Five Years!

Happy Ukrainiversary to us! Yesterday marked 5 years since the plane touched down in Kyiv and we began our new life. FIVE YEARS! Momentous. ๐Ÿ™‚

So much has changed in the past five years it hardly feels like we are the same people that arrived in Ukraine with 12 suitcases and a guitar. For one thing, we’ve grown from a family of 6 to a family of 11. Wooooooah Nelly!

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Then

 

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Now

Last night we had plans to go out to a restaurant for a traditional Ukrainian meal, but one of our guys was having a rough one so we needed to stay in for the night. After we got the guys to bed we gathered the kids on our bed upstairs and took turns sharing something we each love about our life here in Ukraine. It was a sweet time. Many of your names were mentioned! Along this journey we have met so many wonderful friends from all over the US and around the world.

I shared with our kids a memory of our very first day in Ukraine. It’s a memory that about sums up our first several months here.

When we arrived in Kyiv on November 13, 2013 our dear friend, Olya, came with us from the airport to Zhytomyr to spend the first couple of days with us, to help us get settled a bit. Keep in mind that we knew ZERO language and were basically clueless about everything having to do with life in Ukraine. Sure, we had visited, but let me tell you- visiting another country IS NOT the same as setting up a life there and living there. The morning after we arrived we decided to hop on the bus with our littles in tow and head to the big grocery store to get some necessities. I remember arriving at the store, hopping off the bus and Addy, 9 years old at the time, saying “It doesn’t really seem that different here!” Oh Addy, bless your heart. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ย We wandered aimlessly through the store, jet-lagged and overwhelmed. Three-year old Seth fell asleep in the grocery cart. We knew we needed diapers…and maybe TP? Why did we not make a list??? The kids were being super loud and all other children in sight were silent…we were stressed and didn’t know what any of the labels on the food meant…

I remember the chaos of figuring out money at the checkout and Jed vowing never to go the store again with all 4 kids. I’m pretty sure that at that time we felt like 4 kids was waaaaaay too many. Little did we know what the future held! Oy.

We got home from the store with as much as we could carry and, after unpacking the bags, realized we still had no idea what to cook for dinner. I think we ended up eating a lot of oatmeal in those early days. Ha! We learned much through trial and error, and still do. But it’s actually quite encouraging to think back and realize how stupid we were then! Hehe.

Now, five years later, we can fondly look back at those beginnings and praise God for ALL the amazing things he has done. When we arrived in Ukraine the dreams we had in our heart were not even legal. There was no legal mechanism for the deinstitutionalization of adults. We had no idea that two weeks after we arrived a revolution would begin. And as Ukraine endeavors to move toward the EU, our dream of deinstitutionalization is now a mandate. What are the odds? God is crazy good like that.

God had so many beautiful gifts waiting for us in Ukraine. Four of those gifts are currently downstairs drinking tea. ๐Ÿ™‚ We had no idea when we first visited Romaniv that we were meeting 4 of our sons. Oh, and if you would have told me 5 years ago that we would have another baby, and that she would be born here in Ukraine, well, I probably would have spit out my coffee. Woooooooah, that was a doozy of a surprise. But, I love how God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. Our Evie blesses our hearts and brings us joy and healing every single day.

It’s funny to imagine that most of our team members were teenagers when we first moved to Ukraine. Kids! I absolutely love the team He is building here. I’m thankful that our guys are surrounded daily by people who don’t just tolerate them, but love them, champion them, and challenge them.

The days are long and often hard, but the years are quick. The greatest gift that God has given to me in these past 5 years is the gift of learning to lay myself down. Daily I’m confronted with my own weakness and my own brokenness. As we serve the broken hearts, broken minds, broken bodies here in our home, I’m confronted with my selfishness and general ickiness of heart. I thank God that He is moving the hearts of our family from charity to compassion. He is changing us all, from the inside out.

So, here’s to 5 more years of saying YES to the next thing. Thank you to each of you who have prayed for us, encouraged us, supported us. We could never walk this journey alone. Thank you for joining us in YES!

BeLOVE[d]

Photo highlights:

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My Littles, our first week in Ukraine

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Our first Christmas

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Boris and me, back in the day

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2014

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Christmas #2!

