Ruslan and Anton: The Skinny

Well, we’re two and a half weeks into life with Anton and Ruslan, our new additions, and I stole away for a few minutes to update you all on how it’s going. I know many of you have prayed for us and journeyed alongside us for many years and now the answer to our prayers are sitting downstairs on the couch watching cartoons. 🙂 Crazy, right?

“How’s it going with the new guys?” That’s the question everyone’s been asking, and a question that is impossible to describe with just one word. In general, I think Ruslan and Anton are doing really well. We didn’t know them as well as we knew Boris before he came to live with us, so we really had no idea what to expect. Although, we have learned with Boris that it doesn’t matter how well you know someone in an institutional setting. Once you get them out and into family life you really never know what they will be like. Boris is much different than I expected. So, we knew that we could not predict how Ruslan and Anton would adapt to “life on the outside”. So far I’m pleasantly surprised.

IMG_9498

At their first wedding!

Physical.  Ruslan and Anton both seem to be in pretty good health. There are some digestive issues that we have to work out, and some concerning results of lab work we had done, but most of that will probably resolve itself in time.  One of Ruslan’s feet has a pretty major issue that would probably require therapy and maybe surgery to fix. He walks with a very big limp and it looks so painful to watch him do stairs. 😦 But, he runs and jumps and dances with the best of them. When we are out and about and are going to be walking more than just a little bit we make sure to bring a wheelchair for him. Anton is a pretty big guy, who we’re learning, benefits from PLENTY of exercise. He was waking up all night long hootin’ and hollerin’ and waking the whole house with loud laughter, but that is happening less and less. He still wakes up pretty early, but 6:00 is much better than 3:00!!!  He’s on the right track. 🙂

Emotional.  As you can imagine, our guys are in need of a great amount of healing. We know that their paths to healing may be very long, so we need to be patient. They both lived at Romaniv for more than 20 years and we don’t know where they were before that. They have been neglected and abused in every way you can imagine, and beyond what you can imagine. Pain like that doesn’t heal overnight.

Ruslan is a pretty anxious guy. He is verbal, so that helps a lot in easing his anxiety. When we are out and about he always wants to know where home is and when we’ll go back there. He always needs to make sure everyone is present and accounted for, and hey, I’ll take any help I can get in that department! Haha.  I remember when Vladik first came to us he was the same way regarding asking about home and needing to know which direction home was located. Ruslan is also a pleaser and wants to make sure we are happy with him. He needs lots of affirmation. He loves to help around the house and one sweet thing is that out of all four of our boys from Romaniv, Ruslan is the only one who shows interest in Evie. He talks to her, strokes her little hands, and has even picked her up a couple times! Yikes! 🙂 It’s really beautiful to watch him interact with her.

IMG_9578

Anton is often in his own world and takes a lot more intentionality to reach. He is happy to sit and play with his spinner for hours on end, so we have to work to keep him active. He’s the happiest, most content guy who has begun to laugh A LOT. His laugh is so jolly! We are learning that Anton is sensitive to noises and he gets pretty easily agitated by Boris’ many vocalizations. So, we have to make sure to give him space in those times because he can get a little aggressive. He’s just repeating what he knows, so we have empathy for him, but he also knows it’s wrong to hit, so he’s learning the not-so-fun world of good ol’ fashioned consequences (ie. missing out on a treat, or sitting in a chair for a few minutes without his spinner). Anton has a lot of insecurities about food so we are working hard on eating slowly, not hovering around the kitchen every moment of the day 😉 , and eating appropriate amounts. He doesn’t speak often so it’s hard to know what’s going on in that brain of his!

IMG_9592

Integration into Family Life.  This is the fun one. Ruslan and Anton are doing really great integrating into family life. Ruslan already told me he wants to learn to speak English. I bet he will too! He is so stinkin’ smart. Ruslan likes to join in on anything and everything that is going on in the house. He loves to be a part of the group. Anton is happy to join in too, but just needs more help to do it. They both love music and playing ball outside. They enjoy going on walks and, of course, going anywhere in the car.

As a whole, I would say our kids are adjusting pretty well to having Anton and Ruslan in the family. We’re dealing with the normal meltdowns that come with a major life change- there’s no escaping that. But in general, I’m super impressed with our kids and their adaptability. They are heroes.

