A Week and a 1/2 in Photos- January 29th

It’s Thursday! Can you even believe it? So, yeah, I missed my phone-pic-emptying-post on Sunday. Oops! But it’s because I felt so strongly that I just had to tell you about one of our sweet boys who desperately needs a family.
*check out the end of the post for an update.

So here’s some pics to catch you up on the everyday shenanigans around these here parts!

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My kitchen reality.

 

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A few of our loves. Seriozha loved that little baby doll. Hava wanted to give it to one of “her Romaniv Boys”.

 

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This is what happens when the road is blocked on the way to Romaniv. Snowball fight! Nice shot Roma ūüėČ

 

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Arrrrrrrr! (Not sure why the eye-poking one, but he insisted on it)

 

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Just another night of Just Dance on the Wii. ūüôā

 

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I am the CHAMPION!!! No one can ever beat me, except that one time that shall not be mentioned when I’m pretty sure I had a malfunctioning remote…

 

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After FIFTEEN MONTHS of emptiness, the tooth is finally emerging! We thought this day would never come!

 

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In the meantime Hava is losing hers. ūüôā

 

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Addy and her friend Nastya at a benefit concert for MTU! Addy loves Nastya. I really need to work harder on getting them together.

 

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Valerchik!

 

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A little Boris lovin’

 

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Seriozha loves Masha. We do too.

 

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Play is the work of children. ūüôā

 

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Speaking of sweet babies needing families, who will step up for this one? Contact me for more details. ūüôā

 

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Stop the cuteness!

 

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Our bus stop. Perty eh? Haha

 

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On the bus. I think Addy took this one…

 

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Off to the market to do some flower girl shopping! We have a wedding this weekend!

 

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More dancing…did I mention I’m the champion???

 

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Loveliness

 

For all who are wondering about our sweet boy who is failing, please continue to share him and his story. We have had a couple serious inquiries, so that is encouraging. ¬†Thousands of people now know of him and hundreds, maybe thousands are praying. ¬†Maybe his family is in those thousands? ¬†I pray it is so. ¬†We saw him on Tuesday and he looked worse. ¬†I got to just sit and hold him for a couple hours and he was at peace during that time. ¬†Some donations have come in (THANK YOU!) to provide him with extra care, so after we meet with the staff and make a plan we will implement it as quickly as possible. Nothing happens quickly here, and as much as we want to snap my fingers and get a quick fix, it just doesn’t work like that. ¬†But please know that we are doing all we can to help him as quickly as possible.

 

About a Boy

One year ago, at seven years old, he was transferred to our institution. We were shocked when we saw him. He was so beautiful. His skin was soft and unblemished, his eyes were bright, his smile mischievous. We said he didn’t belong in that place of suffering, but honestly, no one does.

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The nannies doted on him, laughing when he only wanted to eat milk and cookies instead of borscht. They would sneak him candy and rub his soft cheeks.

Then time moved on, and the darkness weighed down on him. Those bright eyes and that beautiful smile began to fade. Children are not made for institutions. Children are made for families- and he had none.

By spring he was less social. He allowed us to hold him, but didn’t seek out the physical affection like he had before. Soon he began to self-harm- just a bit- and not always, mostly just when he was stressed.

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Summer came and he was regularly self-harming. We tried to take him to the Sensory Room but he would cry and try to escape. There are so many of them and so few of us, we had to focus our precious Sensory Room time on boys who would tolerate the therapy. And in the background he was fading away.

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Fall brought brisk wind and the time had come for us to stay inside. ¬†When we would arrive for our visits we rarely saw him up walking in the hall. ¬†He was more and more often found in bed, arms restrained in an effort to keep him from harming himself. He would smile when we entered his room. We would stand over his crib talking softly to him and he would laugh. Then we would take the restraints off, hoping to give him some moments of love and he would cry, reaching for the restraints and the comfort they had come to provide. It was almost as if he knew he needed them- he knew he couldn’t help but self-harm- and he had no Mommy or Daddy to protect him from himself. I remember never wanting to leave him on those fall days, but having no choice.

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December came along and he was almost always in bed. I do remember one day, December 12th, when he was up and had a light in his eyes- almost like before! We all praised him and cuddled him and hope filled our hearts. He and I played in the hall for quite a long time and I was reminded of how far he had come from the boy he used to be. But I hoped he was coming around.

