The Hard Stuff.

Hello!…gasp…choke…sputter…(that’s me coming up for air)

We’re alive! Oh my, it’s been a doozy of a summer. Awesome? YES. Nevertheless, I can’t deny the dooziness of it. Wow.

Now we’re here in September, coming up for air, hoping you still remember us and will forgive us for being absent in this space. You will? Thanks!

Addy and Ezra started school last Monday and I’ll be honest, it’s been rough. We transfered them to a Ukrainian Christian school here in town and the school itself couldn’t be kinder and more caring. It’s just all around extremely difficult. There’s no way around it. We are in the trenches and it stinks. BIG TIME.

After the first couple of days I emailed a few of my homeschooling Mommy friends from back in the US and basically bawled my eyes out over email. “Please tell me I’m not ruining my kids’ lives by making them do something this hard.” “Please tell me this will get better.” “Please send me multiple boxes of chocolate and can you somehow figure a way to get a DQ Blizzard here intact?” (kidding…)

I was teary-eyed dropping them off the first day, I prayed all throughout the day at home, and then cried to their teacher (I know, humiliating…I couldn’t help it! Poor thing didn’t see that coming ON THE FIRST DAY) when I picked them up in the afternoon. Oy.

They want friends. They want to understand. They want to speak. It’s just so stinkin’ hard. They’re in first class again because they don’t speak enough Ukrainian, but the Director said if they begin to speak more, that after Christmas break there’s a chance of them moving up to second class. I know in the US they would be put at their grade level according to age, but that’s not really how it works here. There aren’t other foreigners, so the school is just deciding what to do with us on a minute by minute basis. They are so gracious to take on the Johnsons. It takes a village! Hahahaha….waaaaaaahhhhhhh.

The school system and inner-workings are just SO different here. Know one knows what we don’t know (everything) so we often don’t know what’s going on…or we don’t even know that we don’t know what’s going on. From school supply lists to parent communication to bathroom rules to class schedules- it’s all different.

We realized about two days in to the school year that it is absolutely necessary for us to get the kids a tutor. We avoided it last school year because our family was just so much in survival mode, the thought of someone else coming to our house and the thought of making the kids study more after getting their brains fried at school seemed like family abuse. ūüôā But, we are determined to not just survive anymore and we’re feeling like we can start to really dig in in some ways that we hadn’t earlier. It’s time for the tutor.

We had one name referred to us by a good friend, so we contacted that girl and found out she is willing to teach the kids! She will hopefully be able to come to our house after school Monday through Thursday for an hour each day to help Addy and Ez with their homework and get them speaking more. The kids are less than excited, because when they get home they just want to play (I don’t blame them!), but we are trying to explain to them how much this will help them in the long run.

That tutor can’t start until the end”ish” of October and we had no idea what to do in the meantime. We really felt the kids need help ASAP. Well, guess what? On Monday the kids’ teacher at school asked if she could keep them for an hour after school each day to work with them on their Ukrainian!! Oh my word. When she offered I almost cried again (but decided it would be best to get a grip). I am so extremely thankful that she cares and wants to help them. Praise God for such a loving teacher!!!! So, she will help them until the tutor can start and we’ll see what happens then. We’re bitin’ the bullet baby. Please pray with us for miraculous results! I’m hoping that this extra time alone with their teacher will really help them get more comfortable to speak out at school.

I started doing some homeschool Kindergarten with Havalah and Seth last week too. Hava is super eager to learn to read, so we’re focusing on that. Later this month they’ll start going to a little private preschool for 1.5 hours twice a week. I think that’s just enought to get them some language exposure and time with other little kiddos. So, they’re pretty excited about starting that! It’s literally a 2 minute walk from our house, so I’m pretty excited about THAT! ūüôā

I’ll tell you what; this parenting-in-another-culture thing is not for the faint of heart. It has shown me, and is showing me daily, hourly how much control I like to hold in my own two hands. I like to be in charge. I like to fix things. I like to make people happy. I put my trust in myself and my ability to make things better.

Well guess what? I can’t control my kids’ happiness. I can’t make kids at school like them and seek them out. I can’t make Ezra bold. I can’t make Addy not lonely for a girlfriend. I can’t demand the school put them with kids their own age. I can’t fix the fact that they want real friendships and have almost zero ability to make them right now. I can’t make them happy that they are here in Ukraine instead of with their cousins in the US. I can’t snap my fingers and make things all better. Things are just hard right now and¬†all I can do is trust.

All I can do is trust that the God who spoke so clearly to us to move our family to Ukraine has not forgotten our children now that we are here.

All I can do is trust that God loves my kids more than I ever could and He knows their deepest needs- and He will meet those needs. I get focused on their wants- but God is able to meet their needs.

He knows them. He created them. He knew when He was forming them in the womb that they would live here in this culture, with these people. He is able to give them everything they need to THRIVE here.

I get so focused on ensuring their happiness that I lose sight of what’s really important.

What is the most important? Sleepovers and sports and theater and homeschool co-op and too many friends to count? No. Those things are awesome, and not wrong, and I miss them more than I can say. But those are not the most important things.

What is the most important thing? The most important thing is to say Yes to Jesus. The most important thing is to listen to the voice of the Father and walk with Him. The most important thing is seek first His Kingdom. The most important thing is go where He says to go, to do what He says to do- to know HIM. The rest is gravy.

