Revisiting Yes.

A couple weeks ago at church a young guy came up to me that I’d never met before.  He spoke some English and wanted to try out his skills, so we chatted for a bit.  He said “I heard you guys work at the orphanage for sick children and now you will take one of them home to be your son!”  I said yes, he was correct that we are in the process of adopting one of our Boys and then proceeded to proudly show him lots and lots of pictures of our special boy on my phone.  As soon as he saw the pictures his face fell.  He was obviously a little shocked, and obviously a little confused at my proud exclamation of how sweet and cute and special our boy is.

Then he asked the question that I’m sure many have wanted to ask, but so far no one else has been brave enough to utter:

“Why?  Why would you do this?  I don’t understand.  Why?????”

I paused for a second, happy that he had the guts to say what was really on his mind, because it was definitely written all over his face. 😉  I answered with the simple truth:

“Because we love him, God asked us to, and we said yes!”

It’s a simple truth, but there is a lot more behind it, a lot more led up to it, and there is a lot more weight that goes along with it.

This adoption yes was not a simple yes.  Much prayer, many tears, many conversations and sleepless nights led to this yes. In fact, many years of “yeses” led to this yes.

I remember in 2010 when our Ukraine story first began.  We knew that God was asking us to say yes to adopting a little boy from Ukraine with multiple special needs.  Oh boy, that was a hard yes to come to.  There was nothing simple about that.  We had always been open to adoption.  We were fostering our Seth at that time and were really hoping we would be able to adopt him.  Adoption and orphan care was important to us!  But I always said I could never adopt a child with a disability.  No way!!!   Willingly take on a child that would remain a child for life?  Knowingly adopt a child that would never live alone and would need my care for all their life?  Give up the dream of retiring someday with Jed and traveling the world together (child-free!)?  Heck no!  Are you crazy????  Who would do that??????  That would be so hard!  I guess some people are meant for that life, but not us.

Oh how the times have changed…hehe

IMG_6492

IMG_1252

I remember back in those days, praying about that certain boy who needed a family.  I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. I  couldn’t forget him, even if I wanted to.  I began to rethink my reasons for saying no to him.  The more I examined my line of reasoning the more my argument sounded rather lame.  All my reasons for saying no were because I wasn’t willing to lay down my life and my comfort.  I really, reeeeeeeally like to be comfy.  Oh I love comfy clothes, comfy socks, comfy shoes (no heels here!), comfy hoodies, comfort foods, comfy chairs, a comfortable salary, a comfy house, friends I can be super comfy with.  And most of all I love a comfy future.  I like to know what’s coming and I like to like what I know is coming.  I don’t like things that make me uncomfortable- like exercise, hard manual labor, and things that are out of my control.

Misha H.

Saying yes to adopting a child with severe disabilities is the exact opposite of comfy.  It’s inviting stress and pain and hard work and expenses and a lot of “out of control” moments into my life.

BUT,

God doesn’t call us to lives of comfort.  He doesn’t call us to lives of free and easy living where happiness and security are the ultimate goal.  He says to us “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)

Friends, living a “chasing-comfort” life is no life at all.  Jesus says that the only way we can save our own lives is to give them up for Him. That’s not a call to comfort- it’s a call to sacrifice.  There’s just no way to put it lightly.  Once I considered what Jesus was willing to do for me, how could I say no to a little one so in need, in order to tend to my own comfort?  Ick.

IMG_7033

That original adoption didn’t work out, but you probably know that that is what God used to turn our hearts to Ukraine.  And here we are now, saying yes to our special boy.

Please hear me.  I am soooooo not talking down to you right now.  I am not the pro at sacrificing my comfort- just ask my husband and kids.  I fail at it all the time.  I’m still learning and I thank God for his patience with me.

The thing is, now I see what I almost turned down in favor of my comfort.  I see it in the form of our most precious boys at Romaniv.  I see it in my Dima as he sits on a plywood bed, foot tied to the slats to keep him from falling off.  I see it in my Misha when he cries, so unaccustomed to human touch that a hand on his shoulder is too much to bear.  I see it in my other Misha who has lived at Romaniv since 1987 in one single hallway, his world shrunk by injustice.  I look into the faces of my precious boys who I love like my own children and I mourn how their lives have been stolen from them for the sake of others’ comfort.  I know these boys.  Over and over again I wish I could sit down with you and just tell you all about each of them. They are AMAZING.

