FAMILY FOUND! + An Encouragement

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

WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! So many tears and cheers around here!

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

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

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

As soon as their Family Sponsorship Page is up and running I will be sure to share the link with you so you can support them. Please be patient with me. Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BeLOVE[d]

PRESTON: An Update + Video

THANK YOU to every one of you who has shared Preston’s story with the world. As of today more than 40,000 people have viewed the blog post about his urgent need for a family.

Please keep sharing! So far no one has stepped up for Preston. There have been many, many inquiries by email, Facebook and Instagram, but no one has taken the leap.

I can not emphasize enough that this is a race against time. A family must step up NOW. If you are one of those interested families, I’m sorry to rush you…but hurry up! 🙂

Certain questions about Preston have been asked several times, so I will answer them here.

Why can’t Preston’s current family adopt him? There is no doubt that Preston’s current caregivers love him immensely. They adore him and he is a genuine member of the family. They also went into this committing to care for him for one year, and now have passed the two year mark. They never took Preston in with the plans to keep him forever. His current family saved his life. They nursed him back to life and have sacrificed SO MUCH because of their great love for him. Their hearts will break to see him go. But they are not, and have never been, his permanent plan.

  1. Much like in the US, after a certain length of time in transition, a child’s case must move to a permanency plan. Preston’s time in transition has run out. His permanency plan is adoption- either domestic or international. He can not legally stay in his current situation.
  2. Ukraine does not allow single parent adoptions. He currently lives with a single woman and her adult daughter. Neither of them are legally allowed to adopt him.
  3. Both members of his current family have expressed more than once that they believe Preston would do best with a father in the family. He lights up around men and you can see he longs for that relationship that a father can provide. His current home can not provide that for him.

How can it be best for Preston to leave his country, culture and language and be adopted internationally? This is a question that is not easily answered in one paragraph of a blog post. So, so much in that question.

For sure, bringing Preston out of Ukraine into a family culture and language that is completely foreign to him will be very difficult on him. FOR SURE. There is no denying it. I am a huge advocate of keeping kids in their home culture whenever possible. The USA and other western countries are wonderful and have many amazing resources that we do not have access to further east, but I definitely do not believe that the USA and other western countries are the best place for every child.

So why do I advocate for Preston to be adopted out of Ukraine?

  1. I advocate for that because no one in Ukraine has stepped forward for him.
  2. Preston would greatly benefit from medical resources (therapy, medications) that are simply not available yet in Ukraine. He has so much potential, but lack of consistent therapy and doctors up-to-date on the latest in helping children with CP hold him back significantly. His CP is basically untreated at this point.
  3. He is a very smart boy, but Ukraine does not have special education, so he is unable to attend school. This breaks my heart because I KNOW he is so capable. There are no resources here for home education- least of all education of a child with any special needs.

We love Ukraine. Heck, we moved our entire family here, permanently. I am not some random person who is not personally invested into this country and her people. We have given our lives to being sparks of change here. So let’s get that straight: I love Ukrainian people. I am committed to Ukraine. I also am raising children and adults with significant special needs here in Ukraine and I face every day what it means to live with people in a culture that does not accept them. Change is coming slowly, but it is extremely difficult to  live in Ukraine with people with special needs. I’m not just talking about lack of accessibility, which is a big problem, I’m talking about the attitude of the society as a whole. Life here is an uphill battle for our guys every day and I’m not going to pretend that life would necessarily be better for Preston here.

If a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that love him and are ready to fight for him then OF COURSE it is better for that child to stay in Ukraine with his family. That’s not even a question. On the other hand, if a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that does not want him (like Preston) or feels they can not care for him and they give that child to the State, then it is in the child’s best interest for us to look as far and wide as we can until we find someone who will love and care for him.

Those are hard words to write, but it’s my love for Preston and thousands other just like him that compel me to point at the elephant in the room and not ignore it. If Preston is not adopted he will return to the institution where he nearly died, so no, when it comes down to him losing his language or losing his life, I will not say it is best for him to stay in  Ukraine.

If you have more questions about Preston or adoption please don’t hesitate to ask! I am happy to talk with interested families.

I wrote extensively about his needs here.  You can give a tax deductible donation to Preston’s adoption grant here.

Thank you for your continued advocacy! Please keep it up! Let’s find our boy a family.