It’s been a pretty huge adjustment for Jed and me. Our hands are now extremely full(er) :). Anton and Ruslan are doing well, but they also require a lot of attention. We’re trying to nip institutional behaviors and teach new behaviors to replace the not-so-pleasant ones. That requires a lot of time. Teaching hygiene, manners, appropriate interpersonal interactions, safety…we are starting from the ground up and it’s pretty intense. Vlad and Seth have experienced some regression since their arrival, so we are working through that as well. And then there’s Boris…yeah, he doesn’t love sharing attention AT ALL, so he’s pretty challenging at the moment. Basically, in this phase of life, from the moment we get up in the morning till the moment we lay our heads down at night we have to be “on”. There are just a lot of moving parts around here and a lot people needing different levels of supervision and interaction. It’s a lot. More than ever we are aware of our deep need to abide in Christ. There is no way we can do this without His help.

IMG_9530

Evidence of the one time we took EVERYBODY grocery shopping. Not quite sure why we attempted that…hehe

Monday, Wednesdays and Friday we have one of our Wide Awake interns here helping us, and then Monday through Friday Kenny is here with us during the day as well. We’re working with the interns to develop an educational plan for the boys (Boris included), but it’s slow going. Right now they are still adjusting to life outside of Romaniv, and we’re okay with that. The interns and Kenny help us keep everyone engaged, active, and safe as they learn about the world around them.

IMG_0575

At the car wash with Kenny

That’s a glimpse into our life at the moment! It’s a bit insane and there’s definitely never a dull moment. Lots of laundry. Lots of cooking. Lots of noises. Lots of correcting and guiding. But also, lots of laughter. Lots of new experiences. Lots of love and memory making. It’s a raw kind of life. The good moments are so very good, and the bad moments are kind of horrible. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns- definitely not romantic. But, it’s the life we have chosen and our yes to the Lord. It is beautiful in it’s own way. We are learning about our own weakness and humanness and learning what it means to lay our lives down. Jesus is so faithful to meet us right where we are when we need Him most. I’m so thankful for that. I really am thankful for the opportunity to see my great need for Jesus every single day.

IMG_5390

Jed took the guys to the Black Sea!  

IMG_5362

IMG_5570-1

Both guys love working out in the woodshop with Jed

74806b73-0c81-4ada-bdb1-aa626421a2e9

Thank you for loving our big ol’ messy family. We are so thankful for your love and support. Please, when you think of us, pray for us. We appreciate it so much!

 

Our Ukrainian Birth Story

Can you believe our sweet Evie Joy is one month old today?! In the past I’ve not been a fan of the newborn phase and have wished it away in search of more sleep. But these days I find myself wishing for time to slow down. Our precious Evangeline is just the sweetest little thing and I know she needs to be our last, so I want time to sloooooow down so we can savor every bit of her baby-ness. Sometimes it feels like no one in the world could ever love their baby the way I love this baby. She is such an incredible gift.

I promised I would share about the experience of our only Ukrainian birth, so here I am, as promised, attempting to write it out. This is a tricky one. I don’t want to sound at all like the US system is SOOOOO much better, or like the way it’s done in the US is the only right way. Because honestly, I don’t believe that. I think the US medical system has a lot going for it (ie…money), but I definitely don’t think there is only one correct way to do things. So, even though I can’t pretend the US is the only right way, it is the only way I know. It’s where I was trained.  It’s where I worked for 13 years. And it’s where all my other babies were born. You only know what you know. 🙂

The following is my experience. It’s what I felt and saw and lived. It may be different than another’s experience, but it’s mine. So take it for what it’s worth.

Evie’s entrance to the world was planned for a Monday.  It was a scheduled c-section, and my fourth (which is pretty rare here), so the doctor had me spend the last few nights of my pregnancy in the hospital in case I were to go into labor in the night. We had previously purchased all the supplies for the c-section at the pharmacy across the street and had them in a duffle bag at the ready. A nurse came in to my room the night before the c-section and said “Okay, you have a c-section tomorrow.  Tonight you need to give yourself an enema, and then give yourself another one in the morning.” Uh…hold the phone. Things were about to get real. Hehe. I’m no stranger to enemas (never thought I’d write that! Ha!). I’ve given a lot of enemas in my day. But I’ve never given one to myself– especially when the only toilet available was a communal toilet down the hall! Yeah, that was tricky. Let’s just say I don’t wish a shared bathroom enema experience on any of you.

