The First Time

Her heart pounded in her chest and her stomach churned as the van turned onto the gravel road lined with trees.

Two weeks earlier she and he had left their four small children and flew all the way across the world to visit that place. They had heard the stories and knew deep in their souls that they were supposed to DO something about the injustices being done in that place and others like it.

She had cried countless tears over the past year as she washed dishes and changed diapers and swept the floor in suburban America. Her heart was broken for the helpless ones who were trapped in their suffering with no future, no hope. Though she had never met them, in her heart she already loved them. Her mama heart ached to hold them and make everything better.

The van pulled up to a gate and stopped. They stepped out of the van and instantly she heard them. She heard the sounds of the ones she had dreamed of and longed to know. The yelling, the moaning, the cries of excitement intensified- visitors had arrived!

She and he walked hand in hand down the sidewalk of the institution and the noises became louder. She saw curious faces peeking through windows and her heart skipped a beat. Would her heart deny her? Would her body betray her? Would all their preparations and prayers leave them reeling in the depth of their naivety? What if they met the boys face to face and wanted to run away from them instead of embracing them? What if this was not the YES they had hoped it would be?

But then a door opened and she was among them, punched in the gut by the smells and the sounds; all five senses assaulted in an instant.

As she and he were swarmed by faces and hands and bodies, fear melted away and her heart became alive. In that moment she realized that her soul had been longing for those souls in front of her. Her hands were covered in their saliva and their scent, and yet she couldn’t contain the joy and the “rightness” she felt in that moment. She glanced in his direction and their eyes met. He gave a slight nod, yes, he felt it too.

This was what they were put on the earth to do. These were their people. This was their path.

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That first day at Romaniv will forever burn in my memory. I met my boys that day. I met my future that day. I loved them instantly and fiercely that day and I promised myself I would fight endlessly for them. It was a naive love, most definitely, but it was true.

Mama Bear awoke that day. Circumstances and disappointments have made her cower in her cave these last months, afraid to love them like she did before. Living with them was harder than she imagined it would be. In the midst of their overwhelming trauma, her love has not been enough. Their hearts are like bottomless pits that can never be filled. No amount of her love will ever be enough. So she cowers in her cave, afraid to give more, afraid to bring more boys to freedom because of the damage, pain and disappointment that is sure to follow.

But she can not fight for them from her cave. She can not fight for them and remain safe from pain. To love them is to feel their pain and to walk with them through it, even if that walk takes forever.

I am their Mama and I will not be afraid.

Wide Awake International “Live-In Assistant” Role Description

In the last blog post “A Call to a Small Life” we hinted at the soon-to-be-revealed job descriptions. The time is come!

Below is the Role Description for “Live-In Assistants” for the new duplex.

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We are actively seeking individuals, couples or families to live in community with us, our boys, and the ones we have yet to bring out of the institution. We are looking for a commitment of at least one year after a successful 90-day trial period. An openness to a longer commitment would be amazing, but is not required.

We are seeking foreigners and Ukrainians to grow this community together. 

Because of the nature of this work and the experience we have had thus far with the deinstitutionalization of our boys, we are not currently open to families with small children living in the home. If you have small children and are interested in joining our team we definitely have a need for “Live-Out” assistants as well. So, please inquire by email if that interests you. kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org 

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Live-In Assistant Job Description

Live-In Assistants are people who choose to live in a Wide Awake International home with adults who have intellectual and possibly physical disabilities, the “core members” of the community. Assistants share life, laughter, and friendship with the core members. Assistants provide skilled direct care supports to core members, ensure their safety and well-being, and support their integrated participation in all aspects of daily life. They are committed to mutual relationships with core members and other assistants in which all parties are recognized as having something to share with the others.

Live-In assistants participate in community prayer, retreats, trainings and celebrations.

To apply:

  • Please read the job description and qualifications below

  • Contact Kim Johnson for an application at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

Live-In Caregiving Assistant Purpose: Assistants accompany and assist core members in their activities of daily life: creating home and supporting core members in sharing their gifts within the house and the larger community.

