Candice Shepard and Nancy Ratliff share their personal connection to Ukraine and encourage you to show your support and stand with us as we stand with Ukraine.
Adoption, Obedience, and the War in Ukraine Candice Shepard
I felt the call on my life to adopt a child from a very young age. It felt weird and strange and outlandish to hear from God that I would someday be adopting a child since I was nowhere near the age of even thinking about all of that yet, but I shrugged my shoulders, said “Ok, God, if you say so,” tucked it away like flower seeds and didn’t think about it again for another 30 or so years.
My now 15-year-old was in a car seat carrier when I met Michelle at preschool drop off for my two older children. She began telling me about a hosting program in a country called Ukraine (at that time I thought it was still “The Ukraine”) in which children, growing up in orphanages in a country across the ocean that I couldn’t quickly locate on a map, were brought over to the U.S. for 4-6 weeks to live in a family, soak up love and Jesus and hugs and good food and childhood normalcy. The goal was to plant seeds in them, show them that they are loved and valuable and important, and hopefully, allow God to find them a family. I thought that sounded like an amazing thing to do but didn’t feel like that was the right time for us to participate, so I shrugged my shoulders, said “OK, God, if you say so,” tucked it away like flower seeds and didn’t think about it again for a few more years.
The seeds God had planted began to grow and thrive, I started seeing Ukrainian orphans everywhere, and my family decided to host. I had long forgotten the seed planted to adopt. I thought we were just doing a short-term mission trip in our home. I love being a Mama and the idea of mothering a child who so desperately needs love was appealing. But then this tiny child with big brown eyes and rail thin arms got off the plane for his hosting with our family, threw his arms around me, and I heard from God again, “This is your son.” This time I didn’t say “Ok, God. If you say so.” This time I said “NOooooo, that was never the plan.” Jesus and I argued about that for about a year and a half before it came to fruition. That’s a part of my story I’ll have to save for another day, but suffice it to say, that tiny child with big brown eyes and rail thin arms now has my last name and calls me Mama.
In order to bring my son home we were required to travel to Ukraine 3 times. I’ll admit, having no concept of the actual realities of what this country was all about, knowing just a few things that could be gleaned from an internet search and talking to other adoptive families, I was very nervous to go. But my kiddo was waiting, so I packed up my things, dusted off my passport and away I went. “Ok, God, if you say so.” Imagine my excitement when only a few of the things that made me nervous were actually true. But the majority of what I found was a culture full of people who have so much pride in their country and their heritage and their freedom. Who frequently speak more than one language and work SO hard. Who eat amazing food and treat it like an event. Who celebrate everything. Who plant sunflowers everywhere and find both joy and commerce in those flowers. Who are gracious and loving and so grateful for the Americans who are willing to love one of their orphans the same as their biological children.
I could go on, but here’s my hope. I’m watching the people that I have come to love and admire, and the beautiful country that I have now set foot in, the beautiful country that raised my son until he was 10, get obliterated for no good reason, knowing that all I can really do is pray for peace and deliverance and an end to war. My hope is that MY Ukrainian baby, and my story of how he came to be also an American, plants a seed. That you do some real research and learn about the country and the people and the war. That you allow God to nurture any seeds that He has planted in your heart and let them grow and thrive and that you are obedient to that. When you plant these sunflower seeds at your beautiful new home you remember to be grateful that the war is not in your backyard. That every time you see the flowers that grow from those seeds, in your yard and in your heart, it encourages you to move and do and be obedient. And that you remember to be grateful for what we, as Americans, have here at home and you pray for an end to war far far away.
Sunflowers, War and My Life Nancy Ratliff
My grandmother was obsessed with sunflowers. She had sunflower dishes, handmade sunflower curtains and she was constantly doodling a sunflower in preparation for her next painting project. She was my mother’s mother and as a child growing up in the south I spent almost as much time with her as I did my own mother. If you know, you know. So I would say my love for those giant yellow beauties was a sure thing. Osmosis? Immersion? Who knows, LOL!? I am much older now and my grandmother is probably just as busy decorating heaven with sunflowers, and I’ve had a reaffirmation of sorts when it comes to sunflowers and their significance in my life. You know when you see or do something that you are scared to death to do, but feel as though you have been called and so you continue, and suddenly you get a “sign” and have an overwhelming peace? That happened for me. The confirmation was sudden and unexpected while standing in a sunflower field in Ukraine. A few years ago my husband and I were traveling in Ukraine to complete the adoption of two of our teenage boys. Our driver, constantly wanting to impress us with his English, asked us if we would mind a detour to see something spectacular. A few turns later and both sides of the road, for as far as one could see, were the most beautiful fields with flowers hanging heavy with a harvest.
Right there, standing in a muddy field, I felt a peace and confirmation about adopting teenage boys! We took pictures with the flowers and our driver told us that the flag of Ukraine was meant to symbolize the horizon. From where we stood, the blue sky – top of the flag, and the gold sunflower- bottom of the flag, I understood exactly what his broken English was sharing with me. Truth or urban legend, I still don’t know but I can’t help but think of Ukraine every time I see a sunflower.
With current events what they are I have thought about those sunflowers so many times and all of my fond memories of our time with a people who plant seeds for a harvest and seeds of friendship with people like me. Thank you social media for allowing us to continue to nurture those friendships. On the homefront there have been many HARD conversations with my boys about what is being destroyed in their homeland and then about the true seeds of love, family and friendship that a war could never destroy. Hearing their perspective and having them trust us with memories from the first invasion has been heartbreaking. The trauma they carry that is now being brought to light is almost unbearable…had it not been for a seed. Our family planted seeds in faith that one day we would see the harvest. The seeds of unconditional love and acceptance to two young men that we now lovingly call our sons. With those seeds comes a harvest of trust, grace, compassion, and empathy– like a bright glowing smile that might – if you look just right – resemble the bright full of life beautiful face of a sunflower.
If you found your way to this blog after visiting our office and being gifted a packet of sunflower seeds it is my prayer that you will plant those, reap a harvest and find in that harvest a blessing. My family and the entire Shepard Law team is grateful for the seeds you leave with us and the seeds you allow us to plant in you. Please pray for the people of Ukraine and those that love them.