Coffee Chat

On the eve of tomorrow’s presidential elections here in Ukraine, there is much that could be said.  Things are getting more and more crazy in the East.  I can’t even keep up with the news properly.  People on both sides of the conflict are dying and no one knows what will happen next.  Please join us in prayer for tomorrow’s elections!  Pray that people would not be hindered from voting.  Pray that there would be loads of courage and wisdom on each person who decides to make their voice heard.  Pray for honesty and that corruption would be far away from these proceedings.  That almost seems impossible, but we are praying it anyway.  God is doing a new thing here and we choose hope.  

Let’s chat.  Let’s pretend you and I are sitting down for a nice, hot cup of coffee and you just asked me, “So, what have you guys been up to?”

photo 2 (29)

We’ve been great!  I’m so glad it’s almost summer break.  One more week of school and we’re done!!!  Addy and Ezra had testing last week in reading, writing, and math and they both did fine on all the tests.  Yay!  They both recited poems in their class program and did awesome. FIVE MORE DAYS!!!!!  Good thing too, because it’s really hard to think about school when it’s 80 degrees with blue skies and all the neighbor kids get to stay out playing till after 9:00 every night.  🙂

photo 2 (30)

Speaking of neighbor kids, we have a couple that have started to come over faithfully to invite the kids to come outside and play!  They are sweet little girls that are both 11, and they really enjoy playing with the kids.  They usually bring an assortment of siblings and other tag-alongs with them.  One day they were so desperate to communicate that one of them actually ran inside her apartment and came out with an English-Russian dictionary!  Thank you Jesus for fun kids to run around with.

photo 1 (31)

The little girls made our kids this picture as a gift. Notice the bottom, “Set, Hava, Ezra, and HARRY” Hahahahahaha!!!! Looks like Addy’s got a new nickname!

So, in case you didn’t know, Ukrainians have a thing for hedgehogs.  Everyone loves hedgehogs here.  You can find candy named after hedgehogs; they are a super common theme in kids’ books; many families have stuffed animal hedgehogs in their houses, and the kids have homework that involves hedgehogs at least once a week.  I love it!  I don’t get it, but I enjoy it.  Well, a couple nights ago there was a hedgehog on our street!  I’d never seen a real one before!  Coooool.  One of the neighbors lightly kicked it until it rolled in to a ball and then he picked it up. I’ve got to admit, I’m becoming a fan!

photo 4 (23)

We had our second Youth Night at MTU last week.  It was karaoke night and we all had a blast.  We got to be outside, we ate food, chatted, sang, laughed, bowled.  So many smiles…I am absolutely in love with Youth Night.

photo 5 (21)

photo 1 (29)

Jed even pulled out the air guitar. Intense.

Last week classes at MTU ended for the school year.  Now we enter the summer schedule, which is shaping up to be pretty stinking fun.  I’ll do a post about that later.  Over the past couple of months my friend Tanya and I had the best time meeting with some of the moms whose kids are served at MTU.  Normally while the kids are in classes, the moms meet with Olya, a staff member of MTU.  They chat, pray, and study the Bible.  Olya is pretty busy, so Tanya and I took a couple of her groups and have met with them several times.  We had such fun!!  We drank tea, prayed, chatted…I absolutely loved getting to know some of the moms of the children and youth we serve.  These are some awesome, strong, brave, and loving women.  I adore them!

photo 3 (25)

Mommies and Me

Today was such a fun day here in Zhytomyr!!  They hung up a record-breaking, HUGE HUGE HUGE Ukrainian flag on a building in our city center.  There was a big gathering today at the flag to hear from some important people in the city, to hear some beautiful music, to sing the National Anthem, and basically just to show support and love the for this wonderful country.  Many, many people were dressed in traditional clothing, there were flags everywhere…it was AWESOME.  I was so thankful we got to be there to participate!  Zhytomyr, as a city, has honestly been a bit sleepy when it comes to all that has been happening these past few months.  But now, a few days after the attack and deaths of some of our own Zhytomyr soldiers who were fighting in the east, Zhytomyr is sleeping no more.

photo 5 (20)

The view from the other side of the city center. Massive!!!

photo 3 (23)

