The View From a Distance

You know how it is when you get so close to something that you can’t really see it clearly? What’s that saying? “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. Yeah, that’s me. I get so involved in the details of our day to day work, that it’s hard to pick my head up and see the big picture of what God is doing. I get bogged down in diapers and feeding people and the team schedule and documents, and can easily forget what we are actually aiming for in Ukraine. I mean, of course our work is our ministry is our life- all wrapped up in one, so I’m always “doing the stuff”, but sometimes I can kind of miss the heart of it when the details overwhelm.

It really is necessary though, to pick my head up every so often and remember why we are doing what we are doing. It’s important to pull back a bit and recognize the bigger picture of what God is doing. A good way to do that is to leave our life for a few weeks and watch the work happen from a distance. 🙂 We aren’t in Ukraine right now and we don’t have much control over what happens there while we are gone. We get to sit back and watch our team do their thing from a distance. The only glimpses we get of our Anton and Ruslan are videos and pics from the team- and that bit of distance, well, it does wonders for the heart.

From a distance I can see more clearly how far our boys have come. Man, I’m so proud of them! I see them safe and loved and I see a team that is working so hard to help them in any way they can. I see a group of people committed to changing their country and I see their dedication to do this thing right. I see them building something amazing. I see how God has provided everything we’ve needed right on time, and my faith is built up again as I remember that He will continue to be faithful in the days ahead. We have some very pressing needs coming up soon, so this increase in faith is much needed. (And, it has to be said that I definitely have not arrived. I still lose sleep over those pressing needs…but I’m deciding to trust Jesus in those wee morning hours instead of losing more sleep)

From a distance the rough patches in my heart begin to soften again as I rest and regain perspective. If you have been close to this work at all then you know that my relationship with our Ruslan has been a difficult one. We know that we know that God asked us to take Ruslan out of the institution. We don’t question that. But, it has not been an easy road for me at all. Ruslan struggles with his relationship with women- not in an unsafe way, but still in a very real way, and his feelings for me are a jumbled up mess. We realized after he had lived with us for over a year that it would be much better for him to live with only men, or with a much older woman. That played a part in the decision for him to move from our home last February. That, and then his increased need for independence and anxiety living with a large family. It just made a whole lot of sense on a lot of levels for him to move to an apartment.

Even after Ruslan moved out of our home, I still struggled with my feelings toward him. It was just so hard for me to live with him, and my heart felt let down, guilty, and ashamed of how difficult it was. I felt shame for a long time that I was “unable” to live with Ruslan any longer. I know there was no reason to feel shame and guilt, but those feelings were/are still there. I had many months of questioning God and asking him why he asked us to choose Ruslan when he knew we would not be able to keep him in our home, and when he knew how hard it would be for me. It’s been a journey. But, getting just a bit of distance has really helped my heart.

Earlier this week I was writing an update to Ruslan’s prayer team and I compiled a video of him, showcasing his love for music. In one part of the videos he is singing his favorite worship song and just going for it. He is worshiping with his whole heart and when I watched it my heart just broke. I remembered again where he came from and my heart softened again as I thought of all the terror and abuse he has endured in his life. I felt just so darn thankful that God asked us to take him from that horrible place. I can’t imagine him there!! He belongs with us. He is ours. Yes, living with him was the most difficult time of my life. Yes, I still don’t understand fully God’s purposes in it. Yes, I still have some places in my heart that need healing, but 100 times YES I am thankful that our guy is free. My heart needed that view from a distance.

When I look at our work in Ukraine from a distance I get so excited about what God is doing. Guys, it is amazing. It is freedom work. It is justice work. It is life-saving work. I’m just so pumped to be a part of it. It’s good to feel that again. 🙂

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An Idea I’m Excited About :)

A couple days ago I got the best message from an American couple that live in Kyiv. I met them briefly on a trip to Ukraine before we moved here. Throughout the years they have followed the work and sent encouraging notes here and there to let us know that they pray for us. (Those kinds of notes are the best notes, by the way)

Last winter when it all hit the fan and we had to immediately remove Anton from our house, they let me know that they had been praying for Anton every night, and would continue to do so. In that terrible time, it was such a giant encouragement to hear that they were praying faithfully for our precious guy.