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Vladik’s Day of Freedom! 2015

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The day we got the keys to the Wide Awake Homestead! 2016

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A biiiiiiiig work in progress

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Wide Awake Homestead! 2017

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Boris’ Day of Freedom! 2017

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Welcome to the world Evie Joy 2018

 

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Ruslan and Anton’s Day of Freedom! 2018

‘s

 

Deinstitutionalization is no Joke.

It’s been about a month since I last wrote here. We’ve been a family of 11 for about 6 weeks now and finding time to come up for air these days is quite the challenge. ๐Ÿ™‚ The past 6 weeks have contained some of the highest highs and the lowest lows I have ever experienced. Alllllllll the feels. All of ’em. Deinstitutionalization is no joke.

The more we know our guys, the more we grieve over the many wasted years, the many abuses and the neglect. And the more we know them the deeper we grieve for the ones left behind.

Ruslan, Anton, Boris- they are not children. They are men, each with more than 20 years spent wasting away, locked away, hidden away. The tragedy of it makes my heart ache. They have spent their whole lives living in fear, treated like animals, when all along they were worth so much more.

Sometimes I look at them and I see them at face value: men who spent their lives in a mental institution. They have B.O. They don’t close the door when they use the bathroom. They don’t wash their hands without a reminder EVERY TIME. Anton spits when he is angry and has been aggressive at times. Boris still hits himself waaaaaaay too much. They don’t sleep well (which means we don’t sleep well). They have major anxiety about just about everything. They are food-obsessed. Ruslan asks the same questions approximately 258 times per day. They wipe their noses on their pillows. Anton will wander off and has no awareness of cars or strangers. Boris will wet himself as a way of manipulating us or the situation. Ruslan has a tennis ball that he obsessively searches for in the night- just to make sure it’s still there.

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And on and on. So much brokenness. So many tears (cried by me, because they never cry, ย they only laugh when they should cry).

Last week, at an especially hard moment, I looked at Jed and asked “How can we ever expect anyone to want to do this work with us? It’s just.so.hard.” And then Jed calmly reminded me that God loves our guys more than we ever could and this is HIS work. Any time we try to pick up the weight of this and carry it by ourselves we collapse under the weight of it. We have to daily, sometimes hourly, hand the weight of this work back over to Jesus.

Yes, the more we know them the more we grieve.

But, also, the more we know them the more we love them.

Ruslan sings himself to sleep every night. He sings about whatever is on his mind and it’s hilarious. He sings about the friends who will come over the next day, or about a girl he thinks is pretty ๐Ÿ™‚ or about Jesus. And Anton! ย Guys, Anton is talking. Like a lot! When he was in the institution I only ever really heard him say one word. If you asked him who loved him he would answer “God”. Now he talks so much. He talks in bed, on the toilet, in the bath, at the table. Mostly he talks to himself, but when you ask him a question he will often answer, and a lot times we can understand him! ย It’s absolutely incredible to watch him explode with language. We hoped for that, but I’m not sure we really expected it to happen! Boris is growing and changing all the time. He understands English and I pretty much only speak to him in English now. He is so smart! Watching the three of them during worship at church is good for the soul. They all love music and each dance in their own way. It’s so funny and cute and soul-filling.

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When we lay ourselves down and choose to view our guys through Jesus’ eyes, with eyes of compassion, we can look past the effects of a life of trauma and see the little boy inside who just wants to know he is safe.

Our sweet Anton can get quite stressed in his new life. He spent the last 20+ years sitting on a bench, so it makes sense that he would get overwhelmed. Now we can see the signs: red cheeks and neck and lots of talking. He can get a bit aggressive when he is overwhelmed and that really scared me. My mind started racing “What have we done???” Then one day we realized that Anton is a 30 year old sized two year old. He really is! ย He is developmentally stuck at about age 2 or 3- he’s just a big dude, so looks can be deceiving. Now we know when he has a tantrum we just need to treat him at his developmental age and all will be well, eventually. ย Our sweet buddy, we love him so much. Now if he’d just sleep a little more…

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The kids are still doing well. Vlad has been reverting into some old behaviors, so that’s tricky, but I guess was to be expected. Yesterday we went to lunch and the three older guys stayed at home with Kenny and one of our interns. We asked the kids each how they are doing, what are some of the joys and struggles of having our new additions home. By and large, table manners were the biggest complaint (ha!) and hearing Anton talk was the biggest joy. I was happy with those answers. We can work on table manners!

