Saturday, March 5, 2016


At least every 4 months or so, I get discouraged in ministry.   And so I NEED these occasional trips to Ukraine to keep me focused.   Whenever I come here, I am reminded of   WHAT I am called to do and WHO has called me to do it.

 As I take time to evaluate the source of my occasional discouragement, I see that it is always other people.   Sinful people, just like me.   Just being honest here but  I generally find that people do not live up to my expectations.   The children we serve do not disappoint me.   God certainly does not disappoint me.   But people; well, they often do.

And when that happens, I begin to take on burdens I was never called to carry.   And I always fail, of course. 

God has given us at Grace to Ukraine a specific task: take care of the spiritual and physical needs of the orphaned and poor in Ukraine.   When I am doing that, there is success.   I am obeying.   I am fulfilling my calling, and God is glorified.

When I go beyond that, and take up a burden not given to me, I crumble beneath the weight of it all.   I simply can not insure that there are no failed adoptions.   I can not guarantee that a child will not get their hopes up of being  adopted and then be rejected and heart broken yet again.   I can not find families for every orphaned child. I can not. I can not. I CANNOT!

But God CAN!  

We are broken people.  All of us. Including me. I will disappoint others. And they will disappoint me.  We, none of us, will ever live up to each other's expectations.   And if we keep our eyes on each other, what others are doing, and not doing, then we will get discouraged.  Not maybe.  Not sometimes.  But for certain.  Always.

And so I come to Ukraine.   I look into these eyes and I remember my calling.   I remember that God Himself has spoken and said: pure and undefiled religion before ME is this: visit orphans and widows in their distress, and keep yourself unstained by the world. Whoever is kind to the poor, God says, honors me.

It is here, in this far away country, that I always find my way back to God.   In the failures, the disappointments, the brokenness, and the tears, I see God's strong, sure, never-ending love for these children and I am satisfied.   I give him the burdens I was not supposed to take up and once again I am free to do ONLY what HE has called me to do. 

It may not be much. And to the world, it may not seem to be enough. But to me, it is everything.  

Saturday, September 5, 2015

It's God's Story, Not Ours

It is a season of life with many personal challenges.  It is not always easy to focus on Ukraine.  And yet I am thankful for technology and the daily reminders of children longing simply for love, and families answering the call.  I see God working in so many ways that I increasingly realize this is His job, not mine.  In fact, my new motto this year is : “As long as God keeps working, I will keep going”.  Grace to Ukraine is diligent to do what we believe God has called us to do:  caring for the orphaned and poor of Ukraine.  It is so clear, however, that it is God who ultimately does the work.  

Several recent stories convince me of this.  Dima had been hosted many times before and had said no to adoption several times.  I did not intend to host him last summer but my son, his best friend, told him I would.  And so we hosted Dima.  Here in Alabama he met his forever family.  The perfect family for him.  Just this week his family finalized the process in Ukraine, making Dima, as well as Dasha, another young lady we hosted, part of their forever family.  God’s ideas trump our own.  

And then there’s Larissa.  I met her 4 years ago while hosting her in my home for a week.  After that, she was placed into foster care in Ukraine even though there was a local family pursuing her for adoption.  That family continued to pray for Larissa and longed to one day bring her back.  It just so happened that we hosted from Larissa’s orphanage this year.  And Larissa, no longer in foster care, contacted me and asked if she, too, could come to America.  That family, longing and praying for her for 4 years, has been able to spend the summer with her and hope to complete the adoption process this year.  God is never limited by circumstances. 

A few years ago a woman came by our booth at a Junior League market and bought an ornament with a child’s picture .  She told her daughter about GtU and gave her the ornament.  Her daughter checked us out on social media; read a blog about Vova and felt God’s calling to adopt him.  And he didn’t come alone; his sister came as well.  A sister whose picture was on the ornament given to her that hung on the family’s Christmas tree.  God is in the details. 

There is a brother and sister for whom I have advocated for several years.  Luda is my daughter’s best friend.  She has literally begged for a family.  Frankly, I was about to give up on them.  Luda turns 18 this year and Zhenya turns 16.  Once November of this year rolls around, these two will be ineligible for international adoption.  A family near us has stepped forward and begun the process of adopting these two teens.  I am so glad God does not give up.  