IMG_7235

Misha T. (2)

IMG_1141

How could we say no to them in favor of ourselves?  The world has said no to them over and over and over to the point where almost no one even knows of their existence.  It’s just not right.

I usually prefer to keep this blog upbeat, but today I’m calling you out.  I’m asking you to set your comfort aside for the sake of the yes.  This life is not all that there is.

There are boys who sit on wooden slats and never feel the grass on their feet or the sun on their face. Their lives are void of all comfort.  

There are people being sold into slavery for the pleasure of others. No comfort to be had there.

There are children sleeping on county office floors because there is no foster family to take them in.  No mommy and daddy to comfort them when they cry.

What will you do with your yes?  Will you pick up your cross?  Will you sacrifice your life for the One who gave His whole life for you?  Will you see past your comfort and your 401k dreams and your comfy couch and rise up?  We can do something about these injustices!  We must do something.  

Vladik W.

IMG_1029

Your yes means something.  It may mean everything to the someone who needs it, the someone sitting on a plywood bed.

The friend from church, the one who asked us why we would do this crazy adoption thing?  He said yes and visited our boys with us the next week.  As we were riding home in the car he said: “I spent the morning with the boy you are adopting.  Now I see!  I see why you would love him.  He is great!  He is so smart!  He is just…..great!!”

There is so much joy in the yes.  What will you do with yours?

*Several of our boys need adoptive families who will say yes to them.  Would you pray about that yes?  You can read more about those boys here and here.

The Beauty in the Journey

IMG_1830

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough you know that learning how to mother my kids in a new culture has been a big fat challenge for me. It was something I worried about before we moved, and it was THE something I worried about once we landed. Isn’t worrying awesome? It’s just so productive! Not.

It’s just that parenting is hard enough, and then you throw in lots of factors that make our family really “different” and things get downright confusing! I’ve found that we don’t really fit anywhere these days, when it comes to parenting. We don’t fit Ukrainian standards because, well, simply put, we aren’t Ukrainian! We can speak the language (work in progress) and buy the right clothes and eat the right food, but at the end of the day, we’re still Americans. We think differently than Ukrainian parents and we were raised differently than our Ukrainian peers. Culture is so HUGE. There are things we do similarly to Ukrainian parents, but we are also quite different. We could try to be the same, but at our core we’ll always be different- and that’s okay.

But- now we don’t really fit American standards either! For one thing, we don’t live in America, so that changes a whole heck of a lot right there. Many things that are expected for a “normal” childhood in the US just aren’t available or possible here. Our kids are having a completely different childhood than Jed and I had. It’s difficult not to have the same expectations in my heart for them, because all I know is a typical American childhood…yep, not gonna happen for our crew. And that’s okay!

It can feel very “Lone Ranger”ish, parenting so far away from our home culture. I don’t have mom friends I am close to here who are parenting kids around the same ages of ours. I miss the support of others who were going through the mothering stages alongside me. I miss bouncing ideas off each other over coffee and gaining wisdom from others. I miss my kids having friends. I miss having moms around me who are “one step ahead” on the journey. I miss watching them and learning from them. Most mothering and parenting books are really hard for me to read here. It can be discouraging because so much of what is written is based on the assumption that you live in America and have all that is available there, or that the mom’s only focus is on the home and she has no outside responsibilities.  It’s hard to explain, but when I read those books in the middle of this life we are living, it almost seems like they are books from another planet.

Honestly, parenting in this situation (or any situation) is just stinkin’ hard work.  Awesome, but still stinkin’ hard. Am I right?  People ask “How do you do it all?” Um yeah, I don’t. I can’t. Things fall by the wayside. My house is messy. I just paused writing to tell Seth not to throw knives- truth. My kids get lonely. Laundry piles haunt my dreams. I lose my patience daily (or hourly). Homeschooling can get sporadic and is often unorganized. I get lonely. I read mommy blogs (why do I do that?) and feel guilt that I don’t do crafts with my kids.  I want to get up early but instead I stay up too late at night.  I don’t follow through. And on and on and on.