The days are full, and often hard, but we also have a lot of moments of laughter. Most of all, we have love. So, we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Wide Awake Summer

Tomorrow a big chunk of the Wide Awake Family heads to the US! We’re leavin’ on a jet plane… ๐Ÿ™‚

It has been two years since our last visit, so it’s time. We try to visit Oregon every two years to see family, meet with our Board of Directors face to face, and spend time with our friends and supporters in the Pacific Northwest.

Another big purpose of this trip is to do reconstructive surgery on Vladik’s feet. We had planned to do the surgery when we were last in the US, but at that time Vladik was not ready for such a major procedure. He’ll be wheelchair bound for 8 weeks after the surgery, and at that time he didn’t have the understanding or emotional maturity to not be devastated by that. Now he is so much more mature in every way. He is ready and wants the surgery. He is also getting taller and heavier and walking is getting more and more painful for him. We just need to bite the bullet and get ‘er done.

I (Kim) leave for the US tomorrow with 5 of the 6 kids. We’ll get Vladik’s pre-op stuff done, and Jed will follow in June. Ezra will stay in Ukraine this month with Jed to help him care for Boris. At the end of May Jed and Ezra will go to South Africa for the World Congress for Occupational Therapy. Jed and Olya, our friend and OT, will present the interns’ work at Romaniv to the Congress. More on that in a later post!

Evie's going to miss her brother this month!

Evie’s going to miss her big brother this month!ย 

Although we successfully got Boris a visitor visa to the US, we have decided the best thing for Boris is to stay home at the Homestead. A trip of such magnitude would be very difficult for him. He thrives on routine and familiar surroundings, and there will be nothing routine or familiar about our summer in the US. It is so hard for us to leave him. I shed quite a few tears over it, knowing that he won’t fully understand where we all went. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But at the same, I realize that it would not be kind to bring him along. Our hearts are officially at home in two places and there’s just nothing easy about that. Seriozha (Jed’s assistant) and his wife, Romana, will live at the Homestead with Boris for the summer so he can be in his home with all his favorite things. If you could pray for them for wisdom in caring for Boris, and also for peace in Boris’ heart while we are away, that would be so great. Thank you!

Side note: Boris’ visa is a 10-year multiple entry visa, so maybe we can bring him with us in a couple years when we visit again!

So, that’s the Wide Awake summer plans. While we are traveling to and fro the team and interns will continue to visit the Boys at the institution regularly, just like always. The construction crew will work on developing the new land at the Homestead and preparing it for the next homes to be built, and Boris will be safe at home with people who love him. It’s awesome to know all the work will continue while we’re away. That leaves us the ability to focus on getting Vladik healthy, the opportunity to rest with family, the chance to connect with sponsors and the time to dream and plan with our Board.

Gettin’ the garden ready for planting

Thank you all for your incredible love and support of our family and this work. Knowing that people are praying and sharing and giving of their hearts and finances makes all of this possible.

June Happened.

Hello July!

What in the world? June was a tornado. It was a tornado of awesomeness and craziness and life-changingness. But yeah, it was definitely a tornado.

Recap:

May 31: Our sweet Sara left after a month of massage and intern-training. We miss you Saramama!

June 7: We celebrated our kids’ completion of one year of Ukrainian school and our precious Seth’s birthday at a water park in Kyiv. Yay!

June 10: We moved to the Wide Awake Homestead! MONUMENTAL DAY.

June 11: Tara and Christiana arrived! Tara and Christiana are both American girls who came to bless our boys and our team. Their presence was so refreshing. They served and smiled and brought every one of us so much joy. Internet friendships can turn out to be real-life awesome!

June 12-16: Tara and Christiana started going to Romaniv with our team and interns, getting to know the boys. Addy went to a day camp at school and made new friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

June 17: The team from Hands of Hope arrived! Hands of Hope is our wonderful partner in Indiana. They have poured much love and support into Romaniv and Wide Awake over many years. They came to help with a Romaniv Day Camp that was put on by Mission to Ukraine and Wide Awake. They also brought an awesome builder with them who served us by building a deck at the Homestead!!!!

