On Leaving 

How to begin?  We head back to Ukraine in 12 days.  What the what??????


My last blog post was June 3rd. I have known I needed to write, but it felt like there was too much in there to adequately put into words.  Also, I realized that at some point over the past couple of years I started censoring myself.  I’m not sure exactly why.  I think a big reason is because the more I grew to know and love our Ukrainian friends in Zhytomyr, and the more time we spent away from our beloved friends and family in the US, the more I have wanted to make sure nothing I say is misinterpreted by anyone on either side of the ocean. 

That’s the struggle of this cross-cultural life.  Everywhere you go you are missing one person and glad to see another. Every time you go you are sad to leave one place but excited to reach another.  

All those feelings could be taken the wrong way, misinterpreted, hurtful…if you are the one being left you may feel rejected because we are excited to see the other.  When we are excited to leave Ukraine and get to the US I’m afraid it will appear that we don’t like Ukraine.  When we are excited to leave the US to get back to our life in Ukraine I’m afraid it will appear that we don’t appreciate the US and are “above” our old life. Ugh.  The people-pleaser in me does not have a clue how to navigate that, let alone write about it.  So I go silent. Sorry for that.

It’s just a fact that living between two worlds is very sticky business with no instruction manual.  

How do you leave a place and people well? 

How do re-enter a place well?

How do you leave a place where you are outgoing and confident, a fixer, and a leader and return to a place where you are a learner, an outsider, a person on the fringes of society with a first-grade handle on the language- and not crawl into a shell and hide?

How do you maintain friendships from across multiple time zones while also being fully planted and rooted where you are?

How do you invest in new friendships without feeling like you are letting your old ones slip away?  

How do you fully embrace your overseas life without feeling like you are a traitor to the ones you love across the ocean?

How do you look at pictures of your old friends and their kids all together and not feel guilt and sadness that your kids are not there to join in and grow up together?

How do you leave your mother and father and take away their grandchildren without feeling massive guilt?

How do you be fully where you are when you feel like your heart and life are split in two?

I don’t have a clue. 

One thing I know is that I failed in many of those areas last time we were in Ukraine and I am hopeful that this time will be better.  Last time I lived with A LOT of guilt. Everyday. No one put that on me; I’m awesome at doing that to myself. 🙂

I felt like I was a bad friend to my American friends, but my Ukrainian life took so much energy that I simply couldn’t be the kind of friend I wanted to be to the ones I have loved for many years.  

I allowed all my confidence to be stripped away and socially became a shell of my former self. (Lack of fluency will do that to ya) Making friends was hard for me and I’m not used to that. I ached to be understood and known. (See, just writing that makes me worried that my Ukrainian friends will think I’m saying I had no friends in Ukraine. Ugh! Ha! )

We spent those first two years just learning how to survive and didn’t really get the chance to become fully planted.  Our kids felt that.  I know that couldn’t really be helped.  We had to learn to survive and the learning curve was/is steep. Grocery shopping, banking, post-officing, cooking, schooling, transportation, church, utilities, LANGUAGE…everything was new and we were like aliens on a different planet. There was a lot of everyday living to figure out before any roots could begin to take hold. 

But this time, I think this time is going to be different. Our mindset is different.We are purchasing land and settling in for the long-haul.  We have committed our lives to these boys and once we begin to take them out everything changes. Of course we’ll still come to the US for visits, but my heart and mind need the opportunity to settle in and make a home in Ukraine. I need pictures up on the walls.  I need to know in my heart that until God says differently, Ukraine is our home. No guilt allowed. 

So, if you see us in the coming days, just know that our hearts are confused and there is no easy answer to the question “How are you?” We’re so happy and so sad.  We’re excited and dreading.  We’re confident and scared.  We’re ready and we’re not.  

I’m only resolute one thing: I know that I know that this is the life God has created us for and I WILL NOT allow guilt to rob me of the joy that comes with following Jesus and saying yes. 

So there. That’s the *pretty much* uncensored version of my heart.  If you are a person who prays we would sure appreciate your prayers over the next several weeks.  The kids are struggling with all the change and the chaos in our home is great at the moment. We need peace and knowing and joy in the journey.  

Thank you for walking with us! 

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And We Have Hope. 

It’s December, folks.  I can now officially listen to Christmas music without incurring the judgement of Jed. Our Christmas tree is up.  The lights are on. The cupboard is stocked with staples of the season.  Our hearts are full.

And we have hope.

