The Year to be Present

I love the beginning of a new year. I love a clean slate, a fresh start, a chance to start over and try again. Even though my life circumstances on December 31, 2019 were exactly the same as my life circumstances on January 1, 2020 somehow anything and everything seemed possible on the 1st because a new year had begun.

Do you like making resolutions in the new year? I’m great at it. In fact, I’m a super awesome list-maker, life-organizer, resolution-maker. I’m not necessarily the best at not losing my lists, keeping my life organized and sticking to my resolutions, but that doesn’t stop me from trying!

This year though, this year is for real. I’m serious this go-around and I’m determined to change. I’m so serious that I’m about to write my ideas out on the World Wide Web.

Here goes.

My resolution for 2020 is to be present in my own reality. My resolution is to learn to live fully in the reality of my life as it is now, and to spend less time wishing it was something different. My resolution is to spend less time dreaming about becoming the person I want to be, but instead to actually put in the work to become that person.

That’s a lot of wishing and hoping, right? Well, it’s time. This past year was the hardest of my life- by a few miles. I spent a lot of time in this past year wishing my reality was different. I told Jed more than once “I don’t want this to be my life!” I spent a lot of time escaping into the ultra-curated lives of others via social media. I spent way too much time escaping from my own thoughts via podcast and books.

I don’t really wish this wasn’t my life. I have a habit of spouting off really dramatic things when I’m not emotionally healthy. 😊

I’m certainly not saying that any of the above mentioned media are bad on their own account. Podcasts, books, social media, they all have wonderful benefits! -when used in the right way and at the right level of consumption. I was just consuming too much, to the neglect of my mind, body and spirit. It’s time for change. I can’t keep on like I’ve been going and not crash and burn. I know if I don’t make some major changes I’ll regret it forever. I know that sounds intense, Hence the kind of intense resolutions. πŸ™‚

I have realized that I don’t give my mind any opportunity to be quiet. Now, I have a lot of people in my house, so extended periods of silence is total wishful thinking, I know. But, when I do have moments of quiet, why am I so quick to fill them with podcasts or audiobooks or social media or even music? I’ll give you a hint- habit and the desire to escape. I’ve gotten in the habit of filling the fringe moments with something. I have moments of not liking my current reality and I give in to the desire to escape. I give my mind and spirit zero time to rest and to be silent. It’s a shame too, because often those fringe moments, those moments of rest and silence are the moments when the voice of God is most clear and most able to be heard amidst all the noise of the world.

I guess I’m just realizing that I’ve allowed my world to be become too noisy. Podcasts, books, Facebook, Instagram, email, Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp, iMessage, Netflix…thank God I’ve never joined Twitter. Haha! So.many.voices. I listen and seek out so many voices every day and in the meantime have less and less ability to hear the one voice that matters above all else.

Enough. I’m tired. I need to quiet the superfluous voices for a time and tune in to the Father.

How does this play out in every day life?

A Rule of Life and Digital Minimalism are the two starting points.

Digital Minimalism, using only digital technology that strongly supports the things that I value most, is one of the strategies I’m adopting this year. I read the book. I’m a believer and I really desire to embrace a lifestyle of using technology in very thoughtful ways, not just in reactive ways.

Here are some of the intentional ways I will use technology: Facebook and Instagram will be used for Wide Awake purposes and not for browsing the curated lives of others (except faraway family). Those apps will only be on devices that live in our office, not on phones we carry with us. My iPhone is basically a dumb phone at the moment. It has messaging and calling capabilities, but only the messaging necessary for the logistical life stuff. Example: all the communication for church and school is on Viber, so that stays, but Facebook messenger is not used for urgent matters so that is not allowed on the phone. Email is definitely not on the phone.

Another example would be less family movie nights and more family game nights. That can be hard to do with our house situation and the sleeping arrangements with our guys, but where there’s a will there’s a way!

A fun aspect of Digital Minimalism I’m tackling this year is using only paper recipes for cooking. I’m guilty of too often browsing the internet for new or better recipes. Why???? I already have plenty of good recipes! I don’t need more and I don’t need to waste my time searching for more. I definitely don’t need my phone in the kitchen so I can use recipes from it. I declare 2020 is the year of the cookbook!

See where I’m headed? For me it’s all creating boundaries for myself so I can be more present and less distracted by the thousands of other voices available to me at any moment. I know myself and I know what is healthy for me and what is not. Now it’s time to start acting on that knowledge.

