ONE YEAR!!!

One year.  ONE YEAR!  Today marks one year since we landed in Ukraine to start this crazy new journey.    We’re calling today our “Ukraine-iversary”.

I remember the elevator door opening in to the baggage claim at the airport in Kyiv.  I remember looking around and wondering how on God’s green earth were we going to get all 12 suitcases, all 4 carry-ons, all 5 personal items, the guitar, and all four children from baggage claim, through customs, and to the van that we hoped was waiting for us.

And then.  Then I saw frantic waving through the sliding door as it opened and closed past customs.  There were at least 8 friends from Kyiv Vineyard with HUGE smiles on their faces, waiting to help us out the door.  Oh the relief.  Those dear, sweet friends will never understand what the moment meant to me.  We were not alone.  We had loved ones waiting for us.  And that’s how it has been along this whole journey.

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Now some of those who greeted us are like our Ukrainian family.  Now Vasya, the driver who I hoped and prayed really would be waiting for us, is a loved friend who drives us to and from Romaniv almost every single week.

What a journey.  What.a.journey.

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This year has been full.

Full of laughter, and full of tears.  Full of hugs and kisses, and full of loneliness.  Full of learning, and full of humility.  Full of intense joy and intense grief.  Full of being a stranger, and full of absolute belonging.

But most of all, this year has been full to the brim, and then overflowing with blessing.

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God has blessed us this year beyond our wildest dreams.  His goodness has been without end.  This has been the hardest year of our lives, but also the absolute best year of our lives.  There have been days when we felt like the craziest people on the face of the earth, but God has walked beside us every second.

You know what’s exciting?  This is just the beginning!!!  One year is like nothing!  We’re just scratching the surface of the plans God has for the special boys and young people we serve.  The dreams He has been giving us are even wilder and crazier and bigger than before.

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THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU a million times THANK YOU for walking with us on this journey.  Thank you for your prayers, your encouragement, your comments, your emails, your financial support, your care packages, your love.

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 We are blessed to have you on the team.

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To celebrate this most awesome Ukraine-iversary we have brought back the BeLOVE[d] t-shirts! 

We will be selling the shirts until the end of the month, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward the transportation of our volunteer teams to and from Romaniv.  They are Jesus’ hands and feet to our Boys and your support helps them (and us!) get there as often as possible. 

Check out the sale at www.booster.com/wideawakeinternational

(God’s) Timing is Everything

So yesterday was basically amazing.

We had the extreme honor and pleasure of meeting with a woman in Kyiv who has worked for twenty years to provide rights for, and secure the rights of people with disabilities.  She and her team have worked tirelessly to rewrite laws and create legislation and lobby for the ones we love.  This incredible woman was fighting for our Boys before we even had a clue they existed.  This incredible woman deserves a standing ovation.

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As a mother of an adult son with disabilities she recognized the holes in the social system of Ukraine.  She saw how her own son would fall between those cracks.  She knew the value of his life and decided to do something about it.

As Ukraine attempts to move toward European Standards of Care for institutionalized children and adults it has become obvious that the current model of care can not continue “as is”.  Major overhauls must happen.  Major change must come.  And it will have to be MAJOR.

Before we moved here we told people that the whole social system here in Ukraine would have to change in order for the dreams God has given us to come about.  We dream of community living for people of all abilities where they are not isolated, but are active members of society.  We dream of homes where children are not confined to their beds, but they are truly living and thriving, surrounded by loving support for all their days.  Those dreams are legally impossible with the current system.  BUT, change is coming.  We don’t know when (but we do know it will be soon), we don’t now how, but now we know the people who have been dreaming this dream long before we arrived.

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Timing is everything.  The harvest is so ripe.  How can we honor those who have gone before us? How can we thank them enough for their tireless, unrecognized efforts?  It’s truly humbling and so encouraging!  I mean, think about this: we knew at some point we would have to hire a legal team to dig in to, and fight to change the laws here concerning people with disabilities.  Then yesterday we learned that there are people here already doing that- and with much success!

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There is much, much work to be done, and many battles yet to be fought, but we are not alone. We are a teeny-tiny piece of a great big puzzle here in Ukraine.  There are others who care, and it is personal to them.  We met one of them yesterday.

I’m a concrete thinker.  I like to know what to do next.  All these policies and plans and multi-year projects are nearly impossible for me to wrap my brain around.  But, in our meeting we were given a solid next step to work toward.  We learned that it is important to register Wide Awake International as an NGO here in Ukraine.  That will be to our benefit once the big changes start to take place.  So, we’ll get working on that right away.