  

This past Sunday was the beginning of Advent: the season of expectation, the season of longing for Jesus to come and make wrong things right; the season of searching for glimpses of God’s Kingdom come to earth. 

On Sunday at our home, and across the world, millions of candles were lit.  Millions of prayers were whispered.  Millions of hearts were filled with hope. 

We look back at all God has done thus far and our minds are blown.  In two short (yet sometimes unbelievably long) years He has made so much wrong right.  

-Hearts of directors have been opened and softened.

-Youth from our city have risen up and claimed this cause as their own.  They have chosen time and time again, to spend time with their  beloved boys instead of pursuing other things.  This is not a project to them- this is their life together.

-Doctors and nurses and physical therapists and speech pathologists and many loved ones have traveled across the world to give of their time and talent to our beloved babies. 

-Hearts of nannies have been won over.  They may not understand why we do what we do, but they love us and they appreciate us.  They are our friends.

-Two teachers from the town of Romaniv have been hired to devote their lives to the boys.  They are opening the eyes of their neighbors.

-God laid our boys on the heart of a generous church in Switzerland- and a van was provided.

-One amazing boy now runs free.  Cherished son and brother. 

-Thousands of people ALL OVER the world have given and given and given.  Provision abounds.

-Countless prayers have been prayed, day after day after day by so many believers in so many countries.  “God come.  Have your way.  Set the captive free.  Be near to the boys we love so much.  Bring healing and hope.  Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

And we have hope.

  

Of course, there is so much yet to be done.  There is so much wrong that has not been made right.  There are injustices and there is so, so much pain.  There are nannies who are cruel.  There are people in high positions who do not understand.  There is unbelievable suffering every minute of every day.

But we have hope.

God keeps his promises.  God sees and He knows.  God has not forgotten our boys, tucked away from the world for so long.  They are tucked up right next to His heart.  

And we are so full-to-bursting with thanks.  Thank you for traveling this journey with us.  Thank you for praying.  Thank you for loving.  Thank you for giving so incredibly generously.  Thank you for carrying the torch of hope with us.  Thank you for believing that these boys are worth fighting for.  

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Isaiah 9:2

AND WE HAVE HOPE! 

  


Offended by the Goodness of God

Here are some reflections from Jed. Warning: extreme passion ahead.  I hope you can read this with an an open heart to what the Father wants to say to you.

Church songs are great, right?

  
The lyrics pick us up in hard times, they carry us through the week and we are so glad to have the simple melody and words to express an emotion to God.  
Or, they comfort our broken heart: songs of His goodness, faithfulness, love and on and on.  
We’re walking through Gap whistling the tune, “You make all things work together for my good,” as you find your favorite pair of jeans on sale. The person in front of you buys your drink at Starbucks, “Hallelu,Hallelu, Hallelu.u.Yah.” Ok, that might be a bit off topic. 🙂

Good stuff.
Have you ever had a moment when a dear friend shares the depths of pain as a relationship crumbles, or the newsfeed reads of another child dying while escaping a war torn country, and all of the sudden those worship lyrics start to fall flat?  
For us there is the oh-so-often overwhelming sense that there is not enough time or hands to give each of our boys the time they need. And even when we do get time and have plenty of hands, we still have to return them to their extremely traumatic lives.

  

The religious prose no longer feel robust enough to contain the suffering caused by human injustice. 
You might find yourself saying, as we find ourselves saying “These lyrics don’t ring true. God, you certainly don’t seem like a good, good father. Where are you????”
Or, maybe you’ve been on a missions trip and when you came home you could barely stand under the weight of western excess in light of the severe poverty witnessed afar. Perhaps you found yourself slamming your fist down, “God, how can you allow this injustice?! This inequality! Why have you forgotten those lovely people?”
“I can’t sing these songs to you God.” You may have even felt some bitterness swelling up in your chest. Dare I say, Doubt…?

Well, if you are brave enough to sit with these feelings for a spell and not ‘numb out’, not head back to the mall or app store to ‘buy out’, you may hear God speak his answer to these questions that haunt our faith.

Think of the story of worship leader Kevin Prosch, who met God in the closet his dad locked him in and learned to play the guitar and worship in the midst of the abuse.  
Or, think of the miracle tree growing in the midst of a shanty in the garbage dumps of Nicaragua that provides medicine for the family living there.
Or think of our boys and their amazing capacity to love, despite their circumstances.  
God speaks. Are we brave enough to listen?

But, maybe you need more than testimony. Perhaps you still can’t reconcile the goodness of God.  