IMG_7102

The list of anesthesia supplies for Jed to buy the morning of surgery

The next morning Jed arrived around 8:30 and we waited for the party to start. Unfortunately it didn’t start out too great. A grumpy nurse was on duty and was telling us all these instructions that we didn’t understand.  Something about Jed taking all the surgery stuff somewhere and me waiting in my room, but we were sure the doctor had told me to go with Jed… We were all confused and she was annoyed at our lack of understanding and I started crying and it was a bit of a mess. To be fair, I was totally freaked out and hormonal and it probably wasn’t a truly cry-worthy scenario. I’ll own that. 🙂

So Jed was gone to who-knows-where with the supplies and I was sitting on my bed, crying, waiting for someone to come and tell me what to do. After a bit, a super kind lady came and took me through back hallways and staff elevators to where the surgery would take place. The staff elevators are so interesting! Each elevator has an older lady sitting in it whose job is to operate the elevator and make sure no unauthorized person uses it. Each tiny elevator has a chair and a little table in it where the operator sits and drinks her tea, waiting for the next customer. Fascinating. Anyway, my guide saw I was crying and did her best to calm my fears. “I’ve worked here 30 years!  Everything will be fine. Don’t cry or your baby will cry! Everything is fine. Today you meet your baby!” She was a sweetie, but I could not stop crying! Geez Louise. I think all the worrying of the last 9 months had just built up and spilled out in that moment. I was a mess until I saw my wonderful doctor. She is the mom of our dear Kenny, and her presence totally calmed me.  Instantly. She put her arm around me and the familiarity of her just made all the difference.  I was never so thankful that we had chosen a non-stranger to deliver our baby.

They brought me to a room with a bed and a changing table. Jed was there! They had Jed change into clean, comfy clothes and laid out all the supplies we had brought for the baby. Directly across the hall was the operating room. The plan was that as soon as the baby was delivered they would take her across the hall, assess her, and then put her on Jed’s chest, skin to skin, while they finished operating on me.  I can’t tell you how it eased my mind to see where Jed would be with the baby and to know he would instantly be with her.  I absolutely loved that plan. High five Ukraine!

IMG_7531

Everything laid out and ready for Evie’s big debut

Then they sorted through our duffel, digging out all the supplies we had bought for anesthesia and the operation and took them across the hall to the OR (YIKES…good bye sterile field…I tried to not think about that too hard…).  Then it was goodbye Jed, and off I went to have a baby! It was so strange that he couldn’t be with me. It was the only birth I’ve ever experienced without him.

The anesthesiologist numbed me up and then, before I knew it, we had a baby! They pulled Evie out and the anesthesiologist, who spoke a little English said “Gel, gel!”  I was like “Girl?  Did you say girl?” Then my doctor announced in Russian that we had a girl and the tears started flowing again. A girl!!!  Wahoooooooo!  We totally wanted a girl but were afraid to get our hopes up.  Evie cried right away.  They showed her to me super briefly and then took her straight to Jed. I just laid there crying tears of joy and wondering about Jed’s reaction to our perfect little baby. Jed said that he was pacing back and forth outside the operating room waiting for news when he heard a cry.  Then some random lady came out into the hall and just matter-of-factly said “Girl” in Russian and walked away. Hahahahaha. Hilarious. I have to say that the surgery itself seemed no different to me than my previous c-sections in the US. Everyone was very professional and I felt like I was in really good hands. Again, high five Ukraine!

IMG_7530

Light showing a surgery in progress- eeeek!

Evie (who had no name at the time) was with Jed and I was moved up to a recovery room. After about an hour there they brought Jed and Evie up to me. I was to stay the first night in that room with Evie, but Jed wasn’t allowed to stay.  There really wasn’t any room for him there anyway. There was just a bed and then some old equipment stored in the corner. I’ll be honest, that night was the most miserable of my life.  It felt about a million hours long. I was in a bed that had to stay totally flat (it didn’t raise anyway) with zero pillows and no side rails, and Evie with me in bed.  Try breast-feeding a few-hours-old newborn while lying flat on your back with no pillows and no help. Yeah, tricky is putting it lightly- and this wasn’t my first rodeo! A few hours into the night a nurse came in and said “You need to start turning from side to side.” I knew I needed to start moving a bit.  I knew it was important and I didn’t want to lay only on my back. But I had just been cut open and now I was supposed to get over onto my side with no pillows and no side rails and no help and with a baby in my arms! It was quite a feat, but somehow I managed without dropping baby on the floor. Hehe. I think I deserve a prize. Another strange thing about that night was there was no call light. Soooo if I needed help I just had to wait for someone to come check on me, or yell. I preferred to just wait and silently will them to come by my room.  Luckily I had no emergencies. 😉 There was also curtain and my door was open wide to the hall all night. Hello world! No high five for that experience. It was kind of terrible.

