Wide Awake Homestead Update

I haven’t written much about it lately, but work on the Wide Awake Homestead has continued strong and steady.  The process is slow going, and we are learning much patience, but someday soon it will be livable and all this impatience will be a distant memory. 🙂

To see pictures of what the house was like originally, check out this post.

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When we first purchased the property we thought we would only need to install indoor plumbing, update the electrical, and renovate the upstairs (it was just one room without insulation). But, that was before we realized the roof needed replacing. Once we knew that we decided it was better to replace the upstairs while the roof was off and the walls were open.

So, considering all that needed to be done, we’ve come quite far!

At this point the new roof is on along with an all new second floor.  The guys are laying the flooring in the upstairs and putting the tongue and groove wood on the walls upstairs as well.  The electrical is complete and heating is done except for the bathroom and kitchen floors which will be heated tile.  We’ve decided on the tile for the kitchen and bathrooms and are ready to place our order.  We have a work crew working full-time (doing great, high-quality work!) and Jed also basically works full-time purchasing items and keeping things moving.  Nothing happens quickly or easily in Ukraine, so his engagement in this building process is necessary.

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What’s left to do?  Walls and ceiling need to be finished upstairs and down, flooring needs to be completed upstairs, downstairs flooring needs to be laid, plumbing and septic system need to be completed, and then all the finishing things like kitchen cabinetry, bathroom fixtures like tub, showers, and sinks…

The outside insulation, stucco, and siding also needs to be completed, but we can work on that this summer after our family is already moved in.

We have big hopes of moving in this spring…maybe April???  Please, please, please let it be so! We are dying to move in and have a place of permanency so we can begin the work of bringing our boys home. Oh what a day that will be. 🙂

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Originally we had planned to build an addition onto the back of the house and use that as a home for the first boys.  Then we learned that in order to build an addition we would need city approval to begin ANY renovations at all. So we decided to make more bedrooms in the upstairs of the house for our family and use the downstairs bedrooms for the first of the boys.

The idea is that our family will sleep in 3 of the upstairs bedrooms, and we’ll use the fourth bedroom up there for an office/guest room.  There are 2 bedrooms downstairs and those will be bedrooms for the first of the boys we bring out.  So when we consider the first couple of boys we need to think of our kids and our nuclear family and who will fit best into our direct family life.  Make sense?  It’s different having boys in an addition or a cottage right across the sidewalk and having a few boys living right in the home with us and our little ones.  We will need plenty of wisdom when it comes time to pursue paperwork for guardianship of those first boys.

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We are super excited to have a couple of our precious ones living right in the home with us!  I think it will help their adjustment to be living with us and included directly in family life.  It is right and good and we are so lucky.  As our kiddos grow and move on we can use the bedrooms upstairs for more and more boys.

As we build we need to think of the boys and what changing needs they will have as they age.  They won’t stay young forever, and we want this homestead to be their home FOR LIFE.  This is not a temporary solution.  This is home.  Because of that we are working to make the homestead as accessible as possible, considering wheelchair accessibility and such.  The main floor of the house will be 100% accessible, as well as the other homes we will build on the property.

 The plan at this time is that our family will move into the house as soon as it is livable, hopefully this spring.  We will then move forward with applying for guardianship of the first boy or two.  It remains to be decided if we will bring out two boys at the same time, or one at a time. God will have to show us that and give us plenty of wisdom.

As soon as renovations on the house our fully complete we will begin work on the next family-style home and move on from there.  The current property can sustain 2-3 more family-style homes.


We have much to consider as far as who will live in the homes with the boys and what model of care we will adopt. There are different variations and we have not made any decision about what that will look like.  We only know that we want the boys to live in the context of family and we don’t have a desire to create a mini-institution.  Each house will be an independent home and family system.  We don’t need to know all of the answers right now.  Just as the journey has gone thus far, God only asks us to keep stepping forward.  He’ll give us the wisdom and answers we need when we need them.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!  Thank you for your support in prayer and finances.  We could never ever do this alone!

