On Contrasts and Soul-Feeding

Tuesday was a day of HUGE contrast.


We spent the morning at Romaniv, as usual, and then in the evening we had our second Youth Night. This night was for our second group of graduates from Mission to Ukraine (MTU). As MTU focuses more on providing therapy for children, we are taking on the adults who have aged out of their services. There are about 40 graduates all together and we have them broken up in to two different groups, according to developmental level and interest level. The purpose of the Youth Nights is to provide a social opportunity for these young men and women, and for their moms. These guys and gals have grown up together at MTU, and this group of moms and their children are like extended family for each other. They just need a place and time set aside for them to be loved and valued and treasured for the the beautiful people that they are. They need a place to be with their peers where they are accepted and known.


We are more than happy to provide that for them.


I can't even accurately describe to you my love for this group of grown children and their moms. It felt like my birthday and Mother's Day and Christmas all rolled in to one as I anticipated Tuesday night. Most of these guys we hadn't seen since camp and we have missed them SO MUCH.


It's like God has planted them so deeply in to my heart that I am just bursting with love for them. I just want to squeeeeeeeeeze them all! And I did! Hahaha


As our awesome volunteers arrived to help set up one of them mentioned that there was a big group of people all huddled together down the street a ways, “Do you think that's them?” He asked. I said I would go check.


Oh.My.Word. I ran outside to find a group of like 15 of our youth and their moms all huddled together, in the freezing cold, 20 minutes early, not exactly sure where to go, waiting for everyone to arrive so they could come in together. I ran up to them to invite them inside, and seeing the excitement on their faces was absolutely priceless. SO PRECIOUS!!!!!


When God first made an opportunity for me to work with moms at MTU I was hesitant- and not that excited, to be honest. Then at camp He made another opportunity for me to work with moms, and again, I was not that excited (slow learner maybe?). But, He always knows better. Through those times of working with moms I grew to love them deeply. God knew we would be caring for these moms and their kids and He started preparing our hearts for it many months ago. These groups are just as much for the moms as they are for the kids


Work with this group is what brings me joy. More than anything else we do here in Ukraine, this group is the most life-giving to me. It feeds my soul- deep, deep down. I love Romaniv. Duh. I adore our Boys there. Duh. But Romaniv is also hard. It is painful. It is joy and sorrow and hugs and pain all at once.


This group is just joy. Pure and simple childlike joy.


God knew we needed this group just as much as they need us.


To go from Romaniv, where the boys are left alone in bed for hours, till we arrive to take them out, to young men and women being lovingly cared for by their mothers is like night and day. To go from Romaniv where Boys are not seen as individually valuable and special, to watching a mother's eyes light up as she watches her daughter laugh with her friends is like icy cold and cozy warmth. The contrasts between our morning and our evening are too many to count.


This group is like a salve on my soul. It reminds me of what is possible with love. It fills me with hope for our Boys. It is like a ginormous bear hug that lasts all evening. It makes my face hurt from smiling so big.


Thank you Jesus for this group. Thank you Jesus for knowing what we need. Thank you Jesus for the immense privilge of loving and knowing these families.


I'm just so happy. Sigh.



Pure Magic.

The candles were lit, white lights twinkled overhead.  The room was decked out in red and white, tablecloths smoothed, plates laden with treats.  We were ready.  I looked out the window to see the ones I love gussied up in their finest, smiling for the cameras like the stars that they are.  Moms surrounded them with pride in their eyes, snapping photos left and right, attempting to capture this moment and never let it go.


It was our last night at camp and time for our “Ladies and Gentlemen” evening.  A night created to honor our campers and let them know how we cherish them.  A night without parents, a night to feel young and free, grown up and proud.  A night made for them to take with them for the rest of their lives.

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We opened the doors and applauded our dear ones as they entered the room arm and arm with their precious volunteers.  Oh how their faces beamed with pride and excitement.  They looked absolutely stunning- each one.  Pure magic.

