Five Years!

Happy Ukrainiversary to us! Yesterday marked 5 years since the plane touched down in Kyiv and we began our new life. FIVE YEARS! Momentous. 🙂

So much has changed in the past five years it hardly feels like we are the same people that arrived in Ukraine with 12 suitcases and a guitar. For one thing, we’ve grown from a family of 6 to a family of 11. Wooooooah Nelly!

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Then

 

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Now

Last night we had plans to go out to a restaurant for a traditional Ukrainian meal, but one of our guys was having a rough one so we needed to stay in for the night. After we got the guys to bed we gathered the kids on our bed upstairs and took turns sharing something we each love about our life here in Ukraine. It was a sweet time. Many of your names were mentioned! Along this journey we have met so many wonderful friends from all over the US and around the world.

I shared with our kids a memory of our very first day in Ukraine. It’s a memory that about sums up our first several months here.

When we arrived in Kyiv on November 13, 2013 our dear friend, Olya, came with us from the airport to Zhytomyr to spend the first couple of days with us, to help us get settled a bit. Keep in mind that we knew ZERO language and were basically clueless about everything having to do with life in Ukraine. Sure, we had visited, but let me tell you- visiting another country IS NOT the same as setting up a life there and living there. The morning after we arrived we decided to hop on the bus with our littles in tow and head to the big grocery store to get some necessities. I remember arriving at the store, hopping off the bus and Addy, 9 years old at the time, saying “It doesn’t really seem that different here!” Oh Addy, bless your heart. 😉  We wandered aimlessly through the store, jet-lagged and overwhelmed. Three-year old Seth fell asleep in the grocery cart. We knew we needed diapers…and maybe TP? Why did we not make a list??? The kids were being super loud and all other children in sight were silent…we were stressed and didn’t know what any of the labels on the food meant…

I remember the chaos of figuring out money at the checkout and Jed vowing never to go the store again with all 4 kids. I’m pretty sure that at that time we felt like 4 kids was waaaaaay too many. Little did we know what the future held! Oy.

We got home from the store with as much as we could carry and, after unpacking the bags, realized we still had no idea what to cook for dinner. I think we ended up eating a lot of oatmeal in those early days. Ha! We learned much through trial and error, and still do. But it’s actually quite encouraging to think back and realize how stupid we were then! Hehe.

Now, five years later, we can fondly look back at those beginnings and praise God for ALL the amazing things he has done. When we arrived in Ukraine the dreams we had in our heart were not even legal. There was no legal mechanism for the deinstitutionalization of adults. We had no idea that two weeks after we arrived a revolution would begin. And as Ukraine endeavors to move toward the EU, our dream of deinstitutionalization is now a mandate. What are the odds? God is crazy good like that.

God had so many beautiful gifts waiting for us in Ukraine. Four of those gifts are currently downstairs drinking tea. 🙂 We had no idea when we first visited Romaniv that we were meeting 4 of our sons. Oh, and if you would have told me 5 years ago that we would have another baby, and that she would be born here in Ukraine, well, I probably would have spit out my coffee. Woooooooah, that was a doozy of a surprise. But, I love how God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. Our Evie blesses our hearts and brings us joy and healing every single day.

It’s funny to imagine that most of our team members were teenagers when we first moved to Ukraine. Kids! I absolutely love the team He is building here. I’m thankful that our guys are surrounded daily by people who don’t just tolerate them, but love them, champion them, and challenge them.

The days are long and often hard, but the years are quick. The greatest gift that God has given to me in these past 5 years is the gift of learning to lay myself down. Daily I’m confronted with my own weakness and my own brokenness. As we serve the broken hearts, broken minds, broken bodies here in our home, I’m confronted with my selfishness and general ickiness of heart. I thank God that He is moving the hearts of our family from charity to compassion. He is changing us all, from the inside out.

So, here’s to 5 more years of saying YES to the next thing. Thank you to each of you who have prayed for us, encouraged us, supported us. We could never walk this journey alone. Thank you for joining us in YES!

BeLOVE[d]

Photo highlights:

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My Littles, our first week in Ukraine

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Our first Christmas

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Boris and me, back in the day

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2014

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Christmas #2!

