A Different Kind of Hero

On Sunday we had quite the scary experience. We had been at church, picked up some groceries, and arrived back at home. Seth was helping Boris get out of the van and Boris, for whatever reason, didn’t try to step out of the van at all, but just leaned all of his body weight on unprepared Seth. Boris fell backward and hit the ground- head first with a loud thunk/crack/give.me.a.heart.attack. I screamed (loudly) for Jed and he rushed out to scoop Boris up in his arms. It was so scary. It makes my stomach ache just remembering that moment.

Boris turned out to be fine. Thank you Jesus!  Since he is nonverbal and couldn’t tell us anything about how he was feeling, we decided it was best to take him straight to the hospital after the fall to get him checked out. All the questions about blurry vision or pain or feeling confused were irrelevant since Boris doesn’t speak.  I found myself watching him constantly for any sign of discomfort or any irregularities. He seemed a bit “off” that day and the next, but since then has been totally himself. We are so thankful.

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In those moments after the fall his vulnerability slapped me in the face. In those moments my empathy for him grew by leaps and bounds. I realized again just how incredibly vulnerable Boris is. He can’t verbalize his needs or wants. He can’t cook or prepare his own food. He can’t get to the toilet without help. He can’t get his clothes on and off without help. He can’t bathe himself. He can only walk very short distances. He relies on us for absolutely everything – 100% of the time.

We don’t know if Boris was able to do more things independently in his early years, before he came to the institution. But we do know that for the past 19 years at the institution he was 100% reliant on others to meet his needs. He was completely at the mercy of the institution’s staff. He relied on them for food, drink, cleanliness, safety- he could do nothing for himself. He was completely vulnerable and had to entrust himself into their hands, because he had no choice. But the ones who were meant to meet all of those needs let him down. He wasn’t safe. He wasn’t clean. He was chronically dehydrated and his body was emaciated and twisted from neglect. Because of lack of resources, lack of staff, and an environment that does not value life, he suffered. He suffered so greatly for many years. The neglect and abuse he has seen is more than any human should ever have to endure. My heart breaks.

Then one day, 4 months ago, Boris was plucked out of that environment and had no choice but to entrust himself to others: us. As vulnerable as ever, he came to us broken and afraid. Life has not taught him that people are to be trusted. Life has taught him that he has to fight and manipulate to make sure his needs are met.  Boris didn’t know our intentions, and maybe he still doesn’t fully know them, but because of his physical and mental limitations, he must put his trust in us. He is completely vulnerable. He has no other choice.

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This morning I was helping Boris to put his dirty clothes in the hamper. He did an awesome job and I was so proud of him! In that proud and happy moment I reached up to give him a high five and he flinched. He thought I was going to hit him and all the happiness of the moment flew out of the room. Oh my heart. He had so much fear on his face. So I tried to repair the moment. I told him how much I love him, I told him how smart he is, how special he is…I kissed his face and hugged his neck. But the peacefulness of the morning was ruined. He went back into his place of fear. Self-harm was again the order of the day.  I took him outside to wait for our neighbor to take him for his morning walk. I brought Bluebell (our dog) over for comfort, put his weighted blanket on his lap, turned on some of his favorite music, and after a few minutes he was smiling at me again. He again entrusted himself to me. What a precious, brave soul.

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What will we do with the trust Boris gives to us? How will we care for him in his moments of greatest vulnerability? Will we shush him and brush him off even when we see that he is trying to communicate something, or will we take the moment to be patient and try to understand? Will we get irritated when he self-harms, or will we choose compassion and again help him to keep himself safe? Will we become victims to our own life decisions, or will we recognize what an honor it is to care for him and take part in his healing?

I want to always remember what an incredible honor and privilege it is to be the ones who get to care for Boris. We get to teach him a new way. We get to show him that people can be loving. Hands can be for hugs and gentleness. Words can be spoken in love and patience. What joy to watch him learn that there will always be enough to eat. He will always have a place at the table. He will always have a daddy there to scoop him up when he falls. He will always have brothers and sisters to push him on the swing. He will always have a safe, warm place to sleep. Every time we serve Boris we show him a new way. We hold his vulnerable heart in our hands and we care for his vulnerable body. It isn’t always easy, but if we keep our hearts open it will always be beautiful.

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Boris is so incredibly strong. His body may be weak, but to have endured the life he has been given and still choose to smile, still choose to love, still choose to accept love from others… I have so much to learn.

There is no doubt in my mind that people like Boris will be the ones at the head of that big feasting table in heaven. The weakest among us has become my hero.