This is me, by the way.
 
But are you still brave enough to sit with these questions, these accusations…?  
Most aren’t.  

Many have quietly walked away from God, shaking their heads.
“I’ve just got too many unanswered questions,” is the statement as they make their curtain call from church community. In that case, there is a world waiting with open arms to receive your weary soul, clinking glasses, “Three cheers for one less fool, duped by faith.”

My dear cousin Brett sat outside of the garbage dump in Nicaragua, having seen the immensity of inequality and suffering caused by poverty. But then he noticed the healing tree I mentioned earlier, and he saw the comfort siblings were able to provide their dying baby brother.
As he held these accusations out to God, “How are you working all things together for their good…? How are you perfect in all of your ways?” God met him and said, “You equate my goodness with material wealth and well-being. But goodness looks far greater than what you deem as good. You don’t get to define me and my goodness. You won’t see all that I do for my people and don’t assume that my “lack of material provision” means that I am unmoved by their suffering.”

  

As Kim and I sit in the midst of suffering with our boys, we hear God say, “I am so near to these precious ones. Their capacity to love comes from my nearness to them, despite all that this world has done to their bodies. I am holding them close.”

Yesterday, I was reflecting on this while watching Cousin Brett sing songs with my boys, who were rocking, singing, clapping, crying, screaming, self-harming or off in their own world. 
A thought came to me, maybe a revelation. When time wraps up and we stand before God we will see the truth. We will see how He has been with each of us in our highest joys and our deepest suffering. We will see His goodness, the way He defines it, for everyone, and we will say “God, you are righteous and just in all of Your ways.”  
And at that point some real worship is gonna go down.

Until that day comes, we have some great words in the book of Psalms to help us process, petition and bring our accusations to God. Psalms is a book in the Bible where the writer rages at the sight of injustice, pours his heart out in the places of pain and loss, and at the end of the day he still has a price on his head and a heart full of love.
Maybe Psalms and all its honesty and sometimes offensive accusations might be a little more helpful than quoting pop church songs, when we’re struggling through life’s deep questions. God is not surprised by our questions, nor is He offended by them.  
Maybe that big book in the corner needs a little dusting off.  

The Most Important Post, Revisited

November is a good month. We have two family birthdays, it’s Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins, the weather is cozy, and it’s National Adoption Month! Did you know? Have you heard? There is a whole month designated for sharing about the plight of orphans and the blessing of adoption. Yep, that sounds just about perfect to me.

I wrote this post last November.  I wanted to share it again (revamped a bit) in honor of National Adoption Month.  It’s crazy because when I wrote this a year ago I had no idea we would adopt Vladik.  Now this post means more than ever to me.  There are many different great responses to the orphan issue, and your response will likely be different than mine. But for the sake of our Boys, every response is important.

  

The work we do, and Mission to Ukraine has done for many years at Romaniv is important and necessary. It is life-altering for our Boys. Boys who were once strangers that flinched at touch and cowered from any human interaction are now dear loved ones who come scooting and crawling and hobbling as soon as they hear our voices. One boy who used to avoid eye contact at all cost now seeks out our gaze and will sit forehead to forehead with Jed as the guitar is played- just looking into Jed’s eyes. No words, just a look. It is enough for us to see that God is doing miracles.

And yet.

No work we do could ever be more beneficial than a family.

No treatment could ever be as effective as the love of a family.

No weighted vest could be more comforting than a mother’s arms.

No helmet could offer better protection than a father’s embrace. 

This work we do is a stopgap. It is the next best thing possible in this situation. But it is not a family, and it is not nearly enough. There is no future for our Boys here. Even when our dreams come true and we build group homes where they can be loved and cared for, it still won’t hold a candle to a life spent as part of a loving family. There are nannies at Romaniv that do care for the Boys deeply, but they face an impossible task. How can 2 nannies care for more than 20 boys with severe disabilities and do an even satisfactory job?

Most of the boys and men at Romaniv are not legally free to be adopted. Either their parents still maintain their parental rights, or the boys are over the age of 18 which prevents them from being adopted. To those boys and men we commit to doing whatever we possibly can to love them, care for them, and give them a future worth living until they day they are made whole in heaven.
  