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Then came January and our hopes were dashed. He stays in bed all the time now. He doesn’t smile when people enter his room now to fetch him from bed, in fact he doesn’t smile at all. He is like a ghost boy. He is a shadow of his former self and we are lost on how to help him. The nurses and doctors try music and massage and attention, but he only declines. It seems that he has given up.

The thing is, I don’t blame him. He is only a boy- yet he is without a childhood. He suffers day after day and he has no one to comfort him. Overworked nannies simply can not give him what he needs. The nurses are stumped and worry night and day about him. I dream about him at night. His eyes have no light. He is a shell.

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But it doesn’t have to be this way. You see, out of 80 boys at our institution only 12 are available for adoption, and he is one of them. He is legally free to have a family, and now we need to find them.

Do you have room at your table for one more precious child? Do you have room in your heart for one more invaluable soul? No, I cannot tell you how he will develop or if he will ever speak or if he will ever live on his own. I cannot tell you how he will respond to a Mommy and Daddy or how long it will take him to trust or how long before he will accept your love. But I can tell you that he is valuable and he was created with purpose and he is worth any inconvenience adoptive parents could encounter on his behalf.

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Please stop and pray. Please ask God how you should respond. We are watching our boy waste away before our very eyes and I almost want to beg for someone to come take him away. But all I can ask of you is to be open to saying yes.

Open your heart and trust that if God is asking you to respond He will give you everything you need to do what He is asking you to do.

Time is of the essence.

*Any serious inquiries can be sent by email or left in a comment. I approve the comments before they are published, so if you want your comment to be private it will stay that way.

The Most Important Post

November is a good month.¬† We have two family birthdays, it’s Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins, the weather is cozy, and it’s National Adoption Month!¬† Did you know?¬† Have you heard?¬† There is a whole month designated for sharing about the plight of orphans and the blessing of adoption.¬† Yep, that sounds just about perfect to me.

We’ve been sitting on some important information for a few months now, considering how, when, and where we would share our hearts.¬† Well, now is the time and here is the place.¬† After all, it is National Adoption Month!

With a bit of fear and trembling I’m going to share, and then I’m going to ask you to prayerfully respond.¬† There are many different great responses, and your response will likely be different than mine.¬† For the sake of our Boys, every response is important.

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The work we do, and Mission to Ukraine has done for many years at Romaniv is important and necessary.¬† It is life-altering for our Boys.¬† Boys who were once strangers that flinched at touch and cowered from any human interaction are now dear loved ones who come scooting and crawling and hobbling as soon as they hear our voices.¬† One boy who used to avoid eye contact at all cost now seeks out our gaze and will sit forehead to forehead with Jed as the guitar is played- just looking into Jed’s eyes. No words, just a look.¬† It is enough for us to see that God is doing miracles.

And yet.

No work we do could ever be more beneficial than a family.

No treatment could ever be as effective as the love of a family.

No weighted vest could be more comforting than a mother’s arms.

No helmet could offer better protection than a father’s embrace.¬†

This work we do is a stopgap.¬† It is the next best thing possible in this situation.¬† But it is not a family, and it is not nearly enough.¬† There is no future for our Boys here.¬† Even if our dreams come true and we build group homes where they can be loved and cared for, it still won’t hold a candle to a life spent as part of a loving family.¬† There are nannies at Romaniv that do care for the Boys deeply, but they face an impossible task.¬† How can 2 nannies care for more than 20 boys with severe disabilities and do an even satisfactory job?

Most of the boys and men at Romaniv are not legally free to be adopted.  Either their parents still maintain their parental rights, or the boys are over the age of 18 which prevents them from being adopted.  To those boys and men we commit to doing whatever we possibly can to love them, care for them, and give them a future worth living until they day they are made whole in heaven.

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Some of our Boys, though, ARE available for international adoption.¬† We haven’t shared this with you before for several reasons that might be hard to understand.¬† There are many layers to this.¬† We feel protective of our Boys and the work that is being done; we want to avoid any exploitation; we have a relationship to maintain with the orphanage directors that requires vigilant care.¬† Nothing about this is simple, so we tread lightly with steps full of prayer.¬† And yet, one of our Boys is not thriving.¬† He is wasting away before our eyes and we can’t stand by and watch without acting.¬† He is ill and will never thrive in an institutional setting.¬† He needs the best medical care.¬† He needs a nutrition plan.¬† He needs therapy of all kind.¬† Most of all he needs a mommy and daddy to love him as their son- to believe in him, to fight for him and shower him with affection.¬† We are compelled to act and we can’t hold off any longer.¬† Time is of the essence.