Every volunteer had written something special for their camper, and as each one was called up we cheered and hooted and hollered.  We told them they looked beautiful.  We read beautiful words about them, telling them how they are seen by their friends.  Some had grins you couldn’t wipe off if you tried, some blushed furiously, shy with the praise, a few wept, and I know I joined them.  🙂

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Oleg shared a poem and dessert was served.  I flitted from table to table, wanting to savor each face in my mind, wanting to cement this night in my heart.  Volunteers, our waiters and waitresses for the night, served our guests like royals.  Feeding those who couldn’t feed themselves, holding hands and pushing wheelchairs, wiping drool and crumbs, smoothing skirts and jackets, refilling cups and sharing conversation.  The cream of the crop were there that night- Zhytomyr’s finest- young people who have chosen to ignore their culture’s definition of value and choose to see with eyes of the Kingdom.

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A waltz was shared and all were invited to join.  A tall volunteer bends low as he invites a beauty in a wheelchair to join him in a dance.  She laughs big as another volunteer cuts in. Every soul celebrated and treasured.

We ended the night with fireworks and the joy on each face was indescribable.  Kingdom of Heaven come to earth.  God’s Kingdom come here and now- on earth as it is in Heaven.

I wish I could transport each of you back to that night with me.  I wish you could see and feel the joy in the room.  I want you to meet those we love so.  Roma, Vitaliy, Dasha, Natasha, Luba, Andrei, Vitya, Rostik, Oksana, Vika, Anton, Olya, Maxim…real people with real hopes and dreams. They may be limited by their bodies, but there is no limit to God’s love for them.  They are of infinite value and worth.  They are worth it.  They are worth time and effort and energy and love.  They aren’t a diagnosis or a mystery in a chair.  They are beloved sons and daughters and sisters and brothers and friends, and on Sunday night they were celebrities.  🙂

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I won’t be the same after this last month.  Our whole family is changed.  So much was solidified in our hearts and many, many times this past month my heart knew there is no place else I’d rather be.  Yes, it is often difficult.  Yes, the language barrier makes me want to scream.  Yes, we feel like outsiders much of the time.  Yes, sometimes we are lonely.  Yes, we miss our family (so much).  Yes, we miss our church (so much).  Yes, we miss one-stop shopping and dryers and the coast and the beauty of Oregon.  But our hearts know where they belong. Our hearts belong in a town full of those broken in body but alive and awake in spirit. Our hearts belong in an institution of the broken and forgotten.  Our hearts belong with the royalty of Sunday night and with those who served them.

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Praise God for knowing so much better than we do.  Praise God for those who have gone before us and paved the way in a society that says their work is of little value.  I just can’t thank God enough for placing our family here.  Not every day is lollypops and roses, and someday soon I will share some of our struggles.  But beyond all that I am thankful.  God has flooded our hearts with love that only comes from Him and I can’t even express to you in words how much we love our Ladies and Gentlemen.  They are absolute treasures.

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How is this our life?  Somebody pinch me.  


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Outrageous Joy, Indescribable Beauty

Fun. Laughter. Extravagant love.  Joy.  Triumph.  Compassion.  Excitement.  Tears.  Healing. Hugs and more hugs.  Potatoes and buckwheat.  Creativity.  Singing.  Rejoicing.  Miracles.  Awakened hearts.  And….more love.

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A little girl, nonverbal, barely in control of her body and unable to walk, claps her hands with joy when she sees her volunteer at breakfast in the morning.  She tugs at his beard and rubs his face as he beams with delight over her, like a proud father.

Six sweet souls from Romaniv run and swing and slide without a care in the world. I think they laughed for eight days straight.

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Weary moms walk with a new spring in their step.  Every day they hold their shoulders a bit higher.  They smile with tears in their eyes as they see their children loved with abandon- just as they are.  “I didn’t think anyone could ever love my child like that.”

Addy runs across the grass holding hands and laughing with Ryan, a most special young man.  Their giggles echo across the field.  Addy gushes, “I love you Ryan!”


Vlad, a little guy with special needs, his first time at camp, holds his head high as he belts out the Ukrainian national anthem for a room crowded with people.  His mom cries as thunderous applause fills the room.