University students in traditional dress marched and chanted in the streets.

photo 2 (27)

Johnson kiddos feelin’ the love…

photo 5 (18)

Our dear friend Olya helping Havalah in the sidewalk chalk competition. Kids were supposed to draw something to symbolize their love for Ukraine.

photo 4 (21)

Addy, hard at work. Her writing says “I love Ukraine” -in Ukrainian! Nice job sis!

photo 1 (28)

Showing our flowery support with traditional hairbands 🙂

photo 4 (22)

photo 5 (19)

Some of our favorite people: Oksana, Nastya, Tolik, Victor, Katya,Olya, Oleg, Tanya, and baby Zakhar. (Seth was sooooo done. Haha)

Thank you for loving the Ukrainian people alongside us.  May God have His way and may many hearts be turned to Him during this time.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20, 21

Six Months!

Today marks 6 months in Ukraine.  Happy Anniversary to us!  YAY!

The past 6 months have flown by, yet so much has happened and so much in life has changed in that time that I can hardly believe we’ve only been here for 6 months.  Crazy.

My heart is so full right now as I look back at all God has done, and as I look at what He is doing right now.  I think about the ones who helped send us here, and continue to send us and I am overwhelmed with love.  All our friends, family, and supporters that are so far away- we love you so so much.  We cherish every email, every Skype/Facetime date, every Viber message, every Facebook message, every postcard more than we can even express.  THANK YOU for your continued prayer and encouragement.  It is necessary and such an enormous blessing to us.  We know we aren’t “out of sight out of mind” and that means a lot to us.  🙂

Then I think about all our wonderful friends here in our new home and I get all gushy and teary-eyed again.  How is it that we can be so blessed??  I’ve decided that we are just stinkin’ spoiled rotten.  Our Ukrainian friends love us and our children so very well.  Our lives are so much richer because of your presence in our lives.  THANK YOU for loving us despite our toddler vocabulary.  You are too good to us.  We love you!

Okay, I’m done with my speech now.  I could say so much more, but it’ll get all mushy and you all don’t want to read that.  Let’s just say, God s good and saying YES is worth it.

Annnnnnd for your viewing pleasure, here are some of my favorite pics of the past few weeks, just because I can.  🙂

photo 3 (21)

First S’mores of the season

photo 2 (23)

photo 4 (19)

photo 5 (16)

photo 1 (23)

photo 1 (24)

Romaniv Sweetness

photo 5 (17)

“Mama Nina”

photo 1 (25)

Fun at our friends’ farm, i.e Seth’s Heaven

photo 2 (24)

Football!! (Soccer)

photo 3 (20)

Addy and Hava helping babysit Zakhar, their fave Ukrainian baby doll 🙂

photo 2 (25)

Fun with friends

photo 4 (20)

Flying kites with cows. Hahaha

photo 3 (22)

Free-Range Sethers

photo 4 (18)

Making friends in our neighborhood. Slowly but surely!

photo 5 (15)

Ezra found a pet at the park…meet Slimey!

photo 2 (22)

Bob, a Vineyard pastor in California, came to visit and we made a great new friend. We can’t wait till you come again!

photo 1 (22)

Olya, my Ukrainian Mama 🙂 Я люблю тебе Оля!

photo 3 (19)

Semi-scary ooooooold carnival rides are right up Ezra’s alley

I can’t wait to see what the next 6 months hold.  Woohoo!

Fantastic Game Night

Okay, so a day late, but better late than never, right?

If you follow Wide Awake on Facebook, you probably saw that I promised to share about the very special night we had on Tuesday.  I have to say that “special” is an understatement.  I put off writing about it because I was still so giddy about it’s wonderfulness, that to sit down and try to write about it just seemed tedious (plus we’ve been busy little bees around here).  I just wanted to smile about it.  But, I want you all to be able to smile about it too, so it’s time I share!

photo 1 (11)

Mission to Ukraine (MTU), the organization we serve here in Zhytomyr, has several branches of work they focus on.  One of these branches is the education of children with disabilities.  There are preschool classes, school-readiness classes, and life-skills classes that are coupled with Bible lessons.  There’s also beading, drawing, and other crafty classes for the crafty type (NOT ME).  🙂

photo 1 (14)

