ONE YEAR!!!

One year.  ONE YEAR!  Today marks one year since we landed in Ukraine to start this crazy new journey.    We’re calling today our “Ukraine-iversary”.

I remember the elevator door opening in to the baggage claim at the airport in Kyiv.  I remember looking around and wondering how on God’s green earth were we going to get all 12 suitcases, all 4 carry-ons, all 5 personal items, the guitar, and all four children from baggage claim, through customs, and to the van that we hoped was waiting for us.

And then.  Then I saw frantic waving through the sliding door as it opened and closed past customs.  There were at least 8 friends from Kyiv Vineyard with HUGE smiles on their faces, waiting to help us out the door.  Oh the relief.  Those dear, sweet friends will never understand what the moment meant to me.  We were not alone.  We had loved ones waiting for us.  And that’s how it has been along this whole journey.

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Now some of those who greeted us are like our Ukrainian family.  Now Vasya, the driver who I hoped and prayed really would be waiting for us, is a loved friend who drives us to and from Romaniv almost every single week.

What a journey.  What.a.journey.

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This year has been full.

Full of laughter, and full of tears.  Full of hugs and kisses, and full of loneliness.  Full of learning, and full of humility.  Full of intense joy and intense grief.  Full of being a stranger, and full of absolute belonging.

But most of all, this year has been full to the brim, and then overflowing with blessing.

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God has blessed us this year beyond our wildest dreams.  His goodness has been without end.  This has been the hardest year of our lives, but also the absolute best year of our lives.  There have been days when we felt like the craziest people on the face of the earth, but God has walked beside us every second.

You know what’s exciting?  This is just the beginning!!!  One year is like nothing!  We’re just scratching the surface of the plans God has for the special boys and young people we serve.  The dreams He has been giving us are even wilder and crazier and bigger than before.

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THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU a million times THANK YOU for walking with us on this journey.  Thank you for your prayers, your encouragement, your comments, your emails, your financial support, your care packages, your love.

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 We are blessed to have you on the team.

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To celebrate this most awesome Ukraine-iversary we have brought back the BeLOVE[d] t-shirts! 

We will be selling the shirts until the end of the month, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward the transportation of our volunteer teams to and from Romaniv.  They are Jesus’ hands and feet to our Boys and your support helps them (and us!) get there as often as possible. 

Check out the sale at www.booster.com/wideawakeinternational

The Tension

This living-overseas-everythingisnew-missionary-stillawifeandmomfirst-immersion thing can be quite the doozy at times. It’s a rough and wonderful road. Sharing about it though, is fine line to walk.

I want to be real and honest.

But I don’t want to be a complainer.

I want to be me.

But how to “be me” from behind a keyboard?

I want to be respectful of people here in Ukraine.

But there are things here that are difficult for us, since this is not our home culture.

I want to be respectful of the people back in the US.

But I also want them to be challenged and encouraged to think and dream bigger- and act.

I want to share all so people know how to pray.

But I don’t want to share all because I know many Ukrainian friends read this blog and I don’t want them to worry about us or feel bad for us.

I want to share about our Boys and their need and their worth. I want to share about their lives and things that break our hearts and should never have to be endured by a human.

But I don’t want to share too much because I don’t want to disrespect them or exploit them or break relationship with the Directors at Romaniv.

 

Fine line. Tight rope walking.

 

I say all that just so you know that when I write things on this blog I don’t take it lightly. There are many people to consider and many points of view to consider. Many times I write to clarify things in my own mind and heart. Sometimes I don’t really understand my own feelings until I type them out. It’s kind of like a form of therapy for me. Lucky you, my dear Readers! Ha. I also always want to be honest about this journey. Maybe it could help others who are setting out on a journey like ours. I know I love reading honesty from those who have gone before. Somehow it settles my heart to see they struggle with things similar to my own.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out my heart and feelings surrounding the balance of being a mother and a friend and a cross-cultural-worker here in Ukraine. When we first arrived here Jed and I both jumped right on in to work. We both volunteered at MTU, probably pretty equal amounts. Whoever wasn’t at MTU was home with the kids. It was an important time for us to figure out where we fit into everything here, and to see where God wanted us in the mix.

Then we had the summer, which was basically a whole family affair (which was AWESOME…). And now we have reached the fall, and we have a new norm. I think this new norm will be the norm for some time to come. I LOVE the new norm, but my overachieving, worker-bee, people-pleasing self won’t let me be completely at peace about it and I don’t know what that means.