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My own children’s hearts fill with love and compassion as they grow to know these special people God has placed in their lives.  They truly begin to understand why we live here in Ukraine and tell me “We have to stay here.  The boys at Romaniv need us to love them!”

My prayers are answered.

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Ukrainian volunteers give their whole selves to serve and love those who their society has cast aside.  Beauty beyond measure.

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I stand in the back watching a slide show of pictures throughout the week and realize there is no place on earth I would rather be.

A week absolutely full of glimpses of God’s Kingdom breaking through into earth.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Matthew 6:10

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Mission to Ukraine hosts two summer camps each year for people with disabilities.  The first camp is for children, and the second camp, which starts on Monday, is for teens and young adults. Children with all levels of ability are present and loved.  I can’t begin to describe the beauty.  Today we head back for the second camp and our hearts are bursting with anticipation.  May the love of God fill every single corner of every single heart.  May each soul know the love of the Father like never before.  May mother’s hearts be renewed and strengthened.  May it be on earth as it is in heaven.  Thank you for your prayers!  


Visit MTU’s Facebook page to see many more beautiful pictures, and a picture of Romaniv boys doing a traditional Ukrainian dance!




Radio Silence (+ Mustache Bonus Feature)

Tomorrow we set out on a big adventure!

Our family will be participating in Mission to Ukraine’s (MTU) two summer camps and tomorrow the fun begins.


Every summer MTU holds two different summer camps for children with disabilities and their mothers.  The first camp is for young children and the second camp is for teenagers and young adults.  The children and youth each have varying levels of needs and abilities and all are welcome.  These are all kids who receive services at MTU, whether it be special needs preschool or physical therapy or occupational therapy or life skills classes. Not only do the kids get to have a blast playing games, doing crafts, and learning about Jesus at camp, but the moms get a week of respite and fellowship with each other.  We’ve heard it’s just amazing and we can’t wait to see for our ourselves.  🙂

The campers are put in to small groups according to their ages and then each camper is paired with an adult volunteer who helps them and cares for them during all the camp activities.  During the first camp Jed will be in a group with the little little kiddos.  Havalah and Seth will also be in his group.  How cool that all our kids get to be campers too!  Addy and Ezra will be with their age groups.  I’m not exactly sure how it will work with our kids during the second camp…but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.  Twelve older, high functioning boys from Romaniv get to come for the second camp.  YAY!


Originally I was supposed to be with kids, but there was a surprise need for someone to work with the moms, so I’ll be doing that.  There is an American woman who has come to camp faithfully, for like 12 years straight and she always serves the moms, but she was unable to make it this year.  Sooooo…I guess I’m up!  Every morning I’ll    be doing a small group with some of the moms of the campers.  I feel pretty nervous and completely out of my element, so it you could pray for me I would so much appreciate it!!!  I really just want to hear the Lord and His heart for these moms.  I can’t even imagine how it is to raise a child with special needs here.  It must be so isolating and difficult.  I don’t know all that these moms need, but God does and so I’m just praying He speaks through me.  Who knows, I might even make some new friends in the process!  🙂  I hope so.


Our goal for this camp is just to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these families.  May they experience joy and love at every turn.  May they be refreshed and their hearts filled to overflowing.  May those who don’t know Jesus meet him during this camp.  May each person truly understand the they are seen and they are known by God, and if they will only glance in His direction, He will meet them there.  By the way, did you know those things are true for you too?

We’ll be out at camp pretty much until the end of the month with only a couple days home in the middle of the two camps, so we won’t be posting any updates during that time.  Email responses will also be delayed, FYI.

Radio silence commencing….now.  Catch ya on the flip side!


*So, we got some mustaches in a package from the US…and one thing led to another…





It Just Keeps Getting Better

Once upon a time, four years ago, I happened upon a blog of an adoptive mom who had just returned from Ukraine with her two new daughters, both with special needs.  That night, sitting on the couch with my laptop and cup of coffee, my life was changed.  Our lives were changed.

