Yesterday

Today I’m glowing.  I’m basking in yesterday.  Today was a great day, don’t get me wrong, but part of the reason today was so good is because yesterday was simply superb.  It was a day of absolute beauty.  All day I felt God’s smile.  Lovely.

The day started out normal enough with Christina and I heading to Romaniv with the rest of the crew.  But Romaniv.  Oh Romaniv.  We had the BEST time.  Yesterday was hands down my favorite day at Romaniv yet.  No comparison.  It’s hard to say just what made it so special.  I think part of the goodness was that we are simply getting to know the boys more.  We are there consistently and it’s beginning to pay off bit by bit.  We know them all by name, some who are able can recognize us.  We are starting to get in to a bit of a rhythm with our little team.  We are learning some of the specific needs of each of the boys and when we are able, we meet those needs.

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The path to some of the best boys on earth

I had the most beautiful moment with one of the boys, Vova.  I’m supposed to save this for our series about Romaniv but I can’t hold it in.  You can read about it twice.  🙂  So Nina brought bubbles yesterday.  That’s the first time we’ve attempted bubbles with the boys.  It was AWESOME!!!!  A few of them loved it!!!  Total success.  Anyway, after playing with bubbles for a bit I decided to take one of the bottles of bubbles and go to the bedrooms to see if some of the boys who don’t come to play would enjoy them at all.  I went in to the first room and found one boy asleep on the floor, one boy asleep on the bed, and Vova sitting in his bed rocking back and forth.  He was self stimulating, banging his hand on his leg repeatedly as he rocked.  I said his name and knelt on the floor below him.  Slowly I started blowing a couple bubbles.  Instantly he stopped stimming (self-stimulating).  He sat still for a moment and I blew a couple more bubbles.  He remained still and quiet so I kept on blowing, quietly and slowly, more and more bubbles.  Then, after a minute or so Vova slowly reached his hand up and started popping bubbles on by one.  He popped some in the air, a couple on his leg, on his bed.  He noticed the small wet spot left by a popped bubble and rubbed it with his finger.  I spoke softly to him a bit, but was mostly just quiet as we played with the bubbles for a while.  After several minutes of fascination with the bubbles he lifted his head and looked in my eyes.  He looked at me, and just kept on looking.  Melt my heart and make it burst all at once!!!  I’ve never had eye contact like this with Vova before.  He is normally distant and doesn’t participate at all in our time on Fridays.  Then there we were, at his bed, looking at each other.  I swear to you he almost smiled.  It was magical.  I felt the smile of God and His presence so strongly in that moment.  I don’t even have words to describe it.  Tears were running down my face as we looked at each other.  Then Vova looked away and I resumed blowing bubbles.

In that moment of connection I saw Vova in a different light.  Normally I think of him almost as an old man.  He walks unsteadily, legs bent at odd angles, not interacting with anyone. He often shrugs away from touch.  I don’t know if he is verbal at all.  Head shaved and nondescript face, but not yesterday.  I saw him as a young man yesterday.  I feel almost like I had the tiniest glimpse of how God sees Him.  He was beautiful and valuable and precious.  I will never ever forget that time.  It fills my heart with hope for what God has in store.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  

Jeremiah 29:11

That verse is for Vova.  That verse is for Misha.  That verse is for Bogdan and Vladik and Valera and Zhenya.  And because we believe that to be true, we have hope.

I got back home from Romaniv, and as I walked around the corner to our house I saw the kids talking to our neighbor!!  Our neighbors are like total mystery people.  We doubted their existence, so rare were the signs of life coming from their home.  Our building is actually made up of 6 “apartments”.  It’s hard to explain and hard to even tell where the different apartments start and end.  Well, finally I met one of our neighbors!  Not only that, but she was nice!  And she has a 2-year old!  Seth and little Vitaliy played trains while we two Mommies attempted conversation.  We managed to visit for an hour!!  OMG.  HUGE breakthrough!  I could have burst I was so happy to have a neighbor connection with an actual human.  Woot!  Thank you Jesus and thank you Google Translate.

