The First Time

Four years ago today we met our boys for the first time. 

On that day we had no idea that those beautiful boys would become the loves of our lives.  We had no idea they would become our mission, our dream, our passion, our dearest friends. 

Jed and I had arrived in Ukraine just days before on a crazy adventure.  We landed in Ukraine knowing not a single person, nor a single word of Ukrainian or Russian (don’t try that at home).  All we knew was that God was calling us.  He had children in Ukraine that we were supposed to respond to somehow.  We had been praying and dreaming and looking at pictures and it had become clear that we HAD to travel to Ukraine to see for ourselves.  We had to smell the smells, see the sights, touch, feel, listen.  Only then would we know God’s next steps for our family.

Our first day in Ukraine

We made a handful of email contacts, “We want to serve children with disabilities…can we come see what you do?” We stayed in hostels, fumbled with public transportation and had an adventure we would never forget. 

On the day we were to visit Romaniv for the first time with our now partner organization, Mission to Ukraine, we had butterflies in our stomachs.  I remember Jed and I both wondering how we would feel when we met the boys.  Our hearts had been broken for orphans with disabilities in Ukraine, but we had never actually met any of them.  What if we got to the orphanage and were too overwhelmed?  What if the sights and smells and sounds would be too much for us?  We so desired to give our lives to them, but what if our bodies rejected that dream?  What if our humanness held us back?  

I remember when we walked into the first room, empty of things except benches against the walls.  

And boys. So many boys.  Our babies.

They walked toward us with arms outstretched and soon we were swarmed by them.  

It smelled so.bad. The smell took my breath away.

The boys looked unlike any people I had ever seen before.  The neglect was unreal.   I had moments of panic as they reached for me, unsure how to respond to them, unsure of what they would do.

The sounds assaulted my ears: moaning, crying, and shrieking intermingled with laughter and words I didn’t understand.  

It was completely overwhelming in every possible way. 

And yet.

I remember so clearly the moment when Jed and I made eye contact through the crowd.  I glanced over at him wondering if I could tell from his face what he was thinking.  Personally, I was both totally freaked out and totally in love at the same time.  My heart was exploding and I knew.  I just knew THIS was what God made me for.  I looked over at Jed, his body surrounded by boys on all sides, and our eyes met.  His eyes were full of tears.  He nodded at me like “Yep, this is it.”

I wonder what we would have said if God had let us in on the little secret that we had met our future son that day?  Wow. 🙂

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The rest is history.  After that trip we came home, founded Wide Awake, left our jobs, passed off our church responsibilities, sold everything, and moved to Ukraine.  

We thought we would serve at Romaniv for a year and then maybe move on to an institution further south, but after one year we knew we could never leave.  We were made to love those boys.  Our lives were not complete without them.  Our children had grown to love them.  How could we walk away?  

And so, we press on.  We step forward with the dream to get our boys to safety.  It is our joy to serve them as long as God allows us.  

I am in awe of all God has done in four short years.  He has raised up a team of young people to join us in this beautiful work.  Their love and committment to the boys is incredible. He has given us relationship and favor with orphanage administration.  He has brought along partners to support the work. He has given us interns and teachers.  He has moved the hearts of adoptive families to come rescue their sons. He gave us our Vladik. He has provided funds in miraculous ways and Jed is in Ukraine right now looking at land to purchase for the first group homes.  Our God doesn’t mess around! 

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All the awesomeness that God is doing, we couldn’t see any of that on that day four years ago.  We couldn’t foresee how He would care for us and pave the way.  We couldn’t imagine how His love for the boys would trump every opinion that said nothing could ever change.  All we knew was that God was asking us to say yes.  We can’t see what He will be doing in four years from now, but it’s okay.  All he is asking is for us to say yes and to keep walking.  

So today, all you need to do is say yes.  You don’t need to know all the details.  You don’t need to have it all figured out.  Just listen to what the Father is saying and join Him in His work. SAY YES!  This life is short and we only get one shot at it.  We don’t have time to focus on our own comfort.  This life is but a blink of an eye. 

Look with eternal eyes.  Be brave. Have faith. 

It will be scary.  It will be hard.  It will be uncomfortable.  It might smell bad and be really noisy and dirty and messy.  Oh but the joy, the joy that comes with that mess is worth it all.  