 

Welcoming a New Year!

Happy New Year! Yeah, I know I’m late to the New Years party, but time to write is scarce these days. Better late than never, am I right?


2016 was a DOOZY. Surgeries and goodbyes and re-immigration and last-minute-border-runs and house buying and destroying and rebuilding and a new school and new friends and new boys and wow. Good job, 2016, you definitely gave us a run for our money.

Upward and onward!  Welcome, 2017!

I’m one of those people who loves the fresh start of a new year.  I’m not super disciplined. I’m not terribly organized. BUT, I love the chance to start again.  I like making New Years Resolutions.  I know that I’ll fail at some (or most) of them, but why not give them a go?  At least I’ll do well for part of the year…and that’s better than not doing well at all…right?  And sometimes the resolutions stick, and then our whole family is better for it.


For me it’s not so much about making a set list of resolutions, as much as it is reprioritizing and rebalancing the craziness that is our overseas life. It feels like there is so much of our lives that is out of our control in every way: residency documents, government officials, new laws, cultural differences, blah blah blah.  I think it’s good to find a balance and try to do better with the things in our life that we DO have control over: how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we raise our children….and on and on. I love the new year for a fresh look at those things.

This year I have two personal goals that I really want to focus on: Improving my Ukrainian language (spoken and written) and faithfully spending time in God’s Word.

I have other goals involving mothering and being a wife, but I won’t go into those at the moment.


Ukrainian Language.

Oh Ukrainian language, why do you haunt me so?  Why you gotta be so dang hard?  Why you gotta have so many endings and conjugations?  Oh Zhytomyr, why you gotta be so linguistically confused? Why can’t everyone in this city speak the same language?  WHY????

Those are the questions I ask myself approximately 473 times per day. You have no idea how often I yell out in anger: “Why can’t we live in some place like France where all the people SPEAK FRENCH?????”  Ha!  This post makes me sound like I have anger issues…and when it comes to language learning, maybe I do. Don’t judge.

You see, we live in a region of the country that is linguistically “in-between”.  You can travel to Eastern Ukraine  or Southern Ukraine and find many people speaking Russian.  You can travel to Western Ukraine and find many people speaking Ukrainian.  You travel to our region (the middle’ish’) and get a mix of it all (I can’t vouch for that website, I just linked to the map as a visual).  Well, no matter where you go in Ukraine you will find a mix, honestly, it’s just not very cut and dry anywhere.  On any given day I will hear conversations in full-on Russian, then full-on Ukrainian, then, most of the time, in full-on Surzhyk.  Surzhyk is the name of the mix of Russian and Ukrainian together. It would be extremely rare to hear someone speaking clean Ukrainian in our city.  Most people who speak Ukrainian around these parts actually speak a form of Surzhyk. So, in all actuality, we need to learn two languages, and then learn to mix them. Shoot me now.

We study Ukrainian instead of Russian because our kids go to school and school is taught in Ukrainian.  Our team mostly all speak Russian to each other, so that stinks, but as a family we all have to be learning the same language.  We just have to. After some hit and miss lessons over the past couple of years I have decided to really dig in to language studies with my whole self. I have found the most amazing teacher that I love love love.  I love her as a person and as a teacher.  She ‘gets’ me and my learning style.  She thinks outside the box and really challenges me.  I ADORE our lessons together.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of my teacher!  A good language teacher is the best thing ever.  My language has exploded since we started our lessons and I’m just so happy. I go to lessons twice a week and then am committed to study for at least one hour 5 days per week. It should be more than that, but I also go to Romaniv and have five kids and we’re building a house and yeah, let’s not shoot too high.  I so desperately want to be able to share my heart with people.  I want to be known, and language hinders that so much.  Language is everything and when you don’t have it…well your quality of life really suffers. Wish me luck!


Bible Reading.

