Inside a Moment

Watch this 26 second video:

Our team sent us that video this past week and my heart melted. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop watching it over and over. Then I showed it to Jed and he kinda bawled his eyes out. I haven’t seen him like that for quite some time. It was a moment.

That video means so much to us because of the people in it, their stories, how our lives have become entwined and all that has led up to that beautiful moment in time. I’d love to break it down for you so you can see some of what we see when we watch.

The first boy I see is our friend Maxim. He is 34 years old and loves to tell that fact to everyone he meets by holding his fingers up in their faces. He knows how to count and is proud of himself when he counts correctly.

We met Maxim and his mama 6 years ago and have loved them ever since. Maxim is tall, quick to bear hug, only speaks a few words, but is as smart as a whip when it comes to math. He has always lived with his parents, but they are quite elderly, and after his older brother passed away they had no plan for who would care for Maxim after they are unable to do so themselves. A couple of years ago his mama approached us and asked if we would be willing to take Maxim into our Wide Awake family when they pass. “You don’t have to do much for him. Just help him with his clothes and make sure to cook him food.” Of course our answer was YES! And we’ll do more than just help him with his clothes and feed him. We will love him and care for him always. He will never be alone. He will never be placed in an institution. NEVER.

When we were at the sea in the fall our team felt like we needed to start incorporating Maxim into the life of our team, so every week, twice a week, he joins our boys for lessons and special time together. Because Maxim has always been loved and cared for, he doesn’t carry trauma like our other boys. His joy is like a little child. He adds something special to our family and is God’s gift to us all.

Next I see Ruslan, and then a glimpse of Anton: my precious boys. They wasted away for years- for decades- living like animals. Now they are celebrating Christmas, surrounded by people who love them and have given their lives so that they could live. They are known. They are happy. They are growing and thriving. In the good and in the bad, they are loved and accepted for who they are. BELOVE[d]

Then Kostya, sitting next to Masha, pops into the scene. Oh, my heart was so happy to see him there! Kostya lives with his courageous mama and is a great addition to our little group. Kostya has Down Syndrome and is also autistic. His autism makes it very difficult to engage with him. He is nonverbal and can get easily overwhelmed by new situations. But, oh man, he is perfect for us. He is just the kind of boy we love to love. He can be easily passed over in social situations, and it’s hard to know what’s happening in his mind, but our little company is great for him and his mom. Our teacher, Tanya, has worked really hard to keep connection with them and to help insure they are not isolated. They belong with us.

Oh, and then there’s Sergei! Look at that sweet smiling face. He’s showing us the ornament he’s made and he’s so proud of his work. Man, he looks so good, so healthy.

We met Sergei and his mama a few months ago when they were referred to us by the director of the institution. Sergei’s mama has been raising him all on her own and had reached the point of overwhelm many months earlier. Their situation seemed impossible, and his mama felt the only situation was handing him over to the institution. She couldn’t see any other way to move forward. Since then our team has worked so very hard to help keep Sergei in the home. They have encouraged mom, included Sergei in our classes and activities and brought him into the life of our team. We are praying and acting, doing whatever we can to keep this family together. We don’t know what the end of the story will be, but for now Sergei has new friends and he and his mama are a part of something bigger than themselves. Oh, my heart leaped when I saw his smiling face- happy and loved by friends. Please pray for his mama. She has been brave for so long. Pray that she will open up to our help and that she would know the Father’s love.

I see our team and Kostya’s mom, looking on with love and care. I know them and I understand what they had to do behind the scenes to make a little gathering like that come together. Oleg must have traveled all over town, picking everyone up and transporting them from their homes. Masha arranged the work schedule so there would be enough helping hands. Tanya planned the craft and made sure it was ready and developmentally appropriate. Max was there next to Anton, helping him to regulate his emotions within the bigger group. The candle was lit. I know music was playing- the atmosphere of love and warmth thought out and intentional. A gathering like that, with a group like that doesn’t just happen. It has to be thoughtfully created. But it is worth it that our boys would know they are loved and valued, and that they would feel Christmas cheer. 🙂

When I watch that video I remember the stories of how God brought so many different people together, people that 7 years ago we had no idea even existed, but are now our family.