Tears streamed down my face that night as I read every post of the adoption blog.  That night I learned about life in Ukraine for orphans with disabilities.  A whole world was opened to me that I hadn’t even known existed.  I learned about school age children, the size of infants, living their lives bedridden in their cribs.  I learned about mental institutions in rural villages that house the disabled- hidden from the rest of the world. I read for hours that night.  One blog led to another that led to a website that led to another site.  My heart was broken and I knew something big was happening.  God meant for Jed and I to do something about this issue and these children, and He was serious about it.

Now, four years later, I’m in Ukraine, sitting on my bed with my laptop and my cup of coffee, realizing just how serious God was that night.  Yeah, He wasn’t messing around.  🙂

All along the journey that began that fateful night, God has been growing and refining the dreams He’s given us for the orphans with disabilities here in Ukraine.  We knew then, and we know now that He has called us here with a specific focus on bedridden children.  That is a population of orphans that is extremely difficult to reach, but God has been very clear that they are our people.  They are the ones we are to fight for.  Of course we are absolutely in love with many, many people with disabilities here that are not confined to their beds.  The big vision of Wide Awake includes varying levels of ability, but we knew then and we know now that God has a special plan for us that involves bedridden children.

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The big question has always been “How will we gain access to the bedridden children?”  Those children are generally more hidden away and it’s difficult for outsiders to work with them at all.  Perhaps orphanage directors are afraid, maybe they are protective…we will probably never fully understand the reasons.  We have just known that it would be up to God to bring those children across our path.  After all, it’s not like we can just walk into any old orphanage and ask to be shown to the crib section.  Ha!  Access to medically fragile kids only comes with relationship and trust.  Those things take time, so we have not been in a hurry.

But God.

Last week our team arrived at Romaniv and learned that two new little boys had been transferred to our Isolation Building from the baby house orphanage.  When Jed saw them for the first time his heart skipped a beat (or two).  They are both five years old and the size of infants.  They are bedridden and have spent their whole lives thus far in their cribs.  They are exactly our target population.  For these boys, and others just like them, we have sold everything and moved across the globe.  After months (actually years!) of wondering how we would gain access to children like these they have literally been dropped in our laps.  We didn’t even have to find them.  They were brought to us! I still can’t believe it.

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 Mission to Ukraine has been faithfully serving at Romaniv for five years.  Over those five years they have loved and given and loved and given some more.  They have brought Jesus there and His light and love have changed everything.  It is not the same place it once was.  The staff are not the same.  The Directors are not the same.  The boys are definitely not the same!  Because of MTU’s incredible faithfulness we now reap the harvest.  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Because of the amazing work they’ve done over the years we have full access to our boys in the Isolation Room.  We can visit any time we want.  We can take boys to the Sensory Room.  We can try new things and interact intentionally with each boy.  The Directors welcome us whenever we can come and invite us to even come more often.  It’s a situation we could only ever dream about.

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Now we have new boys who are completely bedridden and we have full access to them.  We even got to visit on Tuesday and talk with the staff about some of their biggest concerns about caring for these new boys!  Today we got to bring them a pack n play so they are not confined to their room every minute of the day.  We got to bring them mobiles for the cribs.  We got to observe their feedings and give input and advice. We get to be actively involved in improving their quality of life and it’s unreal.

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Testing out the new pack n play!

Each one of our boys in the Isolation Building holds a special place in our hearts.  We are learning their likes and dislikes, their habits and cues.  I really can’t express in words how much they mean to us and how great our love is for them.  They are our babies, each one of them.  I can’t even believe we have the honor of knowing them and loving them.  And now we have two more to love.

I guess I just had to share how awesome our God is.  His plans are so perfect.  He is so wise.  He placed us right where He wanted us, knowing all He had in mind.  He brought us here with an impossible-to-reach population in mind, and then proceeded to drop them right in our laps.  Incredible.  I can not thank God enough for our dear friends at MTU.  They have paved the way through many hours of love and care, and they loved our boys before we even had a clue of their existence.   We will be forever grateful.  Now to watch and see what God does next!  🙂

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Our little celebrities 🙂