The One Left Behind

Today our precious “Kayden” met his adoptive family. That means that Aaron is the only boy available for adoption at the institution- and he ages out at the end of this year! SEVEN of our boys have been advocated for and are now living in families. SEVEN boys who were once lost are now found.

Aaron is the only one left behind who has the chance for a family. I wrote this post a couple of years ago. Will you please help me share Aaron’s face? He is so in need of the love of a mama and daddy. 

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Today I want to help you get to know our precious Aaron.

I haven’t done much advocating specifically for him.  Out of all of our boys who are available for adoption you probably know him the least.  That’s my fault.  My faith has been small.

This is the thing: some kids are really easy to write about.  Every picture you take of them is adorable and people can’t get enough of their cuteness.  Maybe they smile all the time and our cameras seem to find them on every visit.  I can’t keep cuteness like that to myself!  It just wouldn’t be right!  😉

Other kids are more difficult to write about.  Maybe they don’t photograph well, or maybe they just never sit still long enough for anyone to capture more than a blur of movement. Maybe their behaviors are really difficult to manage and it’s hard to know what to say.  Maybe there aren’t many cute stories to share…maybe none of their history is known so it’s hard to paint a whole picture.

Aaron is one who has been difficult to write about.  I haven’t quite known what to say.

One of my biggest concerns with advocacy is that I want to be very, very certain that I am writing with honesty. I have nightmares about adoptive families arriving at the institution, meeting their child for the first time and saying to me “You didn’t tell me this!”  I know that adoptive families can never truly understand what our boys are like, or what Romaniv is until they arrive and see it firsthand: smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the pain.  But I’d like them to at least feel that I was honest in my description of the son they have fought so hard to rescue.

Because of that, it’s more difficult to advocate well for a child like Aaron.

He’s so difficult to photograph. His behaviors are extremely tricky to manage.  He is not liked by many of the orphanage staff. His quality of life is so poor, I can’t even accurately describe it.  He is loud. When we first met he was like a wild animal: a sensory-seeking boy in a sensory-deprived environment.  His life is pure nothingness so he searches for sensory input however he can get it.  If that means he has to literally climb up a team member’s body to get their attention, he’ll do it.  He absolutely LOVES water, but never gets access to it, so we have spent many a visit with one team member’s sole task being to keep Aaron from ripping the sink apart in his desperate attempt to feel the water.

He needs so much more than he is getting- in every single area of his life.

But the thing is, all the reasons that make advocacy difficult are the reasons why Aaron needs a voice maybe more than any of the other boys who are available to be adopted.

It’s almost impossible to get a good picture of him.  But I think he is absolutely beautiful.

He is loud and he screams and he has no words.  I hear the plea of a baby boy asking for his mommy.  I hear a sweet little boy whose voice is never heard.  I hear a child crying to be rescued.

He is a wild man who drives the nannies absolutely crazy with his quest for sensory input.  I see a little boy who is desperate for a big backyard and a dog and a hose on a sunny day.  I see a sweet soul who needs to be able to swing for hours on end, feel the wind in his face and the grass under his toes.  

God has given us a very special love for our boys that goes beyond reason.  It’s a supernatural love that could only come from him.  He gave us mommy and daddy love that sees the beauty of our boys, even when they do things that would not be considered beautiful, or even cute. He gave this love to us so that we would have the umph and the passion and the drive to fight for them.  He gave us voices so that we could speak for the voiceless. He made us totally biased, because our boys need people who are on their side and are completely biased for them.

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I am biased in my love for Aaron.  It’s true!

So today I speak for Aaron and I tell you that he is a treasure. He has boundless energy and so much curiosity. He wants to learn and soak in all that life has to offer. And this most precious treasure is desperate for a family.  His situation is dire.  He is unwanted and disliked and abused…and soon his time will run out. I want to talk all about the ways I believe he would change in a family, but I need to tell you how he is right now, because I can’t know he will or won’t change. A family that chooses him needs to come in with eyes wide open and love him just as he is.

