About a Boy, and His Love

Do you remember back in January when I came to you with a desperate plea for one of our darling boys who was absolutely wasting away?  I wrote about him here.  We, and the orphanage staff feared for his life.  He was dying before our eyes.  At that time I asked for a family to please step up and adopt him, but then shortly after that post, issues with his documents made him unavailable for adoption.  We mourned that loss of opportunity, but still, God had his way with that post and hundreds of people contacted us, letting us know they were faithfully praying for our sweet Danya.  

Today I want to encourage you and let you know that your prayers have not been in vain!

 

“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

-Unknown

Meet Mira.

 

Mira first came into our lives when our local Ukrainian church’s discipleship school began to volunteer for Wide Awake.  Wide Awake was the “outreach” portion of their discipleship training, so we instantly had 12 volunteers every week at Romaniv!  Mira was on the team.

Romaniv is a pretty extreme place.  The whole team faithfully served there for this whole past school year whether they liked it, loved it, or…didn’t really enjoy it at all.  We could never thank them enough.  They have been the hugest blessing to our lives!!  Most of the team members had no idea places like Romaniv, and people like our Boys even existed in their country, so hidden is Romaniv from society.  Serving at a mental institution isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay!  But for a few of the team members it was completely life-altering.  Mira was one of those people.

The discipleship school ended a few weeks ago, and still many (most!) of the team members come to Romaniv every chance they get.  In between university exams they’ll squeeze a visit in, filling up our boys’ love cups, and getting their own filled in return.  They are pretty much the best group of teens I have ever known.  I wish I could have been half as cool at that age.  ūüėČ

Mira never EVER misses a trip to Romaniv.  During every day of Romaniv day camp, she was there.  Every day of the German medical team’s visit, she was there.  She is just always there.   And she is making a difference.

 

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 You see, our sweet Danya loooooooves Mira.  And the feeling is quite mutual.  Over the past month or so Mira has been at Romaniv almost every single day, and the changes we have seen in Danya over that time have been nothing short of miraculous!

Mira is not a therapist.  She’s not a medical professional.   She’s just an 18 year old college student with a fierce love for one small boy.

 

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When she is at Romaniv Danya gets her whole self.  He gets her hugs, her tickles, her eye contact.  They walk together, they run together, they smell flowers together and feel the grass together.  They sit together and rock together.  Mira truly SEES Danya, and Danya comes alive.  His heart is so ready to accept her love, and her heart is being changed in the process.  It is a miracle for them both, and all glory goes to God.

Danya in January, and Danya last week ūüôā

I think that sometimes we humans operate under the thought that unless we can do something “big” that is noticeable by a lot of people, and impacts large populations that it’s not important.  I think we miss so many opportunities for love while searching for the next “big thing”.  Me too!

What about the people right in front of us?  What if there is one person out there that is desperate for someone to truly SEE them and your eyes are just the ones equal to the task?  They don’t necessarily need someone more qualified or smarter or more important.  Maybe they just need you- to walk together, smell flowers together, sit together…just BE together.  Maybe.

I know one boys whose life is literally being saved by that kind of love.

Praise God for His never-stopping love for our Danya.  Praise God that He knew just what Danya needed, and praise God that Mira said, and keeps saying YES.

One foot in front of the other, Friends.  One YES at a time, with eyes wide open, with hearts Wide Awake

“I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  -Edward Everett Hale

Mira and Danya from Wide Awake International on Vimeo.

*Please keep praying for Danya.  He still has far to go, but as you can see, he’s on the right track!   THANK YOU!

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. ūüėČ ¬†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 ‚ÄúIf 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.

Unexpected Blessings: England!

Did you know that I could be the perfect criminal?  All these years earning money like an honest person, and I could have just been a thief! ūüėČ  You see, unbeknownst to me, I have almost no fingerprints.  Yeah, I guess no one really pays attention to their fingerprints (or lack thereof) until they try to adopt.  Who would have thought that this biggest hurdle in our adoption process would be my fingertips??????  

