We meet lots of refugees from Ukraine here in Budapest. It’s easy. All you have to do is go to a park and listen for people speaking Ukrainian or Russian. Then you ask them where they’re from and how they ended up in Budapest. People are desperate to tell their refugee stories. They often start with the morning of February 24, 2022, with the moment they realized war had started.
This is my story, but to tell it properly, I have to go back to the moment when I first started to take the threat of invasion seriously.
Despite all the upheaval and change that have characterized our life for the past 13 months, my husband George has been thriving. After he managed to get out of Ukraine in the wee hours of day 3 of the war and reunite with the kids and me, he went to bed, utterly exhausted. But he only slept for a few hours, and when he woke up, he immediately found himself surrounded by amazing opportunities to do enormous good. Without pausing to catch his breath or even missing a beat, he jumped into a swirl of activities and new partnerships that resulted in hundreds of evacuations in the critical early weeks of the war, millions of dollars of aid to the people of Ukraine, and ongoing care for the long-term needs of refugees in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
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.
I knew today was the 20-year anniversary of my arrival in Ukraine and the beginning of my life as a missionary, but seeing it spelled out so matter-of-factly was jarring. For years I looked forward to this day. I assumed I would still be living in Ukraine, anticipating many more years of fruitful and fulfilling work there. I imagined I would celebrate with a big party filled with people who had been part of my life during all the stages of my first two decades in Ukraine. I would reunite with dear friends to celebrate this milestone and reminisce about all the wonderful things we had seen God do over the years. But at some point over the last year, I began to look forward to this day with pain and anger rather than eager anticipation. It was because I realized that, along with everything else this war had stolen from me, it had also taken away this milestone.
Over the last few months, I’ve written three posts that chronicle how we have been coping with all the unwanted changes in our life brought on by the war in Ukraine. While these months have been difficult, the overall tone of my writing is positive. In fact, my husband thinks that the second of those three posts is the most inspiring thing I’ve ever written. But today I want to start to tell the other side of the story. Yes, I firmly believe we are going to make it, and I know we have a future and a hope, but that doesn’t mean the here and now isn’t agonizing.
I have always suspected that children are far more resilient than most adults give them credit for. My experience of navigating early tragedy supported this theory (my mom died when I was 5), and now I’ve had a chance to observe my own children coping with loss and grave difficulty.
Our life was a beautiful dream. Every time I walked the streets around the converted old mansion that housed our apartment in downtown Kyiv, I found myself thanking God that we got to live in this charming district, filled with historic buildings and dotted with trendy cafes, interesting restaurants, and all sorts of shops. We had a close-knit church family who all lived within walking distance and a wider community of friends who were in and out of our home on a regular basis. To top it all off, our new landlords had told us that we could stay in their apartment for at least 5 years, and we planned to do precisely that. We had moved 14 times since getting married 18 years earlier, and now, we were finally settled. I couldn’t have been more pleased or content.
Someone recently asked me why I’d stopped writing. In light of what has been happening in Ukraine, the country that I’ve called home for almost two decades, I had trouble comprehending why an explanation was even necessary. But since I didn’t want to embarrass my friend by stating what felt painfully obvious to me (“…my life turned completely upside down on February 24, 2022, and I’m still trying to figure out which way is up…”), I just said (truthfully) that I’d been really busy.
Relationships give life meaning. The relationships we build with our children can enrich us in ways that no other relationships do. I am experiencing this on several different levels with my preschool-through-teenage children. And while I don’t have any grown children, I’ve witnessed first-hand just how rich the parent-child relationship can be after the child grows into adulthood. In my opinion, one of the most fulfilling aspects of parenting is getting to know your children.
Back when our eldest was our only child, I didn’t realize just how early a child’s personality begins to manifest. Because I didn’t expect to be able to get to know my baby’s personality until he could at least speak, I don’t think I paid too much attention to behaviors that could have given me a clue that Samuel was a methodical, logical, and analytical person. I just accepted all his behaviors as normal for a child of his age—that is, until his little brother came along when Samuel was 22 months old. That’s when I realized that even babies have personality traits.
I recently read an article about falling birth rates. The author cited many factors that keep modern people from wanting to have as many children as past generations, and one common reason is that prospective parents just don’t “feel ready.” In fact, the author went on to share a statistic that for a growing number of couples, the only reason they had a child was because of an unplanned pregnancy.
While my husband and I are obviously not part of this modern trend towards having fewer children or having no children at all, we still wrestled with uncertainty and fears before starting to have children.