picking up all of our families in the city, if there were to be an invasion. And the kids’ school wrote that they are stepping up emergency drills with the kids. Sooooo…almost normal? 🤷‍♀️

We are watching the news very carefully and have made plans for every scenario we can think of. What will we do if we lose cell service?  What will we do if we lose internet?  What will we do if public transportation stops running? What will we do if there are Russian troops actually in our city?  We have done our best to prepare, and now all we can do is live our lives and see what happens. 

✅ On Monday we bought :
50kg of buckwheat
10kg of sugar
50kg of rice
20L of oil
50kg of oats
60kg of carrots
120kg of potatoes
40kg of onions
60kg of beets
5kg of garlic
Salt
So we’re all set to feed our crew of 40ish, should we all need to hunker down here in the village.

✅ Yesterday we filled all the vehicles with diesel and have plenty of fuel on reserve that Ruslan has been buying over this past month.

✅ Yesterday we finally purchased 3 generators (one for each home) and tomorrow they will be installed.

✅ Today we will hopefully hear that Sasha’s passport is ready. It’s past the date when it should be ready, so we hope to hear good news today on that front. 

✅ All important documents for everyone are compiled and scanned onto thumb drives as well. 

We are as ready as we can be, and I have to tell you we feel at peace. We really don’t feel afraid. We know we are exactly where we are supposed to be, and we will stay here as long as God has us here. We aren’t being hyper-spiritual about it, but also, we are not going to panic. Moving our huge group is too much of an undertaking to do it just for rumors. We will wait and see if it is actually necessary to leave before we make any big moves. We are committed to being here. Ukraine is our home and we are committed to our Wide Awake Family. 

We wanted to thank everyone who has reached out recently and shown their love and support for us and our team. We feel absolutely loved and cared for by you. Many of you have asked how you can help and our main answer has been “pray and donate so we don’t have to worry about money, should an emergency arrive”. You have stepped up in amazing ways. In the past month our partner churches in the Pacific Northwest, plus many generous individuals have donated $20,000 specifically towards helping the Homestead become more energy independent. Thank you thank you thank you!!  We are blown away by your giving hearts. Having the generators in our possession brings us a lot of peace of mind. 

Grant is still coming and is scheduled to arrive next week. We have plans for how to get to him if the airport is inaccessible or if commercial flights are not allowed to fly in Ukrainian airspace. He told us “I’ll walk to you guys if I have to.” 😆 We are eagerly awaiting his arrival and are thankful for his commitment to this work. 

Please pray for Vasya. He is the husband of our team member, Nina. He is stationed on the front in Eastern Ukraine. He has been stationed there off and on since the war began in 2014. But of course, now it feels quite a bit more stressful for Nina to have him there. Pray for Vasya’s safety and for Nina’s heart to have peace. Thank you.

Nina and her son, Seriozha

President Zelenskyy made a great speech on Monday and declared today, the possible day of attack, as the “Day of Unity”. Ukrainian flags will fly and everyone is encouraged to show their support of Ukrainian sovereignty. I encourage you to read his speech and dare you not to fall in love with Ukraine even more. 

We will let you know if our situation changes. Please continue to pray and reach out. Never apologize for writing to us and checking in! We are not annoyed, we are only thankful and we feel the love. BeLOVE[d]

❤️ 🇺🇦 ❤️

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