I know I wrote some strong words about Ukraine. Of course there are many exceptions to this and a few of them come and work at our house every day. They fight alongside us for our guys and they, and others like them, will be the ones to change their country. 

The Lonely

Yesterday we got Anton and Ruslan’s medical histories from the institution. Oh my heart. Twenty plus years of their life, summed up in doctor’s chicken scratches on paper yellowed from time. We know the basics of how they spent the last 20 years. They sat on benches inside in the winter, and sat on benches outside in the summer. End of story. The medical files are the only hints we have of any significant life events outside bench- sitting.  They are our glimpse of our boys’ past- those, and a photo of each boy from time gone by.

My heart leapt and sank when I saw the photos. My babies! Oh my dear ones, I’m so sorry you had to wait so long. I’m so sorry you had no mama to comfort you, no papa to guide you. I’m so sorry you endured such abuse and neglect when you could not defend yourselves. You were so young, so small. My heart is broken for the little boy left at Romaniv alone and afraid.

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Ruslan, age 10

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Anton, age 16

Our life here is a full one; full of responsibilities and full of people. But our life here is also a lonely one. Our lives are completely absorbed with the care of people whom the society has thrown away. Our time, energy and love is wrapped up in people who are not accepted in this country. Our work is isolating. Couple that with language barriers and cultural difference, and then add the distance from loved ones…sometimes the loneliness of this life threatens to overwhelm.

The other night I was rocking Evie to sleep in a quiet, dark room. My thoughts were wandering and all of a sudden I was completely overwhelmed by loneliness. It washed over me like a giant ocean wave. I’d never felt anything like it. Evie wasn’t asleep, but I had to leave the room, lest my mind wander to a verrrrrrry dark place. I wept as I longed for family and friends far away. I lamented my lonely and often isolated existence in my Ukrainian village. I wished for the peer relationships with other moms that are non-existent at this time of my life when I need them so badly. If there ever was a “woe is me” moment- that was it. Not.pretty. Yikes.

I share that story not to bring pity on myself or to fill my inbox with messages from concerned friends, but to share what I am learning from it.

The feelings of loneliness I have are only the tip-tip-top of the iceberg of the loneliness our guys lived with their whole lives. In Anton, Ruslan and Boris we are seeing the effects of how 30 years of utter aloneness and helplessness shape a person. The effects are devastating. In my own loneliness, which greatly pales in comparison to the life they have known, God is granting me greater empathy and compassion for the boys I love so dearly.

I may feel alone, but-

I am surrounded by my family who love and care for me. They were abandoned by their family.

I chose this life that I’m living, and the sacrifices that come with it. They had absolutely no choice or agency in their situation. They were completely helpless. 

I have always been taught, and have always known that I was loved by God first, and also by many people. They had no one to teach them or comfort them. 

I have hope. I know that this work, this life is exactly what God has asked me to do and I trust that He will give me the grace to do it. They had no reason to hope. They lived in hell and were prisoners, innocent of any crime.

I do believe and trust that God comforted them while they were in the institution. I believe that He fathered them in ways we could not see. His word says that He is a Father to the fatherless, so I know it has to be true. At the same time, there is the reality that they were abused and neglected in every way- for decades. I can’t explain that paradox. I know both sides to be true and I guess I just won’t be able to make sense of it this side of eternity.

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Boris, age unknown

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Baby Vladik

Jean Vanier, a great man who has spent his life living with and loving people with intellectual disabilities, said “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”

Ruslan, Anton, Boris, Vladik. I weep over the many years they had to taste that loneliness. I look at the pictures of them as little ones and wonder at what could have been, had they not waited so long.

In Ukraine alone, there are thousands of children and adults who are helpless and alone in institutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Do you have room at your table for one more? Do you have love in your heart to give? Could you reach out and give of yourself so that one more soul could know the love of a family? No child, no adult should be alone and if you have the ability to help, then by all means- do it. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. If all that is standing in your way is your desire for your own comfort, then it’s time for something to change.

Adoption is messy and uncomfortable and hard. Let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to not adopt. Like 500% easier. But this life isn’t about doing what’s easier. It’s about chasing hard after Jesus and running the race full-on till the race is complete. If you are alive, then your race is not complete. If running hard after Jesus means laying down your life so that another may truly live, then just go ahead and do it. If adoption is meant to be your YES and you are still saying NO, please reconsider. Someone is waiting for your yes, and the sooner you can get to that someone the better. If adoption isn’t supposed to be a part of your race, that’s perfectly okay! Just figure out what your YES is and get busy doing it.