See my boy.  Please see him.  Imagine if he was rescued and brought into a family where he could get love and care.  No doubt it will be a difficult road to walk, and the adoptive family will need to be prepared to devote a lot of time to Aaron, but oh my, it will be so worth it! To watch him come to life would be an absolute miracle to behold.  The parents who get that privilege are blessed indeed. I know from experience.  🙂

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God knew Aaron before he was even born.  He saw him in his mother’s womb and formed him there.  He created him for purpose and destiny.  He is as valuable as you.  He is as valuable as me.  He is as worth it as my Ezra, my Seth, my Vladik.  He is someone’s son- they just don’t know it yet.  He shouldn’t be spending his summers sleeping on a mattress to avoid attention and abuse.  He should be running in the sprinkler and going down slides and eating Popsicles.  Why not?  He’s just a little boy.  A little boy in a desperate situation.

So, please pray and please share.  Please pause and ask the Lord how you should respond to Aaron.  Don’t dismiss him because he sounds difficult, please.  He is made in the image of God and he will bring blessing and joy to some lucky family’s home.  Maybe yours?

 

 

You can read more about Aaron and donate toward the cost of his adoption here. Interested families are welcome to contact me with questions at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

My Joy

I remember the first time Jed and I ever visited Romaniv. It was in the spring of 2012 and we were in Ukraine just checking out what God had for us here. We thought we wanted to work with institutionalized people here, but we had never even been here! We knew zero language, pretty much zero about the culture and had never stepped foot in an institution. We were clueless, but we just wanted to follow Jesus and we knew He had something for us in Ukraine.

I remember we walked into Romaniv and were instantly surrounded by men. They were grabbing my hair, stroking our arms, taking our hands. The smells and sounds were completely overwhelming. But I distinctly remember catching Jed’s eye though the mob and both of us having this sense like “Yep, this is it. This is where we’re supposed to be.” We didn’t necessarily know that Romaniv was the place for us to be, but we definitely knew that we were supposed to be in close proximity and close relationship with the vulnerable and the broken.

Fast-forward 7 years and here we are, livin’ the dream in our Ukrainian village. 🙂

For the past couple of years my focus has had to be less and less on Romaniv, and the boys in the institution, and more and more here, at the Homestead with the boys in our home. I went to Romaniv at least once a week from the time we moved here until the fall of 2017 when I was more advanced in my (surprise!) pregnancy with Evie and it just didn’t feel safe to be there with a big belly. Plus, the terrible roads made my uterus very unhappy. 😉 I have visited some, over the past two years, but it has been infrequent and the visits have been too short for my liking.

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Then after Evie was born I still really couldn’t be at Romaniv because she was nursing and I couldn’t leave her for long enough periods of time to get there and back and to be able to have any time with the boys. We had Boris with us too, and I was simply needed at home. Then enter Ruslan and Anton and our lives were turned completely on their heads. Suffice to say, We’ve been rather busy. Oy.

During that time while I’ve been absent our awesome interns and our wonderful Vika have been serving as faithfully as ever, loving and serving the boys. Of course Jed has gone too, as time has allowed.

We always knew that the more boys we brought here, to the Homestead, the more our attention would need to shift toward home. There is just no way to be in both places at once. But man, we have missed our boys. We knew they were being well-loved by our team, but we have missed our friends.

That’s why I’m so so happy to say that I’ve recently been freed up to go regularly with our interns Romaniv! Vika has been overseeing the interns for the past three years and has been a wonderful leader and mentor for them. But over the past several months she has taken more and more of the lead on caring for Preston and at this point it is better for her and for him if she is able to focus solely on caring for him until his adoptive parents arrive. We want her to be able to give her best to Preston and not feel pulled in too many directions. So, for the time being, I get the privilege of working with our interns!

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Every other week I will go with them and spend the whole day with them as they work with the boys in the Isolation Hall. My role is basically to support them in any way I can. I’ll make sure they have everything they need, help liaison between them and administration, and mostly just be a supportive presence so that they know they are not alone in this difficult work. I’ve already gone twice with them and I’m JUST SO HAPPY!!!!

