An Anton Update

We can’t thank you enough. All of you who have been praying, all who sent messages, all who emailed and called. Thank you for loving us, for trusting us, and for loving Anton.

It has been quite the two weeks. To be honest, it’s been quite the year. No, let’s be real honest- it’s been quite the 6 years. 😂 But these past two weeks have been a DOOZY.

Thank God, He heard our prayers and He made a way for everyone to be safe and loved. We found an apartment for Anton and it’s about a 10 minute walk from a park by the river. Every morning he gets to go for a walk in his most favorite place ever. Huge blessing.

The big question of the hour was: who would live with Anton? Thankfully, God heard our prayers and provided there too! Two friends from church, guys in their early twenties are living with Anton in the apartment. He spends his weekdays with our team, like always, then in the evenings and night he is home in the apartment with his two new housemates. They get a free apartment and Anton gets two new friends. Win win. 😊 They are kind, peaceful, and gracious men. A wonderful woman from church is helping to care for him on the weekends. She just returned to Zhytomyr and needed work and we needed weekend help. Win win. 😊 We are so thankful!!! We are giving it a month and then we’ll reevaluate further.

Anton is doing okay. He is confused, but we just keep reiterating to him that this is a better place for him, a quieter place. The first several days were not pretty. So bad. So so bad. He wanted to come home really badly. We were all in tears, but we know that we know that this is the best plan for right now. We aren’t bringing him home to our house at all right now, even for visits, just because it would definitely be confusing and we feel a significant time away is best. Of course we still see him plenty, just not at the house. He likes the new guys he is living with and is mellowing out a bit. It’s been a huge adjustment for all, but things are definitely not getting worse. Yay!

We started Anton on an anti anxiety medication to hopefully take the edge off during this time. We are also working with a GI doc to get some other answers, but right now we’re waiting on test results before we know more. She wanted us to put him on a gluten-free, lactose-free diet, so that’s super fun to try to do in the Breadbasket of Europe. Ugh. Good thing Anton’s not obsessed with food or it would be really hard. <— (Insert my most sarcastic voice)

Overall it’s been super hard, but God has been faithful. Our team is the best best best. Jed and I are coming down from living in a state of constant vigilance and we are wow, so exhausted. We are also so thankful for our community here and for God’s provision.

Please keep praying. Pray that this living situation would work well and that we would get more answers about Anton’s health. Thank you!!!!

When Plans Must Change

This is a post I never imagined writing. In fact, we took all the precautions imaginable to try to prevent a post like this from ever happening, but, here we are.

This past weekend we had to remove our dear Anton from our home.

Anton has struggled off and on with aggressive behaviors basically the whole time he’s lived with us. It kind of surprised us because he was not aggressive at Romaniv. In fact, he was the most meek, quiet, subdued and shy man you could imagine. Almost all of the boys and men at Romaniv are aggressive to some degree. Aggression is the language of institutional life. And since Anton lived there from the age of 4 till we took him home at age 30, that was the language of his childhood, his teen years, and his adulthood. In an institution like that only the strong survive. The pecking order is well-established and the stronger abuse the weaker. It’s what Anton knows, but since he himself was not aggressive, we felt okay bringing him home. Also, we knew God said Anton was our family, so we listened.

Once Anton started to act out aggressively when upset or not feeling well, or when he didn’t get his own way, we were a little surprised (although not completely- we tried to be “prepared for anything”) and sad, but also hoped that once his language abilities grew and he felt safe, his aggression would diminish or maybe even completely go away. We still hope for that!

In the past month or so Anton’s aggression has dramatically increased. When awake he has been in an almost constant state of stress and keeping him from escalating has become a full time job. This past weekend it became obvious that it was not safe for him to be in our home with our children for even one more day.

Let me say right now that we are 100% committed to Anton- legally, and in our hearts. We love him so so much, and we know that this is not who he really is. He desperately wants to do the right thing. The real Anton is fun-loving and tender-hearted. We truly believe he doesn’t want to hurt others, but he is working through something and it’s not safe for him to work it out in close proximity to small children. Maybe this is a stage in his healing and he will come out on the other side even more loving and more like his true self, but while we are committed to helping him heal we also have to consider every person in our family. Boris and the little ones can’t be sacrificed during Anton’s healing process. He’s a full-grown man and his emotions are big. We realized this weekend that we had to find another way.