Responsibilities relating to:

Community Development

  • Uphold and share the vision and hope of the community and maintain the simple life style of the community

  • Help extend warm welcome to visitors, including community members, families, neighbors, and merchants

  • Encourage households members to develop and nurture friendships within, and especially outside the community

  • Attend team and community meetings, community nights, and community activities.

  • Help plan celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, and days of special importance to household members

  • Accept community mentoring from more experienced community members

Core Members 

  • Develop caring and loving interpersonal relationships. The most important aspect of the “living with” spirit of Wide Awake is that of fostering relationships.This area calls forth both the assistant and the core member in their personal growth, as well as the growth of the community. It is a process of discovering one’s own gifts and helping the other to find theirs.

  • Carry out core member training programs where applicable and teach skills needed to be learned (personal hygiene, personal appearance, laundry, room management, household cleaning, cooking, budgeting, job skills, shopping skills, appropriate behavior)

  • Help core members to look at alternatives, anticipate consequences, make decisions, and accept responsibility for their actions

  • Listen to and respect the desires of the core members.

Home Management/Administration

  • Assume responsibility for the health, safety, and care of core members

  • Do assigned housekeeping chores and take initiative to keep house (inside and out) clean and in repair. Assist core members with their chores if needed. Aid in motivating core members to complete needed tasks

  • Plan and prepare balanced meals. Assist core members to help cook and prepare meals.

  • Maintain and operates house vehicles in a safe manner

  • Maintain accurate financial records of core member and house money

  • Be conscious of budgeting and keep within house and community budgets

  • Take initiative, be resourceful and creative, think out problems, be willing to use own judgment when deemed necessary

Spiritual Life

  • Support the community and carry in prayer the homes, each member of the community, their families, friends, and concerns

  • Maintain and respect the home as a Christian home in terms of values and prayer. Encourage prayer in the home and in the community with assistants and core members.

  • Respect days of worship. Attend with core members their choice and place of worship.

  • Share faith life with the community. Be responsible for communicating needs and meeting personal worship needs.

Qualifications

  • Interest in living in a faith community founded on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

  • Minimum age of 18 years

  • Desire to work with individuals with disabilities (Experience with people with disabilities is not a requirement)

  • Creativity, flexibility, attention to detail, and ability to organize time

  • Commitment to living in the community for at least 1 year after a successful 90-day trial period

  • Verbal and written communication skills

  • Physical ability, with reasonable accommodation, to fulfill role responsibilities, including ability to transfer adults from wheelchairs to vehicles, beds, etc. and to lift wheelchairs into and out of vehicles

  • Ability to work as part of a team

Other Details:

  • Assistants are responsible for funding their own way to and from Ukraine

  • After a successful 90-day trial period, assistants are responsible for the costs related to obtaining a visa and temporary residency in Ukraine. Wide Awake International will assist with the legal process in obtaining residency

  • Food and lodging will be provided by Wide Awake International

  • Assistants will be responsible for providing for their own toiletries, food needs beyond the community meals, and personal spending money

You can also find this role description on our website: http://wideawakeinternational.org/volunteer

Much of our language, like “assistant” and “core member”, and some wording for the role description was adopted from an organization with a lot more experience than us. Thank you, L’Arche Communities, for paving a beautiful path of dignity for us to follow.

Changes for Good

January ended up being a pretty great month. To start with, Jed’s mom brought Vladik home to us. Yay! Then she stayed for a month to spend time with us and help with the kids so Jed and I could go to the Vineyard UK National Conference in Nottingham. One of our partner churches flew us out there for the conference and a few days of rest and man oh man, we didn’t even know how much we needed it until we were in it.

When you’re knee deep in a project or work it’s helpful to get away and regain some perspective. We’ve been neck deep for the past year and a half, so our perspective in some areas was severely lacking. Time away spent with friends who love us and speak into our lives was a precious treasure that came just at the right time. I’m so thankful we had that opportunity.