That brings us to a couple of days ago when I got another message from the couple letting us know that through all these months they have continued to pray for Anton every night. I was so shocked to read that! In that moment I was able to let them know that actually, Anton has really been struggling the past couple of weeks. They were thankful to know so they could understand better how to pray for him. It made me wish I had been sharing more about Anton with them all along.

Then I had an idea!

As we’ve been planning our transition off of social media, we have been trying to think of ways for the Wide Awake community to stay engaged. I love the “back and forth” we have on social media and I really love that so many of you feel that you truly “know” our boys. That is a beautiful thing, to know our boys have cheerleaders in their corner that rejoice with us in every little victory and cry with us when times are tough. I don’t want to lose that part of community. It is an important piece at the heart of this work: to know and be known.

I would love to gather like-minded people together into groups that would celebrate, cheer on, pray for, and share the beauty of each of our boys. I’m thinking we need a “Team Boris”, “Team Ruslan”, “Team Anton” and “Team Vlad”. Then as more boys are added to our Wide Awake Family, we can gather teams for them as well. We probably need to gather a “Team Sasha” too, seeing as how Jed will soon be his guardian. Woot!

What does it mean to join a team?

  • We will send each team member a postcard of their boy that they can put on their fridge as a daily reminder of the precious life across the ocean.
  • I will email the teams each month with an update on their boy, prayer points and fun videos and pictures.
  • If we’re going through a rough patch I can let the team know and they can pray, support and encourage.
  • If there is a big gain for one of our boys, the team will know and be able to celebrate with us. I know it would mean a lot to our team here in Ukraine to hear that support and love from others for the boys that mean so much to them.
  • I even had an idea for a live chat with the team and their boy every so often…now that sounds fun!
  • Edited to add: I will still give regular updates about all the boys on the blog and in the weekly emails. The “teams” are more about targeted info about that specific boy. You can totally join more than one team!

What do you think? Wanna join a team? We would absolutely love for you to join us in caring for our boys in this way.

How to join?

  • Send me a message and let me know which team you would like to join.
  • Make sure I have your email address so I can send you the monthly updates.
  • If you would like us to send you a postcard, please send us your mailing address as well.

I’m so excited to see what comes of this. This idea was prompted because you all have shown so much love for our boys over the years. Thank you for loving them and for seeing them. Thank you for looking past the diagnoses and seeing the people. I can’t wait to keep sharing them with you and I really can’t wait till we have even more boys to introduce!

Wide Awake is leaving social media on Monday, October 12. But that doesn’t have to be goodbye! We are sending weekly email digests, so all the goodness you usually see on social media lands right in your inbox. Sign up below to get the weekly emails. I promise not to spam you. 🙂

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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.

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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

Eight Months In

We’re coming up on 8 months with Anton and Ruslan and I feel like we’re slowly starting to come up for air. Caring for our guys is still pretty much all-consuming, but we have gotten in to a bit of a rhythm, and things are looking up!

Sometimes it feels like their progress is so minuscule, but then we look back and remember things we had to do a few months ago just to keep the peace around here and we see how far the guys have come. Very far!

Anton. Six months ago we were barely sleeping because Anton was up all hours of the night wandering the halls. I remember we used to have to turn off all the water to the house and unscrew all the downstairs lightbulbs before we went to bed every night because Anton would get up and try to take a bath at 3 in the morning, or shriek and hoot and holler at 2am so that we would get him up and feed him. We had to remove all options in order for him to be able to turn his brain off enough to rest and fall asleep. At one point Jed was sleeping on a couch in front of his door to remove the option of nighttime wanderings. Those were the days…yikes.

Now I can happily report that Anton goes to bed easily and doesn’t get up until at least 6:30 every morning. (knock on a biiiiiiig ol’ piece of wood 🙂 ) His sleep success is thanks to a strict evening routine that we dare not stray from, and blessed medication. The combo of the two saved our lives.