I’m so THANKFUL to get to spend time with the boys I love.

I’m so THANKFUL that Jed is behind this and is supporting me in this time away.

I’m so THANKFUL that Evie is a trooper and loves her brothers and sisters and daddy so much that she is okay without Mommy for a day.

A part of me that has had to lie dormant for a while is being brought back to life and it feels good and right to be there. Of course Romaniv is never going to be a comfy place or a ” nice” place to be, but it is one of the few places here in Ukraine where I feel completely myself. If you really think about it, the friendships we have there with our boys, some of the nannies, and administration are some of our oldest relationships here in Ukraine! We knew our boys before we knew our team! Sitting with them and just being with them, without distraction, without laundry to tend to or phone calls to make or meals to cook is a gift and I am not taking it for granted.

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Another gift that comes with going regularly to Romaniv is that the visits renew my empathy and compassion for the guys living in our home. When I am reminded, face to face, of where our guys came from I can see with fresh eyes just how far they’ve come. When I come home from a day at Romaniv I’m so full of gratitude that Vladik, Boris, Ruslan and Anton are safe at home and not back in that place. It also renews my purpose and passion to get the others out as soon as possible.

So, expect to see more of our Romaniv boys in this space in the coming months. I bet you’ve missed them too!

Eight Months In

We’re coming up on 8 months with Anton and Ruslan and I feel like we’re slowly starting to come up for air. Caring for our guys is still pretty much all-consuming, but we have gotten in to a bit of a rhythm, and things are looking up!

Sometimes it feels like their progress is so minuscule, but then we look back and remember things we had to do a few months ago just to keep the peace around here and we see how far the guys have come. Very far!

Anton. Six months ago we were barely sleeping because Anton was up all hours of the night wandering the halls. I remember we used to have to turn off all the water to the house and unscrew all the downstairs lightbulbs before we went to bed every night because Anton would get up and try to take a bath at 3 in the morning, or shriek and hoot and holler at 2am so that we would get him up and feed him. We had to remove all options in order for him to be able to turn his brain off enough to rest and fall asleep. At one point Jed was sleeping on a couch in front of his door to remove the option of nighttime wanderings. Those were the days…yikes.

Now I can happily report that Anton goes to bed easily and doesn’t get up until at least 6:30 every morning. (knock on a biiiiiiig ol’ piece of wood 🙂 ) His sleep success is thanks to a strict evening routine that we dare not stray from, and blessed medication. The combo of the two saved our lives.

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He’s saying a lot of words, and more and more often he says them at the appropriate times! He used to only really speak when he was angry, but now that’s not always the case. There are so many words in there and sometimes he’ll shock us with a “See you tomorrow!” (in Ukrainian of course) or something like that.

Anton gets stressed pretty easily, and when he doesn’t feel good, physically, he gets really worked up. In times of stress he is aggressive toward others, so that is a big bummer. I hate those times because I know he is just repeating what he’s seen his whole life and it’s not the real Anton. When he is in an aggressive mood it just becomes a matter of keeping him separate from everyone else and that is exhausting. I hope and pray that someday Anton will be able to express his emotions in ways that are less painful to others. We are doing all we can to help him learn a new way.

When Anton feels good and is at ease he is so joyful, sweet and fun-loving. He loves big bear hugs, dancing, toy cars and fidget-spinners. He enjoys stirring things in the kitchen and will gladly eat anything and everything you put in front of him. He has started to say “I love you” on occasion and this week he said “Mama” for the first time. Melt my heart.

Ruslan. To be honest, it’s hard for me to write about Ruslan because I’m unsure how much to share. Whenever I share about our boys I want to respect their dignity and respect their privacy. It’s so important for me not to overshare their personal struggles. At the same time, I always want to be honest about this process. It does none of us any good for me to pretend all is unicorns and rainbows when they so clearly are not. This is stinkin’ hard work for us, our team, and our boys every.single.day. Most of all for our boys. Learning to become a human after 20+ years of living like an animal is not an easy process to go through. They need our empathy and our compassion, but they also need our strength. They need to have a standard to rise to, expectations to meet. They need to know we believe in them and we want more for them because we love them!