This is something I’ve been working toward over the past year. I’ve felt the nudge to pull back, to be less online and more in person and have changed a lot of my digital habits over the past several months. I’ve tried to create some intentional moments of quiet, have (gasp!) removed most of the apps from phone. Jed and I have been practicing a form of Sabbath over this past year and part of that includes turning off our phones from dinner on Saturday till dinner on Sunday. These moves toward digital minimalism have only brought blessing and I’m ready to dive deeper.

I mentioned before that a Rule of Life is another starting point for these desired changes to come about. If you aren’t familiar with a “Rule of Life” you can check out the link I’ll add at the end of this post. Basically it’s a trellis for life that helps anchor you to the things you value most. It’s not “Rules of life”, but more a way of looking at each sphere of your life and deciding how to keep the main things the main things. Jed and I are committed to developing our Rule of Life and to leaning in to it this year.

Jed and I have realized over the past couple of years that in some ways our lives have become kind of monastic. Our guys require practices and routines and schedules to ground them. Morning worship, evening prayers…our world has gotten smaller in a way and the daily routines of caring for our boys has us drawing closer to rituals of ancient Christianity. It’s been really cool and formative. That’s how our hearts began to turn toward a Rule of Life.

So there you have it. I might sound super ambitious, but I need to be. This is something that has been growing in my heart and actions for a while, but it’s time to speak it out and fully embrace these new ways of living. As I’ve shared about my desire for Digital Minimalism with others over the past few days I have seen them get a little flustered and somewhat defensive. Please don’t read this post like I’m judging or assuming I know what all people need. I just know what I need and I’m sharing here in hopes that others might be encouraged to search deep and figure out what they need. If you connect with the ideas I’ve shared, awesome! Check out the resources below. If you feel like it’s dumb or unrealistic, okay! We can still be friends. πŸ˜‰

My hope for all of us for this new year, this new decade is that we would create space for the one voice that matters to be heard in our lives. My hope is that we will hear that voice and then answer yes when it calls us to action.

What are your hopes and resolutions this year? I’d love to hear!

Resources:

This is a great resource for learning about a Rule of Life and how to create one. https://practicingtheway.org/practices/unhurry

Digital Minimalism: https://www.calnewport.com/books/digital-minimalism/

Side note: I will still write on this blog and Wide Awake will still exist like always on social media. I’m just going to be more mindful of when I use those mediums for communication and my response times may be slower. Communication with the online Wide Awake community is super important to us, so that won’t change!

An Anton Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Months In

We’re coming up on 8 months with Anton and Ruslan and I feel like we’re slowly starting to come up for air. Caring for our guys is still pretty much all-consuming, but we have gotten in to a bit of a rhythm, and things are looking up!

Sometimes it feels like their progress is so minuscule, but then we look back and remember things we had to do a few months ago just to keep the peace around here and we see how far the guys have come. Very far!

Anton. Six months ago we were barely sleeping because Anton was up all hours of the night wandering the halls. I remember we used to have to turn off all the water to the house and unscrew all the downstairs lightbulbs before we went to bed every night because Anton would get up and try to take a bath at 3 in the morning, or shriek and hoot and holler at 2am so that we would get him up and feed him. We had to remove all options in order for him to be able to turn his brain off enough to rest and fall asleep. At one point Jed was sleeping on a couch in front of his door to remove the option of nighttime wanderings. Those were the days…yikes.

Now I can happily report that Anton goes to bed easily and doesn’t get up until at least 6:30 every morning. (knock on a biiiiiiig ol’ piece of wood πŸ™‚ ) His sleep success is thanks to a strict evening routine that we dare not stray from, and blessed medication. The combo of the two saved our lives.

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He’s saying a lot of words, and more and more often he says them at the appropriate times! He used to only really speak when he was angry, but now that’s not always the case. There are so many words in there and sometimes he’ll shock us with a “See you tomorrow!” (in Ukrainian of course) or something like that.

Anton gets stressed pretty easily, and when he doesn’t feel good, physically, he gets really worked up. In times of stress he is aggressive toward others, so that is a big bummer. I hate those times because I know he is just repeating what he’s seen his whole life and it’s not the real Anton. When he is in an aggressive mood it just becomes a matter of keeping him separate from everyone else and that is exhausting. I hope and pray that someday Anton will be able to express his emotions in ways that are less painful to others. We are doing all we can to help him learn a new way.

When Anton feels good and is at ease he is so joyful, sweet and fun-loving. He loves big bear hugs, dancing, toy cars and fidget-spinners. He enjoys stirring things in the kitchen and will gladly eat anything and everything you put in front of him. He has started to say “I love you” on occasion and this week he said “Mama” for the first time. Melt my heart.

