Birthdays Comin’ Out Our Ears 🥳

I’m tellin’ you what, we have been celebrating like crazy around here! Birthday after birthday after birthday. The past month or so has been a birthday explosion, and I’m not a weighing type person, but if I were, I’m certain the scales would indicate just how much we’ve partied. 😂

Celebrations around here are sweet. They don’t call for many ingredients. Simplicity is at the core. All you need for a Wide Awake celebration is some tasty baked treats (gluten and lactose free for our Anton), fruit, tea with sugar, a speaker, and some music. Decorations are nice, but the treats and the dancing are the main focus of every celebration. Our boys and our team love a good dance party- the louder the music, the better.

I love love love seeing our boys celebrated by so many people. I love seeing the gifts our team members buy for the boys because it just shows how well each of them are known. Our team knows just the thing that each of them will like. For Anton it’s anything that can spin and anything he can eat. For Bmo it’s mainly just candy. Haha. They are known and they are seen as individuals. That is no small thing.

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” -Jean Vanier

How to Fly a Family of 9 Overseas During a Pandemic: Johnson Style

Having flown across the sea a number of times with any number of children, I’d like to think of myself as a veteran child/luggage/passport wrangler. I’m not easily phased by the prospect of 24 hours of travel with multiple dependents. At this point in life, traveling with less than 4 children is basically like flying solo, in my book. And if Jed is with me and we can tag-team? Oh baby, Amazing Race has nothing on us. We are unstoppable.

Now, flying during a pandemic with this many dependents, two of whom (I’m looking at you Bmo and Evie) will keep masks on for approximately 3 seconds before sending them shooting across the room, is pushing our skills to the next level. If it wasn’t for the fact that we haven’t been back to the US as a family for 2.5 years, and have in-person-Wide-Awake-business that needs to be done, I’m not sure we would attempt it. Am I nervous? Maybe a little. But, you see, our whole married life has been preparing us for this. When we were newlyweds we were taking teams of teenagers on short-term trips to work with Jed’s parents in Kosova. Flying with 15 teens and a 3 month old Addy during our second year of marriage was good prep for our current situation. 😉

You’d think with all my gloating confidence I would be uber-prepared with laminated checklists and labeled passports…but, I have to confess that that is not the case. Jed and I are more “fly by the seat of our pants and pray everything gets done in time” type people. Somehow we manage to check everything off the lists (which we scribble on the back of receipts and lose 5 times before we actually check everything off), but I’m not sure our method is for everyone.

A few of the passports. I guess I should go find the others…

One week Till Go-Time

  • Decide to host a Thanksgiving feast for 25 people. Be sure to include everything on the menu and don’t cut any corners! Erect a tent outside to keep the feast pandemic-friendly. Make everything from scratch, as all the conveniences can’t be found in your host country. Spend 2 days in your kitchen totally destroying the deep-cleaning you did the week before while you were thinking you were “ahead of the game”.
  • Contact your brother to ask to borrow his van while in the US. You know, since you’ll be in the US for almost two months, it might be good to have a vehicle to drive…(face palm).
  • Check travel requirements and the lockdown situation in the states you are headed to. Search the internet for COVID testing sites that don’t require a physicians order. Make sure Boris can still enter the US on his visa and keep your fingers crossed that the world stays intact for just a few more days till you all cross the border together.

5 Days Till Go-Time

  • Stress about how you’ll keep a mask on Bmo and Evie for 20 hours. Lay awake at all hours of the night thinking about that instead of sleeping. You wouldn’t want to go into the travels too rested! Also, don’t forget to worry about Anton and Ruslan and if they’ll understand that you’re coming back. Sleep is for the weak.
  • Stock up on groceries for the next several days so you won’t be running to the store constantly and can focus on preparing for the trip. Make sure to forget TP and milk and at least three other items, just to insure you do have to, in fact, run to the store constantly.