Right now we have Anton staying in an apartment in town and our team is taking turns staying with him. Today Jed is out with a realtor looking for a more long-term apartment that Anton can live in until the duplex is finished, and then we plan that he will live there. We are hoping to find 2 guys who will live with him in the apartment. He can spend the daytime with our team like always, and then have his evenings and weekends at the apartment.

Our hearts are broken, and in just the last few days our plans and ideas for our family have been turned on their heads.

When we brought Boris, Anton and Ruslan into our home we planned they would live with us, in our home, for life. But it seems God has other plans. Yes, the duplex is literally right outside our back door, but it’s still not what we had planned. At the same time, we have a responsibility to our kids, and we also know we can’t help transition other boys to the duplex and then next home after that if 100% of our attention has to be focused on just keeping the people in this one house safe. We have to have some margin in order to keep our family and Wide Awake, as an organization, healthy and growing.

Our dream of “family style homes” is still the dream. But God is kind of asking us to redefine in our minds what “family” means. Family doesn’t have to mean a mom, dad, and a bunch of kids. That scenario doesn’t work for every person- especially when we’re talking about people who have been so extremely abused and traumatized for so many years. Sometimes family needs to be smaller, quieter, more controlled, with fewer moving parts. We have 6 kids. Our home will never be quiet. In my mind it’s a peaceful chaos, but I think we are learning that it’s just not the best environment for our Anton. “Family” is a place where you are loved and accepted as you are. It’s a place where you are supported and encouraged to grow into your full potential. We can still provide that for Anton.

We’ve cried a river of tears over the last few days. My mind just keeps trying to figure out a way to keep him here, but I’m also in awe of how much more peaceful it is here without feeling like we have to protect everyone from Anton every minute. I didn’t realize how much of our hearts and minds and household routine were consumed with keeping Anton from escalating. It’s just not sustainable if we are committed to these guys for life and if we’re going to be able to bring more boys from the institution.

My heart screams that no one can love him as deeply as I love him. How can I entrust him to another? He must be so confused. He’s one of my babies and I know he loves me just as much. But right now he needs something that I can’t give him, and my heart needs to trust that God’s plans for Anton are good and He is not surprised by this turn of events- even though we are.

That’s where we stand now. We would so appreciate your prayers during this time. We need so much wisdom. Anton needs so much peace. We are visiting every kind of doctor available to make sure we are not missing some physical ailment that is causing him pain or stress. We will not give up on our boy.

We met with our team on Sunday night and were amazed and encouraged when we stood back and realized we were in a room FULL of people who love Anton and want the best for him. Jed and I are not alone in this. I thank God for our wonderful, loving, committed team.

If you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask. We have no secrets and always want to be honest about the journey, while also maintaining Anton’s dignity.

Thank you for loving us and believing in this work.

BeLOVE[d]

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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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.

 

The Best Kind of Story+ A Birthday Wish

It’s story time. And this is the best kind of story. This is the kind of story in which all looks hopeless and then, at the last second, hope arrives and the helpless one is saved. This is the kind of story where life is lost, and then life is found. It’s the kind of story where love wins over fear. It’s a story of miracles.

Several years ago, in the Eastern United States, Nate and Jen saw a documentary that would change their lives forever. They saw a film about orphans with special needs in Bulgaria. The film showed how the children were mistreated in institutions and the results of a very broken system. After that film they knew they had to do something. They were moved to action. (My kind of people!)

Nate and Jen’s hearts were turned toward adoption and they went on to adopt a little boy from Bulgaria and then a little boy from China. But they weren’t done yet. Or rather, God wasn’t done with them yet. 🙂

In the summer of 2018 they began the process to adopt another little boy. This little boy was in southern Ukraine. In fact, he was in the very orphanage that God used to turn our hearts to Ukraine back in 2010. Nate and Jen fell in love with this boy and were moving forward to make him their son, but then, while they were still working on documents on the US side, the little boy died in Ukraine.

I can’t imagine the heartbreak. To make the decision to adopt a child is no small thing. You have to be ALL IN. And then to find out the child died without knowing the love of a family that you desperately wanted to give. It’s just so so terrible.

In their grief, Nate and Jen understood that they had love to give, and that many other children in Ukraine waited for families, so they decided to continue the adoption process. Much to our joy and surprise, they chose to adopt “Kayden”, one of our boys!

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Kayden was in pretty bad shape at the time he was chosen and we knew he needed to be adopted in order to survive. He just wasn’t/isn’t strong enough to live many more years in an institution. So we waited eagerly for the time when the documents would finally be completed on the US side and Nate and Jen could come to Ukraine to meet Kayden.

