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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. 

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Encouragement My "Refugee" Journal

Where is Home?

I just returned to Budapest from a trip to the United States. On my outbound journey, I transited through London. As I walked from my arrival gate towards the terminal, there were a series of advertising messages posted on the wall of the corridor. I couldn’t help reading them, because I’m a compulsive reader. The words on one literally stopped me in my tracks, and I took the picture above. 

Is home where you’re from or where you’re going? 

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My "Refugee" Journal

My Story, part 9

The Carpathian Mountains were still in the grip of winter when George evacuated.

Read part 1part 2part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, and part 8.

Ternopil, Ukraine, February 26, 2022, 6:30 am

George’s alarm went off at 6:30 am. He roused himself from his bed on the floor in the open kitchen area. The apartment was dark and quiet. He quickly gathered his few belongings and put them back in his backpack. He visited the bathroom and combed his hair. Breakfast and coffee were not on the agenda, and he was soon ready to leave.

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My "Refugee" Journal

My Story, part 8

Read part 1part 2part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7.

No Man’s Land, Dzvinkove Border Crossing, Ukraine
February 25, 2022, 6:00 pm

The sun went down on us as we waited to cross the Hungarian border. The sky slowly faded to black, and still the single-file line of cars stretched far in front of us. Eventually we reached a place where we could see the Hungarian checkpoint. It looked so close, but we knew that it could still take hours to reach it. Even though it was now in sight, I was reluctant to leave the cozy atmosphere of the van to go stand in line with the other people crossing on foot. But eventually I could put it off no longer. We knew that our ride was in position on the other side, and by calling and watching to see who answered a phone and began talking, we were even able to identify our driver and his van. I gathered my kids and grabbed a blanket or two to ward off the cold, and we walked to the end of the pedestrian line. Like the line of cars, it was much longer and moving much slower than its counterpart on the Ukrainian side of the border. 

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My "Refugee" Journal

My Story, part 5

This is how you fit 6 people on a bench seat intended for 3 in order to evacuate 2 large families in 1 van.

Read part 1part 2part 3, and part 4.

Ternopil, Ukraine
February 25, 2022, 5:30 am

Jon’s words provided relief from the torment of the night. I welcomed the chance for action and something to distract me from all my worries. How quickly could I gather our few belongings and dress the kids so we could leave the scene of my waking nightmare? It shouldn’t take long. 

I texted back, “Give us 30 minutes.” 

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My "Refugee" Journal

My Story, part 4

It was a dark night for Ukraine, and we longed for the dawn.

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Ternopil, Ukraine
February 24, 2022, a little after 12 noon

That first day of the full-scale Russian invasion was one of contradictory extremes for us. The kids and I spent the first half of the day mostly alone in a basement, sheltering in place because of repeated air raid sirens in the morning. Then, shortly after noon, one of my brothers-in-law Jon came and found us. He was accompanied by a good friend, the Ukrainian pastor of the church that my husband and I had planted in this city fourteen years earlier. No words were necessary or even possible. We just held each other, tears in our eyes, drawing comfort from each other’s presence. 

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My "Refugee" Journal

My Story, part 3

Desperate refugees flee Ukraine on foot

Read part 1 and part 2.

Kyiv, Ukraine
February 24, 2022, 4:30 am

The night before the start of the war, George and the seven other members of our team had met and prayed and decided that if Russia invaded, they would all evacuate from Kyiv. Early the next morning, when the sounds of explosions jolted everyone from sleep, they all gathered at our apartment. At a time like that, you want to be with other people, and our apartment had a private basement to serve as a bomb shelter plus stores of non-perishable food and water that I had been gathering for weeks.

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My "Refugee" Journal

My Story, part 1

Ukraine has many beautiful churches, and this one, St. Andrew’s in Kyiv, is my favorite.

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.

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Inspiration My "Refugee" Journal

When I opened my laptop today, this is what I saw:

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. 

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Inspiration My "Refugee" Journal

We’re Going to Make It

Our impromptu family Christmas picture—using a selfie stick on the couch at our apartment in Budapest

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.