The next morning I had to show I could get up out of the bed and then once Jed arrived they allowed me to be moved to a regular room. Hurray! We had paid for a private room so that Jed could stay with me and Evie at night. I’m so glad we did! The room had an entry area with a couch where Jed slept, a little mini fridge and a microwave. Then through a doorway was a changing table, a bed for me, and a bathroom with a toilet, sink and shower. It was a really good setup. A nurse and doctor would come see us in the morning and in the evening and that was it, unless I asked for pain medicine. No one ever came in at night. So interesting! They really kept a much looser eye on us than after a c-section in the US. They took my vital signs twice a day and had me take Evie’s temperature twice a day.  They would just ask me if her temp was normal, if she was eating, and what color her poop was- the basics. 🙂 Since I knew what I was doing I actually really appreciated being left alone. But, I think if I had been a first time mom I would have been a bit freaked.

The food situation was interesting.  We learned that I needed to have my own set of dishes if I wanted food. Every morning, midday and evening someone would come along, knock on the door and say “Breakfast!” or “Dinner!” and I would need to take my dishes to the hallway where a lady with a cart would give me soup and tea. Each day, three times a day it was like a chicken broth with carrots, potatoes, and a little buckwheat or other grain in it. Jed would bring me food from home to supplement the meals. Each day a doctor would tell me what different foods I could add to my diet.  But she was clear on a few things: No fresh fruits or vegetables (only cooked), no fried foods, nothing sweet the first two days (not even sugar in my tea), and nothing red. My doctor was so sweet. She brought me homemade soup from her house, compote (stewed fruit juice) from her home, and some tea cookies that I could have on the third day. Her thoughtfulness really meant so much to me. I’ll be honest though, I totally didn’t stick to their food rules. I just did what we do in the US and ate what I felt like eating. Shhhh…that’s our secret.

There was no wifi at the hospital and I don’t care for Ukrainian TV, so I listened to a lot of podcasts, read some, and mostly just rested and marveled over our sweet baby.  The hospital was on quarantine because of a lot of sickness in our city, so no visitors were allowed- only Jed. He spent a few hours at home (mostly to help care for Boris) every morning and evening, so I had a lot of time just alone with Evie.  It was a completely different experience than my previous births when we had loads of visitors and family members and American TV and wifi and all that.  It was much quieter and simpler. I missed my parents so bad, and it was a little sad at times, mostly when Evie was so cute and I had no one to show her off to, but it was mostly really beautiful and special. The simplicity of it was peaceful and I needed that. We had 5 days in the hospital and it was just the right amount of time.

IMG_7514

Hurray! One month old!

The main differences I can point out between my birth experiences on both sides of the ocean:

  1. Pain Control. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. The big push after a c-section in the US is to get the mom on oral pain meds as soon as possible. At the hospital I worked at that usually included a combo of Tylenol, Ibuprofen, and Oxycodone. That has worked like a dream for me in the past. But, alas, it was not to be in Ukraine. From the first day post-op I was only given pain meds via a big ol’ shot in the behind. Oral pain meds were not an option. The only med I was given after the first day was a med similar to Toradol (kind of like a shot of Ibuprofen). It was given every 8ish hours, when I asked for it (not scheduled), and not at all at night. Did I already say ouch? ‘Cause, ouch. 😦
  2. Call Lights. The Recovery Room and our regular room had no call lights. It was fine for me, but I always wondered what would happen in case of emergency???  The nurse in me kinda wanted to freak out over that.
  3. Security. In the US, in the hospital I worked at, every patient has a name band and every baby has a name band and the numbers match each other.  Each newborn also has a security band that alarms if they are removed from the postpartum floor.  Before giving any medications the nurse has to scan the armband and then scan the barcode on the med and all of that jazz.  In Ukraine I had no armband, no patient identifier at all.  Evie had a little paper band on her ankle the first day. No one ever checked my identity or anything. I imagine that’s how things used to be in the US, but I never experienced patient care like that as a nurse. Interesting.

