What Does the Next Yes Mean?

On December 15th a committee will meet to decide if we are allowed to take guardianship of our precious friend, Boris. The committee has never visited a case like ours before (non-relatives pursuing guardianship of an adult with disabilities), so we are totally unsure of the outcome. Jed has submitted all the requested documents and the law is on our side, along with institution administration. There is really no reason why they should deny our petition, but they could always ask for more documents and endlessly require more from us…there is just no saying! We are preparing our home and our hearts for the possibility of bringing Boris home on that day, but at the same time not setting our hopes too high. It’s an impossible heart situation that will only be solved with time.

48CA7A04-5029-4105-8351-9C3593E7AACE

So what does this “guardianship” word mean, in our case? I’ll tell you!

Legally, Boris can not be adopted by us because he is almost 26 years old and US law does not allow international adoption of adults. Also, if the goal is deinstitutionalization of all our boys, international adoption of ALL of them is probably not the most effective solution. Adoption is extremely expensive and the restrictions of who can and can’t adopt would limit our options for help in the years to come. Guardianship seems to be the best solution.

Ukraine has the options of an individual gaining guardianship or an organization gaining guardianship. In the future, once we have more homes on our property and are bringing out more boys we will most likely go the organization route. That makes more sense when you are looking at maybe having helpers in the family-style homes that are not able to commit the rest of their lives to these boys and this place. Having Wide Awake Int. remain the consistent guardianship overhead makes sense. For the boys that will be living in this house with our immediate family, like Boris, we decided to go the individual guardianship route. For one thing Wide Awake is not yet registered as a Ukrainian non-profit, but only as a US one at this point. More importantly though, we see the boys who will live in this house with us as becoming our immediate family, and as they will become a forever part of our family, it is right that we should personally be their guardians.

By law, the transfer of guardianship is from one individual to another. So the assistant director of the institution must express his desire to transfer guardianship of Boris to Jed, which he has done. The administration is totally supportive of this. They are behind us and have only helped the process so far. We are extremely thankful for that! It’s super important that they understand this is something we can do with them, not something we are doing to them. This gives them the opportunity to be an active part of the solution. Win win! Jed will have ultimate legal responsibility of Boris and will have total legal authority to make decisions on his behalf, as Boris is at this time unable to speak for himself. Through the coming years, as Boris gains his voice we will partner together in helping him become all God has made him to be with as much independence as he can safely have.

So that’s the legal side of it. What does a transfer of guardianship mean for our family? Well, that remains to be seen! Of course we have no idea what this will look like in the coming years, but we are committed to our friend. In our hearts and minds, this is an adoption. Boris will not gain our family name, but he will gain our family identity and heritage. For all intents and purposes Boris will become a Johnson, with a different last name. 🙂 We are committed to him for life as if he were our own child, born from my womb. Sure, he’s only 12 year younger than us (ha!), but to us that makes no difference. Once he is with us he will be here to stay- forever, as a beloved son and friend.

It’s funny, Jed and I were talking the other day and realized we needed to decide how we would refer to each other when talking to Boris. On paper, we are way too young to be his mom and dad, but developmentally a mommy and daddy is what Boris needs. He is like a baby in many ways and has been neglected for so many years. He needs to cocoon with family like a newborn for as long as it takes for healing to come. We decided we will be Daddy and Mommy to Boris. He’s missed out on that relationship for far too long.

2710533D-787A-4D0D-BDCB-BCBBBCCECDEC

Because we are not adopting Boris, he will not become a US citizen. Vladik has US citizenship because he is adopted, but Boris will remain a Ukrainian citizen. That does make things tricky, as far as when we need to visit family and partners in the US. As a family we usually plan to visit the US for two months every 2 years. As soon as we have legal custody we will get Boris an international passport and then apply for a US visa for him. It’s a total toss-up as to whether he would be granted a visitor visa, but it’s worth a try! It would be great if he could travel with us for visits, but if he is denied a visa we will ask loving friends to stay here at the Homestead with him while we are gone. It’s not optimal, but there really aren’t many options. We are hoping for and expecting great healing for Boris-spirit, mind and body. But we are not unaware that a big trip across the ocean might not be what’s best for him at any given time. So we are trying to be very open handed with all of that. God will give us wisdom.