Oh and the sweet girl I met in the spring.  She introduced herself to me and said “I want a family.”  I simply cannot carry such a burden.   But God can.  A woman met her this summer.  A woman who speaks Italian.  Perfect, because this sweet Ukrainian girl has traveled many times to Italy and they were able to communicate during hosting in Italian.  Only God could weave this story. 

I could go on and on.  The two brothers whom we have known for many years; hosted several times; and who were evacuated from the war zone, now being pursued by a family God sought out.  The FOUR siblings I thought would never have a chance (especially with one having special needs), now being loved and pursued by a family who has always wanted a LARGE family.   The woman I met at a fundraiser who brought home a brother and sister in February of this year.  In fact, there are 14 children we have previously hosted who are right now being pursued for adoption. 

And while we rejoice in the adoption stories being woven, there are at least 12 other children we have previously hosted who desire to have a forever family.  Some of these children can travel to America this winter and stay in host families.  Then there are other children who cannot be adopted or who do not want to be adopted.  Children and families impacted by the war in Ukraine.  Children with special needs for whom we can make life in Ukraine more comfortable.  Orphan graduates we can mentor.  If you want to know more about how YOU can be a part of all their stories, please contact us by email and be ready to be amazed at what God can do!  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

48 hours and counting

In two days, 12 precious children will arrive from Ukraine and be in Alabama for 4 weeks.  A lot of time, money and effort goes into this.  My family makes great sacrifices, not just during the few weeks that the children are here, but for months leading up to this day.  Sometimes we get tired. Sometimes I complain and say I am not sure I can do this again next year.  

There is a reason that my friend, Marilyn, two years ago made me this plaque:  

There is a reason, in our family devotional time, God landed us right here in 1 Corinthians 2 nights ago:

If these 12 children were just 12 children,  I think I would give up.  But they are not.  They are 12 children who have been orphaned.  And God commands me to care for them.  There are many, many ways to do that.  But for now, God has given me and those who support Grace to Ukraine, the grace to care for them them in this way.  

And as I sit here this morning, looking out over the empty pool in my backyard, knowing that Tuesday it will be full of screaming, laughing, orphaned Ukrainian children, I am overwhelmed by the GOODNESS of God who allows me to do this.  Not only do I get the privilege of caring for them in a tangible way:  good nutrition, clothing, fun, education; I get the immeasurable honor of sharing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with these children.  For they are also 12 souls who are lost.  And they will have the opportunity to hear this Gospel of hope and take it back to their orphanage, their friends, their country.  

The preciousness of this gift, as well as the gravity of it, lays heavily on my heart today.  As I read through 2 Corinthians this morning, I am encouraged that although I am not sufficient in myself, God provides a greater sufficiency, (3:4);  I am empowered by the knowledge that in the hope of the power of the Spirit, I can speak boldly (3:7-18); I am motivated to show mercy and grace because it has been shown to me (4:1-6) and I am strengthened in my tired, hard-pressed, and discouraged body to continue speaking, advocating, and pleading because I KNOW the God who has conquered death. (4:7-5:21).

My Christian brothers and sisters, do not look at the things which are seen; they are temporary.  I urge you to look at the things which are unseen; for they are eternal.  What does this have to do with your hosting program, you might ask.  This:  don't think about meals as a way to feed 12 hungry bellies. Don't think about trips to the water park as a waste of money.  Don't judge us for focusing our efforts on Ukrainian children and not another ethnicity.  Don't come to our home just to have fun and play.  I urge you, see each child as a lost soul in need of salvation; see each opportunity as an act of serving up the Gospel in a beautiful, God-glorifying way.  See your own obedience in caring for orphans as the true religion that it is and be encouraged, along with me, that our work is not in vain. EVER.

I feel certain I won't blog again until these children have returned to Ukraine.  In their country, most of these children are held in low esteem, discriminated against, referred to in a disparaging way as "gypsies".  I recently even saw a statistic that said there were no "orphans" in western Ukraine; they all exist in eastern Ukraine.  I thought "Ha!  Interesting, since I am about to host 12 of those non-existent orphans." Maybe these gypsy children are even overlooked by the statistic-makers.  No matter.  While in my home, these 12 children shall be treated as royalty.  And I, their servant.  

