Superheroes Live in Our House.

Sometimes I don’t know completely what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it out. You’ve been warned. 🙂

When we moved to Ukraine 5 years ago our mission was clear: to bring hope, love and dignity to people with disabilities. Our main goal was deinstitutionalization.  We dreamed of this work. We dreamed of this reality. We dreamed of the day we would begin to bring our guys out and have the opportunity to show them the love of a family. I dreamed of being a mama to them- to those who had no mama.

Now we are living that dream. It is a reality!

Four of the very ones we dreamed of setting free are downstairs drinking tea at the kitchen table. The ones who can speak call me “mama”. I dreamed of that. 🙂

Yes, I dreamed of it, but now that it’s here, I struggle with the reality of it. The day to day of it is harder than I imagined- much less romantic than I imagined. The reality of deinstitutionalization of adults who are so very broken- body, mind and spirit is non-stop work with very little reward. Yet I longed for it. I wept for it. I dreamed of it. But it’s so dang hard. So.dang.hard.

Where’s the disconnect? I love our guys. I can’t imagine not having them with us. Then why do I struggle so bad with their behaviors?  Why am I so often annoyed? Why do I (too often) wake with dread in my heart over the hardships I know the day will bring?

I can tell you why. Two reasons:

  1.  Far too often I try to do this work, live this life, without Jesus.
  2. As much as I fight for our guys to be included and seen as equals by the people around them, in my heart, I still see them as “less than”.

Friends, this work will bring you to your knees. Spending your life with the broken, teaching them to become human is a work that will break you. Well, I guess I can’t speak for you, but it’s definitely breaking me. Every single day I’m confronted with my own weakness, my own ugliness. It’s so yucky. Here I am fighting for justice for our guys; trying to show Ukrainians a new way, and yet I know that I don’t value them the way they deserve to be valued. Somehow, even after knowing all they have suffered, I still have a bit of my heart that looks down at them.

God forgive me.

I put my agenda before them. I dismiss their feelings as less important than my own. I shower love on them when they behave more human, but when they move into old behaviors I withhold my affection.

God forgive me.

I find myself realizing that those who are “lower functioning” (I hate that term but don’t know a better one) are generally easier for me because they require less of me. I can care for them more on my terms- when it’s convenient for me. The “higher functioning” of our boys demand more. Their struggles, feelings and hurts are presented in more complex ways and I’m exhausted with trying to make sense of it all, so I sometimes give up.

God forgive me.

As you’ve figured out, if you’ve read this far- I am far from a superhero (I’m sure you already knew that). I am a super flawed human who screws up on the regular. I function too often out of my own strength, which is consistently running out.

I need Jesus. Guys, I have zero business getting out of my bed and letting my feet touch the ground without first talking with Jesus. I’ll tell you what happens when I try to do my day in Kim’s strength. I’m short- like I have zero patience. I’m easily annoyed. I find more joy in my coffee than in the people around me. I’m discontent. I search for approval from others. I look for distraction. I compare my life to the lives of others and I either envy them, judge them, or puff myself up. Bottom line: Kim minus Jesus equals HOT MESS.

I’m not sure why I think I can do this on my own when I so clearly stink at it.

And yet-

His power is made perfect in my weakness. God has called us to this work and I know that I know if I turn to Him He will give me everything I need. Tomorrow is a new day and His mercies are new every morning. Amen?

I’ll tell you who the superheroes are around here: their names are Ruslan, Anton, Boris and Vladik.

Our guys have endured unimaginable pain, abuse and neglect. Their childhoods were stolen from them. Their teen years were stolen from them. So many missed opportunities, missed birthdays, missed cuddles, missed “I love you”s, missed adventures, missed family dinners, missed holidays, missed moments of peace and joy. Ruslan, Anton and Boris spent 3 decades as prisoners, innocent of any crime.

They came to us afraid, diseased, malnourished of body and spirit. But every single day they wake up and they try again. They are survivors. They are learning to give themselves to others, learning to become human. I’m certain it hurts them far more than it hurts me.

Our guys are deserving of the best- not because of what they have endured and not because of their likability, but because they are children of God, created in His image, just like you and me.

I’m done. I’m done holding back a part of my heart and selfishly longing for something different. I’m done parceling out my love to those who “deserve it” in that particular moment.

I’m here. I’m planting myself. No matter if our guys are every fully included into society here in Ukraine, they will fully be included into my heart. Not everyone is lucky enough to live with superheroes, but I get to live with 4. I’m one lucky lady. 🙂

BeLOVE[d]

 

What’s Up With School

It’s been a while since I’ve written about school in this space. Over on Instagram @thetravelingacademy I have the fun opportunity to be on a team of expat mamas living all over the world. Together, we are hoping to create a great resource about all things educating kids overseas. There is a great mix of experience there! Some homeschool, some send their kiddos to international school, some do local school and some (like us) use different methods for different kids. We also discuss parenting “Third Culture Kids” and parenting kids with special needs outside your home culture. So far, it’s a lot of fun.