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He’s saying a lot of words, and more and more often he says them at the appropriate times! He used to only really speak when he was angry, but now that’s not always the case. There are so many words in there and sometimes he’ll shock us with a “See you tomorrow!” (in Ukrainian of course) or something like that.

Anton gets stressed pretty easily, and when he doesn’t feel good, physically, he gets really worked up. In times of stress he is aggressive toward others, so that is a big bummer. I hate those times because I know he is just repeating what he’s seen his whole life and it’s not the real Anton. When he is in an aggressive mood it just becomes a matter of keeping him separate from everyone else and that is exhausting. I hope and pray that someday Anton will be able to express his emotions in ways that are less painful to others. We are doing all we can to help him learn a new way.

When Anton feels good and is at ease he is so joyful, sweet and fun-loving. He loves big bear hugs, dancing, toy cars and fidget-spinners. He enjoys stirring things in the kitchen and will gladly eat anything and everything you put in front of him. He has started to say “I love you” on occasion and this week he said “Mama” for the first time. Melt my heart.

Ruslan. To be honest, it’s hard for me to write about Ruslan because I’m unsure how much to share. Whenever I share about our boys I want to respect their dignity and respect their privacy. It’s so important for me not to overshare their personal struggles. At the same time, I always want to be honest about this process. It does none of us any good for me to pretend all is unicorns and rainbows when they so clearly are not. This is stinkin’ hard work for us, our team, and our boys every.single.day. Most of all for our boys. Learning to become a human after 20+ years of living like an animal is not an easy process to go through. They need our empathy and our compassion, but they also need our strength. They need to have a standard to rise to, expectations to meet. They need to know we believe in them and we want more for them because we love them!

Ruslan’s trauma presents itself as high anxiety and a need to be in control of everything. At Romaniv his world was small. The stressors were crazy HUGE, but there were few of them. His main priority there was keeping himself safe and keeping himself fed. Here in the real world, the wider world, there are many, many things outside of his control. There are so many more things for him to obsess about and be anxious about. If it’s not one thing it’s another.  He wants desperately to control his environment, but when you live in a house with 10 other people you just can’t control every single detail. That is outrageously hard for Ruslan. Sometimes it seems like it’s only getting harder, only getting worse, but he has actually made some great strides in the past few months. A few months ago he was was having daily meltdowns and those really only happen on rare occasions now. You can see him ramping up for a meltdown, and then most of the time he can wind himself down. Not always, but most of the time. I’m so thankful for that!

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When Ruslan is relaxed and at peace he is hilarious. He has a great sense of humor and a compassionate heart. He really loves Evie and is mostly gentle with her. He loves to sing, and worship time at church is his most favorite thing EVER. The anxiety ridden Ruslan who acts out in fear holds back the real Ruslan. The anxious Ruslan is also extremely hard to live with. It breaks my heart because I want things to be different. So, we will continue to fight for him. We will fight to get him all the help we can so that he can live his life to the fullest.

We have waited a bit to see how things would play out with a highly structured day and several months of safety and now we have an accurate baseline for Ruslan. We are ready to seek out psychiatric care for our guy and see how we can best help him move forward. If you would pray with us for wisdom in this we would really appreciate it.

Health. As far as medical stuff goes for both guys, we’ve been slowly but surely getting things taken care of. Fridays have become our “medical day”, so Kenny and I try to tackle the different medical appointments on Fridays. We’re focused on dental stuff right now and that’s super fun since Kenny and I both HATE going to the dentist. I’m not sure how much moral support we provide, but we do our best. Hehe. Anton has one problematic tooth that should be fixed next week and Ruslan has a whole mouthful of problems. I’m not sure he’ll have any teeth left when we get finished. Poor guy. 🙁 I’m guessing we’ll be exploring the world of dentures or implants in the near future. Anton has some physical symptoms that I don’t have answers for yet, but all in all I think they are both in pretty good health at the moment. Step by step we’re getting there!