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In the meantime we’ll keep in touch with our new contact in Kyiv, and faithfully serve the Boys God has put right in front of us.  It’s more and more obvious as time goes by that this is the exact place we are supposed to be at this exact time in history.  Because of that we can rest.  Even though Ukraine is at war and the task before us seems insurmountable, we can be confident that God is truly in control.  Yay for that!!!!  Thank you all for your continued prayers and support.  You are making a difference in many lives!

The photos are from last week at Romaniv.  Little Ilya was cracking us up with his absolute love for music.  It really helps him to regulate.  He even tried to climb inside the guitar!  Don’t miss him on Jed’s lap in the pics.  Hilarious and awesome.  

 

 

Coffee Chat

On the eve of tomorrow’s presidential elections here in Ukraine, there is much that could be said.  Things are getting more and more crazy in the East.  I can’t even keep up with the news properly.  People on both sides of the conflict are dying and no one knows what will happen next.  Please join us in prayer for tomorrow’s elections!  Pray that people would not be hindered from voting.  Pray that there would be loads of courage and wisdom on each person who decides to make their voice heard.  Pray for honesty and that corruption would be far away from these proceedings.  That almost seems impossible, but we are praying it anyway.  God is doing a new thing here and we choose hope.  

Let’s chat.  Let’s pretend you and I are sitting down for a nice, hot cup of coffee and you just asked me, “So, what have you guys been up to?”

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We’ve been great!  I’m so glad it’s almost summer break.  One more week of school and we’re done!!!  Addy and Ezra had testing last week in reading, writing, and math and they both did fine on all the tests.  Yay!  They both recited poems in their class program and did awesome. FIVE MORE DAYS!!!!!  Good thing too, because it’s really hard to think about school when it’s 80 degrees with blue skies and all the neighbor kids get to stay out playing till after 9:00 every night.  🙂

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Speaking of neighbor kids, we have a couple that have started to come over faithfully to invite the kids to come outside and play!  They are sweet little girls that are both 11, and they really enjoy playing with the kids.  They usually bring an assortment of siblings and other tag-alongs with them.  One day they were so desperate to communicate that one of them actually ran inside her apartment and came out with an English-Russian dictionary!  Thank you Jesus for fun kids to run around with.

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The little girls made our kids this picture as a gift. Notice the bottom, “Set, Hava, Ezra, and HARRY” Hahahahahaha!!!! Looks like Addy’s got a new nickname!

So, in case you didn’t know, Ukrainians have a thing for hedgehogs.  Everyone loves hedgehogs here.  You can find candy named after hedgehogs; they are a super common theme in kids’ books; many families have stuffed animal hedgehogs in their houses, and the kids have homework that involves hedgehogs at least once a week.  I love it!  I don’t get it, but I enjoy it.  Well, a couple nights ago there was a hedgehog on our street!  I’d never seen a real one before!  Coooool.  One of the neighbors lightly kicked it until it rolled in to a ball and then he picked it up. I’ve got to admit, I’m becoming a fan!

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We had our second Youth Night at MTU last week.  It was karaoke night and we all had a blast.  We got to be outside, we ate food, chatted, sang, laughed, bowled.  So many smiles…I am absolutely in love with Youth Night.

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Jed even pulled out the air guitar. Intense.

Last week classes at MTU ended for the school year.  Now we enter the summer schedule, which is shaping up to be pretty stinking fun.  I’ll do a post about that later.  Over the past couple of months my friend Tanya and I had the best time meeting with some of the moms whose kids are served at MTU.  Normally while the kids are in classes, the moms meet with Olya, a staff member of MTU.  They chat, pray, and study the Bible.  Olya is pretty busy, so Tanya and I took a couple of her groups and have met with them several times.  We had such fun!!  We drank tea, prayed, chatted…I absolutely loved getting to know some of the moms of the children and youth we serve.  These are some awesome, strong, brave, and loving women.  I adore them!

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Mommies and Me

Today was such a fun day here in Zhytomyr!!  They hung up a record-breaking, HUGE HUGE HUGE Ukrainian flag on a building in our city center.  There was a big gathering today at the flag to hear from some important people in the city, to hear some beautiful music, to sing the National Anthem, and basically just to show support and love the for this wonderful country.  Many, many people were dressed in traditional clothing, there were flags everywhere…it was AWESOME.  I was so thankful we got to be there to participate!  Zhytomyr, as a city, has honestly been a bit sleepy when it comes to all that has been happening these past few months.  But now, a few days after the attack and deaths of some of our own Zhytomyr soldiers who were fighting in the east, Zhytomyr is sleeping no more.