Some of our Boys, though, ARE available for international adoption.  After some hesitation, and prayerful consideration we shared them with you.  There are many layers to this. We feel protective of our Boys and the work that is being done; we want to avoid any exploitation; we have a relationship to maintain with the orphanage directors that requires vigilant care. Nothing about this is simple, so we have been treading lightly with steps full of prayer. And yet, our boys are just not thriving, and they never ever will in an institution.  They need families.  ALL our boys need families, but Alex, Micah, Stephan, Aaron, Ben and Isaiah actually have the opportunity for family- a life saving opportunity.

So I’m asking that you see our Boys. I’m asking that you stop and see them for the treasures they are. See their immense value. See their precious beauty. Consider their lives as weighty as your own and ask the Lord how you should respond to this knowledge that some of them are waiting for families. If you follow Jesus you are called to care for the orphan in some way. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus I bet you can agree that this is a justice issue that can not be ignored.
                                                                    

                                                                 “Learn to do right; seek justice.

                                                                            Defend the oppressed.

                                                                 Take up the cause of the fatherless;

                                                             plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Maybe you are supposed to pray. A million times thank you! Prayer is important and essential. Any of the progress that’s been made has only come through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Boys need prayer!

Maybe you are supposed to give financially to help improve the quality of life for our Boys. Yes! Thank you so very much! None of this would even be happening if we didn’t have faithful financial supporters on the team.
Maybe you are supposed to adopt. Please don’t dismiss this response. I am confident that some of you who read this are called to respond through adoption. Children were made for families! Children were not made for institutions. One hour spent at the institution will prove that point. I must warn you though that any romanticism concerning the adoption of one of our Boys ends with the fuzzy feelings you may be feeling as you read this post. It will not be romantic. It will be a hard road and much faith will be required. But- it will be a road worth walking. I am confident of that. Orphans are very important to our God and He has gone to great lengths to prove His love for these particular Boys. He will not allow the world to forget them now, and He’s not about to forget them when they step out of Romaniv’s gates.

  

I have spent hours with these boys. I have held them in my arms. I have kissed their cheeks. I have held their hands so they won’t harm themselves. Now I call one of them my son and he is asleep, warm and safe in the next room.  They are real people. They were created with purpose and God has good plans for them. When I look at Vladik now and think of the life he lived there and was destined to live for the rest of his days had he not been adopted I can’t help but cry.  Friends, he is precious.  He is a joy in our lives.  He is smart and funny and loving and worthy of this life he’s been given.  All the love and attention and cuddles we can heap on him- he deserves them all.  Hopes and dreams of retirement and empty-nester days fall flat when weighed against the life of a child.  

There you have it. Now you know, and I now I humbly ask you to respond. I ask you to stop and pray and ask the Lord what He would have you to do. Say yes and don’t look back.  Please pray that adoptive families would step out with boldness and faith. Any serious inquiries can be emailed to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I would be happy to talk with you more. 

Please share this post and give our Boys a voice this month. Thank you!
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8


Alex, Micah, Stephan, Aaron, Isaiah, and Ben all wait for families of their own.  A friend of ours is doing a wonderful fundraiser/giveaway to help raise adoption grants for them, so that when their families do step up the expense will be defrayed a bit.  If you feel that your response is to give financially, then please, please visit this website and drop some dollars in their accounts.  Thank you!  

 

Alex

  

Micah

 
 

Stephan

  

Aaron

  

Isaiah

  

Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting Yes.

A couple weeks ago at church a young guy came up to me that I’d never met before.  He spoke some English and wanted to try out his skills, so we chatted for a bit.  He said “I heard you guys work at the orphanage for sick children and now you will take one of them home to be your son!”  I said yes, he was correct that we are in the process of adopting one of our Boys and then proceeded to proudly show him lots and lots of pictures of our special boy on my phone.  As soon as he saw the pictures his face fell.  He was obviously a little shocked, and obviously a little confused at my proud exclamation of how sweet and cute and special our boy is.

Then he asked the question that I’m sure many have wanted to ask, but so far no one else has been brave enough to utter:

“Why?  Why would you do this?  I don’t understand.  Why?????”

I paused for a second, happy that he had the guts to say what was really on his mind, because it was definitely written all over his face. 😉  I answered with the simple truth:

“Because we love him, God asked us to, and we said yes!”

It’s a simple truth, but there is a lot more behind it, a lot more led up to it, and there is a lot more weight that goes along with it.

This adoption yes was not a simple yes.  Much prayer, many tears, many conversations and sleepless nights led to this yes. In fact, many years of “yeses” led to this yes.