4 Days Till Go-Time

  • Get all the suitcases out of the old house on the property where they’ve been stored for the past couple of years. Make sure to open them outside, as last time you opened one inside the house a mouse ran out and emotionally scarred you for life. You’ll never trust a suitcase again. Also, they’re covered in dust and nastiness. Employ teenage sons to give them a thorough cleaning. Argue with Jed about how many suitcases you will actually require for a family of 9 to spend 7 weeks away from home. Jed argues you can get by with just a couple of carry-ons- or maybe just a backpack for each? You argue that you would like to be able to change your clothes more than once during the 7 weeks and ask for checked bags. Jed considers…you drop it for the time being. (But you know you’ll win…hehe)
  • Check travel requirements and the lockdown situation in the states you are headed to, again. Double check that Bmo will still be able to enter the country (assuming he’ll wear a mask long enough to be allowed on the plane…)

3 Days Till Go-Time

  • You have your team over for the day to work and plan for your absence. You drink a lot of coffee and make another batch of homemade egg nog…because this day is a wash anyway. Nothing is getting done. The day might as well be tasty if it’s not going to be productive.

2 Days Till Go-Time

  • You venture, tentatively, into the pits of despair, aka dumpsters, that are your children’s bedrooms and sift through empty chip bags and wet towels and Seth “science experiments” to search for dirty clothes. I mean, if you’re going to fight with Jed over checked bags, you might need actual clothes to fill them. You then come to your senses and remember that your children are capable human beings and they, are in fact, the ones who should be sniffing through the piles of clothes on their floors. You come up out of the fog of teenage boy smells and instruct your children to do their laundry, if they intend on spending their time in the US clothed.
  • After much debate, you convince your 10 year-old son that it really is better to clean up the “science experiments” before travel. Yes, it could be fun to see what grows in them over the next 7 weeks, but it would be less fun to come home to a room full of mold. You assist him in cleaning his room. You want to poke your eyes out.
  • The house sitters come over for instructions. You share all the idiosyncrasies of your home and about how to care for your approx. 527 animals. When you get to the part about which drawers in the kitchen are prone to mice and which aren’t, you see their eyes grow wide and wonder if you should just stay home after all. On Instruction #182 their eyes kind of glaze over and you all just agree to text each other if questions come up. You never realized your house had so many idiosyncrasies!
  • You do laundry non-stop while the toddler destroys the house.

1 Day Till Go-Time

  • I guess it’s time to pack. You really do try to fit it all in the agreed amount of luggage, but there’s just so.many.people. The teenage boys fetch a couple more suitcases out of storage and Jed dies a little on the inside.
  • Run to the kids’ school to sign them out for the next couple of months. Oops. You actually should have done that last week. Better late than never!
  • More laundry, because it never ends.
  • You remember your children still need to eat today, but you didn’t really plan for that. Hmmm…haphazardly feed your children whatever is left in the kitchen: pickles, cheese, oatmeal, eggs? Never mind. You’re on your own, kids. Mom’s up to her eyeballs in laundry. Candy for lunch? Whatevs. You’ve got bigger fish to fry.
  • Clean and pack and wash and launder and pick-up and clean and pack and wash till the wee hours of the morning. At some point Jed runs to the store (again) for snacks for the plane. You heard they won’t feed you much on the plane these days, but teenagers and Bmos are hungry all the time, so you better stock up.
  • Pack the passports and check them 20 times to make sure you have 9 of them. Obsessively check travel sites to make sure Bmo will still be able to enter the US. Read up on airport rules and pray everyone wakes up healthy and ready to mask up.
  • Pack the suitcases in the van in the dark of night. Jed remarks more than a few times on the amount of luggage. You remind him that this isn’t a backpacking trip, and yes, you really do need more than one pair of shoes for a 7 week trip. You call truce and drink some egg nog.