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The view from the other side of the city center. Massive!!!

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University students in traditional dress marched and chanted in the streets.

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Johnson kiddos feelin’ the love…

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Our dear friend Olya helping Havalah in the sidewalk chalk competition. Kids were supposed to draw something to symbolize their love for Ukraine.

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Addy, hard at work. Her writing says “I love Ukraine” -in Ukrainian! Nice job sis!

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Showing our flowery support with traditional hairbands 🙂

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Some of our favorite people: Oksana, Nastya, Tolik, Victor, Katya,Olya, Oleg, Tanya, and baby Zakhar. (Seth was sooooo done. Haha)

Thank you for loving the Ukrainian people alongside us.  May God have His way and may many hearts be turned to Him during this time.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20, 21

The Necessary.

We’re really alive!  Finger still intact, though angry as can be when required to type, hence the lack of posts.  It turns out pointer fingers are super useful.  I’ll definitely appreciate mine more in the future.  

Although I haven’t been able to type it out, my brain has been spinning a mile a minute since we landed back on US soil.  The trip was so good.  When people ask the question “How was your trip?” I say “Good, and necessary.”  It was oh so necessary, in ways we couldn’t have anticipated before going.  I thought it would be necessary in the scheme of houses, visas, and job descriptions, and while all those things were discussed and worked on, they aren’t the necessary I’m talking about.  This trip was another leg in the Journey of Learning to Say Yes.  


Kiev was great.  Super fun, great connections, awesome time with old friends- going deeper and getting stronger.  Kiev was comfy, cozy, and superb.  

Zhitomir was good too…and Zhitomir was reality.  Necessary reality.  

We LOVE Mission to Ukraine (MTU).  We love the staff, we love the vision, we love the people being served.  We are more excited than ever to join them in their ministry.  Jed could be busy there 24/7.  His professional skills are so right on for the areas they have need.  My heart was bursting to think of how I get to help and how our kids get to be involved and learn to serve.  We are totally and completely more excited than ever for MTU.  YAY!


Honestly though, I struggled in Zhitomir.  Nothing personal to the city or the people, I was struggling with doubt, fear, worry as we walked the streets of Zhitomir, and it was all personal to me.  

“What are we doing???  This is crazy.”

“Our lives are PERFECT right now and we’re leaving it all for the unknown.  Why???”

“We’re taking our kids away from their cousins, their friends, their church.  They’re going to hate us!”


And on, and on, and on.  Being the verbal processor that I am, Jed got quite the earful.  THIS was the necessary of this trip I wasn’t expecting.  I had to come around to the fact that although our life right now is the absolute best it’s ever been, the biggest reason for that is because we are smack dab in the will of God.  Yes, there will be challenges about moving to Ukraine.  No, it will not be easy. Yes, there are some major sacrifices, but it will be the best because we will be smack dab in the will of our Loving Father.  After I got over myself and the lies, fear, doubt, blah blah blah, I could truly enjoy our time in Zhitomir.  

Look how far The Lord has brought us!  Oh my, the joy in the journey really increases when you die to yourself a bit more. Ha!

Today my kids and their friend Milaey decided to pick various herbs and plants from the yard and set up a stand on the porch to sell to passerby’s.  Great idea, except for the fact that we live on an extremely quiet, out of the way street.  People don’t just meander down our street for the fun of it. It’s almost like a ghost town, except for us. 🙂  I didn’t want to discourage them, so I just warned them it might be a bit hard to get customers, but they were welcome to try!  


They set to work gathering, pricing, making signs.  Soon they were out on the corner yelling to the empty street about their wares.  “We’ve got carrots, we’ve got herbs, we’ve got stuff to make your house smell good!”  They chanted over and over, then cheered like crazy when a random car would drive by every 7 minutes or so.  


After a bit they came in, discouraged at the lack of business.  Then Milaey suggested they pray and ask God to bring them a customer.  I certainly didn’t have the faith I should have had (hehe), but was so proud of Milaey for suggesting it!  They prayed, and I kid you not, like 5 minutes later a car stopped at the sale!  A random lady got out and said “I never drive on this street, but I thought I’d try a shortcut today.”  Seriously???  The kids were FREAKING OUT.  They hovered, they talked up their goods, and the kindest lady in town walked away with a ziplock baggie full of hedge trimmings.  God is so faithful.  He cares about what’s important to us.  


I got to talk with the kids about the goodness of God, they were thankful, elated, and back to sign-holding and chanting.  Guess what?  Not one other car stopped the rest of the day.  Addy and Ezra came inside an hour later crying (sobbing) about their “failure sale”.  