I remember in 2010 when our Ukraine story first began.  We knew that God was asking us to say yes to adopting a little boy from Ukraine with multiple special needs.  Oh boy, that was a hard yes to come to.  There was nothing simple about that.  We had always been open to adoption.  We were fostering our Seth at that time and were really hoping we would be able to adopt him.  Adoption and orphan care was important to us!  But I always said I could never adopt a child with a disability.  No way!!!   Willingly take on a child that would remain a child for life?  Knowingly adopt a child that would never live alone and would need my care for all their life?  Give up the dream of retiring someday with Jed and traveling the world together (child-free!)?  Heck no!  Are you crazy????  Who would do that??????  That would be so hard!  I guess some people are meant for that life, but not us.

Oh how the times have changed…hehe

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I remember back in those days, praying about that certain boy who needed a family.  I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I  couldn’t forget him, even if I wanted to.  I began to rethink my reasons for saying no to him.  The more I examined my line of reasoning the more my argument sounded rather lame.  All my reasons for saying no were because I wasn’t willing to lay down my life and my comfort.  I really, reeeeeeeally like to be comfy.  Oh I love comfy clothes, comfy socks, comfy shoes (no heels here!), comfy hoodies, comfort foods, comfy chairs, a comfortable salary, a comfy house, friends I can be super comfy with.  And most of all I love a comfy future.  I like to know what’s coming and I like to like what I know is coming.  I don’t like things that make me uncomfortable- like exercise, hard manual labor, and things that are out of my control.

Misha H.

Saying yes to adopting a child with severe disabilities is the exact opposite of comfy.  It’s inviting stress and pain and hard work and expenses and a lot of “out of control” moments into my life.

BUT,

God doesn’t call us to lives of comfort.  He doesn’t call us to lives of free and easy living where happiness and security are the ultimate goal.  He says to us “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)

Friends, living a “chasing-comfort” life is no life at all.  Jesus says that the only way we can save our own lives is to give them up for Him. That’s not a call to comfort- it’s a call to sacrifice.  There’s just no way to put it lightly.  Once I considered what Jesus was willing to do for me, how could I say no to a little one so in need, in order to tend to my own comfort?  Ick.

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That original adoption didn’t work out, but you probably know that that is what God used to turn our hearts to Ukraine.  And here we are now, saying yes to our special boy.

Please hear me.  I am soooooo not talking down to you right now.  I am not the pro at sacrificing my comfort- just ask my husband and kids.  I fail at it all the time.  I’m still learning and I thank God for his patience with me.

The thing is, now I see what I almost turned down in favor of my comfort.  I see it in the form of our most precious boys at Romaniv.  I see it in my Dima as he sits on a plywood bed, foot tied to the slats to keep him from falling off.  I see it in my Misha when he cries, so unaccustomed to human touch that a hand on his shoulder is too much to bear.  I see it in my other Misha who has lived at Romaniv since 1987 in one single hallway, his world shrunk by injustice.  I look into the faces of my precious boys who I love like my own children and I mourn how their lives have been stolen from them for the sake of others’ comfort.  I know these boys.  Over and over again I wish I could sit down with you and just tell you all about each of them. They are AMAZING.

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Misha T. (2)

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How could we say no to them in favor of ourselves?  The world has said no to them over and over and over to the point where almost no one even knows of their existence.  It’s just not right.

I usually prefer to keep this blog upbeat, but today I’m calling you out.  I’m asking you to set your comfort aside for the sake of the yes.  This life is not all that there is.

There are boys who sit on wooden slats and never feel the grass on their feet or the sun on their face. Their lives are void of all comfort.  

There are people being sold into slavery for the pleasure of others. No comfort to be had there.

There are children sleeping on county office floors because there is no foster family to take them in.  No mommy and daddy to comfort them when they cry.

What will you do with your yes?  Will you pick up your cross?  Will you sacrifice your life for the One who gave His whole life for you?  Will you see past your comfort and your 401k dreams and your comfy couch and rise up?  We can do something about these injustices!  We must do something.  

Vladik W.

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Your yes means something.  It may mean everything to the someone who needs it, the someone sitting on a plywood bed.

The friend from church, the one who asked us why we would do this crazy adoption thing?  He said yes and visited our boys with us the next week.  As we were riding home in the car he said: “I spent the morning with the boy you are adopting.  Now I see!  I see why you would love him.  He is great!  He is so smart!  He is just…..great!!”

There is so much joy in the yes.  What will you do with yours?

*Several of our boys need adoptive families who will say yes to them.  Would you pray about that yes?  You can read more about those boys here and here.