So I’m asking that you see our Boys.¬† I’m asking that you stop and see them for the treasures they are.¬† See their immense value.¬† See their precious beauty.¬† Consider their lives as weighty as your own and ask the Lord how you should respond to this knowledge that some of them are waiting for families.¬† If you follow Jesus you are called to care for the orphan in some way.¬† Even if you don’t believe in Jesus I bet you can agree that this is a justice issue that can not be ignored.

“Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
¬†¬†¬†¬†plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Maybe you are supposed to pray.¬† A million times thank you!¬† Prayer is important and essential.¬† Any of the progress that’s been made has only come through the power of the Holy Spirit.¬† Our Boys need prayer!

Maybe you are supposed to give financially to help improve the quality of life for our Boys.¬† Yes!¬† Thank you so very much!¬† None of this would even be happening if we didn’t have faithful financial supporters on the team.

Maybe you are supposed to adopt.¬† Please don’t dismiss this response.¬† I am confident that some of you who read this are called to respond through adoption.¬† Children were made for families!¬† Children were not made for institutions.¬† One hour spent at Romaniv will prove that point.¬† I must warn you though that any romanticism concerning the adoption of one of our Boys ends with the fuzzy feelings you may be feeling as you read this post.¬† It will not be romantic.¬† It will be a hard road and much faith will be required.¬† But- it will be a road worth walking.¬† I am confident of that.¬† Orphans are very important to our God and He has gone to great lengths to prove His love for these particular Boys.¬† He will not allow the world to forget them now, and He’s not about to forget them when they step out of Romaniv’s gates.

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I was with these Boys yesterday.¬† I held them in my arms.¬† I kissed their cheeks.¬† I held their hands so they wouldn’t harm themselves.¬† They are real people.¬† They were created with purpose and God has good plans for them.¬† I can’t even imagine one of my four children living like our Boys.¬† I can’t imagine my Ezra, nearly 9 years old but the size of a toddler, sitting day after day rocking back and forth in his bed.¬† I can’t imagine him sitting and sitting and waiting and waiting for his life to begin.¬† I can’t imagine not going to him and taking him out of that place.¬† Our Boys are as real as Ezra and they are as deserving of love as he.¬† They were created with just as much purpose and intentionality.¬† They were created in the image of God and God does not make mistakes.

There you have it.  Now you know, and I now I humbly ask you to respond.  I ask you to stop and pray and ask the Lord what He would have you to do.  Please pray that adoptive families   would step out with boldness and faith.  Any serious inquiries can be emailed to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I would be happy to talk with you more.  If you have questions about what adopting an institutionalized child looks like in real life I can connect you with adoptive parents who have walked that path.

Please share this post and give our Boys a voice this month.  Thank you!

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8

 

 

Fun in the Sun…THANK YOU!

Oh Romaniv…oh sweet boys. ¬† I wish so much that each of you could visit Our Boys and spend even just a few minutes with them. ¬†I wish I could accurately and fully express just how we feel about them. ¬†They are beyond precious to us. ¬†I remember the very first time Jed and I ever visited there…nervous, excited…never the same. ¬†Never would I have dreamed at that time that we would now be so invested in to these boys. ¬†We are learning about their little quirks, their likes and dislikes, who can eat a banana on his own and who needs help; who will try to eat rocks and grass outside and who will try to escape; who will throw their shoes on the roof of the building and who’s feet are too twisted and misshapen for shoes at all; who needs to be held tightly when overstimulated and who likes to sway…the list goes on and on. ¬†There is so much to learn and we have the time to learn it. ¬†These are the things that matter. ¬†To know and to be known, I’ve never understood the importance of that until this move.

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Our Isolation boys stay inside all day every day.  There are simply not enough caregivers to take them all outside.  All day every day in the same small building with the same hall and same rooms.  No wind in their face, no sun on their skin, no grass between their toes.  They eat in their building and sleep in their building.  It is their whole world.

A few weeks ago we decided to ask the caregivers if we could take the boys outside during our Friday visits. ¬†We weren’t sure if they would allow it, but it never hurts to ask! ¬†Surprisingly they said yes without hesitation. ¬†The only problem was digging up enough shoes and coats for all the boys. ¬†Oy. ¬†Yeah, they were only able to find enough shoes and jackets for 8 of the 21 boys. ¬†We were disappointed that some boys would be excluded, but we still took several of them outside.