Medically, Boris is a total mystery. We have no idea what is going on in his body. He is obviously in poor health and will need the support of many specialists. We are hesitant to pursue initial medical evaluations here, as we are simply not confident that Boris will be seen as valuable and worthy of the best medical care available. Simply said, we live in a society that does not, as a general whole, accept people like Boris, so we would like to take him out of Ukraine for some baseline testing and examinations. Thankfully, Ukrainians can now travel visa-free in the EU for 90 days at a time, and also thankfully, we have loads of friends in the medical profession in Germany who are ready to welcome Boris with open arms. We are excited to get our boy a passport and begin to sort out that body of his so he can be as healthy as possible.

As time winds down till the committee meeting I find my heart in alternate states of peace and chaos. As I sat in his room folding all his precious, clean clothes and placing them at the ready on his shelves I felt such peace and anticipation. This is what we came here for. This is what the building project was all about. For Vladik and Boris and the ones yet to come, they are why we left everything and moved our family to Ukraine. FINALLY our boys are leaving Romaniv and my heart is so thankful and at peace. We love Boris and can’t wait to bear witness to his healing. What a privilege! What a joy! We can’t get him here soon enough!

01249D47-2C17-4B0E-8911-10F92F404A82

Then minutes later, when I’m missing my parents or feeling lonely for a friend my heart will jolt with the reality that this is forever. Once Boris enters our family everything changes. When Jed legally becomes his guardian we are effectively saying “Here we stay. Here we will live, ‘Till death do us part’.” That, my friends, is no small thing. We are not superhuman. We get it, what we’re saying, and it’s hard. It’s a heavy statement that we’ve been building up to for many years now. It’s not a decision that we take lightly. The weight of it can panic me a bit, to be honest.
But, this is our act of love. This is our service to Jesus. This is how we give of ourselves in the biggest YES we’ve said yet.

Right now I can’t think of forever or I might freak. So, I’m trying to plan for the future but not resting my heart there. I’m attempting to be fully present today and then tomorrow and ask God for the grace to live well in these moments right in front of me. I fail so often (daily), but living well in the present is the only way I’ll even be mildly successful at loving Boris well. And he deserves to be loved well- as do my other children, and my husband.

We have no idea what the day to day will look like, but we know it will involve lots of diapers, lots of pureeing food, lots of trial and error, lots of firsts, lots of sacrifices, lots of documents, lots of healing, lots of tears, lots of joy and laughter and lots of YES. We are as ready as we’ll ever be. Right now we just want our boy home for Christmas.

Thank you for your prayers and your love and support as the journey of YES is about to get a whole lot wilder. Please don’t ever underestimate how much your notes of encouragement mean to us. We need each other along the way, so thank you for loving us.

Hopefully I’ll be sharing good news on December 15th!

A1B9E3A5-1CA2-4D46-AFB2-A32B85891AB2

Advertisements

Wide Awake Homestead Update

I haven’t written much about it lately, but work on the Wide Awake Homestead has continued strong and steady.  The process is slow going, and we are learning much patience, but someday soon it will be livable and all this impatience will be a distant memory. 🙂

To see pictures of what the house was like originally, check out this post.

img_7587

When we first purchased the property we thought we would only need to install indoor plumbing, update the electrical, and renovate the upstairs (it was just one room without insulation). But, that was before we realized the roof needed replacing. Once we knew that we decided it was better to replace the upstairs while the roof was off and the walls were open.

So, considering all that needed to be done, we’ve come quite far!