For our adoption we have to have FBI clearance (which requires fingerprinting) and US immigration approval (which requires a separate fingerprinting process).  Easy peasy, if you have fingerprints.  We had our fingerprints taken with ink in Kyiv, at the Embassy, and then they were mailed to the US for processing.  My FBI prints were rejected first, for poor quality, so I had to fly to the US to have them redone.  Remember that?  Well, then my US immigration prints were rejected, soooooo Havalah and I flew to England last week to have them redone at the US Embassy in London.  At that embassy they have an electronic process with which you can do your prints over and over until you get high enough quality prints to be accepted.  I found out last Tuesday that the London Embassy would do my prints on Thursday, so Hava and I flew out last Wednesday.  

At first I was frustrated to have to fly to another country AGAIN, on behalf of my fingers, but we’ll do whatever we gotta do to get our baby home, so we decided to make a bit of a holiday out of it and enjoy ourselves in the process. 

     

We arrived in London on Wednesday afternoon and our appointment wasn’t until Thursday at 1:00, so we spent Wednesday evening and Thursday morning exploring London and drinking in ALL THE ENGLISH being spoken everywhere.  It was awesome.  Going somewhere where you can understand everything is like a vacation for my brain.  It is a relief, and just a joy.  We had the best time.

               

We headed to the US Embassy with time to spare on Thursday and nervously awaited the staff member who would take me in for my infamous prints.  

It took some effort, that’s for sure.  The computer kept rejecting, rejecting, rejecting, and ultimately wouldn’t pass some of my fingers, but in the end the staff member assured me the prints he had captured were “good enough”.  SWEET RELIEF!!!!!!  I was nervous since I don’t understand the system and he hadn’t gotten a “pass” for all of my fingers, but in the end after 20 reassurances, I decided to trust him.  Haha.  

We celebrated by going to theater to watch a movie in English!  Such fun. 

One funny thing about this trip was seeing everything through Havalah’s eyes.  Although we’ve only beeen gone from the US for 18 months, that’s a long time for a little one.  Hava was only 4 when we left.  We were standing in line for our passport check when we arrived at the airport in London and when she heard people talking she said “Mom!  They know how to speak English here!”  The not so funny thing was the constant reminders to my rather outspoken daughter that yes, people speak English here, so yes, they can understand everything you say.  Oy.  

Her fascination with squirrels, common place in Oregon, but not common in Ukraine cracked me up.  She saw a Burger King sign and said “Hey!  I think I know that place!”   Her awe over all the green grass and amazingly in-repair sidewalks made me smile.  She made friends with strangers on every form of public transportation, living it up with her mad English skills.  What a sweetie.   

          

We did some more exploring on Friday morning, and then took an afternoon train north to Hull, to spend the weekend with some friends.  

Just the week before Hava and I were in England we had a team from Hull here in Ukraine, so we were happy to see them again and visit Hull Vineyard, their awesome church that supports Wide Awake.  It was a sweet time enjoying friends and making new friends.  We felt so loved and cared for.  My heart was encouraged and Hava got her love tank filled to overflowing.  Thank you Hull friends for loving us so well.  We love you!!! 

(boohoo I didn’t take nearly enough pics in Hull))

        

We’re back in Ukraine now and just waiting on our US immigration approval, and then all of our documents can be submitted to the adoption authorities here, and our in-country process can begin! 

Would you pray with us for speedy approval by immigration, and that the adoption authorities will have no issues with our paperwork?  Our situation is unique, so we aren’t sure if they will require extra documentation from us.  We pray not, because we are desperate to get our son home.  We are so close!  

I’m so thankful for the special England gift that God gave to Hava and me.  It seemed like an inconvenience at the time, but it was just pure blessing.  God knows just what we need, and He goes before us to prepare the way.  I mean, the week before I found out I would be going to England He brought us English friends who would bless our socks off and shower us with love.  This trip wasn’t just about fingerprints, it was about me learning to trust Him and His goodness, even more.  

One step closer to getting our baby home.  What a wild ride!  ūüôā

The Beauty in the Journey

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If you’ve been reading this blog long enough you know that learning how to mother my kids in a new culture has been a big fat challenge for me. It was something I worried about before we moved, and it was THE something I worried about once we landed. Isn’t worrying awesome? It’s just so productive! Not.