The new norm is that Jed does most of the work outside the home, and I am home a lot more with the kids, reminiscent of our lives back in Oregon. Of course we both go to Romaniv twice a week, do language tutoring together, and we both work together on our youth nights for graduates, but most of the rest of the work is Jed’s. I get to focus more of my time on the home, the kiddos, and being Mom and Wife. I am in love with this. I know the kids need it and they thrive when I am home more. Focusing more time on our home and our family brings me great joy and fulfillment. When I’m gone from home a lot I feel scattered and yucky.

So, I know this is a good set-up. I know this. But then I start to question myself.

I don’t question if it’s a good thing that I’m home more. I value motherhood and I think stay-at-home moms rock. I have always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom with no outside work committments, but that has never been what God had for me. It’s not the focus at home that I question, it’s the time spent not focusing outside the home that has me evaluating my heart.

Do I have such peace at home partly because it’s easier to be home than out in the culture that is still difficult for me? Do I have such peace at home because I feel smart at home and I mostly feel dumb as soon as I walk outside my front door? Hahaha…not kidding…hehe. When I’m at home I have this feeling like I should be outside getting to know my neighbors, or taking the kids to the playground so they can have more exposure to language and I can brave it with neighborhood moms. But as it is, I already feel like I’m not investing enough time in to the relationships here that I already have. It’s like that guilty Oregonian feeling you get when the sun finally comes out. You feel like because it’s sunny you should be outside NO MATTER WHAT. Because you never know when you might get sun again! Well, what if I don’t feel like being outside that day? What if I have inside work to do that day? Too bad. If I stay inside on a sunny day in Oregon I am riddled with guilt. (Is that just me, or do other Oregonians catch my drift?) (PS: I think I have some guilt issues)

I’m used to watching over all the friends in my life and making sure everyone is okay and included and taken care of, but I don’t have that role here with friends. Here, we are investing that time in to our Boys, and frankly the work at Romaniv can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting. I love those Boys more than I could have ever imagined and am fully committed to them and their well-being. It’s just that with being a wife and with our kiddos at home and then our kiddos at Romaniv…I don’t have a lot of reserve left on a day to day basis. I love my friends here so stinkin’ much. I just don’t feel like a very good friend here in Ukraine and I hate that feeling…but I feel helpless to change it.

Are all these feelings okay? Or am I relying too much on myself? Maybe I’m being lazy and selfish? It’s like I still have a short-term missions mindset that I have to give up every spare moment to the work and ministry here, but we are here for the longhaul. There will be no longevity if I live this life like a short-term missions trip. I know that, but I still battle. How to find the balance of time and energy spent?

Anywaysssss…balancing focus on the home and focus outside the home and all my feelings surrounding that is exhausting. I know what the answer is: walk in the Spirit. Be available to God and when He says to act, act. Be fully at home when I’m home, but also be aware and listening for the whisper to go outside and talk to the neighbors. Be aware of my friends and listen to promptings in my spirit for when I need to reach out. Stop being a people-pleaser and only live for an audience of One. Say YES. I know these things, it’s just all easier said than done.

So, there you have it: my Monday afternoon therapy session. Ha! I just think it’s important to be honest about this journey. Then you can all know how to pray! 🙂

Oh this road, it’s so unpredictable. Thank you Jesus for walking by my side.

 

A New Place

We are rapidly approaching our one year anniversary of life here in Ukraine.

Has it already been one year?  Has it been only one year????

So much has happened in this past year it feels like a million lifetimes have passed since we touched down in Kyiv that cold November night.

Before we moved we’d been warned by other missionaries and in missionary books and missionary blogs that the first year overseas is a beast. We tried to prepare ourselves for that, but how can you really prepare, emotionally and spiritually, to leave everything you have ever known and held dear- and start over? How can you prepare to go from being a pretty smart person to feeling pretty much dumb pretty much all the time? How can you prepare for what it will be like to watch your children hurt and struggle and feel lonely? How can you prepare to go from being a vital part of a vibrant community of like-minded people to living on the fringes of society?

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You just can’t. You can try, but you just can’t be prepared. You just have to jump and trust that your loving Father will catch you.

This first year has been the hardest time of our lives. It has stretched us and jostled us and turned us upside down.