While we were away we had good news and not so good news. The good news was, our precious “Preston” flew home to Indiana with his new family to begin his new life! The bad news was, our “Aaron” who was just adopted from Romaniv (the last child who was available for adoption!) failed his medical exam and therefore wasn’t issued a visa to the travel to his new home in the US. Noooooooo!!! Failing that exam is every adoptive parent’s fear. Additional testing had to be done, and now there is an 8 week waiting period for those results to come back. Obviously, Aaron’s family couldn’t wait 8 additional weeks in Ukraine, so a different plan had to be formed.

Part of our team with Preston before he flew to his new home

I shared that story on our social media and invited people to help cover the expenses of caring for Aaron for the next 2 months, as he requires full-time care, and the Wide Awake community rallied! In less than 24 hours all of the expenses were covered, plus additional funds that the family can use for airplane tickets when they travel back at the end of the waiting period. Thank you so much to all who gave so quickly and so generously! The family was blown away by your love.

The plan we came up with was that Max, one of our team members who is currently on a break from university, would live in an apartment with Aaron for the 2 month waiting period. When Jed and I arrived back in Ukraine after our England trip we picked up Aaron in Kyiv and brought him to our house for the weekend because Max wasn’t available to start caring for him till Monday. Aaron did SO WELL in our home. He obviously loved the stimulation of all the people, the space to move around, the toys and balls. It seemed like a no-brainer to all concerned that he would be better off in a family environment instead of one-on-one in an apartment.

Aaron knows he’s not allowed in the kitchen so he sited riiiiiiight at the edge 😆

That left the question of how to make it all happen. Aaron on his best day still requires full-time supervision and assistance. There was no way we could simply add him to our family and not change things up. The money had been donated to care for him, we just had to find the best way to use it. Then we had an “Aha!” moment and we made a decision that was better for all involved. Andriy stayed with us in our home, and Ruslan moved into the apartment with Max. Not what you were expecting to hear? Yeah, it took us a bit by surprise too, but sometimes the most obvious answers are the hardest to come by. 🙂

For several months we had been mulling over the idea of moving Ruslan to an apartment, even before Anton moved. There are several reasons that made this the right choice for this moment. First, Ruslan has a great potential for independence. He will never live alone, but he has great potential to learn to care for himself in many ways. He wants independence. He sees all his friends (our team) live in apartments with friends so the concept was interesting to him. In an apartment setting there will be more time and space for him to learn skills necessary for independence.

Second, Ruslan is highly anxious and quite obsessive. Anton did not thrive in the large family environment, and Ruslan, although he managed it better than Anton, also had big struggles. Ruslan wants to control everything and everyone in his environment. He’s been learning that when you live in a family it’s not possible or necessary to control everyone and everything, but in the large family context it was causing him a lot of angst.

My fave pic of Ruslan ❤️

Third, there were some personal matters that made it necessary for the health of our family that Ruslan move to a different space. To protect the dignity of all of us I don’t want to really expand on that. Everyone is safe, no one has been physically harmed, but you just can’t predict how interpersonal relationships will develop when you bring new people into your home, specifically people who have endured 30+ years of trauma and abuse. We have learned much from having Ruslan in our home, and we love him dearly. It is just healthier for everyone if he lives separate from us. I know it might seem like I’m glossing over this, but I hope you can trust that this is not a decision we came to lightly. We have been agonizing how to make it work, interpersonally, with Ruslan in our home, and the reality is, it just can’t work for the long term. If you have more questions about this, please shoot me an email. I’m happy to talk.

This move, even though we had considered doing it for a long time, was unexpected, but it feels 100% right. When Anton moved out it was traumatic and sad and felt like a loss (at the time). This does not feel like that. Ruslan was excited for the new adventure of living with Max, and Max is the perfect person to lead Ruslan into a more independent life. Anton’s leaving felt like failure, at the time, because Anton is developmentally much younger. He was confused and it felt like getting him out of the house ASAP was the only option in that stressful situation. This move feels like a next step. Aaron’s coming into our home for this time caused everyone to rethink how we are doing what we are doing and shook us up a bit. But we feel confident God used that situation for all of our good.