I have to say that there is no way we could do any of this without our amazing team. Kenny and Oleg are with us Monday through Friday, bathing our guys, shaving them, taking them on bike rides, teaching them how to make tea, keeping them safe, talking them off the ledge, teaching them how to be men, loving them, comforting them, supporting us and all in all just being awesome. This really would be impossible without their help. We would have burned out months ago.

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Masha, Masha, and Lesya are also absolutely essential to the success of this home. “Harry Potter Masha” 😉 comes to our home three times a week. She plans and organizes the guys’ schedule for the week and is learning to implement the plans that Olya, our wonderful OT, recommends. Masha’s work makes it so that we aren’t just spinning our wheels with the guys, but we are hopefully moving toward specific developmental goals. “Second Masha” and Lesya each come once a week and provide great additional support to our guys and the rest of the team. I love our team and can’t express how thankful I am that God brought each of them to our family.

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So, there’s a bit of an update on our two newest family members. If you have any questions about Anton or Ruslan, or the process of deinstitutionalization don’t hesitate to ask! My hope and dream for writing this out is that someone reading it will also feel called to this deep, difficult, and beautiful work. We need help and I know God will call the right people to join us. I also write this so that those of you who pray will know better how to pray for our family and our team.

To all of you who pray, support, encourage and love us from afar, thank you! We can’t tell you how much we need it and appreciate it. Thank you for partnering with us on this journey. We couldn’t do it without you!

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Ruslan and Anton: The Skinny

Well, we’re two and a half weeks into life with Anton and Ruslan, our new additions, and I stole away for a few minutes to update you all on how it’s going. I know many of you have prayed for us and journeyed alongside us for many years and now the answer to our prayers are sitting downstairs on the couch watching cartoons. 🙂 Crazy, right?

“How’s it going with the new guys?” That’s the question everyone’s been asking, and a question that is impossible to describe with just one word. In general, I think Ruslan and Anton are doing really well. We didn’t know them as well as we knew Boris before he came to live with us, so we really had no idea what to expect. Although, we have learned with Boris that it doesn’t matter how well you know someone in an institutional setting. Once you get them out and into family life you really never know what they will be like. Boris is much different than I expected. So, we knew that we could not predict how Ruslan and Anton would adapt to “life on the outside”. So far I’m pleasantly surprised.

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At their first wedding!

Physical.  Ruslan and Anton both seem to be in pretty good health. There are some digestive issues that we have to work out, and some concerning results of lab work we had done, but most of that will probably resolve itself in time.  One of Ruslan’s feet has a pretty major issue that would probably require therapy and maybe surgery to fix. He walks with a very big limp and it looks so painful to watch him do stairs. 🙁 But, he runs and jumps and dances with the best of them. When we are out and about and are going to be walking more than just a little bit we make sure to bring a wheelchair for him. Anton is a pretty big guy, who we’re learning, benefits from PLENTY of exercise. He was waking up all night long hootin’ and hollerin’ and waking the whole house with loud laughter, but that is happening less and less. He still wakes up pretty early, but 6:00 is much better than 3:00!!!  He’s on the right track. 🙂

Emotional.  As you can imagine, our guys are in need of a great amount of healing. We know that their paths to healing may be very long, so we need to be patient. They both lived at Romaniv for more than 20 years and we don’t know where they were before that. They have been neglected and abused in every way you can imagine, and beyond what you can imagine. Pain like that doesn’t heal overnight.

Ruslan is a pretty anxious guy. He is verbal, so that helps a lot in easing his anxiety. When we are out and about he always wants to know where home is and when we’ll go back there. He always needs to make sure everyone is present and accounted for, and hey, I’ll take any help I can get in that department! Haha.  I remember when Vladik first came to us he was the same way regarding asking about home and needing to know which direction home was located. Ruslan is also a pleaser and wants to make sure we are happy with him. He needs lots of affirmation. He loves to help around the house and one sweet thing is that out of all four of our boys from Romaniv, Ruslan is the only one who shows interest in Evie. He talks to her, strokes her little hands, and has even picked her up a couple times! Yikes! 🙂 It’s really beautiful to watch him interact with her.