At this point the new roof is on along with an all new second floor.  The guys are laying the flooring in the upstairs and putting the tongue and groove wood on the walls upstairs as well.  The electrical is complete and heating is done except for the bathroom and kitchen floors which will be heated tile.  We’ve decided on the tile for the kitchen and bathrooms and are ready to place our order.  We have a work crew working full-time (doing great, high-quality work!) and Jed also basically works full-time purchasing items and keeping things moving.  Nothing happens quickly or easily in Ukraine, so his engagement in this building process is necessary.

img_8636img_8721img_2021

What’s left to do?  Walls and ceiling need to be finished upstairs and down, flooring needs to be completed upstairs, downstairs flooring needs to be laid, plumbing and septic system need to be completed, and then all the finishing things like kitchen cabinetry, bathroom fixtures like tub, showers, and sinks…

The outside insulation, stucco, and siding also needs to be completed, but we can work on that this summer after our family is already moved in.

We have big hopes of moving in this spring…maybe April???  Please, please, please let it be so! We are dying to move in and have a place of permanency so we can begin the work of bringing our boys home. Oh what a day that will be. 🙂

img_8777

img_8771

Originally we had planned to build an addition onto the back of the house and use that as a home for the first boys.  Then we learned that in order to build an addition we would need city approval to begin ANY renovations at all. So we decided to make more bedrooms in the upstairs of the house for our family and use the downstairs bedrooms for the first of the boys.

The idea is that our family will sleep in 3 of the upstairs bedrooms, and we’ll use the fourth bedroom up there for an office/guest room.  There are 2 bedrooms downstairs and those will be bedrooms for the first of the boys we bring out.  So when we consider the first couple of boys we need to think of our kids and our nuclear family and who will fit best into our direct family life.  Make sense?  It’s different having boys in an addition or a cottage right across the sidewalk and having a few boys living right in the home with us and our little ones.  We will need plenty of wisdom when it comes time to pursue paperwork for guardianship of those first boys.

img_8818img_2153

We are super excited to have a couple of our precious ones living right in the home with us!  I think it will help their adjustment to be living with us and included directly in family life.  It is right and good and we are so lucky.  As our kiddos grow and move on we can use the bedrooms upstairs for more and more boys.

As we build we need to think of the boys and what changing needs they will have as they age.  They won’t stay young forever, and we want this homestead to be their home FOR LIFE.  This is not a temporary solution.  This is home.  Because of that we are working to make the homestead as accessible as possible, considering wheelchair accessibility and such.  The main floor of the house will be 100% accessible, as well as the other homes we will build on the property.

 The plan at this time is that our family will move into the house as soon as it is livable, hopefully this spring.  We will then move forward with applying for guardianship of the first boy or two.  It remains to be decided if we will bring out two boys at the same time, or one at a time. God will have to show us that and give us plenty of wisdom.

As soon as renovations on the house our fully complete we will begin work on the next family-style home and move on from there.  The current property can sustain 2-3 more family-style homes.


We have much to consider as far as who will live in the homes with the boys and what model of care we will adopt. There are different variations and we have not made any decision about what that will look like.  We only know that we want the boys to live in the context of family and we don’t have a desire to create a mini-institution.  Each house will be an independent home and family system.  We don’t need to know all of the answers right now.  Just as the journey has gone thus far, God only asks us to keep stepping forward.  He’ll give us the wisdom and answers we need when we need them.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask!  Thank you for your support in prayer and finances.  We could never ever do this alone!

 

All About Vladik: One Year Free

Two days ago we celebrated one year of freedom for our sweet Vladik.  Our miracle boy spent the day at a Hungarian water park (long story…for another post) discovering his great love for enormous water slides.  He ran and played and splashed, yelling “Mom, look!  Dad, watch me!” He watched his brothers and sisters do things he was nervous to do, then conquered his fears and tried for himself.  He ate ice cream and pizza and laughed and asked “Blue slide again?”  

He truly lived.  


On one hand I can hardly believe a whole year has passed since Vladik came out of Romaniv forever, but mostly it feels like a lifetime ago.  When I go to Romaniv these days I can hardly picture him there.  He is truly a different child.  