Ruslan.Β To be honest, it’s hard for me to write about Ruslan because I’m unsure how much to share. Whenever I share about our boys I want to respect their dignity and respect their privacy. It’s so important for me not to overshare their personal struggles. At the same time, I always want to be honest about this process. It does none of us any good for me to pretend all is unicorns and rainbows when they so clearly are not. This is stinkin’ hard work for us, our team, and our boys every.single.day. Most of all for our boys. Learning to become a human after 20+ years of living like an animal is not an easy process to go through. They need our empathy and our compassion, but they also need our strength. They need to have a standard to rise to, expectations to meet. They need to know we believe in them and we want more for them because we love them!

Ruslan’s trauma presents itself as high anxiety and a need to be in control of everything. At Romaniv his world was small. The stressors were crazy HUGE, but there were few of them. His main priority there was keeping himself safe and keeping himself fed. Here in the real world, the wider world, there are many, many things outside of his control. There are so many more things for him to obsess about and be anxious about. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Β He wants desperately to control his environment, but when you live in a house with 10 other people you just can’t control every single detail. That is outrageously hard for Ruslan. Sometimes it seems like it’s only getting harder, only getting worse, but he has actually made some great strides in the past few months. A few months ago he was was having daily meltdowns and those really only happen on rare occasions now. You can see him ramping up for a meltdown, and then most of the time he can wind himself down. Not always, but most of the time. I’m so thankful for that!

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When Ruslan is relaxed and at peace he is hilarious. He has a great sense of humor and a compassionate heart. He really loves Evie and is mostly gentle with her. He loves to sing, and worship time at church is his most favorite thing EVER. The anxiety ridden Ruslan who acts out in fear holds back the real Ruslan. The anxious Ruslan is also extremely hard to live with. It breaks my heart because I want things to be different. So, we will continue to fight for him. We will fight to get him all the help we can so that he can live his life to the fullest.

We have waited a bit to see how things would play out with a highly structured day and several months of safety and now we have an accurate baseline for Ruslan. We are ready to seek out psychiatric care for our guy and see how we can best help him move forward. If you would pray with us for wisdom in this we would really appreciate it.

Health. As far as medical stuff goes for both guys, we’ve been slowly but surely getting things taken care of. Fridays have become our “medical day”, so Kenny and I try to tackle the different medical appointments on Fridays. We’re focused on dental stuff right now and that’s super fun since Kenny and I both HATE going to the dentist. I’m not sure how much moral support we provide, but we do our best. Hehe. Anton has one problematic tooth that should be fixed next week and Ruslan has a whole mouthful of problems. I’m not sure he’ll have any teeth left when we get finished. Poor guy. πŸ™ I’m guessing we’ll be exploring the world of dentures or implants in the near future. Anton has some physical symptoms that I don’t have answers for yet, but all in all I think they are both in pretty good health at the moment. Step by step we’re getting there!

I have to say that there is no way we could do any of this without our amazing team. Kenny and Oleg are with us Monday through Friday, bathing our guys, shaving them, taking them on bike rides, teaching them how to make tea, keeping them safe, talking them off the ledge, teaching them how to be men, loving them, comforting them, supporting us and all in all just being awesome. This really would be impossible without their help. We would have burned out months ago.

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Masha, Masha, and Lesya are also absolutely essential to the success of this home. “Harry Potter Masha” πŸ˜‰ comes to our home three times a week. She plans and organizes the guys’ schedule for the week and is learning to implement the plans that Olya, our wonderful OT, recommends. Masha’s work makes it so that we aren’t just spinning our wheels with the guys, but we are hopefully moving toward specific developmental goals. “Second Masha” and Lesya each come once a week and provide great additional support to our guys and the rest of the team. I love our team and can’t express how thankful I am that God brought each of them to our family.

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So, there’s a bit of an update on our two newest family members. If you have any questions about Anton or Ruslan, or the process of deinstitutionalization don’t hesitate to ask! My hope and dream for writing this out is that someone reading it will also feel called to this deep, difficult, and beautiful work. We need help and I know God will call the right people to join us. I also write this so that those of you who pray will know better how to pray for our family and our team.

To all of you who pray, support, encourage and love us from afar, thank you! We can’t tell you how much we need it and appreciate it. Thank you for partnering with us on this journey. We couldn’t do it without you!

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Superheroes Live in Our House.

Sometimes I don’t know completely what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it out. You’ve been warned. πŸ™‚

When we moved to Ukraine 5 years ago our mission was clear: to bring hope, love and dignity to people with disabilities. Our main goal was deinstitutionalization.  We dreamed of this work. We dreamed of this reality. We dreamed of the day we would begin to bring our guys out and have the opportunity to show them the love of a family. I dreamed of being a mama to them- to those who had no mama.

Now we are living that dream. It is a reality!