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Being a part of the team has me thinking about our kids’ education nonstop. I’m constantly thinking about what we’re doing and reconsidering if it’s working or not. It’s been a breath of fresh air and inspiration for my mama brain. 🙂

Since I’m thinking about education a lot these days, I figured I’m waaaaay past due in sharing with you what we’re doing these days for education. So here ya go!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while then you might remember that it took us quite some time to find our groove in Ukrainian school. We’re actually still finding it…actually, we’ll probably always be searching for it, but at least each year we’re getting closer. Hehe. We moved here in November 2013 and put Addy and Ezra into Ukrainian public school in February, after realizing it was probably the only way they were really going to learn language and be a part of the culture. It was actually a great experience for all of us. It was super hard, for the kids and the parents, but all in all, we considered it a success and decided to stick with it.

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They were so little!

The next fall we decided to try a Ukrainian private school, simply because we were searching for smaller class sizes. Addy and Ezra were a little lost in the shuffle in the big public school classes and we thought a private school could offer them more support. We ended up only staying at that school for a semester because the director of the school didn’t really understand our situation. She insisted that the kids should keep repeating first grade until they were fluent in Ukrainian! Ummmm yeah…we weren’t really into that idea. So, at Christmas break we brought them home for school.

Finally, in the Fall of 2016 we found the RIGHT school for our family. Our current school is also a Ukrainian private school, but the administration is very open to our family. They believe in our kids and they truly want them to succeed and to be integrated into school life. At our current school our kids aren’t “The Americans”, they are just students- like everyone else.

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Addy, Ezra and Hava all attended that school full-time for 2 years, and Seth attended first grade there last year. Overall, it has been a pretty great experience. There were (and are) major difficulties and roadblocks, but that is to be expected anytime you are fully immersed in a cultural situation different than anything you’ve ever known. Our kids are the only foreign kids in the school (actually, I don’t know of any other English speaking kids in our city…) so the learning curve has been steep for the staff and for our family.

We are learning, like all parents, that constant revaluation and adjustment is necessary for spiritual, educational and social success. Because of that we’ve made some pretty big changes in schooling this year. Addy and Ezra are homeschooling full-time, Hava is still in Ukrainian school full-time, Seth is part-time at Ukrainian school and part-time at home, and Vladik is doing private lessons at his teacher’s home 4 days a week. It’s a little crazy, but it seems to be working!

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We realized that as the kids reach the upper grades (Addy is in 9th and Ezra is in 7th) that it was a better use of their time and energy to study at home. The struggle then, has been finding meaningful ways for them to engage with others outside the home. For Addy, it’s attending a weekly youth group at another church in town, and taking twice-a-week sewing lessons from a church friend. For Ezra it’s attending a twice-a-week class where he’s learning to make videos. I wish there were more opportunities for them to be with their peers, but it’s pretty hard to find something to engage in here that’s not sports. So, we’re trusting God that He will show us what they need. I easily take on a lot of mom guilt concerning their social lives, so I just can’t let myself go there. Their lives are rich and full in other ways and it’s okay if theirs look different than my life did at their age. Comparison is not helpful or healthy (preaching to myself right now).

Hava adores school and is as happy as a clam there, so that’s a no-brainer. 🙂

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Vladik’s situation isn’t ideal, but we’re going to finish out this school year as is, and probably make significant changes next year. His teacher is great, as always, but he’s loving being here at the Homestead more and more, and when construction starts on the next homes he’ll want to be in the thick of it. So, next year I foresee him spending more time working on his building skills and less time doing “seat work”.

Seth. Oh my sweet Seth. Seth and Ukrainian school don’t mesh super well. 🙂 He attended first grade last year and it went okay, but not great. This year he started second grade at the school, but it was quickly clear that it wasn’t going to work out. We brought him home for homeschool in October and just recently decided to ease him back in to a bit of local school. He really is a social guy and missed his friends, plus he really needs more language exposure. He’s now attending school for 4 hours, three days a week and then is home for the rest of it. I hope this plan works for our guy.

That’s our current school situation. Every child is different and every year is different and we have to just keep being flexible, holding loosely to what we “think” our kids need for happiness.  Our first job is to point them to Jesus, and as long as we’re doing that I think they’ll turn out okay.

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FAMILY FOUND! + An Encouragement

Yes, it’s true. A family has committed to adopting Preston!

WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! So many tears and cheers around here!

Thank you to every single one of you who donated to his adoption grant and shared his face with the world. His mommy and daddy found him via social media, so sharing does work! They are a family who have been around the special needs adoption world for a while now, advocating and supporting other families. Now their time has come, and I’m super glad about it.