It’s just that parenting is hard enough, and then you throw in lots of factors that make our family really “different” and things get downright confusing! I’ve found that we don’t really fit anywhere these days, when it comes to parenting. We don’t fit Ukrainian standards because, well, simply put, we aren’t Ukrainian! We can speak the language (work in progress) and buy the right clothes and eat the right food, but at the end of the day, we’re still Americans. We think differently¬†than Ukrainian parents and we were raised differently than our Ukrainian peers. Culture is so HUGE. There are things we do similarly to Ukrainian parents, but we are also quite different. We could try to be the same, but at our core we’ll always be different- and that’s okay.

But- now we don’t really fit American standards either! For one thing, we don’t live in America, so that changes a whole heck of a lot right there. Many things that are expected for a “normal” childhood in the US just aren’t available or possible here. Our kids are having a completely different childhood than Jed and I had. It’s difficult not to have the same expectations in my heart for them, because all I know is a typical American childhood…yep, not gonna happen for our crew. And that’s okay!

It can feel very “Lone Ranger”ish, parenting so far away from our home culture. I don’t have mom friends I am close to here who are parenting kids around the same ages of ours. I miss the support of others who were going through the mothering stages alongside me. I miss bouncing ideas off each other over coffee and gaining wisdom from others. I miss my kids having friends. I miss having moms around me who are “one step ahead” on the journey. I miss watching them and learning from them. Most mothering and parenting books are really hard for me to read here. It can be discouraging because so much of what is written is based on the assumption that you live in America and have all that is available there, or that the mom’s only focus is on the home and she has no outside responsibilities. ¬†It’s hard to explain, but when I read those books in the middle of this life we are living, it almost seems like they are books from another planet.

Honestly, parenting in this situation (or any situation) is just stinkin’ hard work. ¬†Awesome, but still stinkin’ hard. Am I right? ¬†People ask “How do you do it all?” Um yeah, I don’t. I can’t. Things fall by the wayside. My house is messy. I just paused writing to tell Seth not to throw knives- truth. My kids get lonely. Laundry piles haunt my dreams. I lose my patience daily (or hourly). Homeschooling can get sporadic and is often unorganized. I get lonely. I read mommy blogs (why do I do that?) and feel guilt that I don’t do crafts with my kids. ¬†I want to get up early but instead I stay up too late at night. ¬†I don’t follow through. And on and on and on.

So, yeah I can’t do it all, but I’m sorta, kinda starting to come to grips with the fact that the Johnson family is on our own journey and ours doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s journey. There is beauty in this particular journey and it’s pointless to waste time wishing it looked differently. I mean, this is the journey God created us to walk. Sooooo I should probably learn to be good with it.

Our kids are loved.
Our kids have each other. They love each other.
Our kids are learning to love and value those who the world has cast aside.
Our kids are learning a new culture and a new way of doing things- and their world is bigger because of it.
Our kids are learning what it is to say YES to Jesus.

I finally feel at peace in mothering, probably for the first time since we moved! I have seen little glimpses lately of the fruit and I see that our journey is beautiful in it’s own way.

-Addy announced to me yesterday “Ezra and I are just best friends lately! We just love each other! We’re hoping to keep this going on for as long as we can.”
-When it was dark out, Seth reached out to help Hava down the stairs to our yard. “I know the dark steps scare you Hava. Hold my arm.”
-Hava asked “Mom, which Romaniv boy would you choose first to come live at our house? I couldn’t choose, they’re all just so cute!”
-Every time we come home from Romaniv Ezra wants to see the pics of the boys right away. He loves them.
-Seth said “Mom, I can share Boris with daddy because he needs a daddy too.”

I write all this to say, own your own journey. God’s Word and God’s grace apply to every life situation- regardless of location. Parenting books and parenting seminars are great (I would love some of that right about now!)- but what is the greatest is saying YES to God when it comes to your children. Don’t compare your journey to your friend’s or your neighbor’s or some random blogger’s. The details of their lives are not the details of your life. Their journey is not your journey. Their kids are not your kids.
(Preaching to myself, FYI)

Teach your kids to say YES to Jesus by saying YES to Jesus yourself.
The rest is sprinkles on top. ūüôā

 

The Value of a Life

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“Did you just end up on this earth? ¬†Was it all an accident?