There’s so much more I could write, but those are the main things that stand out. My only real complaint is regarding the pain control. My recovery could gotten a much quicker start if I had better pain control, but such is life. I survived. 🙂 I will say that in general, I had a great hospital experience. It far surpassed what I imagined it would be. The staff were kind, and reassuring when I had freak out moments. They were waaaaaay more hands off than in the US, but when I did need something they were quick to respond. My doctor was fantastic and I have nothing but good things to say about her. Sure the conditions weren’t as fancy-shmancy and there weren’t any amenities to speak of (ie. room service, massages, lactation consultants, wifi), but I had what I needed, and besides that first night I never felt like I was lacking care.

Thanks everyone who prayed for us throughout the pregnancy and on the day of delivery.  We are truly blessed by our sweet girl and I’m super relieved to have all that surgery business behind me!

The Path to Healing

Yesterday marked a month since our friend, Boris, came to live with us. The range of emotions has been vast. Too many feelings have been felt and too many thoughts have been thought. It’s good and bad and wonderful and terrible and easy and hard all within the same day. There’s no ABC instruction manual for taking in a broken 25 year-old who has lived a life of abuse and severe neglect. He didn’t come home with manual on how to help him heal or how to integrate him into family or how to, as a family, accept him and the new normal that he brings. We are all learning, and in the learning we are all healing.

We’ve been reading a lot of Jean Vanier these days. The wisdom he has gained over many years of living alongside people with intellectual disabilities is amazingly helpful for us- “The wisdom of tenderness,” in his own words. If you haven’t ever read any of his works I highly recommend them!

“As we share our lives with the powerless, we are obliged to leave behind our theories about the world, our dreams and our beautiful thoughts about God to become grounded in a reality that can be quite harsh. That is where we meet God, God who is Emmanuel, God-with-us. There God is present, hidden in wounded humanity, hidden in the pain of our own hearts.”
-Jean Vanier, The Heart Of L’Arche

That quote sums it up. I can stop writing right now. 🙂

But you know I won’t.

Boris has been fighting for survival for most of his life. He is a true survivor- that’s the only way he is still alive right now. He’s a fighter, and he’s a stubborn little dude as well.  Those traits served him well in the institution, and they will serve him well again, but right now, to be completely honest, they are serving to expose the weaknesses in my own heart. The struggle is real, my friends.

IMG_6957

In this next bit Jed gets a little nerdy as to how we understand Boris and what he does to process the world around him.

“For the past 19 years when he lived at the institution the only thing that Boris could do was survive and his survival put him in a state of fear and toxic stress. His life was not one truly lived. He knew what his body needed: food, warmth and safety- and he fought to get those needs met.  

That fight and that environment formed the physical shape of Boris’s body, but also the shape of his brain.  Our brains are absolutely remarkable at processing how we live as fundamentally social beings.

The physical, social, emotional and spiritual world around us and within us create the context where our brain processes, interprets and informs the rest of the body how to act and react (in that instant and next time).  

Our brains are profoundly complex and truly something to be marveled.   How our brains function is entirely state dependent.  If we are calm, we can think clearly and with full access to our intellectual capability.  Think of Elon Musk, sitting in his office, safe, healthy and satiated, dreaming and designing some cool future space travel.  Conversely, if we are in a state of terror, we react quickly and complex processing and abstract conceptualization become non-essential and inaccessible.  Imagine sitting on the kitchen table, trying to help your kid with his geometry homework while a hungry tiger circles.  

Imagine living between toxic stress and terror through your early childhood and on into adulthood, unsure if you will be safe or hurting, wondering if you will get enough food or if your tummy will ache as you try to fall asleep to the sounds of other boys surviving the same terrible reality.

The trauma of daily life and survival is the soil where Boris’s brain grew and deteriorated.  Instead of growing, his brain pruned away things that were of no use, the need for friendship and human connection, desire to play, to understand motion and movement, balance, motor skills and the sense of where his body is in the space around him.  

He reduced his life to mostly brainstem and cerebella functioning.  So imagine trying to process the entirety of your life through the part of your brain meant to maintain core functions, motor skill regulation, simple arousal responses, appetite/ satiety; chances are you might develop some behaviors that would seem strange and maladaptive to others around you.

Boris learned to pull his thoughts to focus, process his feelings, communicate needs and express himself through self-harming behaviors. While being with him in the institution we started seeing him process a bit through his limbic system, laughing appropriately and inappropriately, but development none the less. 