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Anton is often in his own world and takes a lot more intentionality to reach. He is happy to sit and play with his spinner for hours on end, so we have to work to keep him active. He’s the happiest, most content guy who has begun to laugh A LOT. His laugh is so jolly! We are learning that Anton is sensitive to noises and he gets pretty easily agitated by Boris’ many vocalizations. So, we have to make sure to give him space in those times because he can get a little aggressive. He’s just repeating what he knows, so we have empathy for him, but he also knows it’s wrong to hit, so he’s learning the not-so-fun world of good ol’ fashioned consequences (ie. missing out on a treat, or sitting in a chair for a few minutes without his spinner). Anton has a lot of insecurities about food so we are working hard on eating slowly, not hovering around the kitchen every moment of the day 😉 , and eating appropriate amounts. He doesn’t speak often so it’s hard to know what’s going on in that brain of his!

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Integration into Family Life.  This is the fun one. Ruslan and Anton are doing really great integrating into family life. Ruslan already told me he wants to learn to speak English. I bet he will too! He is so stinkin’ smart. Ruslan likes to join in on anything and everything that is going on in the house. He loves to be a part of the group. Anton is happy to join in too, but just needs more help to do it. They both love music and playing ball outside. They enjoy going on walks and, of course, going anywhere in the car.

As a whole, I would say our kids are adjusting pretty well to having Anton and Ruslan in the family. We’re dealing with the normal meltdowns that come with a major life change- there’s no escaping that. But in general, I’m super impressed with our kids and their adaptability. They are heroes.

It’s been a pretty huge adjustment for Jed and me. Our hands are now extremely full(er) :). Anton and Ruslan are doing well, but they also require a lot of attention. We’re trying to nip institutional behaviors and teach new behaviors to replace the not-so-pleasant ones. That requires a lot of time. Teaching hygiene, manners, appropriate interpersonal interactions, safety…we are starting from the ground up and it’s pretty intense. Vlad and Seth have experienced some regression since their arrival, so we are working through that as well. And then there’s Boris…yeah, he doesn’t love sharing attention AT ALL, so he’s pretty challenging at the moment. Basically, in this phase of life, from the moment we get up in the morning till the moment we lay our heads down at night we have to be “on”. There are just a lot of moving parts around here and a lot people needing different levels of supervision and interaction. It’s a lot. More than ever we are aware of our deep need to abide in Christ. There is no way we can do this without His help.

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Evidence of the one time we took EVERYBODY grocery shopping. Not quite sure why we attempted that…hehe

Monday, Wednesdays and Friday we have one of our Wide Awake interns here helping us, and then Monday through Friday Kenny is here with us during the day as well. We’re working with the interns to develop an educational plan for the boys (Boris included), but it’s slow going. Right now they are still adjusting to life outside of Romaniv, and we’re okay with that. The interns and Kenny help us keep everyone engaged, active, and safe as they learn about the world around them.

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At the car wash with Kenny

That’s a glimpse into our life at the moment! It’s a bit insane and there’s definitely never a dull moment. Lots of laundry. Lots of cooking. Lots of noises. Lots of correcting and guiding. But also, lots of laughter. Lots of new experiences. Lots of love and memory making. It’s a raw kind of life. The good moments are so very good, and the bad moments are kind of horrible. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns- definitely not romantic. But, it’s the life we have chosen and our yes to the Lord. It is beautiful in it’s own way. We are learning about our own weakness and humanness and learning what it means to lay our lives down. Jesus is so faithful to meet us right where we are when we need Him most. I’m so thankful for that. I really am thankful for the opportunity to see my great need for Jesus every single day.

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Jed took the guys to the Black Sea!  

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Both guys love working out in the woodshop with Jed

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Thank you for loving our big ol’ messy family. We are so thankful for your love and support. Please, when you think of us, pray for us. We appreciate it so much!