Let’s be honest: I have always stunk at reading my Bible.  I know the Bible.  I know so much about it.  I was raised in a Christian home and went to Christian school. I know all the stories, I know tons of verses, I know who wrote which book and all that jazz.  I’m well versed in the Bible. (did you catch that one? hehe) BUT, as an adult I have never gone for more than a month or two at a time of faithfully reading my Bible.  It has been hit and miss for years. I never know what to read. The Bible is so big! There are lots of boring parts and lots of parts that I’ve read lots of times so my eyes just kind of glaze over.  I’m always unsure so I usually end up in James because I like him the best. He’s a straight shooter.  ðŸ™‚

Enter, The Daily Audio Bible!  Yeehaw!

I saw the Daily Audio Bible a couple years ago when searching for a Bible reading plan (’cause I never know what to read!), and I gave it a try.  It was okay, but I thought the guy who read it was a bit cheesy, and I just never stuck to it.  Surprise, surprise.  But, this year I knew something HAD to change, so I decided to give it another try.  I’m always listening to something as I wash the mountains of dishes that come with a family of 7 and no dishwasher, so why not let that something be the Bible?

I’m in love.

Okay, at first I was feeling again like the guy was cheesy, but I was determined to give him a fair shot. It only took about a week, and I grew to really like him!  Brian is endearing and I really can tell that he loves God’s Word. He reads with feeling and I like that.  When I’m listening I’m more prone to actually take in every word because I can’t just start skimming when things get boring.  (guilty)  I like that Brian introduces each book before he starts to read it, to give it a bit of context, and then at the end he does a little devotional.  It’s great!  They also have people call in at the end and pray and stuff, but honestly, I skip that part.  ðŸ™‚


We started listening to the Old Testament portion in the morning during breakfast, and then we listen to the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs portions in the evening before we do our family read-aloud.  It has been awesome!  Our whole family is getting God’s Word every day and I am just so blessed by it.  I usually listen to the whole reading another time during the day so I can hear the devotional as well.  It’s really been beautiful for our family so far.  Brian is our family friend now, even though he doesn’t know it- cheesiness and all. The kids will remind me “We haven’t listened to Brian today!” We’ll see if the enthusiasm continues when we get into some of the more intense books…but hopefully we’ll have our routine down by that point and we can just charge on through.


So, those are my New Year goals and how I plan to work toward them.

What about you?  Do you like New Year Resolutions?  Have you made any this year?  Do tell!

The pics are of the kids’ school during the holidays. Sweet, right?

More About School

Yay December!  Pandora comes to life in our house around Christmas time.  We’ve got the “Peaceful Christmas”, “Ray Conniff Singers Christmas”, “Amy Grant Christmas”, and “Frank Sinatra Christmas” stations on heavy rotation. It’s a beautiful thing.  I’m smiling just typing it out!

Life has been a bit non-stop around here, but it has also been good.  We’ve found a smidge of a rhythm, which is more than I could say for many months before this, so I find joy in that.

The kids are really doing awesome at school.  They have passed through the season of merely surviving (thank God!) and have moved into a season of growth.  God has been so faithful to our kids.  I have done more than my fair share of worrying about them since we very first moved to Ukraine, and all along God has spoken the words “Do not worry about your kids.  I am with them.” But of course I still worry and worry and worry…because I guess I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I’m now seeing some of the fruit of His watch and care over them.  Things are still challenging in many ways, but we aren’t drowning anymore, and there are a whole lot less tears.  Things are looking up!

Addy is in fifth class and is just fantastic.  She’s really growing into a lovely young lady.  Can you believe she’ll be THIRTEEN in February????  What the heck? She is so kind and so joyful.  If you knew her as a little bitty girl, she is just the same, only taller, and with some maturity added in.  By age, she should be in 7th class, but the school really thought it was best for her to do 5th this year.  She’s feeling the age difference in a pretty big way, but has found one sweet friend, Vika, that she really loves.  