Ok, I’ll give you back to Kim.”

Now, instead of just surviving, Boris lives in a world where every need is met, and not only needs, but wants and desires are met as well.  Now we have a new struggle. Now Boris must learn to distinguish his wants and desires from his need. Because let me tell you, as a mom who has parented many a toddler, want and desire are not equal to need- even though the screaming 3 year-old may not be able to accurately distinguish the difference. Boris is a bit like a big 3 year-old at the moment- only one that has endured more trauma in his life than any human ever should. He wants things and he wants them NOW. His response to wanting things is the same as his response to needing something, and then the self-harm ensues.

If Boris is excited, he hits himself. If Boris is frustrated, he hits himself. If Boris wants attention, he hits himself.  He processes most desires, emotions, needs and requests somewhere between self-harm, disregulated motor skills, laughing, sweating, rocking, increased heart rate and chirps.  We have a feeling it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. He has to learn a new way of being, a new way of communicating, a new way of processing the world around him, and at 25 years old that’s a pretty tall order.

The response his self-harm evokes in me is surprising. It’s embarrassing and ugly to admit, but this is real life and we’re real people. Not one of us is perfect- least of all, me. I’m quickly realizing how much I see Boris’ self-harming, or lack thereof as a reflection of my personal success or failure. When he isn’t self-harming I feel good, warm, fuzzy, but when he hits himself I find myself feeling anger, impatience, and even disgust. And Jed just sits there like a zen master…grrrr.

Of course I don’t want Boris to hurt himself! But it’s humbling to realize how quickly my thoughts turn to myself in those moments of him harming himself. I feel failure. I feel disgust. I feel impatient. I wonder if I can really do this for the long haul. I, I, I.

Compassion and empathy have no room to grow in a space filled with selfishness and self-pity. It appears Boris is not the only one in need of healing.

IMG_6947

Boris’ brokenness is exposing in us the places in our own hearts that are broken.

In meeting his physical needs that he can’t meet for himself we are finding healing. In the pursuit of finding peace for Boris’ heart and mind, we must rely on the Holy Spirit. We need his wisdom so very much. We need strength, patience and love that can only come from above.

It’s easy, in the hard moments, to wonder if this is what it’s always going to be. Are things going to get worse and then better? Or are things just going to get worse and stay worse? No one can say. But does it make a difference? Is Boris any less worth it? Is the YES only worth it when it comes with obvious success?

What if twenty years from now it still takes 2 of us for every diaper change just to keep Boris safe? What will my soul be singing in those moments?  Will I have found contentment in the simple act of serving?  Will I be able to say “It is well with my soul”, or will I be bitter and resentful that my life took this turn?

The sooner we learn to truly walk in the Spirit, the better- for us, for our children, and for Boris. The sooner we stop looking at our own perceived successes and failures and start finding joy in the simple act of caring for our friend, the better.

This is a journey we can not walk in our own strength. We will totally screw it up. So each day we are learning and breathing and (hopefully) changing.

In the practical day to day of life with Boris the journey looks like a patterned consistent routine, loads of sensory integration, boundaries, creativity and good old fashioned parenting. When Boris is hitting himself because he doesn’t get what he wants he has to calm his body down, and only then, when he’s more calm does he get the thing he wants.  It means we have to maintain that calm presence, hands on him at all times. Sometimes it means leaving the table 3 times during a meal. Sometimes it means it takes 30 minutes to get out the door for a walk. But Boris will learn. Over time trust will build, new neural pathways will be built, and more understanding will come.

IMG_7001

When I choose empathy, when I remember where Boris came from and all he has endured and allow my heart to break again and again, rather than hardening my heart in the face of monotony and frustration, THEN healing can come. And when my heart is open to it’s own healing, only then can I be an instrument of healing to my dear friend.

So our friend is a challenge to us and a blessing to us in ways we could not have foreseen. May our hearts remain open and may the hard parts return to softness. May each of us see the loved ones in our lives as the beautiful treasures they are- worthy of our time, our love, our sacrifice, and our dedication.

BeLOVE[d]

IMG_6993

 

Village Life

We’ve been living in the village for almost 2 months now, so I thought I should give a bit of an update on life here.