Don’t be afraid.  Say yes today and trust your Father. 

He is good.  

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Rhythm

Rhythm.  Every family has it’s own rhythm, it’s own way of keeping time, moves at it’s own beat.  

Our rhythm…do we even have one????  I can’t ever seem to find it.  It must sound something like an elementary band playing together for the first time.  There’s a drum there…and the instruments are playing…but the rhythm is ALL OVER THE PLACE.  Hahahaha.  It’s crazy, and wild, and just when it starts to sound and feel kinda good a squeaky clarinet pipes in and ruins everything. 😉 
I long for a nice, steady beat, but I think I’ve started to slowly swallow the fact that I just ain’t gonna get it.  We are wild.  We’re all over the place.  We’re kinda scattered and wacky, but THAT is our rhythm.  And it’s beautiful, in it’s own special way.  
Jed left on Sunday for Ukraine and is now back with our Boys.  I already miss him here with us, but I am so relieved that he is there with them.  My heart aches for my babies across the sea.  I think about them so many times throughout the day.  Whenever I worship or pray they come to my mind and won’t leave.  I think God is calling me to almost constant intercession on their behalf.  That’s cool and all, but my mama arms ache to hold them and squeeeeeeeze them.  🙂 Having Jed there just puts my heart at rest.  
  
It’s interesting, but we both just felt like for sure Jed needed to be there now.  Our volunteers have been visiting the Boys faithfully, three times a week while we’ve been gone.  They have done an AMAZING job.  It’s not like Jed is so super special that he can love the Boys better or something (although he is pretty darn special, in my book), but we just knew he needed to get there.  So, it feels good to have him there, right where he is supposed to be. He’s hosting a team right now, then he’ll be working on some training with our new teachers, encouraging our volunteers, working on a super special secret project, and just spending loads of quality time with the Boys we love so much. It’s all good.
The kids are doing awesome at school.  They totally love it- all four of them. They have friends there, they love their teachers; school is wonderful gift to them right now.  It feels super peaceful having them there.  I was all worried that Addy and Ez would be massively behind because of our crazy rhythm, but thankfully, they have done fabulously.  They are both a little behind on math, but are otherwise right on target!  Whew!  All those homeschool worries were for nothing.  Yeah, most of my worries end up being for nothing.  Worrying is such an awesome use of time.  Not.  

  
Vladik is still doing fab.  He is starting to test the waters a bit these days, and that’s actually a good thing!  He feels safe here.  He’s had a few medical tests so far, just to check on his general health and has done great with them all. This week we get to test him for parasites…stool sample anyone?  Fun times, fun times…nice timing for Jed to leave.  Vladik is a little confused now that Jed is gone, but he understands that Papa has gone to work with our friends.  I’ll blog about all that later.  We have a pretty unique experience of removing him from Romaniv, but continuing to work there…it’s a strange road to navigate, for sure.  

  
So, that’s the rhythm we’re in now.  Daddy’s working hard across the sea, kids are rockin’ it at school, and Mommy and Vladik are learning how to listen and obey, checking out lots of different doctor’s offices, and eating lots of mashed potatoes.  Yummmmmm.

Till next time, keep on keepin’ on!

  
 

On the Way

Where in the world is the Johnson Fam?  Are you finding it impossible to keep up with all our comings and goings and craziness?  Yeah, me too.  🙂  I did a big catch-up post here, for the curious. 

I’m sitting in the Houston Airport, on my way back to Ukraine for adoption court. YES!  Jed is already back in Ukraine working away with our Boys, moving out of our house, and spending lots of quality time with our soon-to-be-son.  Our other kiddos are back in Salem at some wonderful friends’ house.  Grammy (Jed’s mommy) flew to Oregon from Montana to care for them while I’m gone for court.  So, we’re all spread out for now, but it’s all gonna be worth it, because soon our son will be OUT forever!!!  I hope and pray all goes well at court on Monday and I can do a big, fat introduction/birth announcement.  

We arrived in the US as a family on August 11th and had the most wonderful 10 days together before Jed flew back to Ukraine.  It was just pure awesomeness.  