Addy is hoping to talk with the school and work hard to skip a grade next year, in order to get her closer on par with her peers.  We’ll see if they are open to it.  I’m proud of her for having the guts to try!  Addy also goes to a middle school youth group at the church where a few of our friends go.  She enjoys that a lot, and it’s just the right thing for her to spread her wings a bit.

Addy LOVES Bluebell and helps take such good care of her

Ezra is in fourth class and is coming right along.  He has a couple little friends, Mark and Nikita, that he really loves.  I’m so thankful for them!  School is harder for him than it is for Addy, but he is really working hard and doing well.  Our friend who helps him with his homework is just fantastic with him, and step by step he is improving his skills and understanding.  

Last week Ezra’s class did a dance for all the parents and other students and Ezra rocked it!  He was amazing!  We were shocked because he was dreading it so much.  You know, he had to hold a girl’s hand!  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!  He warned us that he would probably be sick that day and not be able to participate. 😉 But, lo and behold, he gathered the courage and did amazing.  What a brave kid.

Ezra and his buddies at his birthday outing

Hava is in first grade and is just rockin’ it.  She is so blessed to be able to start out from the beginning with her appropriate age.  She’ll have a much easier time than Addy and Ezra because of it.  She’s learning to write Ukrainian cursive and is coming right along with her Ukrainian reading.  She has lots of little girlfriends in her class, and her biggest complaint is that they all fight over who’s going to hold her hand when they have to pair up to walk down the hall to lunch. What a hard life!  Hehe.  

School in Ukraine is generally much more serious than in the US.  There is not a lot done with fun in mind, and the standards for work are extremely high.  Despite that, I think Hava’s teacher does her best to understand that her little students are very young and need extra grace.  I appreciate that.

Hava and her little school friends. CUTIES!

Vladik is attending the same school as Addy, Ez, and Hava and he LOVES it.  Oh my word.  He gets absolutely giddy when it’s time to go to school.  Our friend Tamara teaches him and she is just the right fit for our special boy.  She is not a trained teacher, but she is an experienced mom and she loves Vladik.  She sees his value and sees his potential.  That makes her the perfect choice.  Four days a weeks she comes to our house, picks up Vladik and takes him on the trolleybus to school.  He does PE and art with Addy’s class, and the other time is spent in his own little classroom doing individual lessons with Tamara.  Then she brings him home after lunch. They are working on learning about months, days, seasons, weather, numbers, counting, personal hygiene, appropriate social interactions….all the stuff you would teach your toddlers and preschoolers.  

Vladik has many big gaps in his knowledge, so we decided to start at the very beginning and make no assumptions about what he does and doesn’t know.  He is eager to learn and is soaking it all in.  Tamara speaks no English, so Vladik has learned to speak English at home and Ukrainian at school.  His language is EXPLODING!  It’s really the ideal situation for him and we are so thankful that God made a way for him to get the education he needs.

Vladik at his class that he attends once a week at Mission to Ukraine

Seth.  Seth was and is our biggest mystery.  ðŸ™‚ His needs are different than our other kids and much more difficult to decipher.  We have struggled since September to find the right educational fit for our Sethers.  He just wants to stay home with mommy all day, which would be fine, except that then he gets zero Ukrainian.  He will go to first grade next year, and it will be 500 times harder for him if he doesn’t get a better handle on the language. Because of that, we knew we had to find some sort of kindergarten/preschool for him to attend, at least part time. 

We tried a few places and just never felt peace about it.  FINALLY, last week we found our landing place for Seth.  Ivanivka, the village where we are building our Wide Awake Homestead, opened a kindergarten at the public school there and we started to send Seth.  There are 7 kids there right now, but more will come when the weather warms up.  (It’s super cold in the classroom…like kids wear their snowpants the whole time…) It meets for 4 hours a day, and we send Seth four times a week.  They do some preK stuff in workbooks, but mostly play.  It’s perfect for Seth.  He’s not ready to do a bunch of seatwork.  He mostly needs to interact with other kids and gain some confidence with the language.  We’re only in week 2, but so far so good. He’s only refused to stay one day so far, which for Seth is pretty good! 😉   Hopefully things will only get better from here!