Go-Time

  • Wake the troops in the middle of the night and check the passports 15 more times before groggily heading out the door.
  • Pat yourselves on the back for successfully exiting your life for the foreseeable future. You’re sure you forgot something, but you’re headed to the US! Anything can be replaced. -Except passports. You better check them just a couple more times…

See you on the other side! We’ll let you know how the Bmo-in-a-mask-for-20-hours goes down. If anything, it’ll make for good writing material. 🙂

An Idea I’m Excited About :)

A couple days ago I got the best message from an American couple that live in Kyiv. I met them briefly on a trip to Ukraine before we moved here. Throughout the years they have followed the work and sent encouraging notes here and there to let us know that they pray for us. (Those kinds of notes are the best notes, by the way)

Last winter when it all hit the fan and we had to immediately remove Anton from our house, they let me know that they had been praying for Anton every night, and would continue to do so. In that terrible time, it was such a giant encouragement to hear that they were praying faithfully for our precious guy.

That brings us to a couple of days ago when I got another message from the couple letting us know that through all these months they have continued to pray for Anton every night. I was so shocked to read that! In that moment I was able to let them know that actually, Anton has really been struggling the past couple of weeks. They were thankful to know so they could understand better how to pray for him. It made me wish I had been sharing more about Anton with them all along.

Then I had an idea!

As we’ve been planning our transition off of social media, we have been trying to think of ways for the Wide Awake community to stay engaged. I love the “back and forth” we have on social media and I really love that so many of you feel that you truly “know” our boys. That is a beautiful thing, to know our boys have cheerleaders in their corner that rejoice with us in every little victory and cry with us when times are tough. I don’t want to lose that part of community. It is an important piece at the heart of this work: to know and be known.

I would love to gather like-minded people together into groups that would celebrate, cheer on, pray for, and share the beauty of each of our boys. I’m thinking we need a “Team Boris”, “Team Ruslan”, “Team Anton” and “Team Vlad”. Then as more boys are added to our Wide Awake Family, we can gather teams for them as well. We probably need to gather a “Team Sasha” too, seeing as how Jed will soon be his guardian. Woot!

What does it mean to join a team?

  • We will send each team member a postcard of their boy that they can put on their fridge as a daily reminder of the precious life across the ocean.
  • I will email the teams each month with an update on their boy, prayer points and fun videos and pictures.
  • If we’re going through a rough patch I can let the team know and they can pray, support and encourage.
  • If there is a big gain for one of our boys, the team will know and be able to celebrate with us. I know it would mean a lot to our team here in Ukraine to hear that support and love from others for the boys that mean so much to them.
  • I even had an idea for a live chat with the team and their boy every so often…now that sounds fun!
  • Edited to add: I will still give regular updates about all the boys on the blog and in the weekly emails. The “teams” are more about targeted info about that specific boy. You can totally join more than one team!

What do you think? Wanna join a team? We would absolutely love for you to join us in caring for our boys in this way.

How to join?

  • Send me a message and let me know which team you would like to join.
  • Make sure I have your email address so I can send you the monthly updates.
  • If you would like us to send you a postcard, please send us your mailing address as well.

I’m so excited to see what comes of this. This idea was prompted because you all have shown so much love for our boys over the years. Thank you for loving them and for seeing them. Thank you for looking past the diagnoses and seeing the people. I can’t wait to keep sharing them with you and I really can’t wait till we have even more boys to introduce!

Wide Awake is leaving social media on Monday, October 12. But that doesn’t have to be goodbye! We are sending weekly email digests, so all the goodness you usually see on social media lands right in your inbox. Sign up below to get the weekly emails. I promise not to spam you. 🙂

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“International B-Mo Day”

Today marks ONE WHOLE YEAR since our beloved Boris was taken out of Romaniv and joined our family. ONE YEAR! It feels like it has flown by, but it also feels like he’s been with us for a lot longer.

Learning to love and care for Boris has been the most character-defining time in my life. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it till the cows come home: caring for the weak and broken is a fabulous way to expose your own weaknesses and areas of brokenness. I thought I was a pretty okay person until B-Mo joined us. He has taught me the extreme selfishness in my heart and the extreme impatience as well. I will be forever grateful to him for this. Not that those battles have been won, but at least now I can see that the battles are there and the areas where I am exposed.