So, yeah I can’t do it all, but I’m sorta, kinda starting to come to grips with the fact that the Johnson family is on our own journey and ours doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s journey. There is beauty in this particular journey and it’s pointless to waste time wishing it looked differently. I mean, this is the journey God created us to walk. Sooooo I should probably learn to be good with it.

Our kids are loved.
Our kids have each other. They love each other.
Our kids are learning to love and value those who the world has cast aside.
Our kids are learning a new culture and a new way of doing things- and their world is bigger because of it.
Our kids are learning what it is to say YES to Jesus.

I finally feel at peace in mothering, probably for the first time since we moved! I have seen little glimpses lately of the fruit and I see that our journey is beautiful in it’s own way.

-Addy announced to me yesterday “Ezra and I are just best friends lately! We just love each other! We’re hoping to keep this going on for as long as we can.”
-When it was dark out, Seth reached out to help Hava down the stairs to our yard. “I know the dark steps scare you Hava. Hold my arm.”
-Hava asked “Mom, which Romaniv boy would you choose first to come live at our house? I couldn’t choose, they’re all just so cute!”
-Every time we come home from Romaniv Ezra wants to see the pics of the boys right away. He loves them.
-Seth said “Mom, I can share Boris with daddy because he needs a daddy too.”

I write all this to say, own your own journey. God’s Word and God’s grace apply to every life situation- regardless of location. Parenting books and parenting seminars are great (I would love some of that right about now!)- but what is the greatest is saying YES to God when it comes to your children. Don’t compare your journey to your friend’s or your neighbor’s or some random blogger’s. The details of their lives are not the details of your life. Their journey is not your journey. Their kids are not your kids.
(Preaching to myself, FYI)

Teach your kids to say YES to Jesus by saying YES to Jesus yourself.
The rest is sprinkles on top. 🙂

 

Valiant

IMG_1002

Welcome 2015!

2015 sounds so futuristic, like we should all be wearing shiny suits and ordering our meals from a robot or something. I wouldn’t mind the robot thing. Less time spent in the kitchen? Yes, please.

Last year I gave myself a theme to live by for the year: “Let Go”.  Ooooh that was a tough one.  It seems like as soon as I thought I had let go of something in my life, I would turn around and pick it back up just as fast as I could.  I think I grew some in that area of letting go of expectations and letting go of what I thought my life should look like, but I’m not sure I did a very great job of grabbing on to Jesus with that empty hand.  It’s so easy to try to fill our cups with other things- the approval of others, entertainment …whatever.  I’m still on the letting go journey, and probably will be till Jesus comes back. 🙂 It’s a daily decision, to let go and grab Jesus.  Steady on, steady on.

FullSizeRender

This year I have a new theme!  This one scares me a bit, but I know I need it.  So…here goes…

VALIANT.

adj. “Possessing or showing courage or determination”

VALIANT.

I like the sound of that, but I’m a little afraid of what the doing of that will mean.

Check out the amazing synonyms of “valiant”: courageous, fearlessgallantgutsyheroicindomitableintrepidnoble, pluckystoutstrong-willedadventurousassertiveaudaciousbolddauntless, grittymagnanimousnervyspunky, stalwartsteadfaststout-heartedundauntedundismayed, lion-hearted, fire-eating.

FIRE-EATING?????  Bring it. Ha!  LION-HEARTED?  Wow.

It’s so much cozier to go the safe route, to do the comfy thing.  Valiant sounds cool, but it seems hard.

FullSizeRender (3)

There are so many times during this past year in Ukraine when I knew I needed to be brave, I needed to possess and show courage and determination, but I wimped out.  I wimped out because I was afraid, because being determined and courageous was inconvenient, because I relied on myself and my own strength.  I regret those times, and I regret the outcomes of those times.

If I truly believe that God is a good Father; if I truly believe that His ways are higher and He has called me to this life, then what do I have to fear?  I want it to be only by His strength that I go.  One of the roots of the word valiant is from a Middle English word meaning “well-built”.  This mission, this dream for our Boys here in Ukraine is not a Kim dream.  It’s a God dream- my valor, my courage, my determination, my bravery only exists because I am representing Him.  I need to be well-built in Him. Strong in God alone. I’m only valiant if I represent the King.

