If You Build It…

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The roof is going up on the next home for our boys and I realize that I haven’t written a lick about it! In fact, if you follow this blog much you may have noticed that I haven’t been actually writing about much of anything at all. It’s been silent here on the blog, but that silence doesn’t reflect what has actually been happening here in Ukraine. It has been busy here, as usual. πŸ™‚

We have room on our property for our current home, plus 2 duplexes. The plan is for each side of each duplex to have space for 4 boys/men from the institution, plus space upstairs for the people who will be their family.

The first duplex is well under way and it is HUGE!!! I’m kinda jealous and wish I was going to live in it! The homes are going to be fabulous. We’ve learned some lessons from our current home setup and have designed to meet those needs in the plans for the duplexes. For instance, the duplexes will have toilets separate from showers, more toilets, a “family space” upstairs for the family who will live in the home and for guests, a separate bedroom for each boy, and a lockable pantry in the kitchen that will also house the refrigerator. The homes will all be fully accessible and up to ADA standards. Not to mention, they’re just going to be flat out GORGEOUS! So many windows, so much natural wood, so much light. So much excitement!!!

We are hoping to keep a steady pace on the build so that the first duplex will be completed in the late spring or early summer. We need another $30,000 to complete the project. In the meantime we are praying about which boys will live in the first homes and figuring out the process for securing guardianship of them. If we take anyone under the age of 18 everything is done differently than if we take adults, so there will be a learning curve there. Also, most of the boys under the age of 18 have parents, so we will need to work alongside them to see what supports could be put in place for reunification, and if that is not possible, than we need to make a plan for how we can work alongside the parents in caring for the boys here at the Homestead. So much to consider! Right now the plan is that one side of the duplex will be for children (under the age of 18) and the other side will be for adults. The current children at the institution are all 13 or 14 years old, but developmentally much younger.

Our focus in choosing boys at this point is pretty much zeroed in on the Isolation Hall. The boys and men there have significant medical needs that will never be addressed properly in the Institution. They are the ones our work has pretty much centered around in the last 5 years with our interns and our volunteer teams, so it makes sense for us to put our attention there, in the beginning. But of course, we are very open to God’s leading in this. We need so much wisdom and clarity!

The elephant in the room of this whole project is the question of who will live in the duplex with the boys?

Yeah, that’s a good question. And the answer right now is…we have no idea.

We are currently working on a job description and ministry description because the time has come to look in earnest for who will join us in this work. We need people who will live in the duplexes with the boys, like we do in our home, and we also need people who will live off-site and come in as daily help to the Wide Awake machine (Romaniv work, administrative help, in-home helpers, Special Wednesday helpers…the list goes on and on). It’s just gotten to the point where if we don’t bring more help in the growth will have to slow, or even stop, and we don’t want that to happen. Our boys need OUT.

Our dream is that a blend of Ukrainians and foreigners would work together to care for our boys. Ukrainians are the obvious choice. They have the language, know the culture, and already live here. But at the same time, we see the benefit of outsiders coming in to join as well. Westerners come in to this with different eyes and a different perspective. Ukrainians have been raised to see people with disabilities in one way, and an outside perspective is just really, really helpful- especially when you’re fighting for change in a culture that, historically, does not accept or recognize our boys as valuable.

Another benefit to outsiders coming in would be friendship for us. πŸ™‚ We have a Ukrainian team that we love so much. They are our family here and I don’t know where we would be without them and their friendship. We also long for friendship with people in our native tongue. We long for relationship with people who understand where we come from and who can understand us fully. It is a deep desire and need for us, personally, if this work and life is to be sustainable for the long haul.

So, here’s to hoping and praying that if we build it…they will come!

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We have no doubt that God has the right people in mind to help on this journey. He has provided the land, the funds to build the home, and the boys to fill it. There’s just no way it’s going to sit empty because of lack of helpers. So, we pray and begin to actively seek out who those helpers might be.

If this strikes a chord with you and you find that it’s something you just can’t let go, can’t forget, let’s talk. It’s certainly not a romantic call, but it’s an important one. I can promise a YES to this work will never leave you bored. Hehe.

To all who have given to help make this duplex a reality- THANK YOU! It’s really happening! Thank you for believing in this dream and in this work. We can’t wait to fill it to the brim with life and love.

 

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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ™‚ ) 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.Β 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. Β 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. πŸ™ 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” πŸ˜‰ 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. πŸ™‚

 

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.Β 

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!