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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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!  

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Meanwhile, Back in Ukraine…

We made it!  We’ve been back in Ukraine for almost a week now, and all is well.  We hit the ground running.  I guess I’m learning that that’s kind of our style.  We don’t really know how to ease into anything.  🙂 The travel was great (minus a four hour stint in a Kyiv parking lot due to a busted belt on the van…but that’s another story).  Our puppy made it with us safe and sound too, for all the curious animal-lovers out there. No one left behind! 

It’s great to be back with our team, with our friends, with our church. It’s a relief to know that our family is all together and we’re going to stay that way indefinitely.  No more trying to live on both sides of the ocean at once.  It may take a while for my heart to settle into that fact.  Whew! 

The big, huge news is that on Monday we purchased the Wide Awake property!!!  It’s official! 


The property is in a nearby village called “Ivanivka”. We chose Ivanivka because it’s super close to Zhytomyr, but with plenty of awesome land for sale.  We will be within a community and close to the city, but with space to grow and garden, and space for our boys to enjoy nature and peace without being isolated.  Our team and friends can easily take the city bus to Ivanivka, and our property is not far off the main road, so it’s easily accessible, since most of our friends don’t have cars.
The property itself is a little under 2 acres.  There is an old house at the front of the property, and our family will live in that house after we do some renovating.  It’s not a house that would ever be ideal for our boys, but it will suit our family just fine.  There are established gardens behind the house, several mature fruit trees, and a big grassy field where we plan to build two more small houses that will be home to 4 boys each.  The back of the property is bordered by huge trees.  It’s just beautiful! There are several small outer buildings on the property that have had various uses over the years.  We’ll keep some of them and tear down others. 



The plan of attack, after deciding on a contractor and work crew, is to tackle plumbing, kitchen, and heating.  The floors have to be taken out to do the heating, and right now there is no indoor bathroom or kitchen, so those three things have to be done before our family can move in.  Once we are in we will begin work on an addition to the back of the house.  The addition will be home to the first four boys who come out of the institution! 

So, we’ve got our work cut out for us!  The house is old, but structurally sound.  The property has great potential, but a lot must be done before anyone lives there.  It can be a bit (or a lot) daunting when we think of how much needs to be done fairly quickly, so it’s imperative that we just put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Yikes.  In the meantime we’re renting an apartment that we lived in during our first year in Ukraine. 


We are so thankful to each one of you who gave to make this property a reality.  Thank you for your generosity.  Thank you for believing in the vision.  Thank you for loving our boys and for loving us.  Thank you for your YES!  


For more pics of the land check out this link: https://wideawakefamily.com/2016/05/17/wide-awake-property/

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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A Week in Photos: ‘Merica Edition

Last week Ezra and I were in the good old US of A! We had to go there for some document stuff and had a grand time!  It was the first time either of us had been back since we moved to Ukraine 17 months ago.  I was nervous to go, wondering if I would feel out of place, or too “changed”, but all my worries were for not.  It was a special time and our love tanks were absolutely filled to overflowing.  

*I was horrible about taking pictures.  My bad.*





I felt a lot of feelings throughout the trip.  Some were expected, others were not.  At church on the first Sunday I was so happy to be there I could have cried- and maybe did, just a little.  There were so many mixed emotions coming and going that my insides felt like a huge tangled up knot.  Then a wise and wonderful friend came to me and wisely advised me to stop telling myself what to feel and what not to feel.  

“If you keep telling yourself what you should and shouldn’t feel you’ll miss out on all that God has for you this trip.”  

Truth.  I decided in that moment to just let myself feel what I felt and to let go of the reigns just a bit.  I’m a control freak and I avoid vulnerability, but letting go of that control made for a much cooler trip.  





Curious things we noticed while in America:

-The streets are HUGE. Wowzers.  The lanes are so ginormously wide!!!  It felt like every street was a freeway.  

-Driving is amazing.  I forgot how freeing it is to get behind the wheel and go wherever you want to go. 

