Last December I took my eldest son to a Christmas concert performed by a gospel choir here in Budapest. We personally know the director of the choir, and their annual Christmas concert was something about which we’d heard great reports for years but which we’d never had the opportunity to attend. This year’s concert was doubly special, because it was their first since COVID.
It was a wonderful performance, full of energy, passion, and fun. In one of his comments to the audience, the director mentioned that they were an amateur choir, and they accepted anyone, even people who couldn’t sing. As I sat there, swaying to the beat and thoroughly enjoying the music, I glanced at my then 15-year-old son, a music lover who had been in a choir in Ukraine, and I suddenly had an idea. I started to lean over to say something in his ear, but half a moment later, I stopped myself and sat still in my seat, feeling shaken, stunned, and confused.
The thought that I’d been about to share with my son was that he could join this choir and perform in this concert next year.
Those two words stirred up so much turmoil.
In 2021, my husband and I had attended the annual Christmas concert of our favorite Ukrainian a capella group, something that had been a Christmas tradition for us since before we even had kids. We missed it in 2022.
And “next year” . . . who knows where we will even be in December 2023 and what we will be doing?
If we are still in Budapest, I have no doubt that we will attend this gospel concert again. Part of me looks forward to that possibility—but part of me still doesn’t know how to manage the disconnect between what I feel inside and what my life actually looks like.
It should be comforting to create new traditions, to get to know the rhythms of a place, to put down roots. Up until now, this has always been an enjoyable part of moving to a new place. But I wasn’t carefully transplanted here. I was violently uprooted and tossed. Part of my root structure didn’t make it and is still buried somewhere in a war-torn country. Now I feel lost, adrift, uncertain, and confused.
I know that if I am not fully present where I am, I risk missing out on blessings that God has for me and sabotaging my effectiveness as a person. So I have been trying to be present in our life in Budapest, but I’m still learning what that looks like. Certain steps are obvious: I’ve put much time and energy into thoughtfully adapting our apartment to be a comfortable space for our family; I’ve started to make friends with the locals; I’m learning Hungarian. But where do long-term plans—like encouraging my son to join a choir to perform in a concert next Christmas—fit?
Even as I try to become fully present in our new life, I find myself reluctant to do anything that would create long-term ties to it. It would feel disloyal to Ukraine, the country into which I poured two decades of my life. And it feels incredibly risky to put down roots that could just be ripped out again.
But where does that leave me?
Lost, adrift, uncertain, and confused.
More importantly, how will my reluctance to take root where I’m planted affect my children? Even if I were okay with living a stunted life while I wait for the opportunity to return to my “real” life in Ukraine, that’s not what I want for my children. I want them to thrive here and now! But how can I help them do that if I’m unwilling to set the example and actively pursue growth and fruitfulness myself? But how do I embrace my current life while I am still very much mourning the life I lost? And what would it look like to put down roots here when I have no idea if Hungary will be a long-term home for us?
I remember during the first eight years of my life in Ukraine, I always lived in terms of the next move. We moved so frequently in the first four and a half years that I bought a bunch of clear plastic storage bins to hold much of our stuff permanently. Most of those moves were forced on us by things beyond our control, and at some point I just accepted that we would never get to stay anywhere long-term. Rather than unpack and repack every few months, I would just stack all our storage bins in closets or out-of-the-way corners so that the next move wouldn’t be so difficult. During this stage I also didn’t decorate our living spaces. What was the point of hanging up pictures—creating holes in the walls that might irritate the landlord—when I had no idea how long we’d be able to stay?
I remember when I finally started to turn our rented spaces into homes by daring to settle in a little and even decorate. It was transformational, and I wondered why I’d waited so long.
I feel like it’s time to dare to settle in a little.
I spent the last year in a holding pattern, waiting to see what was going to happen with us. Initially, we were willing to put up with the inconvenience of a really small apartment because of the amazing park nearby—and because, in our minds, it was just a temporary arrangement. We were going back to Ukraine soon. But it’s already been a year with no end to the war in sight. It’s time to reevaluate. The kids’ tempers are beginning to flare as a result of living in such close quarters, and I have begun to experience a sort of social claustrophobia because there isn’t a single space in our apartment where I can be alone. Even our bedroom doubles as a homeschool room, and when you have only 1 toilet for 8 people, hiding in the bathroom isn’t an option for long. Some days I’m actually desperate enough to hide in a wardrobe, but they are all too cramped to sit down inside!
So when we recently found out about a large apartment for rent right across the street from the park we love so much, we went to look at it. Initially almost everyone in the family was resistant to the idea of moving. At the beginning of the war, we moved seven times in the space of three weeks. It was brutal. Getting a stable place to live was a complete game-changer for us, allowing us to begin to recover from the shock and trauma of being torn away from the life and friends that we had loved so much in Kyiv. The apartment where we have been living has been a safe cocoon for us, and it was hard to contemplate ripping that cocoon open and subjecting ourselves to the upheaval of yet another move—on purpose. But as we allowed ourselves to try to imagine a different life, we started to realize that our cocoon has become too constricting. It’s time to find a space where we can spread our wings and learn to fly again.
*The move into this large apartment is scheduled for July.
If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing here.
I would be honored to have you along on this journey!