Ivanivka School


I took a pic of the math book I needed to buy for Seth’s class

 School has been a HUGE help in bringing some stability to our lives here.  Our kids know what to expect and where they belong.  It is definitely a super challenging road to walk, but so far any issues that have arisen have been able to be worked out with administration.  They love our kids there and really want to work with us.  I’m thankful.

Thank you to all of you who pray for our kiddos.  It means so much to us!

While the Light Remains

About three weeks ago two new little loves arrived at our institution.  We had been anticipating their arrival, wondering what they would be like.  Our Ben had recently vacated his crib (YAY!), and while our hearts were broken, knowing his crib would soon be filled again, our hearts were also expectant, knowing two new lives would enter ours, and knowing we would love them instantly.

We were right.  Love at first sight.

Sweet Baby A has been hospitalized almost continually since the transfer.  We haven’t been able to get to know him yet, but we love him nonetheless, and right now we are just thankful that he is alive and on the mend. 

Our other little love has us all smitten.  We are goners, and I can guarantee you’ll be one too by the end of this post.

Meet baby “Kayden“. 


COME.ON. How can cuteness like this exist?  Especially in a mental institution out in the boonies????  He is out of control perfection.  COME.TO.MAMA. 

I introduced him to you on FB yesterday and so many people were instantly in love.  We had let our kids name him “Sam”, after our friend Sam who just visited us last week.  Boy was I surprised when I found out that he had already been listed on an orphan advocacy site, and there were already people who had been trying to find a family for him!  They had named him “Kayden“, so we’ll just run with that.  Sam=Kayden=bundle of love. 


If you click on his profile on the advocacy site you will find a loooooong list of diagnoses.  Many of them sound very scary and many of them sound just plain confusing.  I get that.  But for just one minute, forget that list and look at the child.  

He is perfectly amazing.  He is beautiful.  He is pure sunshine.  He is giggles and smiles and hilarious expressions.  He is light in a dark place and HE DOES NOT BELONG THERE.  No child belongs there, it’s true.  But seriously, we have got to get this baby out, and we’ve got to do it quick.

The thing is, our institution ruins children.  It is all sensory deprivation and neglect and ugliness. Little Kayden has a spark.  He has life and light in his eyes and he doesn’t yet know that he has been sent to die.  Did you know that when baby houses transfer boys to our institution that they expect them to be dead within 6 months?  It’s true.  I’ve heard it from directors’ mouths.  Everyone knows that a mental institution is no place for a fragile piece of sunshine like this.  How can a child thrive in a place like this?  He can’t.  A mental institution is a death sentence.  It’s the end of the road. 

Unless. 

Unless one brave family looks at the child, and considers the diagnoses and decides to take a leap for the sake of a life. 

Kayden is available for adoption, and adoption is what will save his life.  

We have him in a room with our Isaiah where he will get good nanny attention, and that is good.  That is necessary.  He would most surely die if it weren’t for those special nannies.  But even the best nanny can not provide what a mommy and daddy can give.  Consider our little Ben!  He is home with his family and is gaining weight like crazy!  Our nannies could never get him to gain no matter how hard they tried. His mommy reports that he is starting to find his voice.  With us he was practically silent.  I’ve seen video of him smiling and laughing- that is not the boy we knew.  Now he is known.  Now he is loved.  Now he has light in his eyes.  Children were not made for institutions.  Children were made for families.  Our Vladik and little Ben are living proof of that.  

Kayden still has light and hope.  My heart longs for a family to scoop him up before we have to watch that light fade.  