The Bible says it wasn’t an accident. ¬†It was a plan. ¬†

You didn’t just end up here. ¬†God put you here on purpose. ¬†¬†

God wanted you here, and he had to have you here right now.  Because he has a wonderful plan for you- something that only you can do.

Every single thing about you- the color of your eyes, your name, what you love, every day you will live- God knew before time began.

Even before you were born, he loved you. ¬†You began in God’s heart.

You are his. ¬†Made by him. ¬†Made for him.”

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

 

A young man the size of a small boy rocks back and forth in his bed tonight.  He is surrounded by others just like him, yet he is alone.  In the bed next to his, another boy hits his head with his hand over and over, his attempt to feel something.

I’m not there with them, but I know what they are doing. ¬†I know because it is what they are always doing- every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year. ¬†Their lives are empty shells. ¬†They’re here on this earth, but not truly living.

On Tuesdays and Fridays a group of smiling people come to their room and offer them love and bananas, but with vacant eyes they can’t seem to respond or engage. ¬†They shrink away from touch and scream when too much unexpected action occurs.

Their lives consist of one hallway with several identical rooms, where every day is the same.

And there they live out their days, so alone- like dead men walking.

And yet, their lives have infinite value.

Each one lovingly formed and crafted in his mother’s womb. ¬†Our Father God has always known every single detail about them. ¬†He knows what lies behind the blank faces.

He knows.  He loves.  Oh how He loves.

And in His great love and mercy He has not forgotten them.  Even as they sit and rock right at this very moment He has plans for them.  Our God has a future and a hope for them.  He promises it, so it is so.

I picture God the Father looking down on them with eyes so full of love He can’t contain himself. I see his eyes brimming over with tears at the pain and suffering they have endured. ¬†But I hear him whisper ever so softly, “Don’t you worry sweet baby. ¬†Daddy’s here and it’s all going to be okay.”

The infinite value of a life.  

A young woman heads to work on the subway, her favorite music keeping her company along the way. ¬†She looks at all the strangers around her and feels small. ¬†A man pulls his truck in to the parking lot at his office, right on time despite the traffic. ¬†Another day, another dollar. ¬†A harried mom makes lunches and checks homework and ties shoelaces before hustling her brood out the door. ¬†An old man, nearing the end of his days, waits for his caregiver to come help him in to his chair so he can peruse the morning news. ¬†Oh how he wishes he could still do it himself. ¬†It’s hard to have to rely on others. ¬†A teacher welcomes her class with a smile- yet behind the smile she wonders if she is really making a difference and how she will manage to make it through another day. ¬†A Grandma, a taxi driver, a teenager, a child, a seamstress…

…and you.

Each one infinitely valuable.  Each one made with a purpose and for a purpose.

Oh how He loves.

From the weakest boy at our orphanage to the strongest and most alive among you- God sees you and He knows you.  He created you with so much value.  What will you do with it?

You have choices and abilities and loves and talents.  How will you use them?

Will you use your life as a yes to God? ¬†Will you let Him use you fully as you He intended you to be? ¬†Can you imagine how beautiful that would be? ¬†-If each of us lived our lives fully as God intended. ¬†If we each invested the value of our lives in to God’s Kingdom and in to the ones who have no choices- the lost and forgotten, the discarded ones.

Please don’t dismiss your value. ¬†Don’t squander this life you’ve been given. ¬†It’s such a great gift! ¬†Maybe today it seems really hard. ¬†Maybe today you don’t feel you have much value. ¬†Maybe you’ve squandered your days and live with regret.

I picture God the Father looking down on you¬†with eyes so full of love He can’t contain himself. I see his eyes brimming over with tears at the pain and suffering you have endured. ¬†But I hear him whisper ever so softly, “Don’t you worry sweet baby. ¬†Daddy’s here and it’s all going to be okay.”

It’s never too late to say yes to God.

Your life has immense value. ¬†Spend wisely today, would you? ¬†I guarantee you won’t regret it.