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At church on Sunday Ruslan was happy, loved and well-cared for; Anton was happy and loved and content. They arrived at church with different people, but were still surrounded by so many who love them. God is so faithful to provide the people to love our boys. Every one of them is in a good spot right now and we couldn’t be more thankful.

I don’t know what the future will hold for Ruslan and Anton. Possibly they will stay in apartments, possibly they will live in the duplex, we’re tossing around the idea of tiny houses on our property. We want to do what is best for them and we are committed to them, so we know God will show us in his timing.

I wanted to share with you so you would know how to pray and also so that those who gave toward Aaron’s care would be fully informed on how the money is being used. Max is being paid to care for Ruslan, so that we have the ability to care for Aaron in our home. Same use of funds, just a “change in seating”, if you will. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. We always want to be open and honest. Thank you for your love and encouragement, as always!

“Aaron” living large in the village

2019: A Year of Learning and Miracles

Well this year sure flew by in a flurry! I was just looking through the 2019 blog posts to find the highlights to link here and saw that I really didn’t write a whole lot. That in itself shows what kind of year we had around here: fast and furious. 🙂

Here in our home, with Anton and Ruslan, this year has been unbelievably difficult. There have been many beautiful moments, don’t get me wrong, but the overarching feeling when I sat down and initially looked back over this year in our home was not “beautiful”, it was “stinkin’ hard and painful”. It has been a year of learning to lay down our lives and learning what this dream of deinstitutionalization really is. Of course we already had some experience with Vlad and Boris, but for many reasons it has just been exponentially harder with Anton and Ruslan. We have learned A LOT. We have changed A LOT. And we have so much to be thankful for.

I’d love to sit down and report to you the many great strides and changes that have been made in our boys, and while they have changed and made some strides, the greater changes have been made in the hearts of our family.

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This year has forced us, Jed and me, to dig deep down inside ourselves and deal with our junk, ’cause Lord knows we’ve got a whole lot of it. Many times this year the way has felt so dark. We have felt hopeless, helpless and in way over our heads. We’ve learned, and are still learning, how impossible it is to do this thing of deinstitutionalization in our own strength. We’ve learned that we’ll most definitely burn out and cope in unhealthy ways when we try to do this on our own. We’ll get bitter. We’ll pick up our phones as an escape. We’ll get all judgey. We’ll lose our patience with our kids and we’ll even stop laughing.

There’s just no way around it. We either do this thing with Jesus, or we fail. That has been the big lesson of 2019: Jed and Kim without Jesus doesn’t work. Praise God for his never-ending mercy and unrelenting love toward us, and thank God for your prayers and encouragement that have sustained us in the darkest of times.

We are different people than we were at the beginning of the year, in a good way. So when I look at it that way I am filled with thankfulness for this past year of struggle. We are changed. Our kids are changed. They have grown and stepped up and matured. Our team has grown and stepped up and matured. Our team has grown in love for each other and we have learned so very much about the path that lies ahead of us. If we had never brought Ruslan and Anton into our home we would have been dreadfully unprepared for the next phases of this journey. So, praise God that his ways are higher than ours. All the tears, all the struggles with self, all the sleepless nights have been 100% worth it. I mean that.

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When you look outside our home at the other parts of this Wide Awake machine there are no shortage of miracles. 🙂

In January we sent out desperate plea for our “Preston” to be adopted. The government was threatening to send him back to the institution if he did not have a committed family by summer. A family pretty quickly stepped forward and they met Preston on Christmas Eve. 🙂 Christmas Day at our house was spent with Preston and his new family getting to know each other. Praise God for his love for our sweet boy.

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Preston with his new daddy on Christmas Day

In July we sent out another desperate plea for our “Aaron” to be adopted. He was the last boy at Romaniv available for adoption and was going to age out at the end of the year, making him forever unadoptable. That same day, as the post was being written, an adoptive family was at Romaniv for another boy (“Kayden”) and they also fell in love with Aaron. They ended up adding him to their adoption and had court for him on December 18th. Aaron is legally an orphan no more, saved at the very last minute by an AMAZING family. He’ll go home to them in January. Praise God for his pursuit of the ones left behind and forgotten for so many years. This is such a huge miracle!!!