If you wish to some alongside us in any way, looking to the eternal rewards that await us,  you know how to find me.  And you know the God to whom you can pray.

Monday, May 25, 2015

WANTED........or not

I don't blog often.  Usually not until something grabs me around the throat and won't let go. Well something, or rather someONE, has grabbed me. And her name is Luda.  She is my daughter's best friend.  They lived together in an orphanage in Ukraine.  Luda's mother is still alive but her rights were long ago terminated.  Luda has tried to initiate contact with her but her mother does not want anything to do with her; her mother DOES NOT WANT HER.

Grace to Ukraine hosted Luda last summer along with her brother, Zhenya.  They met many families while they were here, but none were "their" family.  You see, Luda and Zhenya want to be adopted. They have asked every American they know "Will you please find us a family?"  They WANT TO BE WANTED.

Luda is 17. Zhenya is 15. In November, they will turn 18 and 16 and no longer be eligible for international adoption.  Some might say that Luda and Zhenya have been their own worst enemies. When they were here last summer, Luda stuck like glue to my daughter.  She let few others in.  She had a chance to stay with one family but that family had one younger child and Luda and Zhenya were bored and felt they did not fit in.  They were blessed to spend the rest of the summer with a family who had previously adopted a Ukrainian teen.  The father stayed home and Zhenya loved hanging out with him on their farm, caring for the horses and releasing his penned up energy.  But that family was already committed to adopting another older girl.  When Zhenya came to America again in the winter, without Luda, he was a little more difficult.  He stole some money from his host family.  Money and an Ipad.  "He did what?!" you ask.  Yes, he stole.

My daughter talked to Luda today.  She was distraught.  A facilitator from another organization had recently told her "Oh I could find YOU a family, but not your bad brother. Sorry."  Well, I have a few words for that facilitator.  One, Vova.  This boy right here, with his Mama.

We hosted Vova last summer and he stole from his host family.  A few months later they went to Ukraine to make him their son.  He recently spent a few days in my home. I would catch myself just staring at him in amazement at times, rejoicing in what God had done in his life.  Vova was WANTED.

Another word for 'ya:  Kostya, pictured below with his Mama.  We hosted him 2 summers ago.  He spent some time with a family. Were things perfect?  By no means!  And when Kostya returned to Ukraine, he appeared to be headed down the path of wrong choices.  But today, he lives in America, has his driver's license, is working at McDonalds, and is still WANTED.

Might I mention some of my own children?  Regarding one, I was told by the director "He is a bad boy; why would you adopt him?"  "I love him" was my reply.  "Then love is blind," she retorted. Regarding others I was told "thank you for taking these kids out of our orphanage".  I apparently was relieving them of a great burden.  These children have been pure joy to me.  I WANTED THEM.  No matter what they had done.  Perfect?  No.  But who is?

You want to hear what I did as a child, as a teenager? Stealing is the tip of the iceburg. I doubt there is anyone reading this blog who has done anything worse than me. And yet, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, reached down into my sinful, imperfect life and redeemed me. HE WANTED ME. And His love changed me.

So why would you want to host Luda and Zhenya? Why would you want to advocate for them a family? Luda is studious, easy going, good with younger children. Zhenya is outgoing, athletic, happy in nature. Neither has shown any violent tendencies. They are both expressive, affectionate and super smart (coming from their host family). But the real reason you should want to host them : YOU WANT THEM.  If you don't, this blog is NOT for you.

But I believe there is a family out there for Luda and Zhenya. There is someone reading this blog right now, who does not care what Zhenya has done, but they see with a redemptive eye what he can become. There is someone who will go to bed tonight and not be able to forget Luda's face. There is a father, a Dad, who wants to play soccer with Zhenya and teach him right from wrong. There is a Mom who longs to be the mother Luda has never had but so desperately wants. If that is you, contact me. Let's work together to raise their hosting fees and get them here for hosting July 8th - August 28th. If  it's not you, please share this blog. Vova and Kostya found their forever families because someone shared a blog about them. The more this blog is shared, the greater the chance, "their" family will find Luda and Zhenya.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Are We Here?