Earlier this summer the moment arrived! One Friday morning  in July they were driven out to the institution and got to meet their boy and begin the in-country adoption process. They got to spend a few hours with Kayden, and then of course they got to meet all our other loves who are equally as precious and equally as desperate for love and attention.

We had plans to meet up that night for dinner in the city, so they texted me when they arrived that evening at their hotel room. We chatted a bit about their day and then, out of curiosity, they asked if any of the other boys were adoptable, because they had heard none were. I clarified that yes, just one more boy was available for adoption, “Aaron” and I sent them this video so they would know who I was talking about:

Their reply “We love him.”

Nate and Jen spent the weekend with our boys and grew to love them more and more- not just Kayden, but all of them. They are a pretty lovable bunch, if I do say so myself. And then at the end of a whirlwind few days they were headed back to the US to wait for a court date.

On their way home they messaged me to let me know that they were praying about coming back after this adoption to take home Aaron too. Aaron, that one boy, the boy in the video, the last boy who is available for adoption at the institution. They knew that his time was short, as he ages out in December, and they just couldn’t fathom leaving him behind.

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Guys, my heart skipped a beat or five when I read that message. Seriously? Hold up. Back up. They were thinking about adopting Aaron? Let me just tell you, I love Aaron deeply. I adore him. I see him for the precious little boy that he is deep inside, but I can tell you that not many see that. He is despised by nannies. He is bullied by other boys. He is about as far from an orphanage favorite as you can get. My faith has been so very small over the years that I have hardly advocated for him. For several years I knew he was available but I left advocacy for him on the back burner, instead advocating for all the others- the ones who seemed that they would be “easier”, the ones I could get decent pictures of, the ones I could write glowing reports about. I hate that I did that, but I want to be honest.

As much as Jed and I love Aaron, I had almost zero faith that anyone else would love him as much as we do. I halfheartedly advocated for him, but my deepest fear was that I would write as honestly as possible about him, but then a family would arrive to adopt him and be instantly scared off by his behaviors. The boy is loud. He is highly sensory seeking. I really do believe that he will change within the safety of family, but I can’t make any promises at all. I knew a family would have to take him as he is, and I just had no hope that anyone would.

But God. God promises to be a Father to the fatherless and He.Keeps.His.Promises. When our faith is small, that is when His glory shines brightest. Lest I should think that any of this has anything to do with how well I advocate or how catchy our blog is or how many followers we have to “like” our posts. This work is God’s work and these boys are His and we are simply his vessels. Thank God that His ways are higher and his timing is perfect.

I am just so deeply grateful to God for keeping His promise. And I’m so deeply grateful to Nate and Jen for seeing our boys with eyes wide open and not allowing fear to hold them back. I just almost can’t believe it’s actually going to happen!

Right now they are in the process of making necessary changes to documents so that they can bring both Kayden and Aaron home. Once they get them home there will be no more adoptable boys at the institution. Each one who has the possibility for adoption will be adopted. It is well with my soul.

As you can imagine, deciding to add another child to an adoption adds quite a bit of expense. So you can guess what I’m going to say next. 🙂 Would you help me support this family and their huge step of obedience?

Tomorrow I turn 40 (yes, I know, the big 4-0) and I can’t imagine any better gift than to see this family, who are adopting the FINAL TWO BOYS, be supported. I don’t want them to have to worry about money at all. Would you consider giving a tax-deductible donation to their adoption fund in honor of me turning old?

You can give your tax-deductible donation here. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your prayers, support and advocacy. Two more boys are about to know freedom and the love of a family. THANK YOU GOD!!!!

The One Left Behind

Today our precious “Kayden” met his adoptive family. That means that Aaron is the only boy available for adoption at the institution- and he ages out at the end of this year! SEVEN of our boys have been advocated for and are now living in families. SEVEN boys who were once lost are now found.

Aaron is the only one left behind who has the chance for a family. I wrote this post a couple of years ago. Will you please help me share Aaron’s face? He is so in need of the love of a mama and daddy. 

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Today I want to help you get to know our precious Aaron.

I haven’t done much advocating specifically for him.  Out of all of our boys who are available for adoption you probably know him the least.  That’s my fault.  My faith has been small.