-The sidewalks are empty.  Ha!  On our first full day Ez and I walked to the DMV because I needed a replacement drivers license (my wallet was stolen last summer).  After I got my license we walked to my friend’s house who was generously loaning us a car.  As we walked along in the beautiful sunshine Ez said “Where are all the people?”  Haha.  Seriously though, walking along a sidewalk totally alone in Ukraine is a very rare thing.  

-The DMV is more efficient than I ever realized.  Don’t agree?  Just try to get a document replaced in Ukraine and you might change your tune.  🙂  

-Everyone is SO FRIENDLY and SO SMILEY!  Woah Nelly.  It felt like every barista and every gas attendant and every cashier was my new BFF!  Sooooooo not Ukrainian.  When we were going through customs in Portland, the lady who was taking the declaration sheets asked Ez “What grade are you in, buddy?  Hey, do good in school, okay bud?”  He barely nodded.  I reminded him not to be rude and he said “But, Mom, I don’t even know her!  Why was she smiling so much????”  Oy.  Ha.  Seeing all the smiles was AMAZING.  🙂 🙂 🙂 

-Everything is sparkling clean.  Serious.  You could eat off the floor of Target.  I didn’t, but, yeah the cleanliness, wow.

-People  popped out of the woodwork to tell us they pray for us every day.  I had no idea.  Blessed my socks off. 

-So many people love our Boys fiercely.  The Boys are like rockstars.  I pray God speaks to their spirits and gives them even a glimpse of how deeply they are loved by multitudes of people.  Thankful. 



I think the biggest thing I felt on the trip to America was a feeling like I was letting all my breath out.  It felt like I’d been holding my breath for the past year and a half- without even knowing it, and I finally just exhaled.  You see, in America I undestand EVERYTHING.  I understand every conversation, fully.  I understand every sign, completely.  I understand every bit of culture.  I understand the body language.  I understand cultural jokes.  I understand family norms and social norms.  I understand traffic laws.  I understand what is expected of me in just about every single situation.  In the whole two weeks I was there I never had one bit of tension  inside like “Uh oh, what am I supposed to do here….?”  

Not so in Ukraine.  I think when people think of living in a different country they mostly just think of the spoken language  issues- like vocabulary.  I know that’s all I thought of!  And yes, of course that is a HUGE HUGE HUGE learning curve and a HUGE HUGE HUGE obstacle.  But there is even so much more that has to be learned than just how to say words.  You have to learn the systems of how things work.  

How do you buy food at a store?  How do you buy food at a market?  How do you do banking?  How does the transportation work?  How do I behave when I enter this public building?  What do I do when I meet a new person?  What is expected of me?  How do I read that sign?  And if I can’t read it, who do I ask for help?  How do I send and receive mail?  How will this social gathering go, and what will be expected of me?  What if they ask me something and I don’t understand?

Sure, you can ask questions, but often you don’t even know what questions need to be asked.  There is so much that is unspoken in culture.  I can’t even tell you how much that affects daily life.  Culture is everything.  People don’t explain certain things to foreigners because it is such a cultural norm that everyone conforms without a second thought!  Everyone except us.  🙂  We don’t even know what we don’t know.  Sure we know more than we used to, but I’m still terrified of the post office.  So yeah, we’ve got a ways to go.



I realized that I have become so used to feeling unsure (about what to do, what to say, how to act), that the insecure-pit-in-the-stomach feeling I get when I go most places in Ukraine has become normal to me.  Oh guys, I feel dumb so often.  Hahaha.

BUT, in America I remembered that although I often feel dumb and unsure and not confident, that is not who I am.  I am bold.  I am strong.  Christ in me is bold.  Christ in me is strong.  He made me brave.  I’m actually a fairly smart person! 🙂  I can’t even tell you how that felt- to be able to turn off the insecurities and just BE ME.  I saw it changing Ezra too. 

We both came back to Ukraine reminded of who Christ is in us.  We came back braver and stronger.  We needed that.  

So yeah, it was awesome.  Part of me didn’t want to leave, but another part of me couldn’t wait to get back.  I have a feeling that is a tension we’ll live with as long as Ukraine is our home.

We have people who love us on both sides of the world.  We have home on both sides of the world.  I can love both places and long for both places.  I’ll just go ahead and stop telling myself what I should feel.  🙂