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! 

An Invitation

We would like to invite you to a very special event!

Thursday, June 30th at 7pm we are hosting “An Evening With Wide Awake” at the Kroc Center in Salem, Oregon.  

Our family’s time here in the US is quickly winding down and we are itching for an opportunity to meet face to face with the ones who have helped to make all of this possible.  I can blog the heck outta this thing, but there is truly nothing like being in the same room and telling stories, live, in person.  

If you are in, or around the Salem area we would absolutely LOVE to see you there!

We’ll share about where we’ve been, and where we hope to go in this next year: land purchase, freedom for the first four boys, interns, adoptions…and all that good stuff.  

And just to sweeten the deal a bit, I’ve got to tell you that our friend and partner Denis Dmitrov will be there too- all the way from Ukraine!  Denis is our pastor in Ukraine.  The church that he pastors, Christian Youth Church, is where we, and almost 100% of our volunteers attend.  Christian Youth Church has taken on Romaniv as a ministry of the church and it is a miraculous partnership that only God could have planned.  Denis will be visiting the US for the first time ever and we are super excited for Wide Awake supporters to meet him and hear a bit about the work from his perspective.  

So, please come!  Invite a friend! This is the perfect opportunity for people to be introduced to what Wide Awake is all about. I can’t wait to see you and give you a big fat hug (and I’m not even a hugger…that’s how excited I am about this).


If you have any questions about this event, please don’t hesitate to ask.  You can comment here, or email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

All About Vladik: Seven Months Free

I wish every single person who ever met Vladik at Romaniv could see him now.  You would not know this child.  

Jed is back in Ukraine right now and has been sending me tons of pics of my babies there.  When I see those pictures and then stop and think about Vladik living there I almost can’t even imagine it.  The boy I know now is so much different than the boy I knew there.  He’s a new creation. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Vladik is a miracle.  How could a child raised there be this joyful, this full of life, this loving, this generous?  Only God could do something like that. 

General Transition: He’s a rockstar. Vladik is growing in his development in leaps and bounds.  His language is growing as well, both Ukrainian and English.  He’ll often ask us what certain words are in English, and if we tell him once he usually remembers.  So, now Vladik speaks a mixture of Russian, Ukrainian, English, and “Vladik speak”.  Everyone in our family understands about 99% of what he says, but it’s another story with the rest of the world.  Slowly and surely he is becoming more understandable.  He desires to communicate and his social skills have vastly improved, so we are not worried. 

  
Vladik came to us with many institutional behaviors.  He didn’t know how to behave in most any environment and had a lot of nervous twitches- like sticking his tongue in and out really quickly, licking his hands, and putting his elbows up to his ears, almost like he was blocking his ears.  He would also make tons of inappropriately loud sounds at inappropriate times.  Like if there was quiet he just had to fill it!  If we were in a store or the library and it was quiet you could guarantee Vladik would start filling up the space “BEEP BEEEEEEP!  BEEP BEEEEEEP!”  Oy. We’ve come a long way baby. Now if he beeps we just remind him that he’s not a car and he instantly stops.  🙂 He is sensitive to environments and if all is quiet he is usually good about being quiet.  The only real nervous behavior he still holds on to is the elbows up at the ears, but that one is more and more rare.  He usually only does that if he knows he’s done something wrong, or if someone else is in trouble.  It’s wonderful to take a moment to think back at how far he’s come. Praise God! 

Family: We’ve hit a point where it feels like he’s just always been here.  I no longer have that feeling like I’m the babysitter of a child who just always stays (that is a normal feeling in adoption, FYI). He is our son and it feels natural.  I couldn’t have said that even one month ago.  He still loves his Seth and I think when he had his surgery it bonded him more to the other kids as well.  They were all so concerned for him and that empathy really helped with relationship building.  He really is just one of the gang.  I’m so thankful for that. 

   
   
School: Vladik started school a few weeks ago and is doing amazingly well!  In January he started seeing a tutor for a half hour a day while the school district found a classroom placement for him.  Then in the last week of March he became a freshman at South Salem High.  Ha!  He’s in a self-contained classroom and we are so blessed by teachers and assistants that love him and treasure him.  Vladik LOVES school.  We started him going half a day at first, but now he is going full day.  Most of the fun, more active learning happens in the afternoon, so we knew he would really enjoy that.  Like every day his class gathers the recycling from all the classrooms and they sort and shred.  Vladik is kinda obsessed with the shredder. 🙂 Today he goes on his first field trip to a recycling center!  He could hardly sleep last night he was so excited to ride the school bus. I am so happy for him that he has this opportunity.  Sweet boy deserves every bit of joy and life that we can offer him. 