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And yet…

How can you prepare to have your heart invaded by 80 boys tucked away in the middle of nowhere? How can you prepare for the joy of knowing young men and women with special needs who can light up the room with a single smile? How can you prepare to watch God fling open doors that have been shut for years? How can you prepare to feel the absolute smile of God and joy of the Father as you walk right down the center of His will? How can you prepare to watch young men and women loving your children with utter abandonment?

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You just can’t. You can try, but you just can’t be prepared. These things are what you experience in that catch of the Father.

My heart came to a new place this past week. I was washing the dishes and thinking about our upcoming Ukraine-iversary, and I realized that I’m good. I’m okay. We will most likely live here for a very long time, and I’m okay with it. When we moved here we sold everything except what we packed in our 12 suitcases (and a couple tubs in storage). We came here with the mindset that this is our new home until God says otherwise. We knew then that if we came for a set amount of time we would forever be looking at that deadline and we wouldn’t settle in for the long-haul. We know that about ourselves.

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I can’t know the heart of God, and His ways are higher than mine. Maybe He’ll have us leave here next month, but I highly doubt it. I can’t say I know the future, but I can say that the dreams God gave us are big HUGE dreams that are going to take a loooooooong time. So, as things stand now, I expect us to live in Ukraine for many, many years.

We are here for the long-haul, and I’m good. I’m sad, but I’m good. Thinking about the long-haul a few months ago only made me cry. I’ll be honest. Now it makes me cry and it makes me smile. It makes me cry because I miss my family and my friends across the ocean. I saw pictures of a bunch of my family all together last weekend and I bawled my eyes out. I should be there with them. How can I not be there with them? How can we raise our children so far away from family? How can we bear all the missed holidays, all the missed birthdays, all the joys of daily life? Christmas is coming. How will we bear it? I don’t know and I don’t even want to think about it. I guess I have to trust that God will catch us then too. It’s so hard, but we just have to trust Him that He will fill those empty places- for us and our family in the US.  That part is incredibly hard.  I can’t even tell you how hard.

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The long-haul also makes me smile. It makes me smile because of our dear ones here. How could we ever leave our Boys???? How??? How could we leave and not be a part of their lives? How could we walk away and not know what happened to them, where they lived out their days? How could we stop fighting for them? And what about our young adults with special needs? We love them! How could we leave? And what about all our friends? Our church? Leaving here would be just as devastating as it was to leave Salem. I’ll even dare to say it would be more devastating deep down, simply because our loved ones in America are daily loved and care for by many, but our Boys are not.

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Sigh. There just aren’t any simple fixes. It’s just painful and joyful and trustful and tearful. All we can do is trust and keep hold of the hand of our Father.

So, I’m in a new place. I’m in a place of seeing the long road stretched out before me and feeling okay with walking in that direction for many more years. There will be plenty of tears and joys along the way, I’m sure of that. But oh the peace that comes from saying YES to Jesus- one step at a time. There’s just nothing like it.

Six Months!

Today marks 6 months in Ukraine.  Happy Anniversary to us!  YAY!

The past 6 months have flown by, yet so much has happened and so much in life has changed in that time that I can hardly believe we’ve only been here for 6 months.  Crazy.

My heart is so full right now as I look back at all God has done, and as I look at what He is doing right now.  I think about the ones who helped send us here, and continue to send us and I am overwhelmed with love.  All our friends, family, and supporters that are so far away- we love you so so much.  We cherish every email, every Skype/Facetime date, every Viber message, every Facebook message, every postcard more than we can even express.  THANK YOU for your continued prayer and encouragement.  It is necessary and such an enormous blessing to us.  We know we aren’t “out of sight out of mind” and that means a lot to us.  🙂

Then I think about all our wonderful friends here in our new home and I get all gushy and teary-eyed again.  How is it that we can be so blessed??  I’ve decided that we are just stinkin’ spoiled rotten.  Our Ukrainian friends love us and our children so very well.  Our lives are so much richer because of your presence in our lives.  THANK YOU for loving us despite our toddler vocabulary.  You are too good to us.  We love you!

Okay, I’m done with my speech now.  I could say so much more, but it’ll get all mushy and you all don’t want to read that.  Let’s just say, God s good and saying YES is worth it.