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So many of you have asked how best to support Preston, and now his family and I can tell you that there are two BIG ways you can help.

  1.  Pray. If you are a person who prays, please pray for Preston’s family to be able to move through the adoption paperwork with lightning speed. Pray that no roadblocks get in their way so they can get to their boy before he is moved.
  2. Donate. The biggest obstacle to this adoption happening in a timely manner is MONEY. Adoption is sooooo expensive and this family needs our financial support to help them move along quickly. They have decided to commit their lives to Preston. In that commitment they have agreed to all the costs that come with adding a new member to the family: emotional, physical, and financial. Let’s be real, it’s expensive to care for a child with significant special needs. Their adoption journey with Preston will continue on for the rest of his life, and so will the financial aspects of it. I would just love to bless them in this part of their journey. I would love money to not be an obstacle at all in bringing him home. Follow this link to give a tax-deductible donation to the family’s adoption fund: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

* * *

I know many of you were touched deeply by Preston and his story. He is a very special boy who is destined for great things. Many of you expressed to me your desire and willingness to be his family, and for that I thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts.

I know there are some happy, yet broken hearts out there, mommies and daddies who hoped Preston would be theirs. I want to tell you that I know exactly how you feel. Our journey to our life here in Ukraine started out in that exact way. We committed to adopting a boy in Ukraine, and gave our whole hearts to him in the process, but another family adopted him before we could get there. We were happy for him, that he wouldn’t have to wait for us to have the mommy and daddy that he so needed, but at the same time we were absolutely crushed. How could we have such love for a child and then have it turn out that he was not meant for our family? It was a difficult and confusing time. I wrote about it here. 

Long story short, God used that little boy in southern Ukraine who was never meant to be our son, to turn our hearts in the direction of Ukraine, in the direction of our future. God spoke to Jed so clearly in that time,

“Jed, I am so much more interested in the process than in the end result.  You have one end result in mind, but I’m taking you on a journey.  I needed you to love that boy like a father.  I needed you to love him with abandon.  I needed you to have that father’s heart for him because I need you to love lots of little boys and girls like him.”

I believe that is the current storyline for some of you. Preston as your son was not the end result God had in mind when He grabbed your heart, but instead He is using Preston’s story to start you on a journey. If that is the case, please don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Stay in a posture of YES. Do not be discouraged. Do not harden your heart. Do not simply move on. Quiet your heart and ask the Lord what He would have you to do next, because I guarantee there is a reason your heart was so touched. Our end result is us in Ukraine with a houseful of broken and beautiful men so in need of love and healing. Your end result may not be the same (If it is, come on over! We could use some help over here! Haha), but it may be adoption of a different child, or foster care, or advocacy. This gut wrenching, pit of your stomach, can’t eat, too many tears, broken and open heart are unto something. So don’t miss it. These times of prompting from the Lord can be game-changers.

If you need some encouragement (and you have a few spare hours…hehe) go back and read the beginnings of this blog. You’ll see how we had no idea what we were in for, but we just wanted to say YES to Jesus. It has been a wild ride, but I don’t regret one second of it. Not that we’ve got it all figured out by any means! But we have walked the road of disappointment that led to great great joy.

I promise to keep you all updated on Preston and his family’s adoption journey! So stay tuned!

BeLOVE[d]

PRESTON: An Update + Video

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

THANK YOU to every one of you who has shared Preston’s story with the world. As of today more than 40,000 people have viewed the blog post about his urgent need for a family.

Please keep sharing! So far no one has stepped up for Preston. There have been many, many inquiries by email, Facebook and Instagram, but no one has taken the leap.

I can not emphasize enough that this is a race against time. A family must step up NOW. If you are one of those interested families, I’m sorry to rush you…but hurry up! 🙂

Certain questions about Preston have been asked several times, so I will answer them here.

Why can’t Preston’s current family adopt him? There is no doubt that Preston’s current caregivers love him immensely. They adore him and he is a genuine member of the family. They also went into this committing to care for him for one year, and now have passed the two year mark. They never took Preston in with the plans to keep him forever. His current family saved his life. They nursed him back to life and have sacrificed SO MUCH because of their great love for him. Their hearts will break to see him go. But they are not, and have never been, his permanent plan.

  1. Much like in the US, after a certain length of time in transition, a child’s case must move to a permanency plan. Preston’s time in transition has run out. His permanency plan is adoption- either domestic or international. He can not legally stay in his current situation.
  2. Ukraine does not allow single parent adoptions. He currently lives with a single woman and her adult daughter. Neither of them are legally allowed to adopt him.
  3. Both members of his current family have expressed more than once that they believe Preston would do best with a father in the family. He lights up around men and you can see he longs for that relationship that a father can provide. His current home can not provide that for him.

