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!

 

The Next Big Leap

Tomorrow is a big, big day around here. Tomorrow Ruslan and Anton, two more of our friends from Romaniv will come to live with us forever. Jed has legal guardianship of them, and now we are taking the next big leap to bring them into our family.

I’ve been posting updates about the process on our Wide Awake Facebook page, but I haven’t really had the time to write all about it on here. So, here goes!

The plan all along has been for us to be a pilot home for deinstitutionalization here in Ukraine. The family-style homes that we dream of don’t exist here (that we know of), so we are taking the leap to do it ourselves and see if we can be a model that Ukrainians can replicate. We don’t pretend to be, nor do we want to be THE great hope of Ukraine (that would be Jesus). This issue of institutionalized people is an issue that Ukrainian people need to solve. We are just called to be a spark. We are called to model a different way and encourage others to follow. To that end, we remodeled the Homestead house with the space to bring 3-4 boys/men from Romaniv to live with our family, to become members of our family. We already took guardianship of Boris back in December, and now Anton and Ruslan will round us out as a family of 11. We would technically have room for one more, but we feel that with Boris’ needs, plus the added blessing of our Evie, two more will pretty much bring us to capacity. 🙂

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Jed with Ruslan and Anton a couple weeks ago 🙂

Just like with Boris, we are now the legal guardians of Anton and Ruslan. We did not adopt them because they are already adults, so it’s not legally possible to do an adoption. Our Vladik is adopted (he was 15 when we adopted him, so legally still a child), but in our minds and hearts they are all the same. It’s just different in legal terms. In our minds, once they enter our home they are our family till death do us part. The intensity level rises a tad when you are bringing in a 30 year old, instead of a 15 year old, but if this is what God is asking us to do our answer still needs to be yes.

People have asked how we chose Anton and Ruslan out of all the wonderful boys that we know and love at Romaniv. Wow, that’s a good question with probably kind of a vague answer. I guess we just knew! With Boris it was no question. Jed and I both had a really intense attachment to him and it was just a “duh” that he would be the first. He needed out desperately and we knew he was meant to be with us. Then we started to pray and ask God who would be next. At first we thought we would take the men who were going to be first to age out of Romaniv, but right now in our region no-one is being transferred in to the institution, and no-one is being transferred out. So age doesn’t really matter. We knew we wanted to take men who were too old to be adopted and we wanted men who had no family to go back to. In our minds, reunification with birth family is the most amazing plan ever, and we want to advocate for that as much as possible. So, it was important for us to take men who would not have the opportunity for reunification.

Three years ago Anton and Ruslan were taken to a camp for children with special needs that our friends at Mission to Ukraine provide each year. I was on the “Romaniv” team with them and got to know them a bit. I’ll be honest that before that camp I had never noticed either of them at Romaniv. I absolutely fell in love with Anton at that camp. He has such a sweet spirit and boy oh boy, he is so abused at Romaniv. He is a whipping boy for the aggressors and spends most of his days rocking on a bench, probably attempting to disappear. At camp his precious spirit came alive and it was such a joy to behold. I’ve had a special love for him ever since that time.

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Anton and me at camp (2015)

Jed and I both also recognized at that camp the awesomeness of Ruslan. He is so smart and full of joy. Then in the spring of 2017 Jed and I both had encounters at Romaniv with Ruslan that firmly placed him in our hearts. We each had encounters when we were present when he had been hurt by another boy/man and were able to be at his side to comfort him while he cried. We had the gift of holding him and giving him the compassion that he has lacked for so many years. When it came time to choose our guys, Jed and I both eventually, in discussion and prayer, narrowed it down to those two boys. And we have never swayed since. There are many guys that, for safety reasons, we could not have in our home with our children, and then there are many that we absolutely adore and wish so much could come be a part of our family. But, we just don’t have space for everyone. We really needed God to speak to us, and we believe He has.

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Jed and Ruslan at camp (2015)

Anton and Ruslan are both more independent than Boris. Boris needs help with every aspect of life. Anton and Ruslan can feed themselves, go to the toilet independently, dress themselves, and walk. Ruslan has some mobility issues, so when we are out and about in town he’ll need to use a wheelchair, like Boris. Ruslan can speak, Anton only has a couple of words. Anton will need more assistance with daily life activities than Ruslan, but in general they will require less “hands-on” than Boris.

We understand the gravity of what we are about to take on. Well, I should say we understand it as much as we can at this moment! In reality, there is zero percent chance that we can predict what this transition will be like. We know that it is no small thing to take in two thirty year olds who have lived in hell for 20 years. We know they have been neglected and abused beyond belief and the path to healing will be long. But, we also know for certain that these two are meant to be with us. We have put safety precautions in place. We have had discussions with our kids. Our interns and Jed’s assistant, Kenny, will be helping us several days a week. Now all we can do is see how it goes, modify the plan as needed, and trust God to give us the wisdom we need. It seemed right to take Anton and Ruslan both out at the same time. Ruslan is a helper, and we hope he might be a comfort to Anton. Also, our family has been through A TON of transition over the last year and we just feel like we need to do this big transition and then be done with transition for a bit (if that’s even possible). We are eager to settle in as a family of 11 and get on with it!

I’ll be honest, this YES is the biggest yet for me. Yes, it was a lot to commit our lives to Vladik and Boris, but this feels even bigger to me. It feels scarier. Maybe that’s because now we have lived the reality of our commitment to Boris for several months and we are knee deep in the challenges and reality of what that looks like. Life with Boris is not without joy, but it is a hard, hard road. I know that Anton and Ruslan will have their own challenges and sometimes I worry about what that will look like in day to day life.

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We know that we know that this is what God has asked us to do, so we have to put our trust in Him and keep on trusting.  Just like before, the only thing required of us is the next YES. We don’t need to worry about the future, because we’ll have the grace for it when it gets here. 🙂 I’m so excited to watch Ruslan and Anton become the men that God created them to be. I’m so excited to shower them with love. I’m so excited for our family to be complete.

Please pray for us as we take this big step. Pray for grace and peace and safety and health and most of all that God’s Kingdom would come and His will would be done in our home.

Thank you, Friends!

(This little snippet of Anton at camp a few years ago makes me smile)

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