FullSizeRender (2)

I need to speak Ukrainian more- even though I know I’ll make mistakes and sound like a child.

BE VALIANT. Speak out.  The only way to learn is to make mistakes and learn from them. Dauntless.

I need to study Ukrainian more faithfully, Even though at the end of the day I’m tired and it’s the last thing on the planet I want to do.

BE VALIANT. Possess determination.  It will be worth it.  Gritty.

There are things we need to address at Romaniv that are not pretty.  They are issues decades-long in the making.  A few feathers may be ruffled, but it is necessary.

BE VALIANT. The Father of the fatherless goes before us.  What do we have to fear? Fire-eating.

Jed and I both know that God is asking some pretty huge things of us this year.  He’s been stirring our hearts and whispering in our ears and nudging our shoulders.  We are excited but afraid.  Is God truly good enough to catch us as we step off a massively high ledge?

BE VALIANT. BE BOLD. HAVE COURAGE. SHOW DETERMINATION. STEP OUT. SAY YES.

What’s holding me back?  What’s holding you back? I don’t want to look back on this life and regret what could have been if I would have lived valiantly- if I would have courageously said yes even when I was afraid.

Join me!  Don’t be held back any longer. God goes before you and His love never fails.

FullSizeRender (1)

*The pictures are of Romaniv in the snow.  So pretty 🙂

 

 

 

A Christmas Wish: Meet Boris and Vladik

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

We are having a cozy day at home, just the six of us.  We’re cuddling in, eating yummy food, playing with toys,sipping coffee.  It’s perfect.

Today, on this glorious day, I have just one Christmas wish.  Today I have a wish that all of our Boys at Romaniv would be truly seen.  I have a wish that they would be seen by many as the beautiful souls that they are.

When I first met our Boys all I could see was their outward appearance.  I saw the filth, the snot, the vomit, the disabilities, the deformities.  I smelled the stench.  My ears were full of the awkward noises.  I knew God had called us to give our lives to these Boys, so I prayed that He would help me to see/smell/hear past all that.

And He did!

That was then.  Now, when I see our Boys I see Boris, Slavik, Yaroslav, Misha, Valera, Orhan, Irakli, Ivan, Dima, Andrei, Seriozha, Vova, Zhenya, Vitya, Vladik, Ilya, and Danya.  I see friends.  I see my babies.  I see my treasures.  When I hear the awkward noises they mean something to me.  They are cries of joy or yells of anger or first babbles or moments of sadness and pain.  They are not inappropriate noises now.  They are communication.  They are voices I love.  I’m not gonna lie, I still smell the stench 🙂  Hehe…I’m only human…that’s for stinkin’ sure.  (pun intended)

My Christmas wish is that today you, and many many more will see our Boys as individuals worthy of dignity and love.  I know that if people will really look- past the differences and into the eyes, they will see.  They will see our Boys as they were meant to be seen; as children of God.

And if you really see, then you will never be the same. I’m changed forever for having known them.

So, will you take a Christmas moment and meet my friends?  You won’t be sorry.  🙂

 

 

The Tension

This living-overseas-everythingisnew-missionary-stillawifeandmomfirst-immersion thing can be quite the doozy at times. It’s a rough and wonderful road. Sharing about it though, is fine line to walk.

I want to be real and honest.

But I don’t want to be a complainer.

I want to be me.

But how to “be me” from behind a keyboard?

I want to be respectful of people here in Ukraine.

But there are things here that are difficult for us, since this is not our home culture.

I want to be respectful of the people back in the US.

But I also want them to be challenged and encouraged to think and dream bigger- and act.

I want to share all so people know how to pray.

But I don’t want to share all because I know many Ukrainian friends read this blog and I don’t want them to worry about us or feel bad for us.

I want to share about our Boys and their need and their worth. I want to share about their lives and things that break our hearts and should never have to be endured by a human.

But I don’t want to share too much because I don’t want to disrespect them or exploit them or break relationship with the Directors at Romaniv.

 

Fine line. Tight rope walking.

