Stream of Consciousness

Yesterday I tried to get up the gumption to make a video, and then again today, but I just can’t seem to do it. The war rages on. So many lives lost. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight and we are just hurting so deeply over it all. Words can’t express it. It’s a deep, deep ache at the core of me. I don’t know how it will ever heal. I only read Ukrainian news because any news from the west makes me want to scream and cry. Does anyone truly have Ukraine’s best interest in mind, or are all the people who hold the power only interested in preserving their own self-interests?Β  I think we all know the answer to that by now. Ukraine continues to defend the free world, at the cost of so many innocent lives. How can this be? I’m tired.Β 

It’s been seven weeks since we left our home but it feels like a lifetime has passed. The 5 months when Jed lived in the duplex with Anton and Sasha and I lived across the yard in our house with our family were hard. It was one of the most challenging and exhausting times of our lives. But I would go back to that life in a moment- in the blink of eye. We were tired but so happy. We were at home, in the place we love. Our kids went to school and youth group. We walked in the city and went to church. We dreamed about the summer garden and prepared the soil. We planned for the future and looked ahead with hope. Life in Ukraine was not without its challenges, but those challenges feel like nothing in comparison to what life has become. Β 

Now our hearts are broken. We have survivor’s guilt and we mourn what was, knowing it will never again be the same. I hope and dream that we will go home, but it will be different. Will we feel safe there again? Will Ukraine ever truly be “safe” again? How will we even know when to go back? We lived in Ukraine for 8 years while the country was at war..but now things are different. German lessons are offered to us and I refuse to go because something inside of me feels like trying to learn a new language is accepting the fact that we are here for a long while and I don’t want that to be true. So I stumble along with my smattering of German words and mostly get by using English. I don’t want to ingrain myself into the culture here, not because I have anything against Germany, but because my heart longs for everything Ukraine. It feels like a betrayal to accept a life here while Ukraine fights to survive.

I see others going into Ukraine, delivering humanitarian aid and volunteering and I feel jealous that they are there and I am not. I also feel guilty that they are there and I am not, although I am a mom of (now) 11 and my obligation is to my children. Living in a church in Germany isn’t as sexy as being in Ukraine, at the heart of things, and I run out of things to say about life here. I change diapers. I take our boys to the doctor. I cook food. I buy groceries. I mourn for what was and worry about what will be. It’s not exciting or necessarily helpful to the cause of Ukraine, but it’s where I need to be. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

I am thankful to our friends here in Germany who have helped us so very much. I’m thankful that we have a place to all live together because living apart would never work. I’m thankful that my children are safe and have food to eat. I’m thankful that our two new boys, Yaroslav and Vova, are doing so well and that we have the opportunity to give them a life worth living. There are joys in the sorrow, and for that I am thankful.

Some days I feel God’s smile and his joy and some days I wonder where He has gone and how He can allow this to happen. My faith in His goodness is being severely tested and I don’t understand how to communicate with Him right now. Everything feels too complicated and I’m afraid to dig too deep into my own emotions. So, I change the next diaper. Wipe the next nose. Drive to the next appointment and wait. For peace? For home? For an answer? I don’t know what I wait for, but I feel too unsettled to call this life anything but waiting.

I know a house is just a building, and buildings can be made again. I know people are more important, and of course I would choose people over a building any day. But today I just want to see my house. Our house, to me, is so much more than a building. It represents the reason we live in Ukraine. It is an oasis of hope. It is the place where our boys first felt the love of a family. It is the place my children call home. It is a place of joy and beauty and hope. I’m so thankful it is still safe and standing. I wait, with longing, for the day we can return.

Please, don’t forget Ukraine. πŸ’”

Home sweet home, from the garden
Snowy home
This picture is so peaceful…
Grant took this pic when he visited last summer
Evie riding down our street, the day before Russia attacked Ukraine
I took this photo right before we left our home to flee to Germany πŸ’›πŸ’™.

A Week to Celebrate

This week has been one for the books. It has been a week in which dreams have been fulfilled and what once seemed impossible became possible!

This week the duplex has a family! It’s no longer just a building site, but this week it became a home. We are so thankful and so excited.

For a while we had been thinking about and praying about the possibility of Anton living in the duplex with Max and Morgan. We are still waiting for Sasha’s guardianship to become official, and we felt pretty strongly that Anton would be happier if he lived in the village, closer to us, and in a place with more support. Lesya and Masha have lived with Anton in an apartment since June and they have done a wonderful job with him. He is healthier and stronger than ever. He is also more emotionally healthy. Still, living with him is plenty challenging, and everyone agreed it would be more sustainable for all if Anton was in a place with larger net of support.

So, this past weekend Masha, Lesya, and Anton joined Max and Morgan in the duplex and we are all just really, really happy about it. The girls have agreed to live in the duplex till the summer, in order to help with the transition of Anton, and later, Sasha. They are helping Max and Morgan learn how to live with our boys, and also helping them with all the language needed to communicate with the boys. It seems like it will be a great fit. Ruslan moved into Anton’s old apartment with Luda and Nazar, and that’s great too, because Anton’s old apartment is nicer and bigger. Win win!