A Matter of Perspective

We’re settling into a new state of semi-normal here at the Homestead.  Grammy and Papa (Jed’s parents) are still here with us for the next few weeks and OH.MY.WORD. I don’t know what we would be doing if they weren’t here.  I can’t even imagine- nor do I want to try! They have been such a huge help and blessing! I’m just not letting myself think past the time when they have to leave…or I might hyperventilate. We’ll cross that bridge later.

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Evie is the most peaceful sweet baby. She rarely cries…and maybe that has something to do with the fact that she’s never actually put down. Hello Baby Number 7! But really, she is a great eater, a great sleeper and she is easily consoled. Everyone is in love with Evie and she like balm to our hearts. Vladik and Boris don’t seem terribly interested in her, but they have had zero experience with babies so i’m curious to see if they develop an interest in her as she grows and becomes more interactive.

Boris seems to be settling in again and we are breathing a big sigh of relief. That was a rough one, Folks.  We got home from the hospital and it was like we had to start at the beginning all over again, but with a deficit. He was frantic, didn’t know what he wanted, was self-injuring worse than ever before and was just overall struggling with a capital S. We know that transitions are hard for Boris and we know that there is so much going on that he probably doesn’t understand. We can say that we understand why he is struggling, and even empathize, but the moment by moment, day by day of helping him overcome is WOW.HARD.WORK. Many tears have been shed (on my part) and many prayers of patience have been uttered (on Jed’s part). All of Boris’ care falls on Jed as I’m recovering, and Jed has been a total rock star, but never have we needed Jesus more. We are nothing without Him, and sure enough, Jesus is coming through for us. He is giving us wisdom and it seems He is granting Boris some peace. We can see the light!  Things are getting better! Thanks for praying.  Please keep it up! We need it and Boris needs it. His poor little face is so bruised right now. God, give us wisdom.

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Boris likes the pressure of legs on him to help keep him safe 🙂

It’s interesting how a change in perspective can really make or break things. Last week, when Boris’ struggles were at their peak, I was so sad and so very frustrated. I was thinking (and this is where I get real honest) “Here we brought home a new baby, this should be the most joyous time and Boris is stealing all the joy! Jed can’t even enjoy Evie because Boris demands every second of his time.” I was struggling with resentment, and in the worst moments, even some regret. But then I started to notice something.  Every night Jed fell into bed, exhausted from a day of caregiving and creative thinking and love giving and behavior managing and took little Evie in his arms. I could see how her presence, her sweet baby smells and sounds were bringing healing to Jed’s heart.  I sat there and watched the refreshing happen right in front of my eyes. She is like medicine for our weary souls. I’m realizing that God gave us precious Evie for just this moment. He gave us what we didn’t know we would need. Boris isn’t stealing the joy of Evie, Evie is bringing a special joy that our family needs to help us love Boris better. It’s all about perspective. How miraculous that God planned this ahead of time- He knew and planned the exact timing of Boris’ arrival into our family and Evie’s arrival into our family. The timing of both arrivals could seem inconvenient when you look with just human eyes, but the timing is actually quite miraculous. Our God doesn’t miss a thing. We are thankful.

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On another note, I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to write about Romaniv for such a long time. The institution has had a quarantine for several weeks (teams are not allowed to visit) and it will extend at least until the end of the month. We have been delivering diapers, but have not been able to visit the boys. I want so badly to be able to give you news on the boys you love so much, but unfortunately, quarantine combined with the end of my pregnancy has made any updates impossible. Hopefully quarantine will end soon and we can be back in action with our boys! I’ll keep you posted on that.

Happy Monday, All. May our perspectives that need shifting shift today. May we see our circumstances in the light of Jesus’ love and in light of eternity. Jesus is worth it all.

BeLOVE[d]

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The Path to Healing

Yesterday marked a month since our friend, Boris, came to live with us. The range of emotions has been vast. Too many feelings have been felt and too many thoughts have been thought. It’s good and bad and wonderful and terrible and easy and hard all within the same day. There’s no ABC instruction manual for taking in a broken 25 year-old who has lived a life of abuse and severe neglect. He didn’t come home with manual on how to help him heal or how to integrate him into family or how to, as a family, accept him and the new normal that he brings. We are all learning, and in the learning we are all healing.

We’ve been reading a lot of Jean Vanier these days. The wisdom he has gained over many years of living alongside people with intellectual disabilities is amazingly helpful for us- “The wisdom of tenderness,” in his own words. If you haven’t ever read any of his works I highly recommend them!

