My Joy

I remember the first time Jed and I ever visited Romaniv. It was in the spring of 2012 and we were in Ukraine just checking out what God had for us here. We thought we wanted to work with institutionalized people here, but we had never even been here! We knew zero language, pretty much zero about the culture and had never stepped foot in an institution. We were clueless, but we just wanted to follow Jesus and we knew He had something for us in Ukraine.

I remember we walked into Romaniv and were instantly surrounded by men. They were grabbing my hair, stroking our arms, taking our hands. The smells and sounds were completely overwhelming. But I distinctly remember catching Jed’s eye though the mob and both of us having this sense like “Yep, this is it. This is where we’re supposed to be.” We didn’t necessarily know that Romaniv was the place for us to be, but we definitely knew that we were supposed to be in close proximity and close relationship with the vulnerable and the broken.

Fast-forward 7 years and here we are, livin’ the dream in our Ukrainian village. ๐Ÿ™‚

For the past couple of years my focus has had to be less and less on Romaniv, and the boys in the institution, and more and more here, at the Homestead with the boys in our home. I went to Romaniv at least once a week from the time we moved here until the fall of 2017 when I was more advanced in my (surprise!) pregnancy with Evie and it just didn’t feel safe to be there with a big belly. Plus, the terrible roads made my uterus very unhappy. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I have visited some, over the past two years, but it has been infrequent and the visits have been too short for my liking.

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Then after Evie was born I still really couldn’t be at Romaniv because she was nursing and I couldn’t leave her for long enough periods of time to get there and back and to be able to have any time with the boys. We had Boris with us too, and I was simply needed at home. Then enter Ruslan and Anton and our lives were turned completely on their heads. Suffice to say, We’ve been rather busy. Oy.

During that time while I’ve been absent our awesome interns and our wonderful Vika have been serving as faithfully as ever, loving and serving the boys. Of course Jed has gone too, as time has allowed.

We always knew that the more boys we brought here, to the Homestead, the more our attention would need to shift toward home. There is just no way to be in both places at once. But man, we have missed our boys. We knew they were being well-loved by our team, but we have missed our friends.

That’s why I’m so so happy to say that I’ve recently been freed up to go regularly with our interns Romaniv! Vika has been overseeing the interns for the past three years and has been a wonderful leader and mentor for them. But over the past several months she has taken more and more of the lead on caring for Preston and at this point it is better for her and for him if she is able to focus solely on caring for him until his adoptive parents arrive. We want her to be able to give her best to Preston and not feel pulled in too many directions. So, for the time being, I get the privilege of working with our interns!

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Every other week I will go with them and spend the whole day with them as they work with the boys in the Isolation Hall. My role is basically to support them in any way I can. I’ll make sure they have everything they need, help liaison between them and administration, and mostly just be a supportive presence so that they know they are not alone in this difficult work. I’ve already gone twice with them and I’m JUST SO HAPPY!!!!

I’m so THANKFUL to get to spend time with the boys I love.

I’m so THANKFUL that Jed is behind this and is supporting me in this time away.

I’m so THANKFUL that Evie is a trooper and loves her brothers and sisters and daddy so much that she is okay without Mommy for a day.

A part of me that has had to lie dormant for a while is being brought back to life and it feels good and right to be there. Of course Romaniv is never going to be a comfy place or a ” nice” place to be, but it is one of the few places here in Ukraine where I feel completely myself. If you really think about it, the friendships we have there with our boys, some of the nannies, and administration are some of our oldest relationships here in Ukraine! We knew our boys before we knew our team! Sitting with them and just being with them, without distraction, without laundry to tend to or phone calls to make or meals to cook is a gift and I am not taking it for granted.

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Another gift that comes with going regularly to Romaniv is that the visits renew my empathy and compassion for the guys living in our home. When I am reminded, face to face, of where our guys came from I can see with fresh eyes just how far they’ve come. When I come home from a day at Romaniv I’m so full of gratitude that Vladik, Boris, Ruslan and Anton are safe at home and not back in that place. It also renews my purpose and passion to get the others out as soon as possible.

So, expect to see more of our Romaniv boys in this space in the coming months. I bet you’ve missed them too!

Eight Months In

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

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

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

Now I can happily report that Anton goes to bed easily and doesn’t get up until at least 6:30 every morning. (knock on a biiiiiiig ol’ piece of wood ๐Ÿ™‚ ) His sleep success is thanks to a strict evening routine that we dare not stray from, and blessed medication. The combo of the two saved our lives.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health. As far as medical stuff goes for both guys, we’ve been slowly but surely getting things taken care of. Fridays have become our “medical day”, so Kenny and I try to tackle the different medical appointments on Fridays. We’re focused on dental stuff right now and that’s super fun since Kenny and I both HATE going to the dentist. I’m not sure how much moral support we provide, but we do our best. Hehe. Anton has one problematic tooth that should be fixed next week and Ruslan has a whole mouthful of problems. I’m not sure he’ll have any teeth left when we get finished. Poor guy. ๐Ÿ™ I’m guessing we’ll be exploring the world of dentures or implants in the near future. Anton has some physical symptoms that I don’t have answers for yet, but all in all I think they are both in pretty good health at the moment. Step by step we’re getting there!