I can’t even accurately describe to you how it feels to have life in the duplex. We have dreamed of a community like this for so long. We have an amazing community in our team, but to have community, right here, out our back door is a literal dream come true. We are living life together, with our boys, as friends and family and it’s just so beautiful. I’m sure it will have it’s challenges- because…humans. But, I really feel God’s smile on this. This is the life our boys deserve.

The timing seems just about perfect too, because today Jed finally began the guardianship classes required to bring Sasha into the family. We have been waiting since September for these classes to start. FINALLY!!! The classes last until mid-March, and then hopefully all will be in order for Sasha to move into the duplex. That gives Anton enough time to get adjusted to his new digs before Sasha joins. We are all eager to see Sasha again and bring him from darkness into light. So much love awaits him!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to each one of you who has prayed and encouraged and given money over the past years. The dreams are becoming reality. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of this work. Wahoo!

PS: If you haven’t heard yet, we are doing a BeLOVE[d] t-shirt/sweatshirt fundraiser! It ends on March 2. 100% of the proceeds will go toward finishing the second side of the duplex. Click the link below to buy a t-shirt πŸ™‚

BeLOVE[d]

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A Call to a Small Life

Our life and world here in Ukraine is quite small. There’s a simplicity about it that I have grown to love and cherish. Sure, there are things about it that are far from simple. The emotions are not simple. Dealing with trauma is not simple. Speaking Ukrainian is not simple. Navigating local school and raising kids outside of our passport country is confusing and without simple answers. Figuring out how to help our guys become human after living all their lives as animals is about as unsimple as it can get.

And yet, our lives still have a sense of simplicity. Our lives are simple because we have a very singular focus. We aren’t trying to accomplish a bunch of different things in a multitude if different spheres. There are different facets to our work, for sure (family life, internship, building project, funds management, donor relations, legal stuff, budgets, medical care, advocacy, education…and on and on) and much of that is more complex due to where we live. But still, it all revolves around the one focus of building a community of love, dignity and hope for our friends with special needs.

Because of the nature of the work we do and the people God has brought into our lives to love, our world is quite small. Logistically, almost everything happens at.our.house. This house is the hub of everything. The duplex is being built right outside our back door. It’s a little more complicated at the moment because Anton and Ruslan are in apartments off-site, but still, the majority of life happens right here at our house.

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Also, because of our guys and their needs for structure and order and consistency, our lives have a very “small” nature to them. We can’t do all the things and go to all the places. We can’t be out late at night and running our kids to lots of activities and spending all day on Saturday at the soccer field (that’s not a thing here anyway…). Not that those things are bad, they just don’t work in this context. We all need to be home for dinner. Our guys need that. Boris needs to be in bed at 8 each night. He does best that way and so we give him that early bedtime nearly every night. Living in the village makes a busy life inconvenient, so the reality is we are just home more. Our relationship circle is also much smaller here than it was in the US. Our friends are mostly our team members and that’s okay. They are the ones who understand this life we’re living. They’re the ones who are with us day in and day out. They are our “people”. They are our Ukrainian family. πŸ™‚

I resented that need for routine and “homebody-ness” at first, but now I see it as a wonderful gift. Having our team here every day means big group lunches every day at 13:00, and B-mo’s need for an evening routine means family dinner together nearly every single night at 18:00. It’s rare for someone in the family to not be at the table for dinner. Our team has spent countless hours at our table eating and laughing and just being together. What an enormous gift.

I’ve been reading a lot these days about the monastic life and I see a lot of similarities to our life here. The rhythms of morning worship and meals together and working together, giving ourselves to each other is reminiscent of some sort of “Order”. God has called us to a kind of simplicity here, a cutting out of the extras, and even though I don’t always love it, I am growing to appreciate it and how He is using it to shape us. My desire to pull back a bit from the digital world this year is a response to this call to a simpler life; it’s a desire to focus on the main things.

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As the duplex construction draws nearer to completion we are beginning to think more about who will join us in this life. We don’t want to just look for warm bodies to fill the needed spaces, but we want people to join us who are looking to answer that call for community. We are looking for and praying for people who desire to give their lives to this vision of hope, love and dignity. We don’t necessarily mean give your life away, like the rest of your life, but to give your life away for a season. Though some may decide to give the rest of their lives away, and we will be glad if God sends those people our way. πŸ™‚ To do this life well, this life of living with people with disabilities, you have to die to yourself daily. You have to be willing to serve and live a “small” life- one in which you are not applauded and the sacrifices are rarely seen by others, but you do it anyway because you love the One who has called you to it and you love the one right in front of you.

I know “simple living” and living a “small life” are kind of trendy topics as of late. It can sound really romantic, but we have to remember that in order to live a small life we have to say no to quite a few things. It can be a painful thing to cut out the excess so we have time and energy for the mains, but if we look with an eternal perspective I’m pretty sure we’ll find that pain worth it. It’s not a romantic life here on the homestead in Ukraine, but it is a full one, one that will change its inhabitants forever. I know it is changing me.

