Back in May we had our first “Open Doors Day” for Dim Hidnosti, the Ukrainian arm of Wide Awake. Open Doors Day is a time for our organization to open wide our doors and invite people from the community to come see and learn about our work. Many of our volunteers have joined us after coming to an Open Door Day. We’ve had 3 so far, and each has been a success. I think it’s time to do another!
So back in May, we planned and prepared, anticipating our first time of opening up our doors. We had no idea who would come and if it would be worth all the time and effort. I remember the day of, it was a beautiful day- so sunny and warm- until it wasn’t. Just as people started arriving the floodgates opened and it began to pour down rain. We had planned to gather outside, so everyone was running around like crazy, bringing everything inside and adjusting plans last minute. We had a great turnout; the house was jam packed. It was not ideal to be crammed inside, but we were all just happy that so many people came.
That day turned out to be a super significant day, although we didn’t know it at the time! That was the day we met our dear friends who we now call family, Zhanna and Vanya. Zhanna is mom to Vanya and a psychologist. She has worked tirelessly in our city for the rights of people with autism. She has counseled moms who have a newly diagnosed child and worked with the high-ups in the city toward inclusion and support for families who have a child with autism. And all the while Zhanna has single-parented her son Vanya, who is 15 and has autism. I’m not sure how Zhanna found out about the Open Doors Day, but she came, and it turned out to be a life-changing day for all of us.
Zhanna and Vanya started coming to just about every single gathering and event that our team provided. They were present at every art class, every party, every outing. It was just a natural fit from the very start. We love them and they love us. It feels like we have always been together. Zhanna and Vanya spent Christmas and New Years with us, and yesterday we all celebrated Vanya’s 16th birthday together. It was really special. Vanya understood that it was a special day and he was so happy!
Yesterday at Vanya’s birthday Zhanna told us it was the first time she really felt like she and Vanya were accepted in a family just as they are. They are not expected to be something they are not, or something they can’t be. They are loved just because they are Zhanna and Vanya, and they are precious to us. They have become a part of our big Wide Awake Family.
When our family moved to Ukraine and left our biological families behind we began to redefine “family” in our hearts. We had no choice but to open our hearts to the possibility of finding family in Ukraine, or else be alone. Then, of course, we added our boys to our family and redefined “family” once again. When someone asks me how many children I have I always stumble on my answer. “Well, I have 6 Johnson kids, but then 4 more who call me ‘Mama’, but a couple of them are in their 30’s and they don’t actually live in our home…”
Nope. No. No more. I decided I’m done with that. I’m done with the stumbling and mumbling and explaining. If I am “Mama” to our boys, then they are my sons. In my heart they are my sons, and in their hearts I am Mama, so why do I need to stumble over my words? Jed and I are committed to them for life, and we have ultimate responsibility for their health and well-being, soul, mind, and body. They are our family. I am a mother of 10. 😆
We still dream that in the duplex there would be house parents (a mother and a father figure), but we also have learned over the past couple of years that the nuclear family is not the only type of family that can be amazing. Friends who are committed to each other through the good times and the bad can also create a wonderful family. When Max and Morgan moved back to the US we worried that Anton and Sasha would feel that loss of house parents and that it would affect them negatively, but we have learned an amazing truth over the past 4 months: our team is Anton and Sasha’s family. Yes, they have our Johnson family always and forever, but that’s not where their family ends. They have our entire team who is committed to them and loves them: Lesya, Masha, another Masha, Tanya, Tonya, Luda, Nina, Oleg, Maxim, Ruslan, and MIra. No matter who is sleeping at the duplex with them each night, they have been just fine, because it’s always someone from their family there with them, and they know they are safe and loved.
Last week Jed and I met with Zhanna and we were talking about our future together with her and Vanya. We discussed our commitment to them as a part of our family, how in our hearts “family” is not reserved just for those who live in our home or who share our blood. We have team members who have basically no biological family and we are family to each other. Zhanna and Vanya have been very much alone and there is no reason they should stay that way: we can be family for each other. ❤️
Family is a place to know and be known.
Family is a place to forgive and be forgiven.
Family is a place to serve and be served.
Family is a place to love and BeLOVE[d].
I thank God for the beautiful family he has given us, both here and in the US. We are blessed to be loved by many people, and to be able to open our hearts to others who have been alone for so long.
Do you know of anyone who is need of family? Maybe your next YES is opening your heart to someone who is lonely. ❤️ Why not give it a try?
Beautiful description of family. What a blessing Zhanna and Vanya are to the family. 💛
Much love to your big ohana from our big ohana!