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Later that day I posted about the visit on the Wide Awake Facebook page. ¬†I mentioned that there weren’t enough coats and shoes to go around and that people could let us know if they wanted to help with that. ¬†Oh.My.Word. ¬†You guys!!!! ¬†Your generosity blew us away. ¬†Within the next couple of days $725 was donated to buy shoes and coats for the Boys.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!

We went to Mission to Ukraine (MTU) to discuss how and where to purchase the needed items for the Boys. ¬†They, in turn, contacted the Director at Romaniv and he indicated that they should have enough coats and shoes for all the boys…they just needed to be taken from storage. ¬†So, we are a bit halted right now on buying the items as we try to verify if there are truly enough clothes for everyone, and if not, what sizes are needed. ¬†We already know the shoe supply is not adequate. ¬†We’ve got some foot measuring to do.

(Hint: nothing happens quickly in these here parts. ¬†No biggie, we’ve got time.)

In the meantime, we’ve been able to take the boys out every Friday since! ¬†The caregivers have found enough slippers for those who are willing to go outside. ¬†Most of them are broken slippers and don’t stay on worth beans, but at least it’s enough to get them out the door ūüėČ It’s been warm enough that we haven’t needed jackets, so we have time to work on that issue.

One need that did arise is the need for hats. ¬†Our Boys never see the sun, so you can bet they are as pale as can be, ¬†We realized right away that they needed hats to provide some sun protection while we’re outside. ¬†So, we were able to use a portion of the donated funds to buy hats for the boys!

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A few of our more interactive boys were SO EXCITED!!! ¬†It made us feel so much better to know their little white faces were protected. ¬†The last thing we need is a sunburn to rain on our parade. ¬†ūüôā

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Thank you to each and every person who donated so graciously. ¬†Each step forward greatly improves their quality of life and we just can’t thank you enough for making it possible.

We’ll keep you posted on the shoe and jacket purchases. ¬†We really need to get some shoes that fasten well so “you know who” can’t chuck them up on the roof of the building quite so easily….ahem….not to name any names… ¬†ūüôā

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…ahem…

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What? You want me to actually keep this on my head???

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Wishful thinking!

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Maxim stole my camera and took this one ūüôā

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Annnnd here’s me begging Maxim to return the camera…haha

If you are interested in donating specifically for the boys at Romaniv, here is a link to their fund.

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Miracle: Part 2

To fully grasp the awesomeness, read Part 1 here.

On Christmas morning Jed and our friend Oleg headed over to Pastor Pavel’s office to start working on the invitation letter. ¬†The goal was to get that letter written and submitted to the Ministry of Culture before December 31st so our letter *hopefully* wouldn’t end up on the bottom of someone’s stack once the offices opened back up after the New Year. ¬†Like I said before, the Ministry of Culture “generally” takes about 3-4 weeks to write their letter of approval, and January is FULL of holidays in Ukraine. ¬†New Years is the big deal here, then they celebrate Christmas on January 7th, then there is some other kind of celebration on the 13th…so time was not really on our side.

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Havalah turned 5! (She liked her present) ūüôā

Jed and Oleg sat down with Pavel and got started on the letter. ¬†Then Pavel remembered he has a friend at the Ministry of Culture. ¬†“Let’s call him and make sure we’re doing this right.”

Well, he called up his friend and the friend tells them to just come on over right then and he would help with the letter. ¬†In Ukraine, if you get an invite from a government office to “just come on over” you better snatch it right up because it might never come again! ¬†ūüėČ

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Christmas Eve program at a church in Zhitomir

They got in the car right then and drove over to the office. ¬†Remember this is the office where our invitation letter would be be submitted for approval (which could then take several weeks). ¬†Pavel’s friend proceeded to help them rewrite the letter to make it worded the best way possible, ¬†and then decided to just write the approval letter right there and then. ¬†I mean, they were sitting right there…why not? ¬†HA! ¬†He wanted to make sure he got it all right so he called in the man who provides policy clarification for the Zhitomir region. ¬†Every region interprets the laws differently here, so this guy is key to our visa success. ¬†Policy-clarification guy comes over and helps them finish the letter of approval. ¬†While that’s being written he suggest they just write all the letters we’ll need when we come back from getting our visas. ¬†Remember once we leave the country to get our visas and return to Ukraine we have 45 days to “register” with the local offices. ¬†That registration includes lotsandlotsandlots of documents. ¬†Well Pavel’s friend just sat right down and proceeded to write every single document for our registration that could be made ahead of time. ¬†WHAT THE WHAT??????????? ¬†I’m gonna estimate that that act right there saved us approximately 57 trips to the office + 58 hours of headache. ¬†Jed was sitting in that office holding back tears, astounded at the goodness of God.