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Getting our crazies out before going in to the theater

Then to wrap up the most fantastic day ever, the kids and I (Jed was in Kyiv) went to a concert at our local theater with some friends.  We listened to a local Acapella choir that is famous throughout Ukraine.  It was absolute heaven.  They were beautiful.  I can hardly wait till their next tour.  You guys, it was such a treat.  They sang old traditional Ukrainian songs, songs in Latin, a fun song in English about springtime love, and even an old spiritual that I sang in high school choir!  Now that was a kick.  During the English song Ezra leaned over and said “Mom, this sounds a lot like English!”  “Yes, that’s because it IS English my boy.”  Haha!  They sang a tribute song to “Heavens Hundred”, the people who died on Maidan in February- ordinary people who gave all so their country could have a future.  Everyone stood while they sang, many people were crying.  It was a moment I’ll not soon forget.  The spirit of the Ukrainian people is astounding.  In the midst of occupation and threat of invasion at our borders, they steal away on a Friday night to partake of beauty and honor their heroes.  At the end of the concert the singers and the audience cheered “СЛАВА УКРАЇНІ!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”)  You could see the pride in their eyes.

So there you have it; my yesterday.  My heart is full.

Here is a video tribute to the Heavenly Hundred.  The song in this video is the song we heard sung last night.  May God bless Ukraine and may their deaths never be in vain.

Our Boys: Gathering Time, Part 2

Yay for Friday!!!

You can find the next installment of our posts on Fridays at Romaniv over at the Wide Awake International blog right here: http://wideawakeinternational.org/blog/2014/4/2/our-boys

I’m really excited for you all to read about what happens at Romaniv on Fridays.  I just returned home from there a couple of hours ago and had the sweetest time.  I feel like God is moving there and we are really able to connect with some of the boys in a way we haven’t been able to before.  It’s so cool.

And, since you came all this way to take a peek at our little old blog, here’s a few pictures of our week to reward you for your efforts.

Have a super weekend!

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Girls love a good mohawk

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Preschool at MTU 🙂

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Honing our Ukrainian braiding skillz

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Havalah, aka “Rock and Roll Girl”

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Ez is so handsome in his school uniform!

Our Boys: All of Our Boys, Part 1

Hey there!

Every month we send out an email newsletter and for this month’s newsletter Jed asked me to write about what a Friday looks like at Romaniv orphanage.  Welp, I started writing, and approximately 2700 words later I had a post.  Ahem….2700 words might be a tad long for an email newsletter.  2700 words is also far too long for a blog post.  So, we decided to make it a series!

You can head over to the official Wide Awake website to read the first installment.  I was going to post it here, but then that would involve lots of cutting and pasting and formatting and I just don’t have it in me.  Dinner won’t make itself ya know!  😉

Follow this link to give it a read if you like:  http://wideawakeinternational.org/blog/2014/3/30/our-boys-all-of-our-boys

We’ll probably be posting the second installment tonight, so I’ll make sure to post the link here when it’s up.

Happy reading my friends!

 

The First Month: The Hard and the Awesome

One month ago from almost this exact moment we touched down in Ukraine. One month ago all 6 of us + 12 suitcases + 8 carry-ons + 1 guitar touched down in our new home. Has it only been one month??? It feels more like one year! Not in a bad way, but in a really strange way it feels like we’ve been here a whole heckofalot longer. I guess kids do that to you; they make you settle in real quick like. 🙂 Our new reality set in fairly fast and we’ve been on a ginormous learning curve ever since.

This is my take on the past month. Jed doesn’t do much blogging here (ahem…) so these are my thoughts. He’d give you a different perspective, and it would probably be more profound, but I’ll share mine just for the fun of it.

The Hard Things:

Language.

Duh. Yeah, at this exact moment Russian is my enemy, my worst nightmare, my insurmountable mountain. Russian is stinkin’ hard y’all.

But, we actually have picked up quite a bit, and when we remind ourselves we’ve only been here for one month we start to feel a little better about our progress.

Everything’s labeled…

Still, Russian hates me. Holy moly. My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Shopping.

Shopping is an interesting beast. The hard part isn’t finding delicious foods. Ukraine has loads of deliciousness available! The hard parts are prices (WAY TOO EXPENSIVE) and lack of car. These things aren’t impossible, just a little harder than in the US. I’m learning to cook like a Ukrainian in order to be able to afford groceries. Cooking like an American just doesn’t cut it here. The foods that would be frugal back in Oregon aren’t really frugal here, for the most part. Lucky for us we all love Ukrainian food! I just need to find out how to cook more of it so we can have a bit of variety in our lives.