There is one particular group of people that have really been weighty on the hearts of the staff of MTU lately.  That group is the young adults with disabilities that have been a part of MTU for many, many years.  These guys and gals have grown up with MTU, and for many of them it is the social center of their lives.  It is the place, besides home, where they are accepted and loved just as they are.  They are treasured at MTU.  They are known.  MTU has been their school, their youth group, and their family.  And now they are getting older.  MTU’s focus is children.  What to do?  Many of them attend a class on Tuesdays called “Youth Group”.  They study the Bible together there and build their relationships.  The staff want to do more for this group, but they are already stretched thin with responsibilities.  There is simply no time left in the day, or staff left in the day to provide them with more time to be together.

photo 5 (5)

Enter, Game Night!  Woot!

Some of the staff approached us and asked Jed and I if we would be interested in hosting some sort of monthly, special night for this group to have fun together.  This was a duh question.  Of course we wanted to help!

photo 2 (11)

Tuesday night was the first Game Night and it was beyond fabulous.  I kid you not.  I haven’t smiled that much since I was last in Disneyland!  Heehee 🙂

At 5:00pm sharp the guests began to arrive.  They were dressed up and lookin’ good, ready for a party.  Seeing their excitement made us even more excited!

photo 3 (9)

I wish I would have taken a picture of the food table.  Jed and I are feeders.  We feed people.  It’s our love language.  Sooooo if the amount of food we brought to the party was an indicator of our love, it was fairly obvious that we love these guys VERY much.  There was cookies, more cookies, magic cake, crackers, meat, cheese, veggies, some more cookies, candy, bread, tea, and juice. We may have gone overboard, just a wee bit.  Several of MTU’s finest volunteers came to help and join in the fun.  We had the group sit, then the volunteers and we served them food.  That was a great time for our kids to help out too.  They were able to interact with people right away, and also feel useful.  Addy and Ezra in particular, really wanted to help throw the party.

photo 4 (8)

We ate and laughed.

It was gooood.

Then it was game time!  There were all different physical ability levels in the fairly small room, so it was important to choose games that everyone could participate in.  We started out asking some fun “Would you rather?” questions.  We just wanted to break the ice, be silly, and laugh together.  We chose some crazy questions and then asked various people to explain their decision.  It was so funny!

“Would you rather wrestle a lion or fight a shark?”

“Would you rather eat a bar of soap or drink a bottle of dish soap?”

“Would you rather be born with an elephant’s trunk or a giraffe’s neck?”

“Would you rather be a GIANT hamster or a tiny rhino?”

Oh man, our poor friend Natasha who was translating!  We gave her translating skills a major workout.  Good thing she’s pretty much amazing.  🙂

After “Would you rather?” we played a game with yarn.  Jed asked the group different questions and whoever answered “yes”, had to grab a hold of the yarn.  Pretty quickly we had a big web of yarn which nearly entrapped Jed!  Luckily, he barely escaped with his life and all was well.  Jed just shared a bit about how we are all different, but united by common loves and ideas.  It was fun, and a good visual of the beauty of friendship.

photo 3 (12)

photo 2 (14)

photo 4 (11)

photo 5 (8)

Next was free play game time.  We gathered small groups around tables and brought out various games.  We played Dominoes, Jenga, and Memory.   Once again, I have to brag about the most amazing volunteers.  Seriously, they rock.  They knew what needed to be done and just did it!  Many of them have volunteered quite a bit, so they are familiar with the group and know their needs.  They helped people eat, served tea and food, moved chairs and tables, translated, and assisted in the games so that everyone was able to participate and have a good time.  The night would have been impossible without their help.

Natasha translated for our family and she is just the best.  She loves this group and has known them for many years, so not only is she a great help, her heart is deeply invested as well.  Oh, and what about Alyona?!!!  Alyona works at MTU on “special projects”.  Alyona did so much to make the night possible.  She gathered volunteers, called the group to remind them about the date, arranged transportation for those in wheelchairs, helped set up and clean up…basically she’s super woman.  I didn’t get one non-blurry picture of Alyona because she’s such a hard worker she’s just a blur in each picture!  I wish so badly I would have gotten a picture of each volunteer.  Grrrrrr…next time.  Thank you dear friends!!!  We appreciate you!

photo 1 (12)

Note the Alyona blur in the background. 😉

photo 1 (13)

photo 1 (15)

photo 2 (13)

photo 3 (10)

I didn’t get the best pictures because I was too busy partying it up, but I hope these pictures have given you a glimpse of the wonderfulness of the evening.