Now go watch those 26 seconds again. Look into those faces and see what I see. I see beautiful, precious friends who were overlooked for too long, but are now celebrated. I see lives changed and I see love in action. Annnnd I’m thankful.

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Friday Night:Family Night

Last Friday we started a new tradition for our team. We had our first “Team Dinner”. I kinda want to call it “Family Dinner”. I think I will.

We decided that every Friday night our house will be open, and anyone from our team is welcome to come, eat dinner, drink tea, pray, worship, and just be together. I think we all need it. 🙂

When Anton and Ruslan lived here, we were just too in over our heads to invite anyone over. The team was mostly all here during the day every day, and I’m pretty sure when the clock struck 5 they were eager to get the heck outta Dodge. I know I was…hehe. (laugh or cry, laugh or cry) A “Family Dinner” was not something that would have been super enjoyable during those times. We were all mostly just surviving. Then when Anton had to be moved from our home, he wasn’t really able to come back here. He had so much stress associated with this place, and so many emotions he couldn’t (and still can’t) articulate, him even coming near the door turned out poorly every time. So, Family Dinners were out of the question, as long as Anton wasn’t able to participate.

At a team meeting in August, I told the team that it was my dream and goal that by Christmas, Anton would be able to spend time in our house. We all agreed that we would bravely step out toward that goal. But I know it made everyone nervous. We all love him and so want him to heal and succeed-and he’s just soooo unpredictable. Anton is definitely a man of mystery.

We started out with a team party in the backyard towards the end of summer, and although there was stress, Anton did okay! We locked the doors to the house, and just made it completely inaccessible. It was a big step for him just to be here on the territory, and he did well. I’m not sure he really enjoyed himself, but he didn’t hurt anyone, so we called it a big fat win. 😉

Then last month we had a bonfire at the back of the property and Anton did awesome. He was more stressed about the marshmallows than the location, so that was definitely a win!

Last Friday we decided to just go for it and we invited everyone over for the Family Dinner. Worst case scenario, Jed or Oleg would have to drive Anton home, right? He was quite stressed to be back in the house, but he was able to hold himself together, and I think he actually did really great. He even laughed a bit. It was so so wonderful to have almost everyone here, eating together, laughing together, and just being together. FINALLY. My heart was happy and full.

At one point we turned on the boys’ favorite worship songs and Ruslan was standing in the very center of the room, in the middle of everyone, just dancing and singing his guts out. I looked around the circle and saw how much everyone loved him and how they were delighting in him and I thought “This is how it should be.” Ruslan felt free to be fully himself, and he was surrounded by people who weren’t just tolerating him, or “allowing it”, but people who welcomed his tone-deaf singing and appreciated his signature dance moves.

Vlad was in the corner, beating his drum completely off beat. Anton was rocking. Boris was swaying. Our friend Maxim was with us and he was in turn reminding us for the 15th time that he’s now 34, and hiding his head under a pillow. All precious, all known, all appreciated and accepted for who they are, and all loved by a whole room full of people. I’m proud to call that room full of people my team, and I’m happy to also claim them as my friends and my Ukrainian family.

Friday Night:Family Night is here to stay. If you’re ever in our neck of the woods, consider yourself invited.

BeLOVE[d]

About The Kids

It’s been a while since I talked about our kids here. The older they get, the less they want to be featured on the ol’ blog. But, they’re okay with me giving a big of an update, for old time’s sake.

Our kids are really doing great. I am so thankful for God’s hand on each one of them. I’ve shared many of my mama worries with you over the years. It has not been an easy journey, raising them in a different culture, but I’m thankful to see them all thriving in this country that has now become their own.