June 19: Day Camp begins and a team of medical professionals from Germany arrived to help at the camp and observe our team.

June 22: Sydney, an American friend and long-time Wide Awake supporter was “in the neighborhood” and arrived to visit, help, and see all the craziness we are up to. ALSO a crazy awesome American arrived to begin the in-country process of adopting our sweet Stephan!!! His presence was just the hugest encouragement to our team. We were so blessed to see him open his heart to Stephan and say YES to what God has for his family. Just wow.

June 23: Final day of Day Camp! Hands of Hope threw our team a party and it was awesome. They encouraged us and blessed us all. Our hearts needed it.

June 24: Hands of Hope headed home.

June 25:ย Our church had a beautiful baptism and picnic at the river. All our German friends and American friends joined in and it was just a really special day.

June 26: The German team provided a training for our interns after observing their work over the past week. Their insight and wisdom, how they saw the boys and the work with fresh eyes was invaluable. They challenged us and pushed us in new ways. ย A little pushing can hurt, but when done in love it can foster so much growth.ย We really so appreciated their hearts and hard work!

June 27: The German team did more training for the interns, and then a training for our team. So much good stuff!!

June 28: Good bye German team! Thank you!! Please come again. ๐Ÿ™‚

June 29: Good bye dear Tara, Christiana and Sydney. Your wide open hearts and contagious laughter will be greatly missed. Come again!

So there you have it. Tornado.

It was quite the balance of scheduling and transportation and feeding, but the goodness far outweighed any stress that came along with it. I mean, all those wonderful people came because they love our boys and they believe in the vision of what we are doing here. They believe in God’s dream and they see the incredible worth of our boys. They gave up their vacation time and spent a lot of money to come pour into our boys, our family, and our team. We are forever grateful and super humbled by their giving.

I know I promised you a walk-through of the Homestead and I haven’t forgotten. With all the craziness of June we really haven’t gotten a chance to settle at all, and speaking of tornados…well, you get the idea. I’d like to tidy up a bit before sharing with you. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hopefully this week I’ll have something to show you. Thank you for your patience!

Now for pics.

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Camp theme for the Isolation Hall: “Fun in the Sun and Shade”

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We had stations for each of the 5 senses. For some boys every station became the “taste” station. Ha!

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Thank you Barry and Tom for all your hard work on the deck!

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Americans at work, picking Colorado bugs off our potatoes. Welcome to Ukraine. hehe

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Village life is gross sometimes.ย 

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The German team arrived! (plus Ava, not pictured)

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Thanks Hands of Hope for the great party!

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Sweet Friends. Thank you for refreshing my soul!

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Taking a break from training ๐Ÿ™‚

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I can’t believe they finished the deck! Photos will follow in the next post.

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Team training: Respect, appreciation, safety

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So much love entered the Romaniv gates over the past month. We are so immensely grateful for all the sweet moments our boys experienced. May they hold those moments in their hearts forever. I know we will.ย 

In Loving Memory

I was sitting at the doctor with Vladik yesterday when I got the text.

Our sweet Dima had left this earth, gone to be with Jesus. He was twenty-seven years old and he was my love.

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Dima had been ill and away in a special hospital for the past several months.  We missed him desperately and couldn’t wait for him to get well and return to us.  He did return last month, but to our dismay he looked terrible.  He was so much worse, not at all healthy.  He was thin and yellow and just so sick.  After only a few days he was taken back to the hospital, several hours away.  He died there a couple of days ago and was buried yesterday at the cemetery in the town of Romaniv. We went to see where his body was laid, surrounded by the graves of other boys gone before him.

We are shocked and just heartbroken. It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  He was supposed to be with us. We were so excited for the day when Dima would come live with us at the homestead.  We pictured him in our family forever. He was my special boy and I just knew that someday I would get to mother him the way my heart longed to mother him.  I so desperately wanted to watch him blossom and grow and come to know the love of a family here on earth.  But, God had another plan.