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Once all the letters were written and stamped Pavel’s friend said he would hand-deliver them to the lady in the office who gives the final approval. ¬†“Otherwise it may take weeks. ¬†I’ll just ask her to approve them today.” ¬†He walks out of the room to her office, but she wasn’t available. ¬†No worries, he left the papers with her with her word that she would inform us as soon as they were signed.

All of this took several hours and several cups of tea and coffee in the government office. ¬†4 Ukrainian people spent their whole day going above and beyond to help us. ¬†Our friend Oleg told Jed “This just does not happen. ¬†All the right people being available and in the same place, willing to help is like a one in a million chance in Ukraine.”

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Our biggest blessings

Two days later we got a call that ALL the letters were signed, stamped, approved, and ready to be picked up. ¬†A process that should have taken 3-4 weeks took exactly 3 days. ¬†Not to mention all the documents we’ll need later on that are already done. ¬†That will help us tremendously when we return with our visas! ¬†God’s care for us is astounding. ¬†I don’t even know why we were shocked by this, I mean this has been His way with us along this whole journey. ¬†He has been over the top faithful at every point.

This miracle has a second part that is just icing on the cake. ¬†So, way back when, in like August of 2012 some friends and I were advocating for an orphan here in Ukraine named “Heath”. ¬†Remember that? ¬†Heath is now home with his family in Texas (AND I got to meet him in person in Kiev last month!) but during that advocating time I “met” another woman, Sandra, ¬†who was fiercely advocating for Heath. ¬†Funny thing is, she was advocating for him all the way over in Switzerland at the same time as us in Oregon. ¬†We became online friends bound by our mutual love for Heath and the fatherless. ¬†Sandra has been a big encourager to us as we prepared and moved to Ukraine. ¬†One time she mentioned how awesome it would be if we would come to Switzerland at some point to share about Wide Awake at her church. ¬†I thought “Oh yeah, that would be cool, but it’s not like we’d ever just randomly be able to pop on over to Switzerland!

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Heath (now named Boden) and me. This cuddle was one of the highlights of my year…maybe of my life.

Fast forward to this past fall. ¬†Sandra emailed and said that she talked with her pastor, and the leadership of the church was interested in hearing more about Wide Awake and they would pray about supporting us as a church! ¬†We gave them letters describing Wide Awake and they voted to take us on as a ministry to support! ¬†Well, guess what just happens to be in the same city in Switzerland as Sandra and her church? ¬†A UKRAINIAN CONSULATE! ¬†Soooooo, with documents and passports in hand we will head to Switzerland in a couple of weeks to obtain our visas, visit Sandra, and share Wide Awake at her church! ¬†Are you kidding me???? ¬†God you are too ridiculously amazing. ¬†Why are we your favorites????? ¬†ūüėČ

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Excited to receive our first piece of mail from dear friends

Did you know that you’re His favorite too? ¬†My dad taught us that we are each God’s favorite. ¬†If there was no one else in the entire world He still would have sent His Son JUST FOR YOU. ¬†Maybe 2013 was a really hard, painful, and trying year for you. ¬†Maybe you ended 2013 feeling forgotten by your Father in Heaven. ¬†Maybe you have no clue what I’m talking about. ¬†Let me just tell you that 2014 is a time for you to discover or re-discover God’s great love for you. ¬†You are His favorite! ¬†You are not forgotten. ¬†Consider the children in Ukraine that He sent us to love. ¬†They lay in cribs, limbs stiff and contorted, lame from lack of use. ¬†Some have never felt the grass on their feet, never felt the sun on their face. ¬†By all appearances they have been completely forgotten by God. ¬†How could a good God allow that kind of suffering? ¬†Guess what? ¬†He’s not allowing it. ¬†He loves them and cares for them so deeply that He uprooted our family, comfy in our middle-class wealth, and planted us right here to devote our lives to their care. ¬†We are no great gift. ¬†I’m not saying we’re are the answer or that we’re super special, I’m just sharing how we get to be a part of God’s demonstration of love to them. ¬†Each of those are His favorites- NOT forgotten.

You are not forgotten.  God has good plans for you.  All you have to do is say Yes to Him.  Living for yourself will only bring disappointment.  Let 2014 be a year of YES.  You will not regret it.

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