Four of the very ones we dreamed of setting free are downstairs drinking tea at the kitchen table. The ones who can speak call me “mama”. I dreamed of that. πŸ™‚

Yes, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s here, I struggle with the reality of it. The day to day of it is harder than I imagined- much less romantic than I imagined. The reality of deinstitutionalization of adults who are so very broken- body, mind and spirit is non-stop work with very little reward. Yet I longed for it. I wept for it. I dreamed of it. But it’s so dang hard. So.dang.hard.

Where’s the disconnect? I love our guys. I can’t imagine not having them with us. Then why do I struggle so bad with their behaviors?  Why am I so often annoyed? Why do I (too often) wake with dread in my heart over the hardships I know the day will bring?

I can tell you why. Two reasons:

  1.  Far too often I try to do this work, live this life, without Jesus.
  2. As much as I fight for our guys to be included and seen as equals by the people around them, in my heart, I still see them as “less than”.

Friends, this work will bring you to your knees. Spending your life with the broken, teaching them to become human is a work that will break you. Well, I guess I can’t speak for you, but it’s definitely breaking me. Every single day I’m confronted with my own weakness, my own ugliness. It’s so yucky. Here I am fighting for justice for our guys; trying to show Ukrainians a new way, and yet I know that I don’t value them the way they deserve to be valued. Somehow, even after knowing all they have suffered, I still have a bit of my heart that looks down at them.

God forgive me.

I put my agenda before them. I dismiss their feelings as less important than my own. I shower love on them when they behave more human, but when they move into old behaviors I withhold my affection.

God forgive me.

I find myself realizing that those who are “lower functioning” (I hate that term but don’t know a better one) are generally easier for me because they require less of me. I can care for them more on my terms- when it’s convenient for me. The “higher functioning” of our boys demand more. Their struggles, feelings and hurts are presented in more complex ways and I’m exhausted with trying to make sense of it all, so I sometimes give up.

God forgive me.

As you’ve figured out, if you’ve read this far- I am far from a superhero (I’m sure you already knew that). I am a super flawed human who screws up on the regular. I function too often out of my own strength, which is consistently running out.

I need Jesus. Guys, I have zero business getting out of my bed and letting my feet touch the ground without first talking with Jesus. I’ll tell you what happens when I try to do my day in Kim’s strength. I’m short- like I have zero patience. I’m easily annoyed. I find more joy in my coffee than in the people around me. I’m discontent. I search for approval from others. I look for distraction. I compare my life to the lives of others and I either envy them, judge them, or puff myself up. Bottom line: Kim minus Jesus equals HOT MESS.

I’m not sure why I think I can do this on my own when I so clearly stink at it.

And yet-

His power is made perfect in my weakness. God has called us to this work and I know that I know if I turn to Him He will give me everything I need. Tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every morning. Amen?

I’ll tell you who the superheroes are around here: their names are Ruslan, Anton, Boris and Vladik.

Our guys have endured unimaginable pain, abuse and neglect. Their childhoods were stolen from them. Their teen years were stolen from them. So many missed opportunities, missed birthdays, missed cuddles, missed “I love you”s, missed adventures, missed family dinners, missed holidays, missed moments of peace and joy. Ruslan, Anton and Boris spent 3 decades as prisoners, innocent of any crime.

They came to us afraid, diseased, malnourished of body and spirit. But every single day they wake up and they try again. They are survivors. They are learning to give themselves to others, learning to become human. I’m certain it hurts them far more than it hurts me.

Our guys are deserving of the best- not because of what they have endured and not because of their likability, but because they are children of God, created in His image, just like you and me.

I’m done. I’m done holding back a part of my heart and selfishly longing for something different. I’m done parceling out my love to those who “deserve it” in that particular moment.

I’m here. I’m planting myself. No matter if our guys are every fully included into society here in Ukraine, they will fully be included into my heart. Not everyone is lucky enough to live with superheroes, but I get to live with 4. I’m one lucky lady. πŸ™‚

BeLOVE[d]

 

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Vol. 1 and 2

Hi All!

Thank you so much for all the wonderful questions! It has been fun for us to find out what you are interested in and where the pieces are missing in the stories we share. People asked questions on Facebook, by email, and on Instagram. So fun!

The response was big so we divided the questions into 4 categories: Family (Johnson Fam minus the guys), Food, The Guys (Boris, Ruslan and Anton), The Homestead, and “Past, Present, Future”.

Here are the video responses we created for “Family” and “Food”. The rest are in the works, so stay tuned! If you follow Wide Awake on Instagram you can also see responses to the Instagram questions in our Stories and Highlights. πŸ™‚