Time for Ioana to go home…or maybe not just yet.

The past weeks have been a whirlwind.  I’ll take some time in the next weeks to recap all that has happened but in short I’ve been too busy with details of Ioana going home to stay with the updates.  Below are a few highlights I’ll expand on after I come back from Romania on the 25th.

  • The Global Hope Banquet which was a tremendous success in raising over $100k!
  • Days before leaving we get Ioana’s braces sorted out and she has three new pairs of shoes thanks to her Physical Therapist
  • A week before leaving I find out that we can’t take her FES bike on the plane with us which necessitates shipping it via British Airways World Cargo
  • We were all set to leave yesterday, but our flight was cancelled so we’ll hopefully be flying out this evening and will get to Romania a day late.

Back when Roni, Sanda and Radu were still here we took a trip to Estes Park and I bought a new journal at a bookstore there.  It’s a small journal with 144 pages.  I’ll finish it in the next few days and had to buy a new journal yesterday to take on the trip to Arad.  Writing in journals is one of the most peaceful things I do.  It helps me slow down enough to sort through feelings, decisions and allows me to more fully reflect on the amazing things that happen around me.  I’ll share my thoughts from yesterday morning when I thought we would be taking Ioana back to Arad.

Six months captured in 140 pages

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 – A date mentioned more in the last six months than any other date.  The day that Ioana must go back home.  I can’t believe how sad it makes me to write that down.  I know she has to go back but this is really difficult when I think about all the hours of prayer, words in journals and God’s provision to get to this point.  But it is only a step in her process and Ioana needs our continued prayers.  

We are all so proud of her and what she is becoming.  Sunday night at small group someone asked Ioana what she wanted to do with her life now.  She replied in English, (no more translation needed), “Boy, I don’t know what I want to do.  There are so many choices for me.”  Earlier, six months ago, she didn’t know either but she had been pigeon holed and pushed in a direction “that would be good for her.”  But now she knows she can do many things.  And this from a young lady who would sit and cry and bury her head in her hands saying “Nu sunt buna la nimica.” (I am not good at anything)  But her statement Sunday night sums up Ioana’s whole experience here.  It shows confidence, growth, vision, desire, hope and self-worth.  So many that have met Ioana have no idea of the struggle and brokenness she has endured.  Like her new braces, she has been re-cast, re-formed and is undergoing a beautiful transformation.  We are so proud of her!  You go Ioana and keep going!  We love you.

Ioana’s journey is not over, it is only just beginning.  She has learned so much here and it is time for her to begin to implement what she has learned into her life in Romania.  She has changed tremendously both physically and emotionally since she has been here.  You can see it in her physical stature but also in how she portrays herself.  She has always been smiling, happy and bubbly.  But now she possesses a confidence that she did not have before.  She knows that she doesn’t need to be giggly to be loved by people, she just needs to be herself.  And that’s a good lesson for all of us to adhere to.  

This was a few weeks after Ioana arrived in the US

 

 

Ioana, Sunday April 14th with a portrait of herself painted by friend Julie Weldon

 

The Path to Discernment – Part 4

Walter Williams is one of my dearest spiritual friends.  We’ve scoured the back roads of Romania together.  We’ve spent hours holding hands praying together and we’ve both laid our hearts out there for the Romanian people and especially the children.  I talked to him on the phone one afternoon sitting in the front room of my home away from the activity of the kitchen and living room.  Walter was responsible for the renovation of a small building we call “The Storybook House” where kids from Global Hope have done homework and crafts for years.  He’s been a friend to the Roma population in Romania.  And like so many of us that have served in the mission field he has experienced heartache at times in trying to understand a different culture and connecting to them.   

“Walt, I understand now what is eating at me regarding this situation with the FES bike.  What I am truly afraid of is bringing this bike to Romania and not knowing how it will work out.  My fear is that she won’t use it, or it will get broken, or something might happen.  Then I’ll be disappointed, I’ll get angry, I’ll be resentful and for two years I’ll deal with the hurt of that.”  

“Aha,” he replied, understanding, “yes, we’ve all been there before in that situation.  We know what can happen and the potential realities of the situation.  Brother, I’ll pray for you.  My life is busy right now, as well, and I feel my prayer life is not what it should be, but I’ll pray for you.”