Ruslan’s trauma presents itself as high anxiety and a need to be in control of everything. At Romaniv his world was small. The stressors were crazy HUGE, but there were few of them. His main priority there was keeping himself safe and keeping himself fed. Here in the real world, the wider world, there are many, many things outside of his control. There are so many more things for him to obsess about and be anxious about. If it’s not one thing it’s another.  He wants desperately to control his environment, but when you live in a house with 10 other people you just can’t control every single detail. That is outrageously hard for Ruslan. Sometimes it seems like it’s only getting harder, only getting worse, but he has actually made some great strides in the past few months. A few months ago he was was having daily meltdowns and those really only happen on rare occasions now. You can see him ramping up for a meltdown, and then most of the time he can wind himself down. Not always, but most of the time. I’m so thankful for that!

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When Ruslan is relaxed and at peace he is hilarious. He has a great sense of humor and a compassionate heart. He really loves Evie and is mostly gentle with her. He loves to sing, and worship time at church is his most favorite thing EVER. The anxiety ridden Ruslan who acts out in fear holds back the real Ruslan. The anxious Ruslan is also extremely hard to live with. It breaks my heart because I want things to be different. So, we will continue to fight for him. We will fight to get him all the help we can so that he can live his life to the fullest.

We have waited a bit to see how things would play out with a highly structured day and several months of safety and now we have an accurate baseline for Ruslan. We are ready to seek out psychiatric care for our guy and see how we can best help him move forward. If you would pray with us for wisdom in this we would really appreciate it.

Health. As far as medical stuff goes for both guys, we’ve been slowly but surely getting things taken care of. Fridays have become our “medical day”, so Kenny and I try to tackle the different medical appointments on Fridays. We’re focused on dental stuff right now and that’s super fun since Kenny and I both HATE going to the dentist. I’m not sure how much moral support we provide, but we do our best. Hehe. Anton has one problematic tooth that should be fixed next week and Ruslan has a whole mouthful of problems. I’m not sure he’ll have any teeth left when we get finished. Poor guy. 🙁 I’m guessing we’ll be exploring the world of dentures or implants in the near future. Anton has some physical symptoms that I don’t have answers for yet, but all in all I think they are both in pretty good health at the moment. Step by step we’re getting there!

I have to say that there is no way we could do any of this without our amazing team. Kenny and Oleg are with us Monday through Friday, bathing our guys, shaving them, taking them on bike rides, teaching them how to make tea, keeping them safe, talking them off the ledge, teaching them how to be men, loving them, comforting them, supporting us and all in all just being awesome. This really would be impossible without their help. We would have burned out months ago.

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Masha, Masha, and Lesya are also absolutely essential to the success of this home. “Harry Potter Masha” 😉 comes to our home three times a week. She plans and organizes the guys’ schedule for the week and is learning to implement the plans that Olya, our wonderful OT, recommends. Masha’s work makes it so that we aren’t just spinning our wheels with the guys, but we are hopefully moving toward specific developmental goals. “Second Masha” and Lesya each come once a week and provide great additional support to our guys and the rest of the team. I love our team and can’t express how thankful I am that God brought each of them to our family.

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So, there’s a bit of an update on our two newest family members. If you have any questions about Anton or Ruslan, or the process of deinstitutionalization don’t hesitate to ask! My hope and dream for writing this out is that someone reading it will also feel called to this deep, difficult, and beautiful work. We need help and I know God will call the right people to join us. I also write this so that those of you who pray will know better how to pray for our family and our team.

To all of you who pray, support, encourage and love us from afar, thank you! We can’t tell you how much we need it and appreciate it. Thank you for partnering with us on this journey. We couldn’t do it without you!

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Homestead Happenings- April 2019

I think “Homestead Happenings” is super cheesy, but I can’t think of anything better to write, so I guess we’re stuck with it.

What’s happening on the Homestead?  SO MUCH!