“Why did no one come?  It was important to us and no one cared!”

How quickly they forgot the Lord’s provision.  How quickly they forgot the joy in the answered prayer, the delight in His care for them.  He provided a miraculous customer right when they asked!

Yep, that was me in Zhitomir.  Totally forgetting what God did earlier.  Totally feeling forgotten, wondering if God cared.  Seriously?????  He’s done AMAZING things.  He’s gone above and beyond for our family to pave the way and make it straight.  Seriously.  Once I got my head and heart on straight, stopped looking at the “yikes” and looking at all He has done and promises TO DO things got a whoooooooole lot better.  

Lesson learned for me, and the kids.

Next post will be more details about our time in Zhitomir.  Many of you have been asking and I’m sooooo sorry for the delay.  I blame it on my immersion blender skills (or lack thereof).

Pain:

After leaving MTU today, I just had to walk.

My brain was going a mile-a-minute.

I just finished teaching a seminar on Vicarious Trauma (the cumulative impact of hearing many traumatic events in the lives of the people you help).  It is a serious issue for those who work in the Helping Profession.  
I also attended the funeral of a deeply loved pastor who was integral in the work MTU started throughout the Zhitomir region.
As I walked through my new city, the place we will call home for at least the first year of our lives in Ukraine,
I was trying to reconcile a  part of the training I deliberately skipped over.

I hadn’t plan to skip this part, in fact, I intended to spend some time on this theme.  But as I looked out at the teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses, and staff I could not tell them that a sign of Vicarious Trauma was connected to their ability to see the world as a good and safe place for themselves and those they love.
Now, before I get too far down this road, I believe this world is full of amazingly good things and good people and safe families and safe environments.
In the US, our biggest business is pain avoidance.  We prescribe, self-medicate, anesthetize and pasteurize our lives from as many problems and as much pain as possible.
At the drop of a hat we start to blame God, country and anything around us when our lives become anything less than ideal.  I’m speaking at myself here.
How could I tell these people, who not only see so much suffering, but experience it too, that the world is a good and safe place and you have a serious problem if you think otherwise?  They would laugh me out of the room.
I wasn’t ready to talk about this part of Compassion Fatigue (aka, Vicarious Trauma).
I needed to go for a walk and think about all I have been experiencing on this trip to Ukraine. 
“God, help me to understand this culture and people.  Help me to see the world through their eyes and support them as they work with the most vulnerable in their community.”
After a cup of coffee and some quiet time I had a clear thought. A sign of Vicarious Trauma fatigue is the inability to see the good that is around us and trust people in our lives.  It’s a slight change from the “everything’s coming up roses” worldview that is easy to have when you are hiding behind a shit-ton of missiles and medication.

Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  The right to rule over sickness, death, sin and darkness had begun it’s reign on earth.  
He didn’t stand afar off and point at all that was wrong, Christ came and made wrong things right.  He became one of us and took the full weight of all our bad so we could walk in freedom and goodness and life.  See Isaiah 53:5.
As helpers, our job is to be like Jesus.  To stand in the places where the pain is most severe and cry out for God’s Kingdom to come and when we see healing and wholeness and life and freedom we celebrate it as a sign of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
We must take care of ourselves so we can serve from the overflow of God’s presence  and power in our lives.

I had the honor of speaking at MTU’s morning devotions and I shared from Mark 7:31-37 as model of care for those who work in the helps field.    

Read the passage and think of Jesus’ actions more like sign language than a mysitcal ritual.  
Jesus honors this man by taking him aside.  He tells him, through sign language, that he is going to heal his ears and speaking. He looks up to the Father, so the deaf man would know where the healing was coming from.
When it’s all said and done the entire community said, “Jesus does all things well!”  Or translate, He does all things completely.
Our work as helpers is usually partial healing: bandaging, counseling, listening, soothing, containing, informing and befriending.  But, as Christ followers, we can appeal to His finishing work and say;
“Father in Heaven, make your name great!  
Just like it is in Heaven, let it be here on earth; In my life and in the families and people I serve.  
Give us this day, everything we need to live lives of freedom in you.  
Let us be forgivers, people who give out love and kindness freely and without reservation, as we have been forgiven and loved much. 
Papa, let me learn the lessons I need to learn without going through the fires of temptation.  Don’t let me be so self-focused that I miss your sweet comfort that guides me in the way of peace.
You take all the glory today and I will bathe in the warmth of I life lived near your heart.
Amen.”