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

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Masha, Masha, and Lesya are also absolutely essential to the success of this home. “Harry Potter Masha” ๐Ÿ˜‰ comes to our home three times a week. She plans and organizes the guys’ schedule for the week and is learning to implement the plans that Olya, our wonderful OT, recommends. Masha’s work makes it so that we aren’t just spinning our wheels with the guys, but we are hopefully moving toward specific developmental goals. “Second Masha” and Lesya each come once a week and provide great additional support to our guys and the rest of the team. I love our team and can’t express how thankful I am that God brought each of them to our family.

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

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

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YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Vol. 1 and 2

Hi All!

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

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

Here are the video responses we created for “Family” and “Food”. The rest are in the works, so stay tuned! If you follow Wide Awake on Instagram you can also see responses to the Instagram questions in our Stories and Highlights. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

Ask Us Anything!

Happy New Year! Welcome 2019!

So very much has changed in our family and in our work this past year. It’s hard to imagine that last year at this time I was ginormously pregnant. Ha! I’m really, really glad that’s not the case this year. I like seeing my feet.

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Yikes.ย 

Things have changed and grown rapidly around here, and as much as I try to share and keep you all up to date, I know that some details get lost in the shuffle. Soooooo, we decided it’s high time for a good ol’ Q &A. We would love to answer your questions, so go ahead and shoot and we’ll do a video response in a couple of days. You can ask about our family, the guys, our team, work at the institution, the Homestead, plans for the coming year, our history, Wide Awake International…any of it!

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You can leave your question in the comments, or you can email them to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

I can’t wait to hear from you!

 

Wrappin’ up a Doozy

I think I can rightly, without a doubt, call 2018 the biggest year of our lives. Wow. It was a doozy y’all. (Okay, I never say “y’all”, but it just felt right in the moment) 2013 and 2014 were big. We moved to Ukraine at the end of 2013 and then 2014 was our first full year here. I thought those years could never be beat- but I stand corrected. In those years, when we got overwhelmed by Ukraine and it’s differences and struggles we could just close our door and have our own little American island. When days at Romaniv were hard we could run home and love our kids and try to compartmentalize a bit. Not these days! Little America no longer exists. Romaniv has come to us. We are fully immersed and we are being changed to our core. Praise God. And….help us, God! ๐Ÿ™‚

Boris joined our family! Technically, Boris came to us in December 2017, but you get the idea. Much of 2018 was spent integrating Boris into the family and helping him become human. Boris has changed us, challenged us, brought us to our knees and brought us more joy than we ever expected. You can read more about that journey here.

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Evangeline Joy was born! Oh our sweet little Evie Joy, joy-bringer-extraordinaire, we had no idea how much we needed you. We could only see the unexpectedness of her arrival, but God foresaw the necessity of her arrival. In the darkest of moments Evie has been good medicine to the soul of every member of our family. We can not thank God enough for our sweet bundle. You can read about my Ukrainian maternity experience here and Evie’s arrival here.

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Land was purchased. Praise God for our friends from the UK Vineyard and their amazing generosity! They gave a big ol’ chunk of money and we were able to purchase the property neighboring the Homestead. A road was built to access the back of our land and now we have space to build 3 duplexes for more of our precious ones who are waiting in the institution. We hope to break ground in the spring! More on that at the bottom of the post.

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Summer in the USA. It was such a blessing to our hearts and such refreshment to our souls to be able to spend the summer with family and friends in Oregon. So many good memories were made and so much English was spoken. It was awesome! Ha. We also did a successful reconstructive operation on Vlad’s feet. You can see photos of the awesomeness here.ย 

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Ruslan and Anton joined our family! This one was a biggie. I’ve tried to always be very honest with you about the journey. That honesty includes sharing part of the struggles. It’s no secret that adding Boris, Ruslan and Anton to the fam has been the hardest thing we have ever done. But I want you to know that there is plenty of joy along the journey as well. In some seasons the hard overshadows the joy, but that is when we lean in hard to Jesus and ask him to carry us. We have zero doubt that this is exactly what we were created to do with our lives, so even though many days seem dark- hope shines through. We love our guys and see them growing little by little each day- becoming more and more human. Praise God, the Redeemer of the broken. You can read more here, hereย and here.

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What’s Next? Why, thank you for asking! We are planning to break ground for the three duplexes when everything thaws in the spring. Then, as long as the money is there, we’ll hit the building project hard. Each side of the duplexes will be a home for 4-5 of our friends from Romaniv, along with those who will be family to them. We’re talking about providing forever homes for 24-30 more of our friends! EEEEEEEEK!

We have budgeted $160,000 for each duplex. Right now we have a very generous ย MATCHING GRANT from our friends and partners at Hands of Hope. They will match donations up to $80,000! Yes, that means if we meet the matching grant we will have the funds for one entire duplex!

Sooooo, if you’re looking for a place to give end-of-year donations, we will gladly accept them. ๐Ÿ™‚ Let’s help more of our friends learn what it is to live in love and safety each day of their lives. Let’s help more of our friends to become humans after a lifetime of being treated like animals. Let’s help more of our friends experience the love of a family: brothers, sisters, mama and papa.

We’re ready for ya 2019. Let’s do this thing!

Click HERE to donate!

Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for walking this journey with us and helping to make it possible for our boys to know life. We are forever grateful.

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