In this month of November, this National Adoption Month, please consider again if adoption should be your YES. Consider again how you can make space in your heart and home for the lonely. Consider laying down your life so that others may live. Say YES!

BeLOVE[d]

Introducing…Interns!

The vision of Wide Awake is to offer hope, dignity, and improved quality of life for some of Eastern Europe’s most marginalized children.”

If you’ve hung around here for a while you know that our big, God-size dream is to open small group homes for our boys to live out their days.  The dream is to remove the boys from their horrible reality and insert them into safe, loving, warm environments where they can get all the love and help they need for the rest of their lives.  They will play and receive therapy and sleep in soft, warm beds.  They will be surrounded by music and laughter.  If they are able to work they will garden and care for animals and work with their hands.  Our boys need occupation.  They need to contribute to the world around them.  It brings meaning to their lives.  The dream is for them to be IN the city, not hidden away from society.  The dream is for them to have the opportunity to become all that God has created them to be, surrounded by people who love them and treasure them and believe in them. 
We’ve got big dreams around here. We’re dreaming big, believing that God has great futures in mind for our boys.  

We will not believe that God’s best for them is to lay in bed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, staring at blank walls. We will not believe that spending the next 20 years rocking back and forth on a bench is God’s hope for their future.  
We know God wants more for our boys and we know that He uses people as his hands and feet in the world.  

Last year it became apparent that less money needed to be spent improving the physical living conditions of the boys, and more money needed to be spent placing loving, consistent people in their lives.  To answer that need, through a three-way partnership with Hands of Hope (funded by their child-sponsorship program), Mission to Ukraine (local non-profit acting as fiscal agent), and Wide Awake (hiring and training) we were able to hire two full-time teachers who teach the bigger boys Monday through Friday.  That  need is also being answered by an increase in the amount of time our team spends with the boys each week.  Since last spring there are teams going to visit the boys 3 days a week.  The team has grown in number and in love.  It is a truly beautiful thing.

Now I am so very happy to report that the need is being answered in yet another way.  INTERNS! 
 

Tanya, Mira, and Maxim

 

Our family attends a wonderful church in Zhytomyr: Христианской Молодежной Церкви (Christian Youth Church).  Youth Church is our family in Ukraine.  God has done a wonderful thing in partnering us together.  Almost all of our team comes from Youth Church, and Wide Awake gave Youth Church a grant to carry on the work of bringing teams to the boys while our family is here in the US.  Youth Church has done a FANTASTIC job of growing the team, and now the work in Romaniv has become an official ministry of our church!  Vika, the team leader for Romaniv, has just rocked it.  We are so proud of her and the whole team, and are honored to call Youth Church our Ukrainian home. 🙂 

Youth Church, in partnership with Wide Awake is now sending three interns to Romaniv three days a week!  The interns were picked from our team.  Maxim, Tanya, and Mira have been volunteering at Romaniv since October of 2014.  They have been faithful, loving, extremely dedicated and committed to the boys.  This is not a project for them.  This is their love.  The three interns are university students who are doing this paid internship in addition to their schooling.  They will be with the boys for six hours, three days a week and are an answer to prayer.  Jed began their training when he was in Ukraine in October, and then our dear friend Olya, an OT, continued their training when Jed came back to the US.  Thank you to Salem Vineyard, our sending church in Oregon, whose child-sponsorship helps to pay for this exciting new venture! 

Yesterday was their first day on the job and we are all so excited!  Maxim, Tanya, and Mira’s focus is on the boys in the Isolation Hall, since the teachers are not working with those boys.  They have divided the Isolation boys up between themselves  and will each work with the same boys every day they are there.  They are beginning with performing functional assessments on each boy and then setting individual goals for the development of each boy.  Their work is more focused and therapeutic because they have the ability to give their time and attention to the same boys each day.  

  
   
 

We are looking forward to awesome results!  Even just their consistent, positive presence is life-changing for our babies.

Do you know what that means?  That means that between our teams and the interns we have loving, energetic, amazing youth spending time with the boys SIX DAYS A WEEK!!!!!!  Freaking out excited!!!!!  That’s not even counting the teachers who are there Monday through Friday and teams who visit from other churches.  PRAISE GOD!