You already know a lot about Vlad, so I won’t write about him here. Although he would hate to be left out…he definitely doesn’t mind the spotlight! 😆 We’ll just say that he’s still loving the woodshop and taking care of his chickens. He brings us joy and is a blessing to us every day.

Addy is 16 and a junior in high school. She is homeschooling, since her Ukrainian school ended at 9th grade and many of her peers are in “college” or trade school already. She really isn’t sure what she wants to do after 12th grade, so we are encouraging her to spend a year as an intern or volunteer somewhere in the world after high school. She loves sewing and fashion and playing the bass. Addy is an old soul and my dear, dear friend. I adore my daughter.

Ezra is 14 and a giant. I swear he comes downstairs each morning noticeably taller. It’s insane. Ezra is also homeschooling and doing 9th grade work. He doesn’t love school at all, but prefers spending hours with his friends exploring creepy abandoned buildings and riding their bikes all over the universe. He is Evie’s favorite person. Their bond is pretty sweet. How is my son almost a man???

Havalah is 11 and the most Ukrainian of all of us, by a mile. 🙂 Hava is a super social and loves going to school more than anything. She is in 5th grade in Ukrainian school and is doing great. She’s basically fluent in Ukrainian and is thriving here. Her personality is as big as her body is small, just like always. Hava has a soft heart for our boys and is very tender with them. It blesses my heart.

Seth is 10 and the sportsman of the family. Approximately 99% of his free time is spent outside riding his bike or building his “skate park” or playing soccer or getting into trouble. Hehe. Let’s just say, he’s a bit of a wild child and village life suits him just fine. Till now, Seth has been in Ukrainian school, but just this year we brought him home for school. Ukrainian school just wasn’t a good fit for him. He needs extra help that they can’t provide, so I’m doing my best to help him at home. Twice a week he goes to school for PE so he can see his friends, and three mornings a week he goes to soccer. Seth is creative and messy and his emotions are big. But if he loves you he will love you forever and I’ve never seen a more devoted friend. He has a super soft heart for our Anton. It’s really special and sweet.

Evie Joy is 2 years old and a spitfire and a half! She has an opinion on pretty much everything and isn’t afraid to let you know. Evie is a talker and can speak and understand both English and Ukrainian. It’s such an adventure raising a bilingual baby! It’s fun to watch new words pop out and fascinating to see how she knows which language to speak to which people and how she goes back and forth with such ease. She brings immeasurable amounts of joy to our whole team and is everyone’s baby. God knew we all needed her.

It’s crazy to think that in a couple of years Addy might be gone and then begins the phase of life when my chicks won’t be all together in my nest. 😭 I have no idea if any of them will end up staying in Ukraine, or if they will all move away. That whole scenario is going to require a whole other level of trust in God. Yikes! I would love it if at least one of them decided to stay near, or if some of them ended up in Europe somewhere. The US is just so so far! But, I know deep down that ultimately I want them to each end up exactly where God wants them to be. They’ll know they can always find Mom and Dad back at the Homestead when they want to visit.

Do you have any questions about the kids or about raising kids in Ukraine? I would love to do a Q & A post if that’s interesting for you. You can leave questions below or in a comment.

Don’t forget that Wide Awake is leaving social media in one week (October 12). We love this community and don’t want to lose any friends during the transition. Sign up below for our weekly email digest so you can keep up with all goodness here in Ukraine!

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Changes for Good

January ended up being a pretty great month. To start with, Jed’s mom brought Vladik home to us. Yay! Then she stayed for a month to spend time with us and help with the kids so Jed and I could go to the Vineyard UK National Conference in Nottingham. One of our partner churches flew us out there for the conference and a few days of rest and man oh man, we didn’t even know how much we needed it until we were in it.

When you’re knee deep in a project or work it’s helpful to get away and regain some perspective. We’ve been neck deep for the past year and a half, so our perspective in some areas was severely lacking. Time away spent with friends who love us and speak into our lives was a precious treasure that came just at the right time. I’m so thankful we had that opportunity.