We had no idea what to expect when we took Boris home last December 18th. I remember that he knew the day was special. As soon as I entered the Isolation hall to get him dressed he grabbed my hand and scooted toward the door like “Let’s get outta here!” Now that I know him and I know how smart he is, of course he knew the day was special! I’m sure he heard nannies and others talking about it for weeks in advance. Sweet boy. Boris is no dummy.

I remember how when we pulled up to the driveway he was afraid to get out of the van. Jed eventually had to pick him up and carry him into the house. I remember how after he ate he tried to grab all the food he could off the counter. I remember how we had to feed him and how he was so impatient because he was used to food being shoved down his throat at such an amazing speed, he didn’t know how to eat slowly.

I remember how in those first days he was quiet and only interested in sitting on the couch alone.

I remember the first several months when Evie was born and Boris’ honeymoon period was over and how we (mostly I) cried every day. “How are we going to do this? Why did we do this? I can’t live like this forever…” I’m going to be painfully honest here. There were many days last spring when I had major feelings of regret. Not regret like “Let’s take him back to Romaniv”, but regret like “I regret that I chose to do this with my life.” Seriously. In those days, Boris had his good moments, but they were few and far between. He was mostly just unhappy and disregulated and demanding. Nothing was good enough. Nothing made him happy (except for riding in the car”. His self-harming was at an all time high and the only saving grace was bedtime, because thank God, Boris has always stayed in his bed at night. Every day I woke with dread. It was a dark time.

And now? Now those moments seem like ancient history. Now? Now I love my Boris/B-Mo/Beemchick/Borya/Borka/Beemo-my-Weemo like I never thought possible. I adore him. He blesses my heart and he is a gift to our family. With his small, broken body he is teaching us thankfulness and contentment and perseverance. But don’t be deceived, he isn’t perfect! He still loves to punch himself in the head whenever he gets the chance. He loves to throw fits at the dinner table and will throw his bowl and cup on the floor any chance he gets. He will pee his pants if he’s mad and all that jazz, but guess what? I’m not anything close to perfect either. I’m impatient and short and so so selfish. The difference is now, now we know each other. Boris is known. He is known and he knows us. We get each other and we know what to expect from each other. He has become a part of us- an irreplaceable member of our family, adored by all. After a lifetime of being treated like an animal, Boris is becoming human.

In Romaniv Boris was basically silent. Now I can say with confidence that Boris is THE LOUDEST member of our family. Oh.my.word. He has a lot to say and and is determined every day to make up for his 26 years of silence. He doesn’t say words, but we all understand his “B-Mo talk” just fine. We know what sounds are happy sounds, impatient sounds, wanting sounds, angry sounds, scared sounds. We know his favorite music and foods, and he has definite preferences in people. We know him, and being known is part of what has helped Boris in becoming human over this past year.

I am so thank that God has given us the gift of our Borya. I get teary just thinking of all the years we missed, but I’m so thankful for all the years to come. He is our sunshine blessing and our whole family is changed by him. At some point along the journey we realized we would be devastated without him.

So today we will celebrate our little Beemchick with cookies and hugs. We will kiss him and tell him how much we love him. He might not understand the big deal, but we do. We can look back and see a life redeemed, and we are thankful.

We’ll love you forever, our precious Boris. ❤️

Here’s Boris this morning:

And here’s a video we made 4 years ago. It makes me smile when I watch it now. ☺️

The Lonely

Yesterday we got Anton and Ruslan’s medical histories from the institution. Oh my heart. Twenty plus years of their life, summed up in doctor’s chicken scratches on paper yellowed from time. We know the basics of how they spent the last 20 years. They sat on benches inside in the winter, and sat on benches outside in the summer. End of story. The medical files are the only hints we have of any significant life events outside bench- sitting.  They are our glimpse of our boys’ past- those, and a photo of each boy from time gone by.