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Aaron will go home with his new family in January!

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Kayden was adopted in the fall by the same family. Look at him on his first day of school!

If those adoptions were the only thing that happened this year it would be enough to be a miraculous year, but let’s not forget the ginormous building right outside our back door. Ha!

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the next Wide Awake home is well on it’s way to completion. The roof is on and the windows and doors are in. We are looking at a completion date of late spring, early summer. It’s amazing!!!  (and did I mention, huge?)

The house is a duplex, so it has the capacity to be a forever home for 8 of our friends from Romaniv- four on each side, plus the people who will live there with them.

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We were thinking the end of the year would be a cool time to do a kind of “Virtual Housewarming” for the duplex. Many people have asked how they can be a part of the work here, and helping us to outfit the duplex with all the needed appliances is a great, tangible way to contribute to the freedom of our boys.

If you would like to contribute toward any of these items, just click on the item and proceed through the form. Thank you!

 

We are still searching for who will live in the duplex with our boys, so if this is something that your heart can’t let go of, please contact us and we can begin a conversation. I promise we are great neighbors. 😉

As we end the year I want to say thank you to this Wide Awake community for being such a wonderful source of encouragement and support to us and our team. In the good times you have celebrated with us, and in the hard times you have encouraged us, trusted us, and lifted our arms, encouraging us to press on, reminding us of our why. We thank God for you and look forward to the growth that will happen in 2020!

BeLOVE[d]

You can follow Wide Awake on Facebook and Instagram (@wide_awake_international). I update there much more frequently than here on the blog, especially when things get super crazy up in here. But I promise to keep this space alive too, if you still prefer blogs, so no worries 🙂

An Anton Update

We can’t thank you enough. All of you who have been praying, all who sent messages, all who emailed and called. Thank you for loving us, for trusting us, and for loving Anton.

It has been quite the two weeks. To be honest, it’s been quite the year. No, let’s be real honest- it’s been quite the 6 years. 😂 But these past two weeks have been a DOOZY.

Thank God, He heard our prayers and He made a way for everyone to be safe and loved. We found an apartment for Anton and it’s about a 10 minute walk from a park by the river. Every morning he gets to go for a walk in his most favorite place ever. Huge blessing.

The big question of the hour was: who would live with Anton? Thankfully, God heard our prayers and provided there too! Two friends from church, guys in their early twenties are living with Anton in the apartment. He spends his weekdays with our team, like always, then in the evenings and night he is home in the apartment with his two new housemates. They get a free apartment and Anton gets two new friends. Win win. 😊 They are kind, peaceful, and gracious men. A wonderful woman from church is helping to care for him on the weekends. She just returned to Zhytomyr and needed work and we needed weekend help. Win win. 😊 We are so thankful!!! We are giving it a month and then we’ll reevaluate further.

Anton is doing okay. He is confused, but we just keep reiterating to him that this is a better place for him, a quieter place. The first several days were not pretty. So bad. So so bad. He wanted to come home really badly. We were all in tears, but we know that we know that this is the best plan for right now. We aren’t bringing him home to our house at all right now, even for visits, just because it would definitely be confusing and we feel a significant time away is best. Of course we still see him plenty, just not at the house. He likes the new guys he is living with and is mellowing out a bit. It’s been a huge adjustment for all, but things are definitely not getting worse. Yay!

We started Anton on an anti anxiety medication to hopefully take the edge off during this time. We are also working with a GI doc to get some other answers, but right now we’re waiting on test results before we know more. She wanted us to put him on a gluten-free, lactose-free diet, so that’s super fun to try to do in the Breadbasket of Europe. Ugh. Good thing Anton’s not obsessed with food or it would be really hard. <— (Insert my most sarcastic voice)

Overall it’s been super hard, but God has been faithful. Our team is the best best best. Jed and I are coming down from living in a state of constant vigilance and we are wow, so exhausted. We are also so thankful for our community here and for God’s provision.

Please keep praying. Pray that this living situation would work well and that we would get more answers about Anton’s health. Thank you!!!!