Annnnnnd for your viewing pleasure, here are some of my favorite pics of the past few weeks, just because I can.  🙂

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First S’mores of the season

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Romaniv Sweetness

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“Mama Nina”

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Fun at our friends’ farm, i.e Seth’s Heaven

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Football!! (Soccer)

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Addy and Hava helping babysit Zakhar, their fave Ukrainian baby doll 🙂

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Fun with friends

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Flying kites with cows. Hahaha

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Free-Range Sethers

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Making friends in our neighborhood. Slowly but surely!

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Ezra found a pet at the park…meet Slimey!

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Bob, a Vineyard pastor in California, came to visit and we made a great new friend. We can’t wait till you come again!

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Olya, my Ukrainian Mama 🙂 Я люблю тебе Оля!

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Semi-scary ooooooold carnival rides are right up Ezra’s alley

I can’t wait to see what the next 6 months hold.  Woohoo!

Mommy Heart on the Line

In ten days we’ll have been in Ukraine for six months.  Crazy.  On one hand it feels like “Where did the time go?”, but mostly it feels like a whole lot longer than that.  I don’t say that in a negative way, just in an honest way.  Every thing has changed.  Everything.  In Ezra’s words, “Everything about Ukraine is different…except McDonalds.”  It feels like a very long time since we and our 12 suitcases (TWELVE!!!) crossed the ocean. It feels like much more than 6 months ago.

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In many ways I feel great right now.  I feel like we’re in our groove with MTU.  We are loved there and we love many people there.  We have a bit of a schedule there and are able to be a very practical help to them.  Of course the work at Romaniv is AWESOME and we are loving that.  We are pretty good at shopping now, we know the bus routes, we were able to actually communicate with our landlady last week without calling any English speakers for help.  In some ways we have really grown and feel at home here.

In other ways we struggle.  I won’t speak for Jed about his struggles, but I thought I would share a bit of my own.  I think I have a tendency to always write about the good and neglect sharing about the bad or the difficult.  I don’t want to be a complainer, and sharing your struggles is really putting yourself out there.  Not many people enjoy doing that…but I feel like I need to do it.  It’s not a fair picture to only paint the good.  This is real life, and I’m determined to be a real person.  So, here ya go.

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The past few weeks were hard for me, probably the hardest yet.  Things are getting better now, but it was a bit rough, internally.  Let’s just say I’m having a harder time letting go than I had anticipated.  My Mommy heart has been struggling in big ways.

Of course when we were preparing to move here I anticipated that I would experience loneliness and isolation.  I knew I would miss my family and friends, my church, the familiarity of every day life.  I do miss all those things, but I can deal.  I know that I know I’m exactly where God wants me to be.  I am learning that He is enough, and He continues to give me the strength to say yes.

I guess what I didn’t anticipate was how difficult this road would be as a mother.  Really, how could I anticipate it?  I had no one to talk to who had followed this path before, and anyone with a bit of a similar situation experienced their story in a different culture than this.  I still have no one to talk to who has walked this road before in Ukraine.  But, I’m learning to be okay with that.

The thing is, I’ve been subconsciously trying to recreate my childhood, a middle class American childhood, in Ukraine.  Ummmmm yeah….not gonna work.   I KNOW THAT.  I know we don’t live in suburbia America.  I know that EVERYTHING is different (I said that already).  But knowing that, and living that are two different things.

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I’m just now learning how much of my mothering expectations and family expectations are based on American culture.  It’s all I know!  Of course I expect what I know.  I don’t know anything different.  I don’t know how to mother my children in this place.  Jed and I chose to come here.  Our children didn’t get a choice.  I don’t know what to do when they’re on the playground and they are surrounded by children they can’t speak to.  Do I push them to go try to make friends or do I let them just be their own little island, playing only with each other?  I don’t know what to do when my Hava comes up to me crying at a picnic full of kids because she has no friends and no one will play with her.  I don’t know how to continue to build their English reading and writing skills when they are in Ukrainian school.  Ezra was just really learning how to read and write in English, and now his day is spent reading and writing a language he doesn’t understand.  What do I do with that?  I’m not sure any of my favorite home school books cover that scenario.

Everyone says,

“The kids will be fine!”

“Kids don’t need language to play!  Just put them out on the playground and they’ll make friends in no time!”