As I hung up the phone, it all became clear to me.  My previous experiences were causing me to be very cautious and I was trying to protect myself.  I feared I was standing in the way of the process.  On the morning of February 23rd, as I began my devotions, I turned to the reading from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.  The page had been underlined in places and I’d commented at the bottom of the page.  You can read the devotion by clicking on the link above but following is the part that hit me at my heart.

  • But the chief motivation behind Paul’s service was not love for others but love for his Lord.  If our devotion is to the cause of humanity, we will be quickly defeated and broken-hearted, since we will often be confronted with a great deal of ingratitude from other people.  But if we are motivated by our love for God, no amount of ingratitude will be able to hinder us from serving one another.

How was it that I had forgotten that?  Obviously I had read and learned this before.  Sure we loved Ioana like our own daughter.  But the fact of the matter is that we are crazy for Jesus and that is why we are doing this.  Not in the way that we stand on street corners screaming at passersby or feel compelled to knock on doors.  But in the fact that deep inside our hearts we feel a love to help Ioana that comes from a place that can’t be described.  It can’t be explained because it is mysterious and spiritual in nature.  Because when I look at her life and where she should be instead of where she is now I know that only something supernatural could have rescued her from her past.

Another struggle that I had was in the cost of the bike.  This is something that her foster family could never afford.  And from the standpoint of the cost of the piece of equipment in scale with their economy it doesn’t make great sense.  And then the passage from Matthew 26:6-13 came to mind.  The disciples were appalled that the woman would have poured expensive ointment over Christ’s head, but the act was more beautiful than the loss of the ointment.

I wrote in my journal a few days later If we do this for Christ and because of our love for Christ and because of Ioana’s love for Christ we shouldn’t be concerned if we don’t see a “return”.  We do it as an act of faith and devotion to our Lord and Savior, not because it really makes sense or is logical financially. 

This really helped to clarify things for me and to begin to make a path toward discernment.  I put out a message to many of Ioana’s supporters letting them know what was transpiring and if they had questions, feelings or comments.  

Among them were two legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed.  What would happen if the bike needed repaired since there were no other bikes like it in Romania?  And would it be possible to place the bike in a facility in a place where others would benefit from it as well as Ioana?

PT assistant Sonja, and Ioana after Ioana’s final FES treatment at The Childrens Hospital in Aurora, CO

A representative from Restorative Therapies informed me that the life span of the FES bike is ten years.  She said that it will have the most current software and that often any software problems can be resolved remotely.  Regarding having the bike placed in another facility brought us back to a hurdle that we are trying to avoid.  Ioana has great difficulty getting around the city of Arad.  She lives on a second floor of an apartment with an outside entrance.  It is not a simple process for her to leave her apartment numerous times per day, thus creating an obstacle to therapy.  Most FES bikes are dedicated to the home of a person with a spinal cord injury so that they can be on the bike as often as possible, for some people, every day.  While this might seem selfish, it would be the best for Ioana and her purpose.

A few weeks later a group of us met to discuss the pros and cons of situation.  In the group were three board members from Global Hope.  Seven of us met in total.  After having moved through the process and many discussions with those involved in her therapy I felt that without the aid of the FES bike it would be very difficult for Ioana to maintain what she has worked so hard to attain.  In reality if she doesn’t continue to work hard after arriving home in Romania, in six months she could be back to where she started.  Just like anybody that is on an exercise program, diet program or trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there is no magic pill.  What is required is consistent, hard work.  One board member shared what she had read from the book When Helping Hurts.  What we were investing in was not a project but in the process of helping Ioana and moving her toward a future where she could be independent and no longer dependent on others.

The decision was made that at the Global Hope board of directors meeting a week from then that the idea would be presented and put to a vote regarding the FES bike.  The board approved the decision to purchase the bike for Ioana and then raise the remaining necessary funds to cover the cost.

You can go to the Ioana Blog Home Page to see the advantages and benefits of the FES bike and how supporters of Ioana and Global Hope can make a tax deductible contribution to help purchase the FES bike.  Thank you for patiently reading through how we all came to this decision and for your many prayers for Ioana!  We so appreciate all that you have done.  God bless you!   

 

 

The Path to Discernment – Part 3

On Monday, February 4th I was driving Ioana to Aurora to ride the FES bike.  It was her birthday, a day she had been looking forward to for some time.  The previous night was when I didn’t sleep much and now as I look back at that day on February 4th I understand why I was so exhausted on her birthday.  I can still remember that we were at 1st Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard when I asked her about the FES bike and that someone had approached me about helping to fund it.  How did she feel about the possibility of having the FES bike in Romania?  She turned to me in the car with an exasperated look and said, “Do we have to talk about that now, of all days, on my birthday?”  I let it go at that point but was frustrated with her response.