Change is hard.  Especially in ministry.  We knew we could not go back to Lugansk; and yet it almost feels like a betrayal to go elsewhere.  Almost.  But we felt the Lord opening a door for us to minister in western Ukraine.  Far from the war.  So we went.  We hoped to plan the summer hosting program as well as explore opportunities for camps. 

Taryn, Lori and I arrived in a small village in western Ukraine on Monday.  The first day was spent with administrative type activities.  Another difficult aspect of ministry.  And, frankly, there were moments where we all looked at each other and asked “now why are we here?”  But we continued to walk in faith, trusting that the Lord had sovereignly  brought us here.  Near the end of the day, the Director introduced us to a boy with downcast eyes.  She explained he did not know much Russian or Ukrainian.  I told him it was okay, I didn’t either.  He almost smiled.  God whispered:  “this is why you are here.”

Later, we got the chance to go with some of the older children to tour a nearby castle.  I got on the bus and said hi to a 14 year old girl.  She gave me a nod. I gave her one back.  She turned her face to hide her smile.  She was going to be a tough one to crack I thought.  I asked why she was so grumpy.  She said it was because she did not want to go to the castle; she had already been a hundred times.  Then she asked “Am I coming to your house this summer?”  “I sure hope so,” I replied.  Then she blurted out: “I want to come.  I want to be adopted.  I want a family.  FOR LIFE!”  God shouted “This is why you are here!!” 

The next day, we watched a performance by the younger children in the orphanage.  7, 8, and 9 year olds with no parent in the crowd to beam at them or applaud their efforts.  My heart ached thinking “no child this young, this beautiful, should be orphaned.” God consoled me: “this is why you are here.”

We visited the children with mild special needs.  We talked to them.  Held them.  Heard their stories.  With few hours left in the day , I pulled Taryn and Lori away:  “We still have so much to do while we are here!”

Minutes continued to slip away.  Children, previously withdrawn, began to soften.  We laughed together.  Had tea together.  Strangers became friends.  A boy’s almost-smile became a real smile.  And the grumpy girl on the bus burst into tears as we drove away.  “It’s enough now, God.  I understand.  I know why we are here.  Please don’t make me see anymore.” 

For a few moments we sat in silence.  Words were insufficient. Love for a new place was blossoming.  God had given us care, concern, and even pain, where none had been a day before.  And then my thoughts looked ahead.  Plans to be made.  Money to be raised.  One of us spoke what the others were already thinking:  how can we make others see, care,  help?  I don’t know the answer to that question.  But one thing I do know.  I must live each day asking how I can bring these 100 children to the attention of the world.  And not just these 100.  But  the 500 orphaned children in east Ukraine we have been asked to help. Children displaced by the war; with no socks, underwear, or basic hygiene products.  Now more than ever, we need your help. They need your help.  The withdrawn boy.  The grumpy girl.  The orphaned. The poor.  It's not easy.  There is pain in the offering.  But offer we must.  I mean, isn't that why we're here?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Guest Blog: Be Brave

One year ago, I blogged about Vova, an older orphan. Prudence, whom I did not know at the time, read that blog and is now in process to adopt Vova and his sister. I pray at least one person will now read Prudence's blog and be brave enough to follow in her steps.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Harvest time is here.

I face moments every year where I wonder if I can do this again next year.  It’s usually after hosting.  When I am tired.  Or discouraged. Or wallowing in self-pity because something did not go as planned.  This year, when the moment came, my sweet daughter was there to shake me back into reality.  “What?!” she exclaimed.  “Every year, kids you host are adopted!  Every year God brings new people to help you!  You can’t quit!”  And I don’t.   Because, you see, my daughter is right.  I can’t quit.  There is too much at stake.   Now more than ever.  The war in Ukraine brings an urgency to the mission of Grace to Ukraine that must supercede my fragile emotions.  God knew I would face these feelings.  And so He gave me Galatians 6:9:  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  And then, just for good measure, He made sure I saw this video from our friends, the Evans.  They got involved with GtU for the first time this summer. They looked an orphan in the eyes; hugged him; opened their homes and hearts to him.  And their lives will never be the same.  I am not giving up.  Harvest time is here. 

Go here to read more of April and Scott's story.