What a honor to be able to serve these dear ones.

What a joy to watch our own children learn to love and serve others.  What a joy to see  them learn the value of each and every life.

What a delight to see the faces of the parents as they came to collect their children at the end of the night.  When someone loves on your kid there is no greater gift.  How much more for these most courageous parents who have fought against all odds to give their kids the best shot at a fully lived life.  Humbling.

I am so incredible thankful for the years of MTU’s faithful service.  With God’s help they have created a haven in Zhytomyr like no other.  What a privilege to serve their vision and link arms.

Game Night is now officially a monthly event.  The group has requested next month’s gathering be a Karaoke Night!  OMG.  Bring.It.On.

photo 2 (15)   photo 3 (11)         photo 5 (6)

photo 5 (7)

photo 4 (10)

Addy was in her element COMPLETELY. She was simply glowing all night. Thank you Jesus for kids who are catching Your heart.

photo 3 (13)

Volunteers Extraordinaire! THANK YOU!!!

photo 5 (9)

This is Sergei. He also works with us at Romaniv in the Isolation Room. He is so wonderful with the boys, so loving. Hero material right here, folks.

photo 2 (12)

photo 4 (9)

photo 4 (12)

Favorite Time of the Day

Many moons ago, waaaaaay back in July of last year (not actually that long ago, but now it seems like another lifetime ago) I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Vineyard National Conference in Anaheim.  Oh the bliss!  I got to go with some of my favorite people on the planet, and Christen, Abby and I even got to go to Disneyland for a day!  I’m telling you, it was the stuff dreams are made of  🙂



One of the best days of my life. No joke. I love those girls!

Anyway, at that conference I got to connect with some awesome leaders in the Vineyard missions world.  One of them, the oh-so-wise Jerry Reddix, had a sit-down with me and shared some invaluable wisdom.  He talked with me about being really intentional with our kids in this new season of our lives.  He talked of rituals and routines that will help their little hearts to feel settled, even when everything around them is completely new and different.  He talked about a Daily Examen.  I look back on that conversation now as one of the most valuable I had before moving to Ukraine.  Jerry, if you ever read this, THANK YOU!!!!!  Your words were just what this family needed.

Jerry encouraged us to read a book called Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life.  It’s a small, easy to read book that describes how to implement the Daily Examen with your family.  We aren’t Catholic, but the Examen isn’t just for Catholics.  Basically the idea is to  end your day with asking each person in your family to share about their day.  Think back, reflect on your day and share the most life-giving moment, and the most difficult moment.  In our house we say “What was the best part of your day and what was the hardest part of your day?”  We each share, and then at the end we pray and thank God for the great parts of our day, moments where we experienced His presence, joy, and love.  Then we talk to Him about the difficult moments and ask Him to help us with whatever made it difficult.  Simple, yet beautiful.  In the book it phrases the questions as “What are you most thankful for today and what are you least thankful for today?”  At first I was like “Woah…I don’t want my kids talking about what they aren’t thankful for!”  But really, why do we have to ignore the difficult times?  We aren’t dwelling on them, but voicing them and inviting God to be present in our difficult times.  We are bound to have hard times.  Ignoring them won’t make them go away.  Let’s talk about it as a family and agree in prayer for those situations.

download (1)

The benefits of the Examen have been better than I ever expected.  Sure, sometimes there’s a night when everyone is hyper and silly and the Examen is less than contemplative (insert potty talk and fake burps…oh little boys…), but usually there is at least one gem that comes out of our time.  It helped us not-so-good-at-routine-Johnsons establish routine back in the US that we carried on here in Ukraine.  It’s something the kids can count on and it gives us a chance to key in on how everyone is really doing.