While we were away we had good news and not so good news. The good news was, our precious “Preston” flew home to Indiana with his new family to begin his new life! The bad news was, our “Aaron” who was just adopted from Romaniv (the last child who was available for adoption!) failed his medical exam and therefore wasn’t issued a visa to the travel to his new home in the US. Noooooooo!!! Failing that exam is every adoptive parent’s fear. Additional testing had to be done, and now there is an 8 week waiting period for those results to come back. Obviously, Aaron’s family couldn’t wait 8 additional weeks in Ukraine, so a different plan had to be formed.

Part of our team with Preston before he flew to his new home

I shared that story on our social media and invited people to help cover the expenses of caring for Aaron for the next 2 months, as he requires full-time care, and the Wide Awake community rallied! In less than 24 hours all of the expenses were covered, plus additional funds that the family can use for airplane tickets when they travel back at the end of the waiting period. Thank you so much to all who gave so quickly and so generously! The family was blown away by your love.

The plan we came up with was that Max, one of our team members who is currently on a break from university, would live in an apartment with Aaron for the 2 month waiting period. When Jed and I arrived back in Ukraine after our England trip we picked up Aaron in Kyiv and brought him to our house for the weekend because Max wasn’t available to start caring for him till Monday. Aaron did SO WELL in our home. He obviously loved the stimulation of all the people, the space to move around, the toys and balls. It seemed like a no-brainer to all concerned that he would be better off in a family environment instead of one-on-one in an apartment.

Aaron knows he’s not allowed in the kitchen so he sited riiiiiiight at the edge 😆

That left the question of how to make it all happen. Aaron on his best day still requires full-time supervision and assistance. There was no way we could simply add him to our family and not change things up. The money had been donated to care for him, we just had to find the best way to use it. Then we had an “Aha!” moment and we made a decision that was better for all involved. Andriy stayed with us in our home, and Ruslan moved into the apartment with Max. Not what you were expecting to hear? Yeah, it took us a bit by surprise too, but sometimes the most obvious answers are the hardest to come by. 🙂

For several months we had been mulling over the idea of moving Ruslan to an apartment, even before Anton moved. There are several reasons that made this the right choice for this moment. First, Ruslan has a great potential for independence. He will never live alone, but he has great potential to learn to care for himself in many ways. He wants independence. He sees all his friends (our team) live in apartments with friends so the concept was interesting to him. In an apartment setting there will be more time and space for him to learn skills necessary for independence.

Second, Ruslan is highly anxious and quite obsessive. Anton did not thrive in the large family environment, and Ruslan, although he managed it better than Anton, also had big struggles. Ruslan wants to control everything and everyone in his environment. He’s been learning that when you live in a family it’s not possible or necessary to control everyone and everything, but in the large family context it was causing him a lot of angst.

My fave pic of Ruslan ❤️

Third, there were some personal matters that made it necessary for the health of our family that Ruslan move to a different space. To protect the dignity of all of us I don’t want to really expand on that. Everyone is safe, no one has been physically harmed, but you just can’t predict how interpersonal relationships will develop when you bring new people into your home, specifically people who have endured 30+ years of trauma and abuse. We have learned much from having Ruslan in our home, and we love him dearly. It is just healthier for everyone if he lives separate from us. I know it might seem like I’m glossing over this, but I hope you can trust that this is not a decision we came to lightly. We have been agonizing how to make it work, interpersonally, with Ruslan in our home, and the reality is, it just can’t work for the long term. If you have more questions about this, please shoot me an email. I’m happy to talk.