The store we walk to most often

We use public transportation all the time, since we don’t have a car. It’s pretty sweet that we live super close to a really busy bus stop. We can easily catch a bus whenever we want one. So, that’s no biggie, except when we want to do “big shopping”. “Big shopping” doesn’t mean Costco Big, it just means we need to buy for more than just today. Like last night for instance, we needed to buy diapers, pull-ups, and some stuff for the house, along with our normal purchases (cabbage, potatoes, beets, carrots, sour cream, milk, coffee, butter, and flour). That’s all fine and dandy…but how are we gonna get it all home??? Oh that’s right…we’re gonna carry it! Ha! So, basically we can only buy what we can carry, and when you factor in slippery sidewalks, kids bundled to the nines, dark at 4:30pm, a bus ride, and little hands that need to be held, you realize you really can’t buy all that much. Jed and I are shopping and debating what’s too heavy and what we can handle. “Sure, we can buy those mandarins, they aren’t too heavy. Oooooh no, we can’t get eggs…there’s no way we’re making it home with those babies still intact!”

On the bus with my sweetie after shopping last night

It’s an often hilarious, and an unexpected hard thing. Big time learning curve there. (And I didn’t even mention label-reading. Forget about it!)

Time Management.

Up to this point we’ve pretty much been in survival mode. Not in a bad way, it’s just reality. Schedules and time management have been a work in progress.

Starting a non-profit from scratch is a lot like starting a new business. We have to account for expenditures, thank our givers, get the word out, stay accountable to our Board, seek God for direction and vision, all while living in a world where every.single.thing is new.

It’s easy to get focused on just living every day and get backlogged on Wide Awake “stuff”. That’s been a hard one that we are far from mastering, but we’re plugging away at it. Again, let’s remind ourselves that we’ve only been here one month, mmmmk?? 🙂

The Awesome Things:

Walking.

I know, earlier I said not having a car is hard, but it’s really only hard when we go “Big Shopping”. Otherwise, I can honestly say that I’m enjoying walking everywhere. It’s so beautiful!!! We have to shop a bit almost every day (that’s the way it works here with a fam of 6), and I love our daily jaunts to the store.

On the way to the store

Usually just Jed or I will head out in the afternoon with a kid or two and pick up the few things we need for that evening’s dinner and the next day’s breakfast. I love walking down the street in the fresh air, holding on to Addy’s hand just enjoying being with her. No radio blaring, no traffic to navigate, just me and my girl or sometimes my boy, walking down the street to our corner market. It’s precious. We’re learning labels together, learning what stores we like for what items, stretching our legs, breathing in fresh air, feeling the sun (wishful thinking) on our faces. I like it a lot.

New Friends.

Duh. This one is HUGE. We have some wonderful friends here in Zhitomir. Thank you Jesus!!! Our friends Oleg and Tanya have been so good to us. They’ve ordered water for us for home delivery, helped me buy boots for my frozen Oregonian feet, taken us for coffee, celebrated a birthday and Thanksgiving with us, calmed my nerves when I heard unexpected fireworks and Jed was gone for the weekend (I was a wee bit nervous…), told us which brands of food are better, translated for us with our landlady, translated for us with our neighbors when we got the unfortunate “don’t flush the toilet paper” news hehe, helped us figure out our address, called taxis…and on and on and on. They’ve pretty much saved our bacon way too many times already. They probably feel like it’s been a heckofalot longer than one month too!! 😉

(Insert cute pic of friends…apparently we’re too busy drinking coffee and such for pics. Will remedy soon!!)

Mission to Ukraine friends have been AMAZING too. From the moment we walked in their doors on November 14th we’ve felt so incredibly welcome. They are excited to have us and we are so excited to have them!!! The MTU staff puts up with our blundering Russian with such grace. Bless their hearts!! They invite us to church, find lawyers to help us with our visas, feed our kids cake, hug us and kiss our cheeks, and on and on. One special family from MTU (mom and daughter both work there) has especially taken us under their wing. I feel like they are God’s special precious gift to us. Sigh, God is just too good. And that’s just the Zhitomir friends! Don’t even get me started on the treasures He’s given us in Kiev…


Romaniv.

Oh my precious Romaniv! I was there again today and I am in love. Last week Jed and Nina, the AMAZING volunteer from Zhitomir that comes each week to the isolation room, discussed implementing more structure for the time we spend in the isolation room. Today Nina and I followed the plan the best we could and the boys responded immediately. Our time was so much more peaceful than the last time I was there! At one point we were feeding the boys bananas and Nina and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was SILENT in the room. The boys, for that moment, were content and quiet. It was such a moment of hope. God gave us all a bit of wisdom and then He blessed it. The boys responded fabulously and I can’t wait to see how they do after the structure is implemented week after week. Yay!!!!

On the road to Romaniv

Those boys have our hearts, big time.