My heart leapt and sank when I saw the photos. My babies! Oh my dear ones, I’m so sorry you had to wait so long. I’m so sorry you had no mama to comfort you, no papa to guide you. I’m so sorry you endured such abuse and neglect when you could not defend yourselves. You were so young, so small. My heart is broken for the little boy left at Romaniv alone and afraid.

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Ruslan, age 10

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Anton, age 16

Our life here is a full one; full of responsibilities and full of people. But our life here is also a lonely one. Our lives are completely absorbed with the care of people whom the society has thrown away. Our time, energy and love is wrapped up in people who are not accepted in this country. Our work is isolating. Couple that with language barriers and cultural difference, and then add the distance from loved ones…sometimes the loneliness of this life threatens to overwhelm.

The other night I was rocking Evie to sleep in a quiet, dark room. My thoughts were wandering and all of a sudden I was completely overwhelmed by loneliness. It washed over me like a giant ocean wave. I’d never felt anything like it. Evie wasn’t asleep, but I had to leave the room, lest my mind wander to a verrrrrrry dark place. I wept as I longed for family and friends far away. I lamented my lonely and often isolated existence in my Ukrainian village. I wished for the peer relationships with other moms that are non-existent at this time of my life when I need them so badly. If there ever was a “woe is me” moment- that was it. Not.pretty. Yikes.

I share that story not to bring pity on myself or to fill my inbox with messages from concerned friends, but to share what I am learning from it.

The feelings of loneliness I have are only the tip-tip-top of the iceberg of the loneliness our guys lived with their whole lives. In Anton, Ruslan and Boris we are seeing the effects of how 30 years of utter aloneness and helplessness shape a person. The effects are devastating. In my own loneliness, which greatly pales in comparison to the life they have known, God is granting me greater empathy and compassion for the boys I love so dearly.

I may feel alone, but-

I am surrounded by my family who love and care for me. They were abandoned by their family.

I chose this life that I’m living, and the sacrifices that come with it. They had absolutely no choice or agency in their situation. They were completely helpless. 

I have always been taught, and have always known that I was loved by God first, and also by many people. They had no one to teach them or comfort them. 

I have hope. I know that this work, this life is exactly what God has asked me to do and I trust that He will give me the grace to do it. They had no reason to hope. They lived in hell and were prisoners, innocent of any crime.

I do believe and trust that God comforted them while they were in the institution. I believe that He fathered them in ways we could not see. His word says that He is a Father to the fatherless, so I know it has to be true. At the same time, there is the reality that they were abused and neglected in every way- for decades. I can’t explain that paradox. I know both sides to be true and I guess I just won’t be able to make sense of it this side of eternity.

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Boris, age unknown

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Baby Vladik

Jean Vanier, a great man who has spent his life living with and loving people with intellectual disabilities, said “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.”

Ruslan, Anton, Boris, Vladik. I weep over the many years they had to taste that loneliness. I look at the pictures of them as little ones and wonder at what could have been, had they not waited so long.

In Ukraine alone, there are thousands of children and adults who are helpless and alone in institutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Do you have room at your table for one more? Do you have love in your heart to give? Could you reach out and give of yourself so that one more soul could know the love of a family? No child, no adult should be alone and if you have the ability to help, then by all means- do it. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. If all that is standing in your way is your desire for your own comfort, then it’s time for something to change.

Adoption is messy and uncomfortable and hard. Let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to not adopt. Like 500% easier. But this life isn’t about doing what’s easier. It’s about chasing hard after Jesus and running the race full-on till the race is complete. If you are alive, then your race is not complete. If running hard after Jesus means laying down your life so that another may truly live, then just go ahead and do it. If adoption is meant to be your YES and you are still saying NO, please reconsider. Someone is waiting for your yes, and the sooner you can get to that someone the better. If adoption isn’t supposed to be a part of your race, that’s perfectly okay! Just figure out what your YES is and get busy doing it.

In this month of November, this National Adoption Month, please consider again if adoption should be your YES. Consider again how you can make space in your heart and home for the lonely. Consider laying down your life so that others may live. Say YES!

BeLOVE[d]