This move, even though we had considered doing it for a long time, was unexpected, but it feels 100% right. When Anton moved out it was traumatic and sad and felt like a loss (at the time). This does not feel like that. Ruslan was excited for the new adventure of living with Max, and Max is the perfect person to lead Ruslan into a more independent life. Anton’s leaving felt like failure, at the time, because Anton is developmentally much younger. He was confused and it felt like getting him out of the house ASAP was the only option in that stressful situation. This move feels like a next step. Aaron’s coming into our home for this time caused everyone to rethink how we are doing what we are doing and shook us up a bit. But we feel confident God used that situation for all of our good.

Bmo-Olaf

At church on Sunday Ruslan was happy, loved and well-cared for; Anton was happy and loved and content. They arrived at church with different people, but were still surrounded by so many who love them. God is so faithful to provide the people to love our boys. Every one of them is in a good spot right now and we couldn’t be more thankful.

I don’t know what the future will hold for Ruslan and Anton. Possibly they will stay in apartments, possibly they will live in the duplex, we’re tossing around the idea of tiny houses on our property. We want to do what is best for them and we are committed to them, so we know God will show us in his timing.

I wanted to share with you so you would know how to pray and also so that those who gave toward Aaron’s care would be fully informed on how the money is being used. Max is being paid to care for Ruslan, so that we have the ability to care for Aaron in our home. Same use of funds, just a “change in seating”, if you will. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. We always want to be open and honest. Thank you for your love and encouragement, as always!

“Aaron” living large in the village

The Year to be Present

I love the beginning of a new year. I love a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to start over and try again. Even though my life circumstances on December 31, 2019 were exactly the same as my life circumstances on January 1, 2020 somehow anything and everything seemed possible on the 1st because a new year had begun.

Do you like making resolutions in the new year? I’m great at it. In fact, I’m a super awesome list-maker, life-organizer, resolution-maker. I’m not necessarily the best at not losing my lists, keeping my life organized and sticking to my resolutions, but that doesn’t stop me from trying!

This year though, this year is for real. I’m serious this go-around and I’m determined to change. I’m so serious that I’m about to write my ideas out on the World Wide Web.

Here goes.

My resolution for 2020 is to be present in my own reality. My resolution is to learn to live fully in the reality of my life as it is now, and to spend less time wishing it was something different. My resolution is to spend less time dreaming about becoming the person I want to be, but instead to actually put in the work to become that person.

That’s a lot of wishing and hoping, right? Well, it’s time. This past year was the hardest of my life- by a few miles. I spent a lot of time in this past year wishing my reality was different. I told Jed more than once “I don’t want this to be my life!” I spent a lot of time escaping into the ultra-curated lives of others via social media. I spent way too much time escaping from my own thoughts via podcast and books.

I don’t really wish this wasn’t my life. I have a habit of spouting off really dramatic things when I’m not emotionally healthy. 😊

I’m certainly not saying that any of the above mentioned media are bad on their own account. Podcasts, books, social media, they all have wonderful benefits! -when used in the right way and at the right level of consumption. I was just consuming too much, to the neglect of my mind, body and spirit. It’s time for change. I can’t keep on like I’ve been going and not crash and burn. I know if I don’t make some major changes I’ll regret it forever. I know that sounds intense, Hence the kind of intense resolutions. 🙂

I have realized that I don’t give my mind any opportunity to be quiet. Now, I have a lot of people in my house, so extended periods of silence is total wishful thinking, I know. But, when I do have moments of quiet, why am I so quick to fill them with podcasts or audiobooks or social media or even music? I’ll give you a hint- habit and the desire to escape. I’ve gotten in the habit of filling the fringe moments with something. I have moments of not liking my current reality and I give in to the desire to escape. I give my mind and spirit zero time to rest and to be silent. It’s a shame too, because often those fringe moments, those moments of rest and silence are the moments when the voice of God is most clear and most able to be heard amidst all the noise of the world.

I guess I’m just realizing that I’ve allowed my world to be become too noisy. Podcasts, books, Facebook, Instagram, email, Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp, iMessage, Netflix…thank God I’ve never joined Twitter. Haha! So.many.voices. I listen and seek out so many voices every day and in the meantime have less and less ability to hear the one voice that matters above all else.