Kayden is five years old and weighs 19lbs. Right now he only drinks from a bottle, but our team is trying to teach him to eat from a spoon. He can sit up, but he does not crawl or walk. Would you please consider our boy?  Would you please pause and ask God how He would like you to respond to this face?  Would you please share Kayden’s face far and wide so that his mommy and daddy might see him as quickly as possible and come to him?  Sharing works.  That is how our boys are being found.  We simply have to get their faces out there and then God does the rest.  Let’s get this baby out while the light still remains.  Ready, set, go! 

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If you would like more info about Kayden, please do not hestitate to contact me.  You can comment here, or you can email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org. You can find more photos of him, and info about the adoption process in his country here.

Tuesday

1.  THANK YOU all for praying for the situation with our new little guy at the institution.  Please keep praying for his health, as well as for the impact of that night.  The impact is far-reaching, relationally, politically, and spiritually.  I know I sound vague, but I gotta be. (Any former youth groupers remember the “unspoken” prayer request?  Ha!)  Just keep praying, pretty please.  Thanks 🙂 

2.  School is going great for the kids!  We have gone from daily tears to smiles and declarations that “This was the best day!”.  Of course if you ask, Addy and Ezra will tell you that school is “so boring”.  But, they are making friends and feeling comfortable and understanding more each day.  Our friend, Romana, comes each day at 4:30 to help them with their homework and she is saving our lives, one story problem at a time. I really do like our school and I am so thankful that God has given our kids a safe place to land and grow.  

On the bus, headed to school

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3.  Jed and Vladik return today! FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY!  I didn’t mention it here, but we had a bit of an immigration fiasco last month.  We are applying for permanent residency and we were missing one apostille.  We didn’t know it, and Jed had to leave the country.  You can only be in Ukraine for 90 days out of 180 days without a visa or residency, and he met his limit.  So, in the dead of night we made a run for the border.  Think Sound of Music, but much less romantic.  Think tears and a trashed house and frantic calls to friends to take Bluebell at the last second.  We spent a few days in Budapest as a family, and then I returned home with four of the kids, while Jed and Vladik couch-surfed throughout Europe, waiting till Jed could get on the other side of his 180 days.  Finally, today, after 33 days and 10 countries, Jed and Vladik are coming home! Many thanks to our gracious friends all over the continent who have cared for my boys so well.  What would we do without you all?  

Hungary

France

The border of Germany and Austria


4.  We are hiring a friend to teach Vladik individual lessons at school.  I’m so excited and hopeful for him!  Starting next Monday he will go to school with the other kids in the morning, and his teacher will accompany him.  He will do music, PE, and art with Addy’s class (fifth grade), and then his teacher will give him his own lessons for the rest of the time. Vladik will attend school half day, 4 days a week.  I’m working on making the lesson plans and it’s quite the job, but necessary.  Vladik wants to learn, he wants to go to school like the other kids- and he should! I think he’s going to love it.  I’ll keep you posted! 

5.  Today we re-submit our residency documents.  Hopefully all is in order…otherwise the 4 kids and I will meet our 90 day limit.  Yeah, let’s not think about that.  Everything will be fine.  Everything will be just fine.  No need to worry….ahem. Yikes.

Photos for residency: no smiles allowed!


6.  Guess who saved my life this past month?  GRAMMY!!!!  When Jed’s parents found out that I would be without Jed again, and this time here in Ukraine, Grammy hopped on a plane and rescued me. Seriously, if Grammy hadn’t come my kids would be running with the wild dogs in the street.  Things were at critical mass around here.  She has cooked every meal and washed every dish since her arrival.  I bow at her feet. 🙂


7.  For all the Bluebell-lovers out there, I’m happy to report that Bluebell is doing just fine.  She is happy and obedient and just a joy to our whole family.  She was a bit bored so we found her some new chewies at the grocery store.  Cow hoof, anyone?  


Welp, Jed and Vladik are on their way home from the airport, so I better go.  Thanks all, for loving us and praying for us.  This has been a bit of a tough season, but we know that God’s plans are in motion and our trust is in Him!