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Vladik’s Day of Freedom! 2015

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The day we got the keys to the Wide Awake Homestead! 2016

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A biiiiiiiig work in progress

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Wide Awake Homestead! 2017

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Boris’ Day of Freedom! 2017

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Welcome to the world Evie Joy 2018

 

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Ruslan and Anton’s Day of Freedom! 2018

‘s

 

Moving Week!

It’s finally upon us!  MOVING WEEK! Be still my heart.

This week we move to the Wide Awake Homestead and my excitement can not be contained. IT’S REALLY HAPPENING. The “2-3 month renovation” that turned into a 9+ month massive overhaul (because, you know, asbestos and Ukraine complications) is finally coming to an end. I don’t think I can adequately convey to you the extent of my joy.

We moved out of our house in Oregon in October of 2012, in preparation for our move to Ukraine. Since then we’ve been a family on the move. From house to house, and from country to country. We’ve packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked…and on and on, never truly settling. But now, our time has come! We’re moving into our home. Home.

The house isn’t totally finished yet, but we have the first of our summer mission team visitors arriving this Sunday and they need to stay in the apartment where we’re currently living…so yeah, we gotta get outta here! Yikes! Good thing the construction crew are our friends, because we’re all about to get real cozy. 🙂

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Our furniture at the moment includes a small kitchen table, two chair beds, one set of bunkbeds, and some patio furniture. But hey, we’ll happily sleep on the floor if it means we get to do it at the Homestead. Who cares!

Oh, and one other small detail…the sewer system isn’t all ready yet, so we’ll need to be super conservative with water for a bit…and…we’ll be using the outhouse. But hey, lots of people in our village live with outdoor toilets. That’s really no big deal in village life. Let’s just consider it another lesson in learning to relate to our new neighbors. Ha!

The house is beautiful. Jed gets all the credit when it comes to the design. He chose just about everything in the house and I think he has great taste! I super super love all the wood. Can you believe that going with wood was the cheaper option???  I know. I could be wrong, but I feel like lots of wood would be really expensive in the US. Here, it is much cheaper, and we like the look of it better anyway. Most of the more expensive, popular-in-Ukraine designs are really not our style at all. So, for the most part we ended up with good deals and a great final product. Score!

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Also, special shout-out to Jed for managing this enormous project. He had no idea when we moved to Ukraine that his job-title would include “General Contractor”! This house has been his full-time job since September, in addition to all his other responsibilities here. He has been working day in and day out to get this first home done as quickly as possible so we could start getting our boys out. This is only the beginning and we’ll be doing building projects for who knows how many years to come, but this first one just feels really significant. I’m so proud of Jed. He has done an amazing job.

Yes, I’m freaking out excited to move in because my heart is so eager for a home. But the main reason I’m freaking out excited to move in is because once the house is fully finished and furnished we can begin the process to start bringing our boys home! After all, that’s what we came here for. The big dream when we moved here 3 years ago was to build family style homes for the boys. The big dream was to get them out. Deinstitutionalization. That reality is so close. It makes my heart beat fast just thinking of it. Guys, this is really going to happen!

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We don’t know who will be first. We are praying about that right now. The Homestead will be a forever home for the boys, so we really need God’s wisdom on who we bring out- especially when it comes to the first few boys who will live in the house with our immediate family.  We have a few boys in mind that we are praying about and deciding between. How do you choose?  They all need out. They all deserve rescuing. God is going to have to choose for us and show us very definitely because we just love them all. Some of the boys are not possible options at this time, while we have small children at home, but many are possible and I can picture so many of them living with us. Please pray for us in this decision-making process.

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How can I thank our supporters enough for making this possible? Thank you to each of you who have given towards the homestead project. Thank you for believing in this vision. Thank you for loving our boys and seeing their immense value. Thank you for trusting us to carry this out. We are so humbled in all of this. Humbled and thankful and rejoicing in all that God is doing.

Once we’re in I’ll give you a video tour of what you helped build.

IT’S HAPPENING. Let’s all give a collective cheer/squeal/whoot/holler/happy dance!

 

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! 

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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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.  🙂