When Ioana first started doing this exercise she could bear no weight. Now she is up to 12 pounds of weight. Her goal someday would be to bear her own body weight, which is about 90 pounds.

I remember her effort at therapy that day was less than stellar.  It was clear that she was more interested in the events that would happen later in the day than putting out a concerted effort on the FES bike.  I decided to let the whole subject of the FES bike go and pray and think about seeking the wisdom of others on the matter.  After months of observing Ioana it became clear that what made her most excited was time with friends, birthday parties and social events.  In regard to the hard work required for physical therapy she would put out effort but it often required someone cheering her on.  I had seen that if she was required to go it alone she was rather passive in her effort.  This was a concern to me.  I was worried about her commitment to working hard after she went home to Romania and I expressed this to the potential sponsor of the FES bike.  I felt it was my obligation to be transparent about my concerns and I felt it was necessary to be responsible with a gift of this size.  

I let some time pass and continued to just think about it and met with some friends who I had asked to pray about the situation.  I shared my reservations and Pam and I discussed how we felt Ioana needed to take some steps toward independence in her living situation with us.  Below comes directly from my journal on the morning of Tuesday, Feburary 12th.

I’m not really sure how to pray anymore regarding myself and Ioana.  I truly struggle with my friend’s offer of a significant gift to help her and potential purchase of an FES bike.  I just don’t know if she is really mature enough and truly desires to work hard everyday.  I refuse to blindly purchase something so extravagant only to be neglected, broken or simply not used.  I’m at the point where I am demanding more of her.  (Ioana) Show me what you really can and cannot do!  Yesterday she managed to lift the laundry basket onto her walker and wheel it to the laundry, lifting it back off the walker to get it up the step.  It was significant weight for her to do that.  I was impressed but also felt like she has not been honest in her efforts with normal, ordinary tasks or when she goes to therapy.  So I will push her now to the edge on things to see what she can and cannot do.  It will be hard but we can’t enable her anymore.  Lord, guide me to be fair with her but to help her through her struggles with things as we try to bring her to a whole new level of realization of what she can and cannot do.

I decided to wake Ioana up 15 minutes early that morning.  “I’ve given you an extra fifteen minutes so that you can put your braces on by yourself.”  

“But I don’t know how to put them on by myself.  I can’t get them tight enough.  I can’t reach them.”

“I’ll teach you how to do it”  I told her.  It was a challenging time for both of us.  She struggled with the process.  I encouraged her to think about ways to overcome the challenge of putting on the braces.  “What if you got down on the floor?”  She struggled immensely with getting them tight enough.  I showed how to use leverage to her advantage.  Then, for the first time since she had been with us, I saw her get so frustrated that she got angry.  She threw the strap down on the floor and began to cry.  I left her to the situation and walked away.  “Where are you going?” she called to me.  I told her that she needed to figure it out, that I had showed her how to do it and it was now up to her.  “You either need to figure out a way to get the braces on or you can go without them.  But we’re leaving at 9:30 for physical therapy.”

It took her a while but she got them on.  I don’t know if they were tight enough or not and she didn’t complain.  On the drive to therapy she asked me about the FES bike, the first time that either of us had mentioned it since her birthday.  “I want the bike”, she told me.  “I’ve seen how it makes a big difference in my strength.  It wears me out but a few hours later I recover pretty quickly.”  

“Ioana”, I replied “This isn’t like the braces where we told you about how they can make a difference for you.  I’m not going to talk you into the FES bike.  If you really want this bike, then you need to convince me that you want this bike.”

That was all I said to her about it.  I didn’t tell her how she had to convince me but I knew in my mind what I wanted to see from her, and Pam and I had discussed what we needed to see.  We needed to see her take charge of her life in our house and not ask for help with things.  We needed to see a level of maturity that demonstrated she was ready to be held accountable for her work ethic and a desire to do it for herself, not for the people that surrounded her.

That afternoon after Ioana came home from English class she did her arm exercises on her own without being told to do them.  Either that same week or the next week on two different nights I had started dinner and then went to pick Pam up from school.  The first night when we got home twenty five minutes later, Ioana had set the table like I had asked her to but she also completely de-cluttered our kitchen and cleaned everything up!  The next night she did the same but she also had a pot of coffee brewing as we came through the door.  