 

We only pack the necessities

  

Ol’ Faithful mustache tape has served us well

  

At the airport in Kyiv!

 
You know, I had read lots of missionary/expat tips on how to re-enter the US after being away for a while, and they all recommended heading someplace that is not your home base and just being together as a family before seeing family and friends.  All the recommendations talked about how it is helpful just to decompress as a family, get over jetlag without demands on your attention and all that.  I thought it sounded like a great idea, but not great on the ol’ budget.  Well, God totally took care of that!  A wonderfully generous couple from Ventura, CA whom we had NEVER MET gave us their house for 5 days.  They left and just let us take over their beautiful home and it was the hugest blessing ever!!!  We went to the beach (where Jed and I proceeded to win the worst parents in the world award by letting our kids get completely fried…oops #babylobsters), we watched tons of movies, we oogled over Target and Trader Joes, I read and read and read some more, and the icing on the cake: Jed and I got to go see my brother star in a musical in La Jolla.  It was AWESOME.  Thank you Dan and Jeannie for blessing us so completely.  

 

Jet lag is a beast!

  
    
  

I’m so proud of my brother!

 
After our 5 day rest, my family drove down and we all met in Anaheim for 4 days of Disney!!!  My heaven!  Haha! My parents had been saving and planning for this family trip for 2 years and it was absolutely perfection.  Seriously.  It could not have been better!  

We did two days of Disneyland and two days of California Adventure and we loved every second of it.  My parents rented a house with a pool so every day we would come back in the afternoon and the kids would swim with their cousins.  Best.trip.ever.  Thank you Mom and Dad for that most wonderful, memorable gift!  

   
 
    

    
    
    

Gotta represent Wide Awake! 🙂

 
Jed flew back to Ukraine on our last day of Disney and the kids and I flew up to Oregon.  Then it was school registration (EEK!) and school supply shopping and embassy document notarizing and health insurance document mailing and doctor’s office calling and soon-to-be-son clothes shopping and back-to-America-culture-shocking (more on that later).  I pretty much ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, so it’s lucky that Grammy arrived when she did to save my children from their crazy mommy! 😉 

 

Seth forgot about booster seats. Ha!

  

My kids were FASCINATED and in awe of the cereal aisle

    

A once in a lifetime experience: they each got to pick out their own cereal.

  

We’ve been so busy we even lost a tooth!

  

The kids insisted we walk to the library instead of driving. “We don’t want to lose our Ukrainian legs Mom!”

 
We are so blessed and SO excited to be just about done with this legal stage of the adoption.  We’re ready for the family stage now. Our mommy and daddy hearts are positively busting at the seams.  We are so close!  The kids are doing amazing.  They are so flexible and adaptable and brave.  They want their brother home super bad too.  

Soon, baby soon!!  

The Skinny

I’m here!  I’m here!  Oh.My.Gooooooodness.  It’s been such a long time. 

I had this whole introspective, from-the-gut-post in the works, but, while trying to finish it up I realized I just don’t have the energy for that right now.  So, you get a not-from-the-gut informative post instead.  🙂 

There are a whole lot of emotions goin’ on around here, that’s for sure.  We are gearing up for our first visit back to the States, as a family.  We leave on Tuesday.  WHAT????  Pure craziness I tell ya.  Our life is never boring.  All my introspective writing was on our feelings about leaving our Boys and it was UGLY.  The thought of being so far away from our Boys for several months brings on an instantaneous sob-fest, so I’d rather not delve to deep into that topic.  Let’s just say that we don’t want to leave them, but we are excited to be with family and friends.  It’s confusing, and not black and white.  So, there.  

   
 
Here’s the skinny on what is happening in our life.  Deep breath, here goes:

ADOPTION.  We are in the home stretch of the adoption process!  In fact, we were supposed to have court today, but it was rescheduled for August 31st.  There were no jurors available today and yeah, it’s frustrating, I cried a lot, but we know that God’s timing is perfect.  After court on August 31st there will be a 10-day mandatory waiting period and then we will get to take our boy out of Romaniv forever!!!!  I can’t wait to introduce him to you!  