Nina helping wash hands 🙂

Today I got to hold Andrei, one of the most active boys, on my lap for a bit. I figured out if I tied a long piece of cloth to a plastic slinky it would catch his attention and he would sit still for a moment. He let me hold him, rub his head, and hum into his ear for almost 10 minutes while he bounced the slinky up and down, up and down. Wow. That may not seem like much, but for a boy who never ever stops- always stimming, always shrieking, always running- this was big. For a moment he was at peace. For a moment his brain was developing a little further up the brainstem. For a moment prayers were whispered in his ear. Magical.

There’s so much more I could share. So many memories made, so many funny and embarrassing stories…it’s rather humiliating to live here, FYI. We make fools of ourselves all the time, everywhere. 🙂

Off to go make some embarrassing Russian blunders!

Just know that life is good, very good. It’s not all sunshine and roses and some days we struggle, but we have not one speck of doubt that we are exactly where God wants us to be. Things are quite crazy in Ukraine right now. We have no idea how it will all play out with the current government and the wishes of the people. Ukraine is at a very critical point in it’s history and we are here for such a time as this. It’s no surprise to God that we arrived right at the birth of a revolution. Who knows why…only God. But we do know that there is purpose in it and we don’t plan on missing out on that purpose.

Would you pray with us for Ukraine? This place and these people have grabbed our hearts. We’ve only made Ukraine our home for a short month, but we are all in. These are our people. Please pray that God has His way in Ukraine and that His Kingdom will come here and now. Pray that many, many hearts are turned toward Him during this unstable time.


Thank you friends! Thank you for your love and encouragement this first month. It has been awesome to journey with you!




Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving (a day late)!

I had a witty post simmering in my brain all about the antics of yesterday. I have a photo diary of potatoes soaking in the bathtub, turkey in it's brine on the covered balcony, cornbread for stuffing, and out-of-this-universe pumpkin pie vareniki that we created. But I just can't go there today. It'll have to wait.
I spent this morning at Romaniv orphanage for boys and men, and I have so much more to share than turkey wit. I wish so badly that you could have come along with me. I know if you did you would never be the same. No one can be the same after spending time at Romaniv.
We first visited Romaniv in April of 2012. Jed and I, our eyes met as we looked over the room of boys, “Yes, this is what we were created for.”
In May we visited again, looking with different eyes, ones that were wise to the fact that soon these boys would become a part of normal life for us.
Today I returned for the first time since our move and I am wrecked.
These are not just boys in pictures. These are not just sad stories to gain your sympathy. These are Zhenya, Vitalik, Misha, Valera, and Sergei. These are little hands that hold mine and walk the halls and throw balls and build legos. These are little hands and big hands that hit themselves and each other for stimulation. These are faces that smile, and frown, and grimace, and bite; faces that are smooth like a baby and faces that are covered with the scars of self-abuse. These are eyes that light up, eyes that are clever and knowing- even when the mouth can't speak, eyes that are blind, and eyes that are distant, almost unaware of the other humans around. These are not just another need that is unmet. These are not just another story to make you feel guilty for your wealth.
These are real boys. They are now a very real part of our life. These are “our” boys. And they are beautiful.
One boy, who is now a man is unable to walk, but there is no wheelchair for him. Day after day he lays in a small room in his bed while life passes him by. The caregivers want so much for that to NOT be his life, but what can they do?
As I sat at his bedside and rubbed his back, unable to speak to him in his language my heart broke and melted at the same time. My heart broke for him, that this is his reality, that when I return home to my Jed and my babies he will still be laying there alone. But my heart melted at the same time with the love of the Father. God sees and He knows. God has brought people to Romaniv for such a time as this. This boy, this man, he is not forgotten. God brought Nina, a volunteer for Mission to Ukraine, to his bedside to hold him like a Mommy and feed him a banana. God is on the move in Romaniv, and God is on the move on behalf of the orphans of Ukraine.
So, today I am thankful for the beautiful boys of Romaniv. I'm thankful for the opportunity to love them, hold them, play with them, and look them in the eye. I'm thankful for Nina, who has her own son with special needs at home, and faithfully visits Romaniv each week and is called “Mama” by many. I'm thankful that although the need looks outrageous, and the situations seems impossible, God has made promises and they WILL be fulfilled. These boys are not beyond His grasp, not too far from His reach. The one with the most scars from continually banging his head on the wall is not beyond hope. Each of these boys is known by the Father and He will have His way.
For these boys, and other boys and girls just like them God asked us to move across the world and be His hands and feet. I'm so, very, very thankful for that. May God have His way in Romaniv and in the lives of the fatherless all across Ukraine. So be it!