“As we share our lives with the powerless, we are obliged to leave behind our theories about the world, our dreams and our beautiful thoughts about God to become grounded in a reality that can be quite harsh. That is where we meet God, God who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. There God is present, hidden in wounded humanity, hidden in the pain of our own hearts.”
-Jean Vanier, The Heart Of L’Arche

That quote sums it up. I can stop writing right now. 🙂

But you know I won’t.

Boris has been fighting for survival for most of his life. He is a true survivor- that’s the only way he is still alive right now. He’s a fighter, and he’s a stubborn little dude as well.  Those traits served him well in the institution, and they will serve him well again, but right now, to be completely honest, they are serving to expose the weaknesses in my own heart. The struggle is real, my friends.

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In this next bit Jed gets a little nerdy as to how we understand Boris and what he does to process the world around him.

“For the past 19 years when he lived at the institution the only thing that Boris could do was survive and his survival put him in a state of fear and toxic stress. His life was not one truly lived. He knew what his body needed: food, warmth and safety- and he fought to get those needs met.  

That fight and that environment formed the physical shape of Boris’s body, but also the shape of his brain.  Our brains are absolutely remarkable at processing how we live as fundamentally social beings.

The physical, social, emotional and spiritual world around us and within us create the context where our brain processes, interprets and informs the rest of the body how to act and react (in that instant and next time).  

Our brains are profoundly complex and truly something to be marveled.   How our brains function is entirely state dependent.  If we are calm, we can think clearly and with full access to our intellectual capability.  Think of Elon Musk, sitting in his office, safe, healthy and satiated, dreaming and designing some cool future space travel.  Conversely, if we are in a state of terror, we react quickly and complex processing and abstract conceptualization become non-essential and inaccessible.  Imagine sitting on the kitchen table, trying to help your kid with his geometry homework while a hungry tiger circles.  

Imagine living between toxic stress and terror through your early childhood and on into adulthood, unsure if you will be safe or hurting, wondering if you will get enough food or if your tummy will ache as you try to fall asleep to the sounds of other boys surviving the same terrible reality.

The trauma of daily life and survival is the soil where Boris’s brain grew and deteriorated.  Instead of growing, his brain pruned away things that were of no use, the need for friendship and human connection, desire to play, to understand motion and movement, balance, motor skills and the sense of where his body is in the space around him.  

He reduced his life to mostly brainstem and cerebella functioning.  So imagine trying to process the entirety of your life through the part of your brain meant to maintain core functions, motor skill regulation, simple arousal responses, appetite/ satiety; chances are you might develop some behaviors that would seem strange and maladaptive to others around you.

Boris learned to pull his thoughts to focus, process his feelings, communicate needs and express himself through self-harming behaviors. While being with him in the institution we started seeing him process a bit through his limbic system, laughing appropriately and inappropriately, but development none the less. 

Ok, I’ll give you back to Kim.”

Now, instead of just surviving, Boris lives in a world where every need is met, and not only needs, but wants and desires are met as well.  Now we have a new struggle. Now Boris must learn to distinguish his wants and desires from his need. Because let me tell you, as a mom who has parented many a toddler, want and desire are not equal to need- even though the screaming 3 year-old may not be able to accurately distinguish the difference. Boris is a bit like a big 3 year-old at the moment- only one that has endured more trauma in his life than any human ever should. He wants things and he wants them NOW. His response to wanting things is the same as his response to needing something, and then the self-harm ensues.

If Boris is excited, he hits himself. If Boris is frustrated, he hits himself. If Boris wants attention, he hits himself.  He processes most desires, emotions, needs and requests somewhere between self-harm, disregulated motor skills, laughing, sweating, rocking, increased heart rate and chirps.  We have a feeling it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. He has to learn a new way of being, a new way of communicating, a new way of processing the world around him, and at 25 years old that’s a pretty tall order.

The response his self-harm evokes in me is surprising. It’s embarrassing and ugly to admit, but this is real life and we’re real people. Not one of us is perfect- least of all, me. I’m quickly realizing how much I see Boris’ self-harming, or lack thereof as a reflection of my personal success or failure. When he isn’t self-harming I feel good, warm, fuzzy, but when he hits himself I find myself feeling anger, impatience, and even disgust. And Jed just sits there like a zen master…grrrr.

Of course I don’t want Boris to hurt himself! But it’s humbling to realize how quickly my thoughts turn to myself in those moments of him harming himself. I feel failure. I feel disgust. I feel impatient. I wonder if I can really do this for the long haul. I, I, I.