This is the thing: some kids are really easy to write about.  Every picture you take of them is adorable and people can’t get enough of their cuteness.  Maybe they smile all the time and our cameras seem to find them on every visit.  I can’t keep cuteness like that to myself!  It just wouldn’t be right!  😉

Other kids are more difficult to write about.  Maybe they don’t photograph well, or maybe they just never sit still long enough for anyone to capture more than a blur of movement. Maybe their behaviors are really difficult to manage and it’s hard to know what to say.  Maybe there aren’t many cute stories to share…maybe none of their history is known so it’s hard to paint a whole picture.

Aaron is one who has been difficult to write about.  I haven’t quite known what to say.

One of my biggest concerns with advocacy is that I want to be very, very certain that I am writing with honesty. I have nightmares about adoptive families arriving at the institution, meeting their child for the first time and saying to me “You didn’t tell me this!”  I know that adoptive families can never truly understand what our boys are like, or what Romaniv is until they arrive and see it firsthand: smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the pain.  But I’d like them to at least feel that I was honest in my description of the son they have fought so hard to rescue.

Because of that, it’s more difficult to advocate well for a child like Aaron.

He’s so difficult to photograph. His behaviors are extremely tricky to manage.  He is not liked by many of the orphanage staff. His quality of life is so poor, I can’t even accurately describe it.  He is loud. When we first met he was like a wild animal: a sensory-seeking boy in a sensory-deprived environment.  His life is pure nothingness so he searches for sensory input however he can get it.  If that means he has to literally climb up a team member’s body to get their attention, he’ll do it.  He absolutely LOVES water, but never gets access to it, so we have spent many a visit with one team member’s sole task being to keep Aaron from ripping the sink apart in his desperate attempt to feel the water.

He needs so much more than he is getting- in every single area of his life.

But the thing is, all the reasons that make advocacy difficult are the reasons why Aaron needs a voice maybe more than any of the other boys who are available to be adopted.

It’s almost impossible to get a good picture of him.  But I think he is absolutely beautiful.

He is loud and he screams and he has no words.  I hear the plea of a baby boy asking for his mommy.  I hear a sweet little boy whose voice is never heard.  I hear a child crying to be rescued.

He is a wild man who drives the nannies absolutely crazy with his quest for sensory input.  I see a little boy who is desperate for a big backyard and a dog and a hose on a sunny day.  I see a sweet soul who needs to be able to swing for hours on end, feel the wind in his face and the grass under his toes.  

God has given us a very special love for our boys that goes beyond reason.  It’s a supernatural love that could only come from him.  He gave us mommy and daddy love that sees the beauty of our boys, even when they do things that would not be considered beautiful, or even cute. He gave this love to us so that we would have the umph and the passion and the drive to fight for them.  He gave us voices so that we could speak for the voiceless. He made us totally biased, because our boys need people who are on their side and are completely biased for them.

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I am biased in my love for Aaron.  It’s true!

So today I speak for Aaron and I tell you that he is a treasure. He has boundless energy and so much curiosity. He wants to learn and soak in all that life has to offer. And this most precious treasure is desperate for a family.  His situation is dire.  He is unwanted and disliked and abused…and soon his time will run out. I want to talk all about the ways I believe he would change in a family, but I need to tell you how he is right now, because I can’t know he will or won’t change. A family that chooses him needs to come in with eyes wide open and love him just as he is.

See my boy.  Please see him.  Imagine if he was rescued and brought into a family where he could get love and care.  No doubt it will be a difficult road to walk, and the adoptive family will need to be prepared to devote a lot of time to Aaron, but oh my, it will be so worth it! To watch him come to life would be an absolute miracle to behold.  The parents who get that privilege are blessed indeed. I know from experience.  🙂

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God knew Aaron before he was even born.  He saw him in his mother’s womb and formed him there.  He created him for purpose and destiny.  He is as valuable as you.  He is as valuable as me.  He is as worth it as my Ezra, my Seth, my Vladik.  He is someone’s son- they just don’t know it yet.  He shouldn’t be spending his summers sleeping on a mattress to avoid attention and abuse.  He should be running in the sprinkler and going down slides and eating Popsicles.  Why not?  He’s just a little boy.  A little boy in a desperate situation.

So, please pray and please share.  Please pause and ask the Lord how you should respond to Aaron.  Don’t dismiss him because he sounds difficult, please.  He is made in the image of God and he will bring blessing and joy to some lucky family’s home.  Maybe yours?

 

 

You can read more about Aaron and donate toward the cost of his adoption here. Interested families are welcome to contact me with questions at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org