I remember back to the spring of 2014 when Jed and I decided to start going to Romaniv a second day each week. It was just the two of us going to Romaniv alone, asking God to bring more help…and now this.  God is so amazingly faithful.  

We believe that all of this loving presence is preparing the boys for the lives of freedom that await them.  

Soon my babies, soon you will be free. But in the meantime, I hope you can see how many people love you so dearly.

 

Indiana Adventures

I gotta tell ya, we just had the most encouraging week!  

I’ve written before about Hands of Hope, our fabulous partners in Indiana.  Hands of Hope provides awesome support to adoptive and foster families in Indiana, and they also do great orphan care through child sponsorship.  Through the Hands of Hope Romaniv sponsorship we are able to bring fresh fruit to the boys three days a week, pay the salary of two teachers who are working full-time to teach the boys, and more.  Hands of Hope is an immense help in bringing greater quality of life to our boys.  Because Hands of Hope pays for much of the work that is done at Romaniv now, Wide Awake is able to put funds away to prepare for the future: group homes instead of institutionalization.  

Their partnership and investment into our boys is priceless. 

This past Tuesday Jed, Vladik, and I were able to fly to Indiana to spend some time with the Hands of Hope peeps and talk a whole lot about the boys we adore so much.  It was a fast and fabulous trip!  Jed flew in from Ukraine on Monday and we flew out to Indiana on Tuesday morning.  At this point I’m pretty sure Jed could go 10 years without stepping foot on another airplane and be pretty happy with that. 

   

 

On Tuesday night we got to spend the evening with some lovely people who sponsor sweet Boris and Zhenya.  And then on Wednesday night there was an open house for “Friends of Romaniv”.  Basically sponsors and any and everyone who loves our boys could come and just hear about what’s happening at Romaniv and how they can pray.  It was beautiful.  Many of the people who came Wednesday evening have visited Romaniv before and dearly love the boys.  We always love talking about our sweeties, but talking about them to a room full of people who have loved them for years (in many cases before we even knew they existed!) takes it to a whole new level.  Love-fest level!  🙂 

The highlight of our Wednesday was a lovely young lady named Renee.  Renee visited Romaniv on a mission trip when she was 16 years old.  She fell in love with Vladik on that trip, came home and became his sponsor through Hands of Hope.  Renee prayed and prayed over the years that Vladik would find a family.  She LOVED our son before we did.  Well, now Renee goes to college in Kentucky.  She found out Vladik was going to be in Indiana and drove over 3 hours to come and see him in person.  

  
 

What a special reunion.  Vladik was clueless of the importance of that night, but someday he’ll understand.  

Thursday night was just beautiful.  Hands of Hope had an event called “Sip and Savor”.  It was so classy!  Free lattes and people walking around with trays of cheesecake?  Yes, please.  🙂  

The three main focuses of Hands of Hope were presented at the event: Orphan Care (child sponsorship), Foster Care support, and Adoption.  Jed and I did the presentation about adoption because we received a matching grant for our adoption through Hands of Hope.  THANK YOU!!!!!  It was doubly special because Vladik was the first Hands of Hope sponsor child to be adopted.  Cool, eh?  I say hopefully the first of many! 

Man, it was just wonderful to be in a room full of people passionate about caring for the orphan.  There are so many different ways to say YES and hearing about all the ways people can say YES by partnering with Hands of Hope is just rad.  It’s the real deal.  

  
 
  

Besides those official meetings, we just had plenty of time to drink coffee and eat yummy food with our friends.  All of these friends we met in Ukraine at one time or another through Hands of Hope, World Next Door, or Mission to Ukraine.  They were all so happy to see Vladik in a family and we were so blessed to spend time with people who know our boys and our friends in Ukraine and love them.  Common hearts + coffee + cozy couches = a whole lotta good times.  We got to stay with our friends Christopher and Lois and it was seriously like a vacation.  They spoiled the heck out of us.  SO FUN!   

  

God has blessed us so much with this partnership with Hands of Hope.  Again, we are just amazed at God’s love for the boys.  How is it, why is it that He has drawn so many hearts to this one institution in the middle of nowhere Ukraine?  We believe it’s because God has something very special for our boys.  He has been drawing them out of darkness into light for such a time as this.  I’m just thankful we get to be a part of His unfolding plan.  

To God be ALL the glory for the GREAT things He has done!