“Kids learn language so fast.  Before you know it your kids will be translating for you!”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard those words…

Let me tell you, it’s not as easy as all that.  It just plain isn’t.  Maybe in some cultures kids don’t need language to make new friends, but in this culture they do.  This isn’t the most open culture.  Kids are shy.  Kids are more closed.  We are the oddity in our town.  We are like a walking zoo.  Ha!  There is no one like us that I know of in our town, and it shows.  Our kid are understanding more all the time, but they can barely speak to other children.  I know, I know, it’s only been 6 months, but I can vouch that 6 months feels like an eternity when your kids’ hearts are involved.  It’s just plain hard, and for the past few weeks I’ve felt tired and discouraged.

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I want my kids to be able to talk to other kids, just chat and goof around.  I want other kids to know them.  They are great little people, but no one knows that because they can’t speak.  I want them to have friends and to be able to respond when approached by other children.

I want those things, but then I wonder, how many of my expectations are based on modern American culture, and how many are really essential for their health and happiness?

The kids are happy.  Sure they are awkward in social situations, but otherwise they are happy.  They have each other and they love each other deeply.  They are happy to run and play together, regardless of what other kids around them are doing.  They are like a little tribe, oblivious to anyone else.  So I find that I’m putting expectations on their childhood that they don’t even have for themselves!  They don’t know what my childhood was, so they don’t have that expectation for their own.  They don’t see other kids’ lives on Facebook and compare them with their own.  What they are experiencing now is their own childhood, and it is shaping them just as my childhood shaped me.

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For instance, right now we’re reading through the Little House on the Prairie books as a family.  In Little House in the Big Woods, I was struck by how infrequently Mary and Laura had contact with other children.  They were mostly just home with Ma and Pa, yet according to the books they were as content as can be!  They weren’t pining away for sleepovers and play dates…the Big Woods was what they knew and it was enough.  When they drove in to town for the first time Laura describes how they saw children playing outside the houses.  Never was it mentioned how she wished she was one of those children with tons of neighbors all around.  They had the security of their family.  They knew they were loved.  They had each other and they were content.

My children don’t pine away for sleepovers and play dates and home school co-op, but I find myself pining away on their behalf.  I guess it’s because I know that’s what their American friends are doing and I feel they are missing out on what “should be”.  In my mind, those things are what make a childhood.  BUT, there are plenty of varieties of “happy childhood”.  Of course they miss their friends, and if given the option they would love to be a part of that life again, but they rarely talk about it.  Their life is here.  They have each other.  They have our love.  Their life is rich here and most of the time they seem content.  But then there is the occasional Skype or Facetime with a friend back in the US and things begin to unravel.  I want them to be able to keep those friendships, but it is hard on their little hearts.  Sigh….I think that’s another topic altogether.

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Those are the thoughts and ramblings that have been tearing at my heart.  My heart knows that my children were called here.  My heart knows that they need to live here and this needs to be their life experience in order for God to make them fully who He intends for them to be.  But knowing all of that doesn’t make this easy.  It’s hard to watch your children struggle.  It’s hard when everyone blows it off and makes it sound like all of this adjustment will come easily to them.  Maybe in the long run we’ll look back and see that the struggle was brief and it did, in fact, come easily, but in the meantime it doesn’t feel easy at all.  Just because a pregnant woman had a quick labor doesn’t mean the labor didn’t hurt.

So, I continue to work at letting go.  I give my kids over to God and trust that He knows what is best for them.  I trust that He will give us wisdom when no parenting or mothering book seems to apply (because none of them seem at all relevant right now).  I trust that this will get easier and slowly they will find their place in this culture.

Most of all I am working at letting go of my priorities and desperately seeking God’s priorities.  Who cares about sleepovers and play dates if their little hearts are far from the Lord?  This world is not all that there is.  We were made for eternity!  This life is a blink of an eye compared to what we were really created for.  Our main job as parents is not to find our kids more friends on the playground or insure they are happy and accepted at school.  Our main job is to point them to Jesus.  I want my kids to see that He is all that matters and living abandoned to him is worth it.  It.is.worth.it.  On the hard days when we are lonely and feel like we don’t fit anywhere- He is worth it.   I want to end my race having absolutely spent myself- holding nothing back.  I want that for my children.

The American dream is not what I was created for.  I was created for Him.  Our children were created for Him.  He is the priority.  May I never forget it.  May I let go of myself and my wants and cling to Him.  May our children live lives of YES.  Isn’t that what truly matters?  I’ve learned from experience that saying YES to Him brings the greatest happiness EVER.  That is the variety of happy childhood I want for my babies.  I just need a reminder of that every day or so.  🙂

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