Compassion and empathy have no room to grow in a space filled with selfishness and self-pity. It appears Boris is not the only one in need of healing.

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Boris’ brokenness is exposing in us the places in our own hearts that are broken.

In meeting his physical needs that he can’t meet for himself we are finding healing. In the pursuit of finding peace for Boris’ heart and mind, we must rely on the Holy Spirit. We need his wisdom so very much. We need strength, patience and love that can only come from above.

It’s easy, in the hard moments, to wonder if this is what it’s always going to be. Are things going to get worse and then better? Or are things just going to get worse and stay worse? No one can say. But does it make a difference? Is Boris any less worth it? Is the YES only worth it when it comes with obvious success?

What if twenty years from now it still takes 2 of us for every diaper change just to keep Boris safe? What will my soul be singing in those moments?  Will I have found contentment in the simple act of serving?  Will I be able to say “It is well with my soul”, or will I be bitter and resentful that my life took this turn?

The sooner we learn to truly walk in the Spirit, the better- for us, for our children, and for Boris. The sooner we stop looking at our own perceived successes and failures and start finding joy in the simple act of caring for our friend, the better.

This is a journey we can not walk in our own strength. We will totally screw it up. So each day we are learning and breathing and (hopefully) changing.

In the practical day to day of life with Boris the journey looks like a patterned consistent routine, loads of sensory integration, boundaries, creativity and good old fashioned parenting. When Boris is hitting himself because he doesn’t get what he wants he has to calm his body down, and only then, when he’s more calm does he get the thing he wants.  It means we have to maintain that calm presence, hands on him at all times. Sometimes it means leaving the table 3 times during a meal. Sometimes it means it takes 30 minutes to get out the door for a walk. But Boris will learn. Over time trust will build, new neural pathways will be built, and more understanding will come.

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When I choose empathy, when I remember where Boris came from and all he has endured and allow my heart to break again and again, rather than hardening my heart in the face of monotony and frustration, THEN healing can come. And when my heart is open to it’s own healing, only then can I be an instrument of healing to my dear friend.

So our friend is a challenge to us and a blessing to us in ways we could not have foreseen. May our hearts remain open and may the hard parts return to softness. May each of us see the loved ones in our lives as the beautiful treasures they are- worthy of our time, our love, our sacrifice, and our dedication.

BeLOVE[d]

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On Leaving 

How to begin?  We head back to Ukraine in 12 days.  What the what??????


My last blog post was June 3rd. I have known I needed to write, but it felt like there was too much in there to adequately put into words.  Also, I realized that at some point over the past couple of years I started censoring myself.  I’m not sure exactly why.  I think a big reason is because the more I grew to know and love our Ukrainian friends in Zhytomyr, and the more time we spent away from our beloved friends and family in the US, the more I have wanted to make sure nothing I say is misinterpreted by anyone on either side of the ocean. 

That’s the struggle of this cross-cultural life.  Everywhere you go you are missing one person and glad to see another. Every time you go you are sad to leave one place but excited to reach another.  

All those feelings could be taken the wrong way, misinterpreted, hurtful…if you are the one being left you may feel rejected because we are excited to see the other.  When we are excited to leave Ukraine and get to the US I’m afraid it will appear that we don’t like Ukraine.  When we are excited to leave the US to get back to our life in Ukraine I’m afraid it will appear that we don’t appreciate the US and are “above” our old life. Ugh.  The people-pleaser in me does not have a clue how to navigate that, let alone write about it.  So I go silent. Sorry for that.

It’s just a fact that living between two worlds is very sticky business with no instruction manual.  

How do you leave a place and people well? 

How do re-enter a place well?

How do you leave a place where you are outgoing and confident, a fixer, and a leader and return to a place where you are a learner, an outsider, a person on the fringes of society with a first-grade handle on the language- and not crawl into a shell and hide?

How do you maintain friendships from across multiple time zones while also being fully planted and rooted where you are?

How do you invest in new friendships without feeling like you are letting your old ones slip away?  

How do you fully embrace your overseas life without feeling like you are a traitor to the ones you love across the ocean?

How do you look at pictures of your old friends and their kids all together and not feel guilt and sadness that your kids are not there to join in and grow up together?

How do you leave your mother and father and take away their grandchildren without feeling massive guilt?

How do you be fully where you are when you feel like your heart and life are split in two?

I don’t have a clue. 