We FINALLY got our gas turned on last week, so that makes village life much happier!  I know many of our neighbors live without indoor plumbing, and therefore without hot water, but…yeah…I’m super thankful we only had to do that for a short while. I guess we’re a bit (a lot) spoiled.

family Johnson -10family Johnson -136family Johnson -11

Our garden is MASSIVE, so much of my time and attention these days is directed toward managing the garden and all that it produces. Almost every day we try to can something so that we can make the most of the garden. So far we’ve put up several liters of pickles and several liters of cherry compote (a popular Ukrainian fruit drink). I’ve never done pickles before, so I’ve just picked out several different recipes from books and online and we’re trying them all! We’re labeling them with the recipe name so this winter we can decide which recipes are keepers and which aren’t. Figuring out how to can in Ukraine has been quite a challenge! Most people here don’t water bath their canned goods, and you can’t get the two piece lids we use in the US. So…we’ve had to compromise. The USDA might be horrified at our methods, but I’m sure all will turn out okay. (Fingers crossed!) Don’t worry, canning pros, we won’t attempt to can anything with low acidity.

family Johnson -73family Johnson -59family Johnson -58

Village life for our little ones has been fantastic so far! Seth, Vladik and Havalah are outside basically every day from sun up to sun down. Seth and Hava both have little friends their same age that live right across the street and two houses down. Kids in the village have free reign and basically just run free all day long. It reminds me of what I imagine life was like in America a couple generations ago. The kids go from house to house, riding bikes, walking to the store to buy candy, and basically just running wild being kids. I LOVE IT. This is what we wanted for our kids, for their childhood. It just makes me happy that they can have that freedom here in the village.  Vladik spends most of his days watching the guys who are working on the house (they’re working on siding right now) and “building” his own special projects with scrap wood. Addy and Ez have a couple village friends, but they are around the house more than the Littles. They are good about helping me with the garden and taking care of our growing animal population (now including a dog, a cat, a hamster and the occasional neighbor cow who pastures in our back property).

family Johnson -127family Johnson -60family Johnson -140

Our neighbors are kind, hardworking people. We don’t know them well yet, but most of them are parents of kids who are at our house all the time, so I’m sure over the coming years we’ll get to know each other well. We’re still quite a curiosity around here. I’m not sure that will ever change. 😉 The neighbors right next door butcher pigs, and the ones directly across the street butcher cows. Oh the sounds that come from those properties! Yikes. But, it sure is convenient when we want to buy meat! Also, the neighbor whose cow pastures on our property gives us fresh milk in exchange for letting his cow on our property. Village life has it’s perks, for sure!

family Johnson -157family Johnson -115family Johnson -102

It’s not as convenient for our church friends to get to us as it used to be when we lived in the city, but oh man, this house is a far better gathering place! People love to be here. The house is cozy, the deck is perfect, and the air is fresh. We absolutely love our house. We can’t wait to bring our boys here! I can’t imagine how much they will grow and change in this environment. It’s going to be just awesome.

Village life is the life for us. We’re so happy here! THANK YOU a million times over to everyone who helped us get to this point. Our guest room is waiting for you. 🙂

family Johnson -21family Johnson -36family Johnson -42Thank you to our friend Andrey for the awesome photos of Vladik’s birthday!  

What’s Making Me Smile

I have about 3,462 things I could write about today, but I’m a bit overwhelmed by that thought. I could write about the plans for this summer (it’s gonna be a doozy), or the progress on the Homestead (also a doozy), or about Sara our wonderful massage therapist friend who is visiting (I won’t call her a doozy ’cause that just seems weird…), or about the fact that school is almost out (now that has been a doozy). But instead I decided to write about what is making me smile right now. Because I want to. The doozies can wait.

(“Doozy” is a really strange word when you really think about it)

THINGS THAT ARE MAKING ME SMILE:

Podcasts.  Everyone who has talked to me in the past several months has probably discovered my love/addiction to podcasts. I feel like I’m constantly trying to share my podcast recommendations with friends because I so want them to learn to love podcasts like I do. I love a good podcast! I download them and listen while I walk the dog, while I’m on the bus, while I’m walking to wherever I’m walking (if I’m kidless), while I wash the dishes, while I clean the house. I felt kinda burned out on the music I’d been listening to so I started podcasting. Now I can’t stop! Here are a few of my favorites if you want to join me in the podcast love.