How can it be best for Preston to leave his country, culture and language and be adopted internationally? This is a question that is not easily answered in one paragraph of a blog post. So, so much in that question.

For sure, bringing Preston out of Ukraine into a family culture and language that is completely foreign to him will be very difficult on him. FOR SURE. There is no denying it. I am a huge advocate of keeping kids in their home culture whenever possible. The USA and other western countries are wonderful and have many amazing resources that we do not have access to further east, but I definitely do not believe that the USA and other western countries are the best place for every child.

So why do I advocate for Preston to be adopted out of Ukraine?

  1. I advocate for that because no one in Ukraine has stepped forward for him.
  2. Preston would greatly benefit from medical resources (therapy, medications) that are simply not available yet in Ukraine. He has so much potential, but lack of consistent therapy and doctors up-to-date on the latest in helping children with CP hold him back significantly. His CP is basically untreated at this point.
  3. He is a very smart boy, but Ukraine does not have special education, so he is unable to attend school. This breaks my heart because I KNOW he is so capable. There are no resources here for home education- least of all education of a child with any special needs.

We love Ukraine. Heck, we moved our entire family here, permanently. I am not some random person who is not personally invested into this country and her people. We have given our lives to being sparks of change here. So let’s get that straight: I love Ukrainian people. I am committed to Ukraine. I also am raising children and adults with significant special needs here in Ukraine and I face every day what it means to live with people in a culture that does not accept them. Change is coming slowly, but it is extremely difficult to  live in Ukraine with people with special needs. I’m not just talking about lack of accessibility, which is a big problem, I’m talking about the attitude of the society as a whole. Life here is an uphill battle for our guys every day and I’m not going to pretend that life would necessarily be better for Preston here.

If a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that love him and are ready to fight for him then OF COURSE it is better for that child to stay in Ukraine with his family. That’s not even a question. On the other hand, if a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that does not want him (like Preston) or feels they can not care for him and they give that child to the State, then it is in the child’s best interest for us to look as far and wide as we can until we find someone who will love and care for him.

Those are hard words to write, but it’s my love for Preston and thousands other just like him that compel me to point at the elephant in the room and not ignore it. If Preston is not adopted he will return to the institution where he nearly died, so no, when it comes down to him losing his language or losing his life, I will not say it is best for him to stay in  Ukraine.

If you have more questions about Preston or adoption please don’t hesitate to ask! I am happy to talk with interested families.

I wrote extensively about his needs here.  You can give a tax deductible donation to Preston’s adoption grant here.

Thank you for your continued advocacy! Please keep it up! Let’s find our boy a family.

I know I wrote some strong words about Ukraine. Of course there are many exceptions to this and a few of them come and work at our house every day. They fight alongside us for our guys and they, and others like them, will be the ones to change their country. 

URGENT- Family Needed

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

Hello Dear Friends.

I’m coming to you today with an urgent need. My heart is heavy and I’m pleading with you to share, pray, and consider how you could play a part in this story.

Remember “Preston” (formally known as ‘Baby A’)? I wrote a detailed blog about him here. To jog your memory, he was dying at the institution in October 2016. We went there in the night and after calls to people in high places of Ukrainian government, he was rescued and he lived. He now lives with a wonderful family in our church and is available for international adoption.

We just learned that Preston has 6 months to be adopted or he will be returned to the Institution.

Friends, this simply CAN NOT happen.

Life in the institution almost killed Preston. He was hours from death when we came to him that October night. I am certain returning to that place would be a death sentence for him.

He is so smart, so beautiful, so social. He is a part of a family now and he is adored. Preston has blossomed in family life and we just can’t let him be orphaned again.

Due to personal circumstances and Ukrainian law, Preston cannot remain in his current living situation. He is loved very much, but all involved know international adoption is the best plan for him.

So I am asking you to please DO something to help our boy. Do not just read this and move on. Imagine your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, safe in their bed at home one day and the next day left alone in a mental institution. What would you do to prevent that reality? I know what I would do. I would shout. I would share the story. I wouldn’t give up and I wouldn’t shut up until they were free. Preston is no less worthy of that effort.

Here are ways you can help:

1. Share this post far and wide.

2. Donate to Preston’s adoption grant. The donations are tax deductible and help remove the financial burden of the adoption process for the family that chooses him. Donate here.

3. PRAY! God knows and sees our boy. May His will be done.

4. Consider if you could be Preston’s family. Why not you? Do not assume this is someone else’s YES. Maybe this is your YES. Please consider.

Help me shout for Preston! He can’t speak up for himself. We are his voice.

Read more about Preston here.

BeLOVE[d]

Please email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org for more information about Preston or the adoption process.