It’s interesting because if you ask anyone who visited Romaniv and met Vladik there they would all tell you how happy he was.  He was always laughing and smiling.  ALWAYS.  But now that we truly know him we can see his behavior then for what it really was.  Yes, he was smiling, and yes he laughed a lot, but he was also afraid- ALL THE TIME.  His body showed his fear in the way he held himself; his shoulders scrunched up, his head down, full-on protection mode at every moment. His laugh seemed happy, but now we know that laugh as the nervous, afraid laugh that shows up when he is unsure. If you asked him for a hug he would sort of back up toward you and lean a shoulder in. You could see he was compliant but he didn’t feel comfortable and he didn’t enjoy it.  He was afraid of physical contact and always on guard.  He had a bright countenance that I believe came from the Lord, but it was just a dim flicker compared to how he shines now.  

The boy we knew at Romaniv was a shadow of the boy we know now.  And the boy we know now is amazing.  

Passport photo 2015

Passport photo 2016


He is funny and loves to make his siblings laugh. He comes up to me several times a day with his arms open as wide as possible, asking for a hug. He adores Bluebell, our puppy, and could play with her for hours. He likes ice cream and potatoes and pizza and soup. He’s a daredevil and wants everything faster and higher and louder. His bike is his most prized possession. He and Seth are still thick as thieves and when they get too quiet I know something is up…typical brothers. 😉 He speaks English and Ukrainian and a mish-mash of the two that can only be described as “Vladik speak”. Oh, and he pretty much never stops talking.  Motor.Mouth.

We think Vladik is doing miraculously well.  His transition to our family has been amazingly smooth.  BUT 15 years of institutionalization, 11 of those in a bad place, can not be erased in one year.  We have so many wonderful moments, and we also have so many difficult moments.  Parenting a child who has lived a lifetime of trauma is no joke.  It requires constant reassurance and truckloads of patience (of which I am guilty of running short).  Just when you think you’ve conquered a certain behavior or fear something triggers and you go ’round the mountain again…and again.  

Put your arms down. No beeping. We’re going home soon. Put your arms down.  No beeping. If you want to talk to someone just say “hi”, you don’t need to make strange noises to get attention. No beeping. Put your arms down. And on and on…

It’s no secret that extra struggles come with the fact that we are back in Ukraine.  Most every other internationally adopted child I know leaves their institutional life and it is over and gone for good; new life, new memories, old life gone forever.  That will never be Vladik’s reality.  Romaniv has stayed and will stay a part of his life.  It is our life.  As much as we would love for him to, he doesn’t ever get to fully forget. We will never ever take him to Romaniv again, and we tell him that all the time, but he knows we go there and he hears us talk of it daily. Some people might think it’s cruel of us to bring him back here where he is constantly reminded of his past.  We know that.  We know, and our only response is “God said so.”  Just like our other children have an unusual life because of what God has called our family to, so it is with Vladik.  And just like we trust that God is caring for our other children and giving them what they need, so it is with Vladik.  When we chose to say yes to adopting Vladik we knew this would be his reality and still we knew that we knew God was saying to make him our son.  So we did.  

Annnnnd God is making a way for our boy, even here in Ukraine.  He is surrounded by our team who knew him when he was an orphan and know him now.  In their eyes he is a celebrity.  He is what we dream of for all of our boys, in the flesh.  His presence in our church here in Ukraine brings hope and refreshment to those who work tirelessly on behalf of the ones Vladik left behind.  He brings joy wherever he goes.  🙂 


A local private school welcomed all our kids with open arms, including Vladik.  He gets to do PE, music, and art with the fifth grade, while having individual lessons the rest of the day.  I get to make his lesson plans and our dear friend has agreed to teach him.  She loves Vladik and sees him for the beautiful soul that he is.  Their lessons start next month and I can’t wait to see how he thrives.  So far the kids at the school have been kind and accepting of Vladik.  We are thankful. 

He gets to attend a weekly class at Mission to Ukraine where he will be treasured and valued.  Full circle. 