VISITORS. A couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday and ushered in the season of visitors! From now till mid-August we’ll have pretty much constant visitors around here. I feel a tad bit overwhelmed by it, but mostly really excited about it. Jed’s parents AND my parents are both visiting this spring/summer and we are so ready to see them. My parents haven’t been here for 5 years and so much everything has changed since then! We live in a different place. We are in a different church community. We knew basically none of our friends at that time. And we have 5 new family members since their last visit! Yeah, life is a bit different now than it was 5 years ago.  I’m very ready for them to see our life in action and to know all the people here that we love.

BUILDING. The construction team has been hired and the land-use has been approved by our village. Next week ground will be broken for the next home on our property! This is a huge next step. The home will be a duplex, that will be two forever homes for more of our friends from the institution. We don’t know yet which of our friends will live there and we don’t know who will live there with them, but that’s okay. God knows all the details and when we need to know He will make it clear to us. We are praying for God to put it in the hearts of the ones who will join us in this work and give their lives away, and that they will be ready the the time comes. Please join us in prayer about that!

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Evie exploring the building site 🙂

ADDITION. I mentioned before that a couple friends from Germany arrived on Saturday. They came to help us build an addition on to our house! I say “us” like I’m doing the building…haha. We all know that I’m not lifting a hammer. They’re helping “us”, as in Jed, and I’m just trying to keep everyone fed.

Our house has 4 rooms upstairs: our room +baby, the girls’ room, the boys’ room, and an “office”/guest room. The downstairs currently has 2 bedrooms. One room was Boris’ bedroom and the other room was for Anton and Ruslan.

After Anton and Ruslan arrived it was quickly apparent that they would not be able to share a bedroom. They were both so full of fear at night and the presence of another person just made things worse. It took us many months to get Anton to sleep at night and his many night-wakings kept Ruslan awake. They would play off each other and amp each other up and it was a recipe for disaster. They were both not sleeping and they were both grumpy about it. Jed and I were pretty grumpy about it ourselves (to put it lightly). Ugh. That was a painful time.

For safety and healthy boundaries’ sake, Ruslan and Anton do not go upstairs at all. But we needed to separate them, so we put Ruslan in Boris’ room and moved Boris up to the office. The problem though, is that Boris is not safe on stairs. He can’t go up or down stairs without significant help, so he can’t access his bedroom during the day. We have a video monitor in his room so we can see when he wakes in the morning and go help him down the stairs. Each morning he waits for us, since he knows he can’t do the stairs alone, but we’re always afraid that one day he will just decide to exit his room alone. He is right at the top of the stairs and he would fall so fast. His bedroom situation is totally unsafe, but so far there has been no other option.

But, that’s about to change! This week our friends are here helping build an addition to solve that problem! The addition will expand our living room and create a bedroom for Boris downstairs. It’s noisier and crazier than usual around here (if that’s possible…hehe), but it’s all for a good cause and I can’t wait for the end result. We will all rest better knowing our B-Mo is safe at night and that he can get up in the morning whenever he wants.

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Thank you, Friends!

SCHOOL.  In the midst of it all we’re trying to wrap up the school year around here. Hava and Seth should finish up local school sometime toward the end of May, and Addy and Ezra should finish up their curriculum in June. I’ve been researching which curriculum we’ll do next year and it’s been really fun. It was very last minute when we decided to homeschool Addy and Ezra and of course homeschooling Seth part-time was a total surprise, so I didn’t get the benefit of doing much research. I’m excited about what I’ve planned for next year and have already done all the ordering so our many visitors can pack-mule all our books here for us. 🙂

So there’s a little peek into what’s happening around the old Homestead. I promise to share photos of the finished addition and of the progress on the new home. Stay tuned!

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Superheroes Live in Our House.

Sometimes I don’t know completely what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it out. You’ve been warned. 🙂

When we moved to Ukraine 5 years ago our mission was clear: to bring hope, love and dignity to people with disabilities. Our main goal was deinstitutionalization.  We dreamed of this work. We dreamed of this reality. We dreamed of the day we would begin to bring our guys out and have the opportunity to show them the love of a family. I dreamed of being a mama to them- to those who had no mama.