TRAVEL TO THE US.  We had already planned, before our move to Ukraine that we would head to the US as a family for our first visit in August 2015.  Many, many months ago my parents planned that when we arrived, in August 2015, they would take all of their kids and grandkids to Disneyland.  Well, the time is upon us!  Woohoo!  The timing is a little stinky, with our adoption court rescheduling, but oh well.  We are just thanking God for this last big hurrah before we have another son and our lives change forever.   Don’t people call that like a “babymoon” or something crazy like that?  Let’s call Disneyland our “babymoon”, nevermind that our baby is 15 years old.  Hehe.  (details, details)        

So our family will leave Ukraine on Tuesday and fly straight to California.  We will have a few days to catch our breath before my family joins us for Disney.  Jed will leave Disney early (on the 20th) to fly back to Ukraine.  He was supposed to be picking up our son at that pointt, but then court was rescheduled and yada yada yada.  We couldn’t change his ticket.  Whatevs.  The kids and I will head to Oregon after Disneyland and start to get settled a bit, get ready for school to start.  I will fly back to Ukraine for court on the 29th.  I’ll leave the kids with family and friends in Oregon.  

After court I will come back to Oregon and Jed will stay in Ukraine to finish up all the documents for our new baby.  Then he and our newest Johnson will fly and meet us in Oregon.  Together at last!!!

   
 

HOUSING.  We decided right after we got home from camp that it would be best to move out of the house we rent in Ukraine and put our stuff in storage.  We really can’t afford to pay for a house that’s not being used here, and a house that we’ll be using in Oregon.  So, we’ve been busy packing up and moving out.  FUN.  

While in Oregon we will be renting a house from some crazy-generous friends who are giving us a screaming deal.  Praise God!!!  Friends and family are letting us borrow stuff to set up a temporary Oregon home.  🙂  Thanks!   We don’t know where we’ll live when we come back from America, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.    I can’t think about it now or my head will explode.

SCHOOL.  Our kids (minus the new arrival) will be attending school in Oregon!  This will be a first for them.  Addy and Ez have been to school in Ukraine, but we homeschooled in the US before, so this will be a new adventure for us.  We know our new son will need a TON of medical care and there is just no way I can meet his needs and homeschool 4 kids, so this feels like the most peaceful decision.  I’m a little nervous about it though!  Eeeek!          

TIMING.  We aren’t exactly sure how long we will be in the US.  The working plan is that Jed will stay for about 2 months, and then return to Ukraine.  There is a TON of work that needs to be done here (always) and he just can’t be gone for a long time.  The kids and I will stay behind in Oregon until our new son gets the medical care that he urgently needs.  We don’t know how long that will take.  We anticipate more than one major surgery with specialist surgeons.  Things like that just don’t happen fast.  I’m prepping myself to be gone from Ukraine for at least 6 months.  I can’t think about it too much though or I turn into a basket case.  Oh my Romaniv babies!  But, our top priority is getting our new son healthy, so we will do what it takes to make that happen.  🙂  

   
 

WIDE AWAKE.  Are you signed up for our newsletters?  If you aren’t, you should. You can do it here.  I’ll confess that we have not been stellar about sending them out super regularly this year.  But it’s in our hearts to do better with that.  Anywayssss in our last newsletter we talked about Wide Awake’s partnership with a local church here in Zhytomyr.  Christian Youth Church is the church our family attends here in Z-town and we love our friends there.  The vast majority of Wide Awake’s volunteers are from Youth Church, and they are our fam here in Ukraine.  

Wide Awake gave a grant to Youth Church to be used to carry on the work with our Boys while we are in the US.  The grant pays for the work of volunteer recruitment and management, and will pay for the drivers and gas to get the teams to Romaniv while we are away.  Vika, our friend and volunteer, is in charge of the Romaniv work for Youth Church and she has already done an amazing job of growing the work while we were away at camp.  She has recruited many new volunteers and we have now added a Saturday team!  So now the boys get teams coming AT LEAST three days a week, and many weeks they get even more visits than that.  Praise God for Youth Church and their love for the Boys!  We are leaving the work in good hands and we know that our teams will continue to be faithful, even though we will be so far away.  What a huge relief!

