Inspiration My "Refugee" Journal

It’s Not All Bad

I captured this reflection of the sky in a dirty mud puddle by the side of the road in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine. It’s a fitting metaphor for this post.

One week ago I finished the second draft of my memoir Finding Home Again. It’s an intimate telling of the experience of being displaced by war. It’s not about war, per se, but rather the emotions that result when you’re torn away from home with little notice. It’s about the struggle to rebuild your life elsewhere, about finding the will to keep going, to make things work, to begin to live again. It’s about deciding to thrive, not just survive. 

I wrote the epilogue in December 2023. It’s a poignant reflection on the past with a hope-filled contemplation of the future. It feels complete and satisfying. The loose ends are neatly tied up, and the reader can close the book with a sigh of contentment (I hope). But life isn’t so neat. It defies the tidy boundaries that storytelling demands. 

Is the ending of my book a pretty lie, cleverly tailored to round out my memoir so it fits the accepted form of a story?

Almost half a year later, our family is facing new challenges. Our kids are mourning the lack of friends. The friends they were making late last year haven’t panned out the way I hoped, and my husband and I feel like we’re back at the drawing board. Though our kids love homeschool, they are even saying they’d like to attend traditional school, just for the chance to socialize. But they only want to go to an English-language school. Even if we were willing to economize by moving back into a tiny two-bedroom apartment, we wouldn’t be able to afford tuition.

So is the ending of my book a pretty lie, cleverly tailored to round out my memoir so it fits the accepted form of a story? No, it was true at the time I wrote it. But life isn’t static, and now we’re living the sequel. As long as we’re alive, we will continue to face one challenge after another. Sometimes, if God is merciful, we get a season of respite between trials. Other times, they seem to come right on top of each other. These last twenty-seven months have been that kind of time. But even in the midst of the difficulties, there have been so many moments of blessing.

Three and a half years before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, at the end of a two-month furlough in the United States, I was struggling with the idea of returning to Kyiv for another season of ministry. Because of the rigorous demands of furlough, I had only gotten to spend two weeks with my sister, and the prospect of not seeing her for another three years was gut-wrenching. 

I shared my grief with a friend, and she encouraged me, “You never know what God might do.” I nodded and did my best to seem hopeful, but her words brought me no comfort. They struck me as insensitive and naive. I felt she had no concept of the pain I was experiencing and no idea how unrealistic it was to expect our travel schedule to change. You can’t shuttle back and forth between Europe and the U.S. with a large family on a missionary budget. And while George might travel by himself from time to time, the only way I was going anywhere was with all six of our kids. 

But it turned out my friend was right—prophetic, even.

Since that conversation, I have been back to the United States six times, all but two of them without my kids. And I was able to see my sister almost every time. Only one of those trips was a scheduled family furlough. All the others were unexpected gifts from God. Four of them happened since we were displaced by war.

When I had that conversation almost six years ago, I could not wrap my mind around a life where I traveled routinely without six kids in tow. Such a thing was impossible, wasn’t it? Now I’m living that impossibility. I still can’t get used to it.

Next month I’m going to Oxford, England to attend a retreat for writers. I’m going to hang out with other writers in the same place were C.S. Lewis and Tolkien rubbed shoulders! When we still lived in Ukraine, I wouldn’t have considered such a thing. We felt too isolated from the rest of the world to go galavanting around Europe. But Budapest is another matter. Two budget airlines connect the capital of Hungary with the capital of England, and I was able to snag a round-trip ticket for just over $100.

In April 2023 I took my eldest son to Vienna, Austria on the train. He had a dream to run a marathon at the age of sixteen, and the organizers of the Vienna marathon agreed to let him compete after George and I signed a parental consent form. Thirty-three thousand runners converged on the city that weekend, and my son got to fulfill his dream in the middle of them. If the war hadn’t pushed us outside Ukraine, I doubt I would have considered taking him to another country to run a race.

If it were up to me, I would trade what we have gained in order to erase the evil of the past two years and three months.”

I never would have chosen to be displaced. If I could be God for a day, I admit I’d be sorely tempted to turn back the clock and make it so the invasion never happened, so we did not lose the life we loved so much, so we were never torn away from our community, so our kids would still have the chance to grow up with their friends. But if I did that, I’d lose so many other things. I wouldn’t have written my first book. I wouldn’t have traveled to the U.S. to speak at women’s events. I wouldn’t have gotten to attend my brother’s wedding celebration or have so many impromptu visits with my sister. I wouldn’t be going to Oxford next month.

Of course, none of that is worth the large-scale suffering and loss of life this war has caused. If it were up to me, I would trade what we have gained in order to erase the evil of the past two years and three months. But One much wiser than I makes those decisions, and I’m happy to leave the ordering of the universe in His hands, even when I don’t like the outcome.

It feels disloyal to the life we lost to admit there are advantages to the life we now have.

I am no stranger to pain. I lost my mother to cancer when I was just five years old. I spent years ostracized by my peers because my grief made me too different for them to comprehend. I experienced four and a half years of debilitating depression when I moved to Ukraine. I went through a period of time when I couldn’t carry a pregnancy past the first trimester. Each miscarriage ripped out a part of my soul, and I thought I’d never taste the joys of motherhood. But none of that came close to the anguish of being forcibly displaced by war. It has been so hard. Soul-crushing, bone-grinding, lunacy-inducing hard. Nothing else has ever been this difficult, and I hope never again to walk a path this fraught with pain and loss.

But it hasn’t been all bad. It feels disloyal to the life we lost to admit there are advantages to the life we now have. But I would be dishonest not to admit it. So while I still grieve the loss of all we had, I am grateful for all we’ve been given.

Thank you, Jesus.

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2 replies on “It’s Not All Bad”

Thank you for sharing. I’m looking forward to your book.
Enjoy your time in Oxford, England!

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