And in the weeks that followed she continued in the same vein.  She would come home and do her exercises on her own.  We had lengthy discussions about facing challenges and finding ways to overcome them.  We talked about thinking outside the box.  We talked about how the things that she does are noticed by others around her.  “What if, as you work your way through a problem, someone else with a disability notices and is inspired about how you overcome a challenge?”  I asked her.  “Ioana” I told her in the most loving way I could, “it’s not always okay just to ask someone for help with something because you are struggling.  Maybe it is better to ask someone to help you think of a way or develop a strategy to overcome what seems insurmountable.  It’s always okay to do that.”

Ioana was making big strides but I still was challenged regarding the FES bike.  I didn’t know why but I was.

 

 

 

 

The Path to Discernment – Part 2

Back in December, Katie, Ioana’s physical therapist, asked if Ioana and I would be open to coming to the Children’s Hospital clinic in Broomfield for an FES bike demonstration.  Currently, the only FES bike is in Aurora.  Restorative Therapies was putting on a demonstration for the Broomfield physical therapists to see how the FES bike functioned and worked.  There were maybe a dozen therapists there and Ioana got to ride for 30 minutes or so free of charge.  We were happy because we currently pay $220 twice a week when she rides the bike in Aurora.

Somebody, I can’t remember who, asked how much an FES bike would cost if purchased outright.  It might of even been me but I can’t remember for sure.  The representative told us that most people with spinal cord injuries are able to obtain one and insurance will often reimburse them in part or in full.  “But how much does one cost?”  Answer- $16,400.  I thought about that and realized that I participate in a recreational sport where I see people riding bicycles costing $5,000 all the time and they don’t blink an eye at that.  For $16,400 the FES bike does some incredible things.  Especially when it comes from Cochlear implant technology and data can be retrieved remotely half a world away.

Then Katie asked another question.  “Do you have any of these in Romania?”  The answer was no, but that they do have a European division of the company.  At this point I think the wheels in both my brain and in Katie’s began turning simultaneously.

Over the next few weeks there were some discussions about the bike, possibly finding funding through grants and how we could ever get one to Romania.  Largely, it was a pipe dream.  I asked Ioana about it and she wanted to know if it could really happen.  I told her that likely it would not happen but that we were looking into the possibilities.  “Ioana, this would be a dream come true if we could get an FES bike in Arad.”

A few more weeks passed and sometime late in January a person who knew about Ioana and had observed her wanted to ask me some questions.  “I’ve seen her progress.  I don’t know if I’m more impressed with her English or how much better she walks since she has been here.”  Many people have stated the same about Ioana.  “But what happens to her once she goes back home?  How will she maintain what she has gained here?”

Ioana is slumped over the FES bike after a workout at Children’s Hospital in Aurora, CO. She works so hard she gets “spaghetti legs” as she calls them!

I replied that we were still trying to sort all of that out.  One thing that I was certain of is that her past regimen of physical therapy was not effective.  We would look to implement a home program thus alleviating time wasted traveling back and forth to a local clinic twice a week.  Additionally, we could get her a membership to Activ Club, a local health club with a pool where she and her foster mom, Lumi, could go together.  This would replicate the work that she has been doing at Paul Derda Recreation Center with Pam and our friend Karen, who take her there two to three times a week.  But it will be challenging for her to maintain all that she has gained.  I then shared that there was a potential additional option but it was costly and we were not sure how it might all come together.

“Matt, our family would like to help out with a gift for Ioana.  Are her current costs covered for remaining treatment here in the United States?”  I shared that indeed, those costs had been met by many generous donors.  “Well, we’d like to really see that she continues her work in Romania.  Let us know if you could use our help.”

The amount of the contribution that this family was willing to make would cover almost a third of the cost of the FES bike.  I was humbled by the offer.  I shared that I would do some research, talk to Katie, her physical therapist, and begin a discussion with board members of Global Hope about what they wanted to do.  

But that night  instead of exuberance and excitement I had cautious reserve.  I shared with Pam our discussion and decided to sleep on it.  However, I could do anything but sleep.  A lot of questions rose in my head about this possibility.  I tossed and turned until about 3:00 in the morning and sleep did not come easy.    

Over the next few days I would begin to dig deep and think seriously about what this would all involve.  I had serious reservations that led to lengthy conversations with Pam and also with my colleague Jacci.  All three of us have had extensive experience with the mission field and projects, etc.  I really wanted us to learn from past experiences but also seek out God and our hearts.