  
Medical: Vladik had sleep apnea, so we had his tonsils and adenoids taken out on March 30th.  He also had the back of his throat expanded to make his airway larger.  He did great and has fully recovered.  We had a few scary hours in the recovery room after learning that his body is extremely sensitive to narcotics, but we learned our lesson on that one!  I’m excited to repeat the sleep study, but I can already tell you that the surgery made a big difference.  You know how when you have a newborn and they’re sleeping so still and silently that you have to go super close to make sure they’re still breathing?  Yeah, I had to do that the other night with Vladik.  🙂 I’m used to being able to hear Vladik sleeping from every other room in the house, but that’s not the case now!  He sleeps absolutely SILENTLY.  I’m so so so happy for him!!!!!!  His body used to have to work so stinkin’ hard just to get air.  He had to sleep with his head back and his back arched just to keep his airway open.  The ENT told us that Vladik probably had many very dangerous nights as a small child because his airways were so small.  Thank you God for protecting our baby!  Now I pray that he will start to gain weight since he won’t be working so hard just to sleep. 
The next surgery for Vladik is on his right hand.  A plastic surgeon will be giving him a thumb sometime in May.  WOOHOO!  That is the surgery Vladik is so excited about.  We were hoping to do surgery on his feet first, but we won’t be able to.  The foot surgeon will be out of the country for the months of May and June and we will simply run out of time.  We need to be back in Ukraine as a family in August, so we have to let the feet go for now.  Most likely Vladik and I will return for that surgery sometime at the beginning of next year.  So now we just eagerly await insurance approval so we can schedule hand surgery!  

  
Otherwise, I guess I can just say that Vladik is our joy and we love him more every day.  A couple months ago we started teaching him how to hug.  Vladik is very protective of his body and would barely receive a hug.  He would kind of back his shoulder in to you and that was as good as it got.  He would often come and kiss my shoulder, but he was embarrassed or nervous to hug.  We taught him that you give friends high fives, but with family you need to wrap your arms around them and that is a hug. Now if I say “I need love” (in Ukrainian) he will wrap his arms around me and hug me tight.  And yesterday, for the first time, he initiated.  I was in the kitchen and he came in and said “LOVE!!!” And gave me the hugest hug! Melt.my.heart.

He’s just awesome and we are so thankful that we get to have him in our lives.  Precious, precious boy. 

   
 

Puppy Love 

Have you met our newest addition?  

Meet Bluebell!

  

Oh you know, our life is pretty boring.  We have so much spare time on our hands…so we decided we needed a puppy. 

HA! 

I know, I know, most everyone thinks we’re crazy to have a puppy right now, but there’s a method to our madness. I promise. 🙂

You see, Vladik LOVES dogs.  He has no fear of dogs (in fact, the dogs would be wise to fear Vladik a bit) and loves to wrestle them, run with them- and just be with them.  Around Christmas time we started thinking that it would be really good for Vladik to have a dog, especially with all of his upcoming surgeries.  Also, Vladik has loads of energy.  The kid doesn’t stop.  We started thinking it would be great to have a dog, someone for him to spend some of that excess energy on.  

   
 

I put a feeler post out there into Facebook land, something along the lines of “We’re thinking of getting a dog to be a companion for Vladik. Thoughts?” And the rest was history!

Our friend Paige responded that her English Shepherd had just delivered a litter of 10 puppies and that English Shepherds are a great breed for companion and therapy dogs.  We researched the breed and we were sold.  We began planning how we could swing getting an English Shepherd for Vladik.  Not long after that, Paige told us that she and her husband had talked, and they wanted to gift us one of the puppies for Vladik!  AMAZING!

Shortly after the new year we went to visit the puppies and decide which one would come home to us.  Paige had prayed and asked the Lord for it to be made really clear, the right pup for Vladik.  The kids and I sat in a circle on Paige’s kitchen floor and she put all the available puppies, with different colored collars, in the middle of our little circle.  One puppy, the one with the blue collar, went up to Vladik immediately.  She chewed on his shoe, laid on his lap, walked circles around him and then just sat at attention right beside him.  And that was that!  Blue collar puppy had made her choice.  Paige was so happy, because that was the exact puppy that she had originally that would be best for us!  Blue Collar Girl became Bluebell, and a few weeks later she came home with us. 

   
   

Having a puppy is a ton of work, of course, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I’ve thought “We’re truly gluttons for punishment”, but we already love our Bluebell so much!  Really.  She.is.awesome. She’s smart as all get out and so stinkin’ soft.  She feels like a stuffed animal! Yes, she chews and chews and chews, but she is learning! Bluebell is just the perfect dog for our family and we are so blessed to have her.  We plan to take her back to Ukraine with us and I’m pretty sure she’ll love her life once we have our group homes on our little farm.  Think of how much joy she’ll bring to all our boys!  I can’t wait to see it! 

So, there you have it.  That’s why we have a puppy at a time when it seems like probably the worst idea ever 🙂  Call us crazy, but we’re already in love.  No turning back now!

   
   

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!