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Can I tell you about my Dima?  I want as many people as possible to know him and to see him for the precious, beautiful treasure that he was.  He was amazing.

When we first started going to Romaniv we hardly noticed Dima.  He was always tied to his bed because he wasn’t able to walk and was a fall risk.  He usually looked drugged and out of it, and just wasn’t able to connect with other humans on pretty much any level.  He was like a dead person. I’ve seen an old video of him from years ago and know that he wasn’t always like that, but somewhere along the way he was lost. 

In the summer of 2014 we started taking a few boys at a time to the Sensory Room to get them into a quiet environment where we could try to connect with them one on one.  I remember our team debating if we should even try to take Dima there.  He couldn’t walk, but was long, awkward and heavy.  One of the guys would have to carry him. Whenever we did take him there he would just sleep or zone out and it felt almost like a waste of time.  There were so few hands available, shouldn’t we be focusing in on the boys who seem to enjoy our company, or at least seemed to benefit from it?

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No, no, no.  Dima had been passed over for his entire life.  Drugged and left to sit in his own excrement for hours on end, his whole life he had been cast aside.  Would we be the next in a long line of people who had passed over him and thought of him as unworthy?  NO.

So, we kept taking him to the Sensory Room. And one day that summer, a miracle happened. Nina, one of our team members, was sitting on a bean bag with Dima in the Sensory Room.  She was just sitting near him, being with him, when she picked up a little toy xylophone.  She tapped tapped it next to his ear and he sat up! He looked at Nina with wide eyes, made some sounds and gave her the hugest smile.  Our Dima was awake! Nina was crying and laughing. In amazement we all jumped up and ran over to see. I will never ever forget that beautiful moment.

How is it possible that after a lifetime of suffering, when Dima finally awoke, his first response was a smile?  JOY. I can’t even comprehend it.

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Over the next two years we had the awesome privilege of watching Dima come more and more alive.  He still had many days when his mind was somewhere else, not wanting to, or not able to engage with us, but he also had many days when he was funny and smiley and would babble your ear off.  We all absolutely adored him. He learned to say “banana” and “Lala” (the Ukrainian word for a doll). Roma, one of our team members had a special love for Dima and was working to teach him to feed himself independently.  Every time he was at Romaniv, Roma would make sure to pick up Dima and get him out of his bed.  He would cuddle him on the couch and just enjoy being near him.  Our baby.

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I know that our grieving and mourning is more about us than about Dima.  He is finally free.  He’s definitely not grieving and he knows no pain.  He is made whole.  He can run! He can speak! He is healed and right now he knows the great love of the Father better than we can even begin to comprehend.

Still, we grieve.  We miss our friend and we always will.  My heart aches for the suffering he had to endure in this life.  I wonder if he was alone when he died?  Did he suffer?  Was he in pain? Did anyone at that hospital far away truly care for him?  Was he treated well?  Did anyone see him for the treasure he was? My heart longed to show him every day that he was loved, even adored.  I dreamed of how much he would blossom in the love of a family.  I so wanted him to experience that joy and peace here on earth. Why was so much of his life spent waiting for life to begin?  It’s hard to trust God’s ways in times like this. 

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But then I remember his joy that day, years ago in the Sensory Room. For many years humans had not been a positive thing in Dima’s life.  Humans had hurt him and neglected him and cast him aside.  But when awakened and faced with humans- he smiled.  The only way that was possible was if God was near to him in a way that we couldn’t see. God promises in His Word to be a Father to the Fatherless, and we have to trust that He keeps his Word. We have to trust that God showed his love to Dima in the deepest places of his mind and soul. We have to trust that even if he seemed to live this life so alone and abandoned, his Father in heaven never left his side, even for one second.

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It was the joy of the Lord that brought the smile to Dima’s face.

It was the peace of God that followed him when he traveled to the hospital far away.

And it was the goodness of God that allowed his suffering to end.

We will never forget our precious Dima.  We will miss him forever.  But may we never ever forget his joy in unimaginable circumstances.  Please, learn from his life. Choose joy today. 

Precious Dima, you were loved.  You were treasured.  You were longed for and wanted. We saw your beauty and we will never be the same because of you.  

Run free, my love.

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