 

I say all that just so you know that when I write things on this blog I don’t take it lightly. There are many people to consider and many points of view to consider. Many times I write to clarify things in my own mind and heart. Sometimes I don’t really understand my own feelings until I type them out. It’s kind of like a form of therapy for me. Lucky you, my dear Readers! Ha. I also always want to be honest about this journey. Maybe it could help others who are setting out on a journey like ours. I know I love reading honesty from those who have gone before. Somehow it settles my heart to see they struggle with things similar to my own.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out my heart and feelings surrounding the balance of being a mother and a friend and a cross-cultural-worker here in Ukraine. When we first arrived here Jed and I both jumped right on in to work. We both volunteered at MTU, probably pretty equal amounts. Whoever wasn’t at MTU was home with the kids. It was an important time for us to figure out where we fit into everything here, and to see where God wanted us in the mix.

Then we had the summer, which was basically a whole family affair (which was AWESOME…). And now we have reached the fall, and we have a new norm. I think this new norm will be the norm for some time to come. I LOVE the new norm, but my overachieving, worker-bee, people-pleasing self won’t let me be completely at peace about it and I don’t know what that means.

The new norm is that Jed does most of the work outside the home, and I am home a lot more with the kids, reminiscent of our lives back in Oregon. Of course we both go to Romaniv twice a week, do language tutoring together, and we both work together on our youth nights for graduates, but most of the rest of the work is Jed’s. I get to focus more of my time on the home, the kiddos, and being Mom and Wife. I am in love with this. I know the kids need it and they thrive when I am home more. Focusing more time on our home and our family brings me great joy and fulfillment. When I’m gone from home a lot I feel scattered and yucky.

So, I know this is a good set-up. I know this. But then I start to question myself.

I don’t question if it’s a good thing that I’m home more. I value motherhood and I think stay-at-home moms rock. I have always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom with no outside work committments, but that has never been what God had for me. It’s not the focus at home that I question, it’s the time spent not focusing outside the home that has me evaluating my heart.

Do I have such peace at home partly because it’s easier to be home than out in the culture that is still difficult for me? Do I have such peace at home because I feel smart at home and I mostly feel dumb as soon as I walk outside my front door? Hahaha…not kidding…hehe. When I’m at home I have this feeling like I should be outside getting to know my neighbors, or taking the kids to the playground so they can have more exposure to language and I can brave it with neighborhood moms. But as it is, I already feel like I’m not investing enough time in to the relationships here that I already have. It’s like that guilty Oregonian feeling you get when the sun finally comes out. You feel like because it’s sunny you should be outside NO MATTER WHAT. Because you never know when you might get sun again! Well, what if I don’t feel like being outside that day? What if I have inside work to do that day? Too bad. If I stay inside on a sunny day in Oregon I am riddled with guilt. (Is that just me, or do other Oregonians catch my drift?) (PS: I think I have some guilt issues)

I’m used to watching over all the friends in my life and making sure everyone is okay and included and taken care of, but I don’t have that role here with friends. Here, we are investing that time in to our Boys, and frankly the work at Romaniv can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting. I love those Boys more than I could have ever imagined and am fully committed to them and their well-being. It’s just that with being a wife and with our kiddos at home and then our kiddos at Romaniv…I don’t have a lot of reserve left on a day to day basis. I love my friends here so stinkin’ much. I just don’t feel like a very good friend here in Ukraine and I hate that feeling…but I feel helpless to change it.

Are all these feelings okay? Or am I relying too much on myself? Maybe I’m being lazy and selfish? It’s like I still have a short-term missions mindset that I have to give up every spare moment to the work and ministry here, but we are here for the longhaul. There will be no longevity if I live this life like a short-term missions trip. I know that, but I still battle. How to find the balance of time and energy spent?

Anywaysssss…balancing focus on the home and focus outside the home and all my feelings surrounding that is exhausting. I know what the answer is: walk in the Spirit. Be available to God and when He says to act, act. Be fully at home when I’m home, but also be aware and listening for the whisper to go outside and talk to the neighbors. Be aware of my friends and listen to promptings in my spirit for when I need to reach out. Stop being a people-pleaser and only live for an audience of One. Say YES. I know these things, it’s just all easier said than done.

So, there you have it: my Monday afternoon therapy session. Ha! I just think it’s important to be honest about this journey. Then you can all know how to pray! 🙂

Oh this road, it’s so unpredictable. Thank you Jesus for walking by my side.