If this resonates with you, please send us a note at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org. We are currently finishing up role descriptions and will share them when they are ready. 

 

 

2019: A Year of Learning and Miracles

Well this year sure flew by in a flurry! I was just looking through the 2019 blog posts to find the highlights to link here and saw that I really didn’t write a whole lot. That in itself shows what kind of year we had around here: fast and furious. πŸ™‚

Here in our home, with Anton and Ruslan, this year has been unbelievably difficult. There have been many beautiful moments, don’t get me wrong, but the overarching feeling when I sat down and initially looked back over this year in our home was not “beautiful”, it was “stinkin’ hard and painful”. It has been a year of learning to lay down our lives and learning what this dream of deinstitutionalization really is. Of course we already had some experience with Vlad and Boris, but for many reasons it has just been exponentially harder with Anton and Ruslan. We have learned A LOT. We have changed A LOT. And we have so much to be thankful for.

I’d love to sit down and report to you the many great strides and changes that have been made in our boys, and while they have changed and made some strides, the greater changes have been made in the hearts of our family.

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This year has forced us, Jed and me, to dig deep down inside ourselves and deal with our junk, ’cause Lord knows we’ve got a whole lot of it. Many times this year the way has felt so dark. We have felt hopeless, helpless and in way over our heads. We’ve learned, and are still learning, how impossible it is to do this thing of deinstitutionalization in our own strength. We’ve learned that we’ll most definitely burn out and cope in unhealthy ways when we try to do this on our own. We’ll get bitter. We’ll pick up our phones as an escape. We’ll get all judgey. We’ll lose our patience with our kids and we’ll even stop laughing.

There’s just no way around it. We either do this thing with Jesus, or we fail. That has been the big lesson of 2019: Jed and Kim without Jesus doesn’t work. Praise God for his never-ending mercy and unrelenting love toward us, and thank God for your prayers and encouragement that have sustained us in the darkest of times.

We are different people than we were at the beginning of the year, in a good way. So when I look at it that way I am filled with thankfulness for this past year of struggle. We are changed. Our kids are changed. They have grown and stepped up and matured. Our team has grown and stepped up and matured. Our team has grown in love for each other and we have learned so very much about the path that lies ahead of us. If we had never brought Ruslan and Anton into our home we would have been dreadfully unprepared for the next phases of this journey. So, praise God that his ways are higher than ours. All the tears, all the struggles with self, all the sleepless nights have been 100% worth it. I mean that.

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When you look outside our home at the other parts of this Wide Awake machine there are no shortage of miracles. πŸ™‚

In January we sent out desperate plea for our “Preston” to be adopted. The government was threatening to send him back to the institution if he did not have a committed family by summer. A family pretty quickly stepped forward and they met Preston on Christmas Eve. πŸ™‚ Christmas Day at our house was spent with Preston and his new family getting to know each other. Praise God for his love for our sweet boy.

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Preston with his new daddy on Christmas Day

In July we sent out another desperate plea for our “Aaron” to be adopted. He was the last boy at Romaniv available for adoption and was going to age out at the end of the year, making him forever unadoptable. That same day, as the post was being written, an adoptive family was at Romaniv for another boy (“Kayden”) and they also fell in love with Aaron. They ended up adding him to their adoption and had court for him on December 18th. Aaron is legally an orphan no more, saved at the very last minute by an AMAZING family. He’ll go home to them in January. Praise God for his pursuit of the ones left behind and forgotten for so many years. This is such a huge miracle!!!

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Aaron will go home with his new family in January!

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Kayden was adopted in the fall by the same family. Look at him on his first day of school!

If those adoptions were the only thing that happened this year it would be enough to be a miraculous year, but let’s not forget the ginormous building right outside our back door. Ha!

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the next Wide Awake home is well on it’s way to completion. The roof is on and the windows and doors are in. We are looking at a completion date of late spring, early summer. It’s amazing!!!  (and did I mention, huge?)

The house is a duplex, so it has the capacity to be a forever home for 8 of our friends from Romaniv- four on each side, plus the people who will live there with them.

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We were thinking the end of the year would be a cool time to do a kind of “Virtual Housewarming” for the duplex. Many people have asked how they can be a part of the work here, and helping us to outfit the duplex with all the needed appliances is a great, tangible way to contribute to the freedom of our boys.

If you would like to contribute toward any of these items, just click on the item and proceed through the form. Thank you!

 

We are still searching for who will live in the duplex with our boys, so if this is something that your heart can’t let go of, please contact us and we can begin a conversation. I promise we are great neighbors. πŸ˜‰

As we end the year I want to say thank you to this Wide Awake community for being such a wonderful source of encouragement and support to us and our team. In the good times you have celebrated with us, and in the hard times you have encouraged us, trusted us, and lifted our arms, encouraging us to press on, reminding us of our why. We thank God for you and look forward to the growth that will happen in 2020!

BeLOVE[d]

You can follow Wide Awake on Facebook and Instagram (@wide_awake_international). I update there much more frequently than here on the blog, especially when things get super crazy up in here. But I promise to keep this space alive too, if you still prefer blogs, so no worries πŸ™‚

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.