Enough. I’m tired. I need to quiet the superfluous voices for a time and tune in to the Father.

How does this play out in every day life?

A Rule of Life and Digital Minimalism are the two starting points.

Digital Minimalism, using only digital technology that strongly supports the things that I value most, is one of the strategies I’m adopting this year. I read the book. I’m a believer and I really desire to embrace a lifestyle of using technology in very thoughtful ways, not just in reactive ways.

Here are some of the intentional ways I will use technology: Facebook and Instagram will be used for Wide Awake purposes and not for browsing the curated lives of others (except faraway family). Those apps will only be on devices that live in our office, not on phones we carry with us. My iPhone is basically a dumb phone at the moment. It has messaging and calling capabilities, but only the messaging necessary for the logistical life stuff. Example: all the communication for church and school is on Viber, so that stays, but Facebook messenger is not used for urgent matters so that is not allowed on the phone. Email is definitely not on the phone.

Another example would be less family movie nights and more family game nights. That can be hard to do with our house situation and the sleeping arrangements with our guys, but where there’s a will there’s a way!

A fun aspect of Digital Minimalism I’m tackling this year is using only paper recipes for cooking. I’m guilty of too often browsing the internet for new or better recipes. Why???? I already have plenty of good recipes! I don’t need more and I don’t need to waste my time searching for more. I definitely don’t need my phone in the kitchen so I can use recipes from it. I declare 2020 is the year of the cookbook!

See where I’m headed? For me it’s all creating boundaries for myself so I can be more present and less distracted by the thousands of other voices available to me at any moment. I know myself and I know what is healthy for me and what is not. Now it’s time to start acting on that knowledge.

This is something I’ve been working toward over the past year. I’ve felt the nudge to pull back, to be less online and more in person and have changed a lot of my digital habits over the past several months. I’ve tried to create some intentional moments of quiet, have (gasp!) removed most of the apps from phone. Jed and I have been practicing a form of Sabbath over this past year and part of that includes turning off our phones from dinner on Saturday till dinner on Sunday. These moves toward digital minimalism have only brought blessing and I’m ready to dive deeper.

I mentioned before that a Rule of Life is another starting point for these desired changes to come about. If you aren’t familiar with a “Rule of Life” you can check out the link I’ll add at the end of this post. Basically it’s a trellis for life that helps anchor you to the things you value most. It’s not “Rules of life”, but more a way of looking at each sphere of your life and deciding how to keep the main things the main things. Jed and I are committed to developing our Rule of Life and to leaning in to it this year.

Jed and I have realized over the past couple of years that in some ways our lives have become kind of monastic. Our guys require practices and routines and schedules to ground them. Morning worship, evening prayers…our world has gotten smaller in a way and the daily routines of caring for our boys has us drawing closer to rituals of ancient Christianity. It’s been really cool and formative. That’s how our hearts began to turn toward a Rule of Life.

So there you have it. I might sound super ambitious, but I need to be. This is something that has been growing in my heart and actions for a while, but it’s time to speak it out and fully embrace these new ways of living. As I’ve shared about my desire for Digital Minimalism with others over the past few days I have seen them get a little flustered and somewhat defensive. Please don’t read this post like I’m judging or assuming I know what all people need. I just know what I need and I’m sharing here in hopes that others might be encouraged to search deep and figure out what they need. If you connect with the ideas I’ve shared, awesome! Check out the resources below. If you feel like it’s dumb or unrealistic, okay! We can still be friends. 😉

My hope for all of us for this new year, this new decade is that we would create space for the one voice that matters to be heard in our lives. My hope is that we will hear that voice and then answer yes when it calls us to action.

What are your hopes and resolutions this year? I’d love to hear!

Resources:

This is a great resource for learning about a Rule of Life and how to create one. https://practicingtheway.org/practices/unhurry

Digital Minimalism: https://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/