One thing I know is that I failed in many of those areas last time we were in Ukraine and I am hopeful that this time will be better.  Last time I lived with A LOT of guilt. Everyday. No one put that on me; I’m awesome at doing that to myself. 🙂

I felt like I was a bad friend to my American friends, but my Ukrainian life took so much energy that I simply couldn’t be the kind of friend I wanted to be to the ones I have loved for many years.  

I allowed all my confidence to be stripped away and socially became a shell of my former self. (Lack of fluency will do that to ya) Making friends was hard for me and I’m not used to that. I ached to be understood and known. (See, just writing that makes me worried that my Ukrainian friends will think I’m saying I had no friends in Ukraine. Ugh! Ha! )

We spent those first two years just learning how to survive and didn’t really get the chance to become fully planted.  Our kids felt that.  I know that couldn’t really be helped.  We had to learn to survive and the learning curve was/is steep. Grocery shopping, banking, post-officing, cooking, schooling, transportation, church, utilities, LANGUAGE…everything was new and we were like aliens on a different planet. There was a lot of everyday living to figure out before any roots could begin to take hold. 

But this time, I think this time is going to be different. Our mindset is different.We are purchasing land and settling in for the long-haul.  We have committed our lives to these boys and once we begin to take them out everything changes. Of course we’ll still come to the US for visits, but my heart and mind need the opportunity to settle in and make a home in Ukraine. I need pictures up on the walls.  I need to know in my heart that until God says differently, Ukraine is our home. No guilt allowed. 

So, if you see us in the coming days, just know that our hearts are confused and there is no easy answer to the question “How are you?” We’re so happy and so sad.  We’re excited and dreading.  We’re confident and scared.  We’re ready and we’re not.  

I’m only resolute one thing: I know that I know that this is the life God has created us for and I WILL NOT allow guilt to rob me of the joy that comes with following Jesus and saying yes. 

So there. That’s the *pretty much* uncensored version of my heart.  If you are a person who prays we would sure appreciate your prayers over the next several weeks.  The kids are struggling with all the change and the chaos in our home is great at the moment. We need peace and knowing and joy in the journey.  

Thank you for walking with us! 

And We Have Hope. 

It’s December, folks.  I can now officially listen to Christmas music without incurring the judgement of Jed. Our Christmas tree is up.  The lights are on. The cupboard is stocked with staples of the season.  Our hearts are full.

And we have hope.

  

This past Sunday was the beginning of Advent: the season of expectation, the season of longing for Jesus to come and make wrong things right; the season of searching for glimpses of God’s Kingdom come to earth. 

On Sunday at our home, and across the world, millions of candles were lit.  Millions of prayers were whispered.  Millions of hearts were filled with hope. 

We look back at all God has done thus far and our minds are blown.  In two short (yet sometimes unbelievably long) years He has made so much wrong right.  

-Hearts of directors have been opened and softened.

-Youth from our city have risen up and claimed this cause as their own.  They have chosen time and time again, to spend time with their  beloved boys instead of pursuing other things.  This is not a project to them- this is their life together.

-Doctors and nurses and physical therapists and speech pathologists and many loved ones have traveled across the world to give of their time and talent to our beloved babies. 

-Hearts of nannies have been won over.  They may not understand why we do what we do, but they love us and they appreciate us.  They are our friends.

-Two teachers from the town of Romaniv have been hired to devote their lives to the boys.  They are opening the eyes of their neighbors.

-God laid our boys on the heart of a generous church in Switzerland- and a van was provided.

-One amazing boy now runs free.  Cherished son and brother. 

-Thousands of people ALL OVER the world have given and given and given.  Provision abounds.

-Countless prayers have been prayed, day after day after day by so many believers in so many countries.  “God come.  Have your way.  Set the captive free.  Be near to the boys we love so much.  Bring healing and hope.  Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

And we have hope.

  

Of course, there is so much yet to be done.  There is so much wrong that has not been made right.  There are injustices and there is so, so much pain.  There are nannies who are cruel.  There are people in high positions who do not understand.  There is unbelievable suffering every minute of every day.

But we have hope.

God keeps his promises.  God sees and He knows.  God has not forgotten our boys, tucked away from the world for so long.  They are tucked up right next to His heart.  

And we are so full-to-bursting with thanks.  Thank you for traveling this journey with us.  Thank you for praying.  Thank you for loving.  Thank you for giving so incredibly generously.  Thank you for carrying the torch of hope with us.  Thank you for believing that these boys are worth fighting for.  

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

AND WE HAVE HOPE!