Now we are living that dream. It is a reality!

Four of the very ones we dreamed of setting free are downstairs drinking tea at the kitchen table. The ones who can speak call me “mama”. I dreamed of that. 🙂

Yes, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s here, I struggle with the reality of it. The day to day of it is harder than I imagined- much less romantic than I imagined. The reality of deinstitutionalization of adults who are so very broken- body, mind and spirit is non-stop work with very little reward. Yet I longed for it. I wept for it. I dreamed of it. But it’s so dang hard. So.dang.hard.

Where’s the disconnect? I love our guys. I can’t imagine not having them with us. Then why do I struggle so bad with their behaviors?  Why am I so often annoyed? Why do I (too often) wake with dread in my heart over the hardships I know the day will bring?

I can tell you why. Two reasons:

  1.  Far too often I try to do this work, live this life, without Jesus.
  2. As much as I fight for our guys to be included and seen as equals by the people around them, in my heart, I still see them as “less than”.

Friends, this work will bring you to your knees. Spending your life with the broken, teaching them to become human is a work that will break you. Well, I guess I can’t speak for you, but it’s definitely breaking me. Every single day I’m confronted with my own weakness, my own ugliness. It’s so yucky. Here I am fighting for justice for our guys; trying to show Ukrainians a new way, and yet I know that I don’t value them the way they deserve to be valued. Somehow, even after knowing all they have suffered, I still have a bit of my heart that looks down at them.

God forgive me.

I put my agenda before them. I dismiss their feelings as less important than my own. I shower love on them when they behave more human, but when they move into old behaviors I withhold my affection.

God forgive me.

I find myself realizing that those who are “lower functioning” (I hate that term but don’t know a better one) are generally easier for me because they require less of me. I can care for them more on my terms- when it’s convenient for me. The “higher functioning” of our boys demand more. Their struggles, feelings and hurts are presented in more complex ways and I’m exhausted with trying to make sense of it all, so I sometimes give up.

God forgive me.

As you’ve figured out, if you’ve read this far- I am far from a superhero (I’m sure you already knew that). I am a super flawed human who screws up on the regular. I function too often out of my own strength, which is consistently running out.

I need Jesus. Guys, I have zero business getting out of my bed and letting my feet touch the ground without first talking with Jesus. I’ll tell you what happens when I try to do my day in Kim’s strength. I’m short- like I have zero patience. I’m easily annoyed. I find more joy in my coffee than in the people around me. I’m discontent. I search for approval from others. I look for distraction. I compare my life to the lives of others and I either envy them, judge them, or puff myself up. Bottom line: Kim minus Jesus equals HOT MESS.

I’m not sure why I think I can do this on my own when I so clearly stink at it.

And yet-

His power is made perfect in my weakness. God has called us to this work and I know that I know if I turn to Him He will give me everything I need. Tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every morning. Amen?

I’ll tell you who the superheroes are around here: their names are Ruslan, Anton, Boris and Vladik.

Our guys have endured unimaginable pain, abuse and neglect. Their childhoods were stolen from them. Their teen years were stolen from them. So many missed opportunities, missed birthdays, missed cuddles, missed “I love you”s, missed adventures, missed family dinners, missed holidays, missed moments of peace and joy. Ruslan, Anton and Boris spent 3 decades as prisoners, innocent of any crime.

They came to us afraid, diseased, malnourished of body and spirit. But every single day they wake up and they try again. They are survivors. They are learning to give themselves to others, learning to become human. I’m certain it hurts them far more than it hurts me.

Our guys are deserving of the best- not because of what they have endured and not because of their likability, but because they are children of God, created in His image, just like you and me.

I’m done. I’m done holding back a part of my heart and selfishly longing for something different. I’m done parceling out my love to those who “deserve it” in that particular moment.

I’m here. I’m planting myself. No matter if our guys are every fully included into society here in Ukraine, they will fully be included into my heart. Not everyone is lucky enough to live with superheroes, but I get to live with 4. I’m one lucky lady. 🙂

BeLOVE[d]