The other day we were visiting a beautiful basilica in Budapest.  We decided to pay the fee and go see the inside of the building. We approached the cashier and when he saw Vladik he smiled so warmly.  He almost pushed us into the church, “You don’t pay!  Please, please go for free” he exclaimed with a kind pat on Vladik’s back, and a look of tenderness in his eyes. I could see there was no pity there, only love. Oh man, the tears were flowing.  That man, he saw the beauty of our boy.  There was no look of disgust, no disdain, no mouth-hanging-open staring.  There was love.  For me that moment was a gift from God.  It felt like God was whispering over us “See, I see your boy, and I’m watching over him.” 

Vladik’s healing is a long road, but he is definitely well on his way.  He is absolutely flourishing and growing and LIVING.  We will never ever be the same because he is our son.  He is our gift and I pray we never take him for granted. 

Fatherless Friday: Isaiahu

A friend told me that I had neglected to blog the big news!  BEN HAS A FAMILY!  An adoptive family has stepped up and are working as fast as they can to get to him.  Praise God.  Adoption will save his life.  We are so thankful!   The family is private for now, but when they are ready I’ll make sure to introduce you to them.  To keep best up to date on our boys make sure to follow us on Facebook.  I update there several times a week.  🙂

Introducing…Fatherless Friday!  I’d like to take Fridays to share about children we love who are still waiting for adoptive families.

First up is our precious Isaiahu.

  

Pure sunshine.

Jam-packed with potential.

Beautiful baby boy.

This is the thing: I am confident that if you could all just meet Isaiahu in person, look in his eyes and hold him in your arms, he would be snatched up in an instant.  Everyone who meets him falls in love with him.  His diagnosis sounds scary, but he is so wonderful!  He is absolutely a delight.

I mean, think about it.  This little boy lays in his bed in one single room day after day after day.  He only leaves that room when the weather is nice and his nanny takes him for a walk, or if one of our team members carries him out for a stroll down the hall.  He most likely hasn’t left his small building since the early days of fall, before winter set in- except to visit the hospital.  His world is so so tiny.  Yet he still smiles.  He still makes small gains.  He is awesome.

  

Wide Awake International and Bible Orphan Ministry have teamed together to hire two special nannies that alternate days, caring for Isaiahu and Ben from 7am-7pm.  Those nannies keep those baby boys alive.  Literally.  They care for their needs, hold them, feed them, bathe them, all in that little room.  They keep them safe from other boys who have not been taught to be safe.  Those nannies are such a blessing to our little ones.

  

Three times a week our teams come to spend time with the boys, and then three other days a week Wide Awake Int interns work with specific boys, providing therapeutic interactions that help to move the boys forward in development. His potential is ENORMOUS!  This is the first time he has had consistent therapeutic interactions and he is blossoming.

But it’s still not enough.  

Isaiahu will never really thrive in his current environment.  A mental institution is no place for a 7 year old boy- especially one as helpless as Isaiahu.

He is learning to hold his head up and to sit with support.  He smiles and laughs when his name is called.  He prefers his nannies over others and seems to have obvious attachment to them.  He is ticklish and loves to be praised when he’s working hard.  The doctor’s say he is losing his sight, but it’s obvious he can still see.  Oh how I pray for a mommy and daddy to come for him before it is too late and his world fades to black. 

  

Someone see this precious treasure and say YES.  He may be dependent on you all his days, true. That is no small thing.  It is a very big reality.  Another big reality is that he will bring his family so much joy.  He is a ray of sunshine in a very dark place where he does not belong.  Think about what blessing will come from serving a sweet one like this.  Think about the rejoicing and cheering and smiles that will come from seeing him hit new milestones.  Think about the beauty of watching him truly live with a mommy and daddy that treasure him and fully see his value.  

Sweet little Ben has a family coming for him, and now it’s his roomate’s turn.  

Please watch this video of Isaiahu and Zita and share this post far and wide.  Thank you for loving our boys! 