When we do our Examen we turn out the lights, we light candles, and we all take a turn sharing.  We also do our family read aloud during that time.  It’s called “Family Time” and it’s lovely.  Of course sometimes Seth won’t sit down, sometimes Havalah pouts, sometimes Addy or Ez has a bad attitude, sometimes Mommy and Daddy are really just ready for the kids to go to bed so we aren’t super patient.  It’s not always a romantic, solemn, introspective time, but it’s still precious in its own way.  I know we are laying a foundation of open communication and sharing with one another.  I’m excited to see how the sharing deepens as the kids grow in maturity.  Right now when sharing about the difficult moments the kids like to use it as an excuse to tattle on each other.  Ha!  So, we try to move it back to them focusing on their own responses in the situation.  “Okay, so maybe so-and-so stole your toy, but how did you respond?”  People will always let you down, but God is always near and always faithful.

If this strikes a cord with you I highly recommend giving the Daily Examen a try.  Anyone can do it!  If you are single, you could journal your Examen.  If you have no kids at home you can share with your husband or wife.  Take a moment to quiet your heart at the end of the day and look back for glimpses of God’s presence.  When did you feel His joy?  What about that moment was so great?  When did you have a difficult time?  Was there something that happened when wish you would have responded differently?

Sleeping With Bread is a great book for understanding the benefits of the Examen.  I definitely don’t agree with everything in the book, but I can take out the good and forget the rest.  I’m okay with doing that.   🙂  The general idea is great and doesn’t deter me from the stuff I don’t agree with.

Soon I hope to share some of our favorite read alouds from our Family Time.  I’m a sucker for a good book, hence the 6 ginormous boxes of books we shipped to Ukraine.  Be thinking of your favorites because I’ll be asking for suggestions!

What about you?  Do you have any great family night time routines you’d like to share?  I love hearing what others do at the end of their day.  Hmmmm?  Anyone?

This One Goes Out to the Ones We Love

9 Days.  The countdown is ON.

Only 9 more days till we have some very, extremely, over-the-top special guests at our house.

Eeeeeeek!  We are so excited!

In 9 days our dearest Tom and Emma will arrive for a 10 day visit and we can’t believe it’s true.

Let me just brag on Tom and Emma for a sec.  Many, many moons ago we met our friend Tom.  Addy was only a toddler at the time and she was in love.  She would chase Tom all over church calling him Keith Green.  (Don’t ask, we still don’t know why…)  Tom became family to us and actually ended up living with us for several years.  He was the best housemate you could ask for.  Then, Tom got even better by choosing an AWESOME wife, the amazing Emma from across the sea.

Tom and Emma have been such good friends to us.  They have supported us and encouraged us since the very beginning of this crazy journey.  They’ve spent countless hours playing cards and Speed Scrabble with us.  They moved in and stayed with our kids when we were in Ukraine on our planning trip last May.  They let us have the CRAZY HUGE garage sale at their house in the fall.  They even let us stay with them for our last two weeks in the States before moving to Ukraine.  They are simply the best.  (Can you tell we miss them?)

Anyway, Emma is from England, and she and Tom are headed that way to visit her family.  Since they’ll be sooooo close to Ukraine they decided they better pop on in for a visit!  I mean, how can you come all the way across the pond and not come for a sleepover?  It just wouldn’t be right!  🙂

The kids have literally been counting down the days.  We knew they were excited for the visit, but when Jed noticed what they were playing this afternoon he had to document the sweetness of it.

photo 1 (2)

Meet Tom and Emma 🙂

photo 2 (2)

Tom, Seth, Havalah, Emma, Addy, and Ezra

photo 1 (5)

photo 1 (4)

Taking a tour of where we buy milk…

photo 2 (5)

Checking out the meat market…hahaha

photo 4 (2)

Hava giving a tour of our house. (I promise we don’t really live in a barn)

photo 1 (6)

Introducing Tom and Emma to our friends Oleg and Tanya, and baby Zakhar

So, yes, you can see we are pretty excited for our visitors to arrive.  More than anything it means the world to us that they would take the time to come all this way.  We so want our friends and family to see our life here and meet the people we love so much. 

Come on Tom and  Emma! We’re waiting!!!  🙂