  1. The Daily Audio Bible. We’re still going strong on our daily Bible reading with good ol’ Brian. We listen to the Old Testament during breakfast, and the New Testament in the evening after dinner. I love the rhythm it brings to our life right now in all the crazy.
  2. This American Life. They have interesting stories every week that grab my attention. Sometimes I learn new stuff and sometimes I’m just entertained.
  3. God Centered Mom Podcast. This one is encouraging and informative. It helps me be a more intentional mom.
  4. Two Fat Expats. LOVE IT. Two Australian women host this podcast about the expat life. They talk about all sorts of things from boarding school to keeping long distance friendships alive to social media and the expat child…tons of interesting and applicable info for expats of any sort. Plus they make me laugh. 🙂
  5. The Podcast With Knox and Jamie. This one is just purely for the laughs. I laugh out loud every single episode, which can make things kind of awkward if I’m listening on the bus! Knox and Jamie talk about random pop culture stuff and it’s just stinking’ funny. Their episode about misheard song lyrics is the ultimate. I think I love this podcast because it’s just a little taste of America when I’m so far away. FUNNY.

There are many more I listen to that I could add to that list, but those are the ones that are making me smile right now.

Sara. Okay, I know I said I wasn’t going to write about Sara, but I just have to. Sara makes our whole family smile countless times every day. She is just full of joy and life and spirit and God did an amazing thing when he joined our hearts together.

If you don’t remember Sara you can read about her in this post. She came here two years ago, never having met us before, and spent a few weeks teaching massage at Romaniv. The work she did was beautiful and incredibly meaningful to the boys and they had been consistently asking for her since she left. We are so happy she’s back for the whole month of May! She is working at Romaniv Monday through Friday, and when she’s not at the institution she is loving our family and making us laugh non-stop.

18527701_798967526925788_8194740046669449147_n

In the mornings at Romaniv Sara is teaching the interns specific massage techniques for the individual boys on each of their caseloads, and then she is spending the afternoons massaging the older boys. It’s not just a physical work that she does, although that is important and super healthy for the boys, it’s also a spiritual work. Before the massage and during the massage Sara is praying over the boys. There is peaceful music playing and lovely essential oils. The Sensory Room becomes an oasis of peace for each boy who enters. During their massage they get attention and love and dignity. They are told in that time that they are special, that they are beautiful, that they matter. It’s an important work that I believe is truly life-changing for the boys.

Thank you dear Sara. We love you!

The New Floors at the Homestead. I LOVE how the house is turning out! The downstairs floors were finished last week and they are bringing me loads of joy. They are beautiful and they brighten up the room. I absolutely adore how the house is coming along. Yay! We might be able to move in at that beginning of June. Now that’s something to smile about!

18447251_798290336993507_7785890731067151992_n18528007_798290343660173_307777696051916446_n

Dance Class. Oh my word. Romaniv Dance Class makes me smile from ear to ear. I wish with all of my heart that you could each come visit our class. You would leave changed forever.

A couple of months ago one of our team members, Olya, Addy and I started doing a Friday afternoon dance class with the higher functioning boys at the institution. They love and it and we love it equally as much- maybe even a little more! We gather in the sports room with our music and water bottles and white t-shirts and socks and dance our hearts out. There’s this one part of the class when we all sit down and each boy takes a turn dancing solo in front of all of us. You guys, it is the best thing EVER. I seriously want to bottle up those moments and treasure them for the rest of my life because they are just so darn precious!  To see the boys so free and alive, it’s just incredible. We conga line till we’re exhausted and it’s the highlight of my week.

18221807_793544240801450_8082606812725641523_nfullsizeoutput_5c6218301981_793544297468111_7940550839932927122_n

Honestly, there is a lot that is hard about our lives and work here in Ukraine right now. Sometimes Jed and I look at each other and we wonder out loud if we are going to spend the rest of our lives fighting, or if there will ever be a time when we can just rest. We get weary of fighting for the boys, fighting injustice, fighting broken systems that are designed to beat people down, fighting corruption, fighting heaviness in the culture, fighting to do things that have never been done before. Fighting and fighting and fighting. It’s wearisome, folks. But then we have to choose to lift our eyes up and see all the joy.  There is also a ton that is going right. There is evidence all over the place that God has his mighty hand on this work and that He is going before us. And of course there’s no question that the boys are worth fighting for! But we have to choose to see those things that are right and good. Today I choose joy. I choose to look around me at all the things- big and small- that God has given that make me smile. So.many.things.

So, Happy Wednesday!  What is making you smile today?