You can read more about Isaiahu in these posts: The Day We MetFighting for my Babies, Guest post for Isaiahu.

If you can’t adopt, but would like to help, you can donate to Isaiahu’s adoption grant here.  This will help relieve some of the costs of his adoption when his family finds him.  
 

The Sky’s the Limit

Since the beginning of December we’ve been taking steps toward putting Vladik in school for the rest of this school year, while we’re in the US.  It’s been a decision I didn’t expect us to make, but for many reasons it just seems right.  We aren’t set on him being in a special Ed classroom all day every day, we just feel that it makes sense to take advantage of the opportunities he has here in the US to be taught by professionals- before we head back to Ukraine and it’s all up to me. [GULP]
On Monday we spent about 2 hours with a school psychologist and a speech pathologist and they evaluated Vladik.  They had never seen a situation like ours before: 15 years old, no educational history AT ALL, smart, but behind in everything because he’d simply never had a chance.  ZERO life experiences until 5 months ago.  Born at age 15. 🙂

Vladik blew them away.  His zest for life, his joy, his eagerness to learn- he is truly a miracle.  

There may have been some tears in the room as we talked about how far Vladik has come-  from the cowering boy in the Isolation Hall to the brave boy shooting matchbox cars across the meeting room table.  

Those two ladies got it.  They really and truly “got” it.  They saw the treasure in Vladik.  They saw the untapped potential that has waited years and years and years to be discovered.  They looked past his outward appearance and his awkward speech and institutional behaviors and truly saw the person.  Those two women saw the value in my son and I will be forever grateful to them for that.  At the end of the meeting they declared “We need to get this boy in a classroom! He’s waited long enough.”  

And boy did they live up to their word, because today Vladik started school. 
  

It will take a while to figure out which school and which classroom is the best fit for our boy, but they didn’t want him to have to wait, so they arranged for Vladik to start with tutoring in the meantime.  I think that was a fantastic idea.  Tutoring is the perfect transition for Vladik.  

We started today and are just doing 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week.  Vladik’s attention span is like minuscule, so 30 minutes is about his max.  Plus, this is his first activity away from Mama and Papa, so it’s a great way for him to learn that we will always come back for him and it’s a really safe place for him to learn some independence.  The teacher speaks no Ukrainian 🙂 so, Vladik will be learning some English along the way!  

Oh my, I made the rookie mistake of telling Vladik last night that he would start school today.  Silly me.  I should have known that in order to avoid approximately 372 questions about when we will go to school, I should have just waited and told him in the car on the way there. [live and learn]   But I just couldn’t wait to tell him!  He was jumping and laughing and clapping with glee.  He said “Addy has a school, Ezra has a school, Hava and Seth have a school, and Vladik has a school!!”  When I came to pick him up today at the end of his lesson he said “Mama!  This is my school!”  He was so proud.

I love that boy.  I picture him wandering the halls of Romaniv and my heart breaks in two.  He had so much more in him than we ever realized.  He had an imagination and a smart brain and a sense of humor and a great capacity to love, all just sitting and waiting for a chance.  Born at age 15, now my sweet baby can fly.  The sky is the limit for our boy. 

March 2015 and February 2016

I dream of that same future for the rest of our babies that sit and wait at Romaniv.  I wonder what they will be on that day when their chance at freedom finally comes.  I wonder who will be funny and who will be super smart and who will have a knack for growing flowers and who will be great with the animals.  I do know that they will all exceed our expectations, because the sky will be their limit.  And I pray that day comes soon.  

Jed is working hard in Ukraine, deciding on the best property to purchase and meeting with government officials.  This God dream of ours, it’s going to happen.  It’s really going to happen.  Doors are flying open in front of us.  People are going to see the beauty of our boys and they’re going to see their value, just like the school psychologist and speech pathologist recognized the beauty of our Vladik.  The joy of Vladik experiencing his first day of school is just a glimpse of the freedom that is to come.  We.Can’t.Wait.  When God puts a dream in motion the sky’s the limit!