That’s the skinny!  It’s a lot.  I know.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.  Thanks for coming along on this wild ride.  We could never do it alone.  🙂               

   

  

                                                                                                                                                 

The Crazy Awesomeness that is our Summer Plans

Summer is in full swing around here and it kind of feels like we’re on a roller coaster at this point.  We know we’re safe, we’re all buckled in, but it’s moving a little too fast for comfort and we kinda want it to slow down, but it’s also really good and all the spins are kind of fun, we we don’t want it to stop.

There’s a lot going on and there’s about to be a lot MORE going on, so I better fill you in while I have the chance.  HOLYMOLY.

We have a volunteer arriving on Sunday and she’ll be here for 3 weeks!  Sara is a massage therapist and works at a community for adults with special needs in Arizona.  She will be helping us implement massage at Romaniv and will be doing some teaching for the nurse there.  We are excited to have her along on this crazy journey.  I’m super interested to see how the boys do with massage!  I’m anticipating a strong learning curve…hehe  THISCOULDGETINTERESTING.

On July 7th we’ll head to Mission to Ukraine’s yearly summer camp for kids with disabilities.  There will be two camps and we will volunteer at both of them. Camp was the highlight of our family’s year last year, so we are very excited to do it again.  Woot!  We’ll basically be there for the month of July.  MTU camp is like my heaven.  ILOVEITSOMUCH.

On July 13th we’ll take a little leave from camp because we have our appointment in Kyiv to request our referral and officially begin the adoption process here in country!!!  Yes!!!  Our adoption dossier was accepted and we are ultra, mega, outrageously excited to get this show on the road.  If all goes well we should have our son out of the orphanage and in our arms by the end of August!  CAN’TCOMESOONENOUGH.

 After the adoption is complete we will all head to the US for our first visit as a family since our move here in 2013.  Our new son will need to go to the US in order to become a citizen, and he also needs quite a bit of medical care, so off we go!  Actually, before we ever moved to Ukraine we had decided that August 2015 would be the time for all of us to come back to the US to visit family, friends, and supporters.  We just had no idea we’d also be bringing back another child!  BIGGESTSURPRISEEVAHHHHH.

The plan right now is that Jed will be in the US for about 2 months and then he’ll return to Ukraine to get back to work. The kids and I will plan to stay in the US until we get our new son’s most urgent medical needs met.  Then we’ll join Jed back in Ukraine. We’re thinking maybe the kids and I will be in the States till after Christmas?  I’m just not sure.  We’re open and we don’t want to rush things.  But in a way it will probably feel like our lives are on pause.  I’m not sure how we’ll navigate that well.  I guess one day at a time.  I get overwhelmed if I think about it too much, so I won’t.  At least not right now.  🙂 PROCRASTINATIONISMYSPIRITUALGIFT.


So, that’s where things stand right now.  A lot goin on, and lot yet to come.  We are doing well, just maybe a bit overwhelmed at the moment.  We have so many ideas, so many plans for the Boys, for the work here.  It’s hard to imagine leaving it all and going so far away.  Wide Awake is granting our local church here in Zhytomyr with funds to be able to coordinate and continue the work at Romaniv while we are gone, so that is really reassuring.  We won’t be leaving the boys without love and care.  Our volunteers will continue to faithfully go and love the boys.  It will just be hard for us to be away. Yet it will be wonderful to be with family and friends in America.  Yet we will also be adjusting to a new son and helping him learn how to be part of a family.  Yet we will not be bringing him home to the house and community where we actually live…at least not right away.

Lots of thoughts, lots of emotions, lots of awesomeness happening, lots of everything.  I’ll do my best to keep you posted along the way.  Thank you all for being such a dear part of this journey.  Thank you for your prayer, your encouragement, your friendship, your financial support.  We have felt so much love and support along every step of this journey.  Praise God we don’t have to walk this path alone!  You are a blessing to us.   WELOVEYOULOTSANDLOTS.

Pics: Hava in Kyiv with her perty new headband, our beautiful Addy and Hava in Kyiv, St. Andrews Church in Kyiv, our kids with a famous statue outside the adoptions office in Kyiv, St. Michaels Church in Kyiv (my fave), Seth is taller than Hava (and 17 months younger!), my everyday morning view, our garden when it was beautiful, our garden infested with bugs (grrrr…ain’t nobody got time for that!), Seth posing with his new bike, my kids being “special”, our neighborhood!