 

 

The Path to Discernment – Part 1

This is the first in a number of posts that will detail the process applied to making a big decision regarding Ioana.  It is as much about God and me as it is about Ioana.  If that doesn’t interest you then you’re probably better off not reading any further.  So if you are still reading, know that you have been sufficiently warned!

I’ve been involved with Global Hope in one way or another since 2001.  It began making a few short term mission trips.  It evolved into living as missionaries with my family in Romania for two and a half years.  The return home to our culture was a challenging one as we found our place again in the United States.  But we found that place again and were pretty happy with life.  Then God placed it on our hearts to try and bring Ioana here.  She applied for a visa in 2010 which was denied.  If you’ve been reading these blogs you know that God provided a way for her to be here the last six months.  

And all along the way it has forced me to seek God out in a way where I can look into His heart.  He knows my heart all too well; much too well.  But darn it, I want to know more about His.  My spiritual life is an up and down graph if you were able to look at it on paper.  Without a doubt I leaned on God more heavily when I lived in Romania more than any other time in my life.  I sought him out in the bible, in prayer and being more connected to my wife, Pam, than I had ever been in my life.

But after we came home, that utter dependence on Him waned.  To be frank and honest, I find life in America at times very boring, mundane and just plain too easy.  Even with the tragic passing of my father and a best friend this did not shake me all that much because I knew they moved on to a better place.  And at times I envied them because of it.  I have filled pages of journals over the years but found that when there just isn’t much going on that is too exciting you can only write so much about the morning temperature and days events.  So, I drifted in and out of my life of journaling, prayer and devotion to God.  The graph would rise and fall, rise and fall.  

In 2010 when Ioana flew to Bucharest with my friend, Romica, I got out of bed in the middle of the night to pray.  I sat in my loft, I prayed when I thought she would be interviewed and then at some point I fell asleep.  I went back to bed and in the morning I got an email from Romi that her visa had been denied.  There was no reason and the US embassy did not even look at the documentation we had provided supporting her trip here.  I was mad, frustrated and confused.  In the end there just wasn’t anything we could do.

My connection to God again moved down the scale instead of up.  I found out recently that when Ioana went home after the disappointing trip she instead began praying that eventually God would find a way for her to get to America.  

Fast forward now to this past fall when we found out that Ioana would be staying with us for six months.  The timing was horrible!  I was just coming off of breaking my neck back in August.  Ben and Pam were fully ramped up with school, tennis and soccer.  Financially, we are paying off hospital bills for both me and Ben that cover the last two years.  And spiritually I felt completely unprepared to do this.  This was something I wanted three years ago, not now!  What was God thinking?

I knew from experience and past struggles that I needed to get my act together spiritually to be able to deal with the forthcoming challenges.  I remember my good friend Roni telling me, “Nu va fi usor pentru voi sa faceti asta pentru Ioana.”  (It won’t be easy for your family to do this for Ioana)  I took those words to heart.  Roni has more experience as a house father in a children’s home than any other man in Romania.  

Each morning I got busy or I should say began my day less busy.  Arise, brush my teeth, go downstairs.  Feed the dogs, start the coffee, start the oatmeal for me and Pam.  Sit down, open up My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, (dog eared, highlighted and marked up from years of use)  open my bible (now digital on my phone), open my journal (still paper) and grab my uni-ball .7mm pen because I like the flow of gel ink from a broader point on the pages.  Some days I sit and stare.  Some days words come easy.  Some days the prayers are simple.  But each morning I seek one thing from God.  Peace.  I don’t care about answered prayers or requests.  Some days I don’t even care about Ioana!  God, show me a glimmer of your heart.  Show me where I need to be first, before I step forth in the rest of the day.  

After Ioana had been here our small group was meeting on a Sunday night.  The discussion had to do with prayer, being less busy and how we pray.  I shared that when I found out Ioana was going to stay with us that I needed to make some spiritual adjustments.  I knew myself too well that if I didn’t lay down some spiritual groundwork I’d never survive what was coming.  

A good friend, Liz, listened as I laid it all out there and confessed to some serious spiritual issues and connectivity with God.  “Wow” Liz commented, “in 2004, you brought Ioana to God when she came to live at the Global Hope homes.  (For she didn’t know Christ before coming to Global Hope), now in 2012, she is bringing you back to God.”

Liz was right on.  Of course, I’ve never walked away from God but for sure I’m not always completely connected.  I’m just like anybody else.