Our joy is to be found in Him. Oh my, not that we can’t enjoy the fun things available in life! I’m a fun girl. I love to have fun, to do fun things, to be with fun people. God knows that about me and He knows that about my children. He’s a loving Father- He loves to love His kids. But seeking happiness for my kids instead of seeking Jesus with them is second best.

So, I tell myself these things all day while they’re gone at school. I tell myself these things after I tuck them in at night. Saying yes to Jesus is worth it. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it can be fairly painful, but it is worth it.

I see how our kids are absolutely in love with the Boys at Romaniv and I get a glimpse of how it is worth it. They adore the Boys and think they are wonderful and beautiful and special. They know little things about them- their likes and dislikes, their habits. When they see a person with special needs out and about in town they get almost giddy, so great is their love for that population. Their eyes have been opened to brokenness in the world and they have felt the joy of being used by Jesus to bring about healing. All of that shapes them and forms them, and I am thankful.

Thank you for loving our kids and praying for them. May no thing stand in the way of them fully becoming who God has made them to be. So be it.







Lviv Livin’

Hello Friends!

I can't believe it was a week ago that we left for Lviv! The week had flown by. We've been having a great time exploring and taking in the beauty of the city. Being in Lviv is almost like being in a completely different country. Sometimes it doesn't even seem like we're still in Ukraine. The center, where we spend most of our time, is like any other old beautiful European city. It's an awesome place to get away and have fun as a family. We needed this. ūüôā

This is the Opera House. Seth wasn't in a picture mood.

This is a beautiful old palace that was turned in to an art gallery. Fancy!

We climbed the tower of City Hall to get a great view of the city. 420 steps!

We've been having language lessons for about 3.5 hours per day. Our dear friend, Olya, from Kyiv has been here with us to care for the kids while we're at our lessons. She will leave tonight and Jed's parents will arrive to take over the crowd control . ūüėČ Thank you Olya! We love you to bits!
There's so much to see in Lviv! There are musicians and dancers and magicians and painters…Ezra loves to watch the street performers. I think he could spend all day in the square. I'm loving all the coffee and ice cream. (No surprise there!)

We found a Tex-Mex restaurant owned by an American. So yummy!!! You definitely won't find that in Zhytomyr!

The best sight for me in Lviv: cool handicap accessibility assistance buttons!

I love this so much. Not only is it helpful, it's cool. Superheroes.

Our language lessons have been good so far. It's amazing to be in Lviv where basically everyone is speaking Ukrainian. In Zhytomyr people speak Ukrainian and Russian…and usually a mix of the two. That mixing of languages can make you feel like you aren't learning a darn thing. BUT, being here in Lviv has been a great encouragement to us. We understand so much. We really are learning!!!! Hooray! I have more thoughts on language learning that I'll share in a different post. We've made some big decisions about our language learning that will be painful, but necessary. It's all good! It's all growth!
We'll be here for a couple more weeks, so I'll share more with you later about language and such.
Bye All!


Outrageous Joy, Indescribable Beauty

Fun. Laughter. Extravagant love. ¬†Joy. ¬†Triumph. ¬†Compassion. ¬†Excitement. ¬†Tears. ¬†Healing. Hugs and more hugs. ¬†Potatoes and buckwheat. ¬†Creativity. ¬†Singing. ¬†Rejoicing. ¬†Miracles. ¬†Awakened hearts. ¬†And….more love.

photo 1

photo 3

photo 4

A little girl, nonverbal, barely in control of her body and unable to walk, claps her hands with joy when she sees her volunteer at breakfast in the morning.  She tugs at his beard and rubs his face as he beams with delight over her, like a proud father.

Six sweet souls from Romaniv run and swing and slide without a care in the world. I think they laughed for eight days straight.

photo (14)

photo 4

photo 1

Weary moms walk with a new spring in their step. ¬†Every day they hold their shoulders a bit higher. ¬†They smile with tears in their eyes as they see their children loved with abandon- just as they are. ¬†“I didn’t think anyone could ever love my child like that.”

Addy runs across the grass holding hands and laughing with Ryan, a most special young man. ¬†Their giggles echo across the field. ¬†Addy gushes, “I love you Ryan!”


Vlad, a little guy with special needs, his first time at camp, holds his head high as he belts out the Ukrainian national anthem for a room crowded with people.  His mom cries as thunderous applause fills the room.

photo 4

My own children’s hearts fill with love and compassion as they grow to know these special people God has placed in their lives. ¬†They truly begin to understand why we live here in Ukraine and tell me “We have to stay here. ¬†The boys at Romaniv need us to love them!”

My prayers are answered.

photo 5

photo 5

photo 3

Ukrainian volunteers give their whole selves to serve and love those who their society has cast aside.  Beauty beyond measure.

photo 2

I stand in the back watching a slide show of pictures throughout the week and realize there is no place on earth I would rather be.

A week absolutely full of glimpses of God’s Kingdom breaking through into earth.

“Your kingdom¬†come,¬†your will be done,¬†on earth as it is in heaven.” ¬†Matthew 6:10

photo 5

photo 1

Mission to Ukraine hosts two summer camps each year for people with disabilities. ¬†The first camp is for children, and the second camp, which starts on Monday, is for teens and young adults. Children with all levels of ability are present and loved. ¬†I can’t begin to describe the beauty. ¬†Today we head back for the second camp and our hearts are bursting with anticipation. ¬†May the love of God fill every single corner of every single heart. ¬†May each soul know the love of the Father like never before. ¬†May mother’s hearts be renewed and strengthened. ¬†May it be on earth as it is in heaven. ¬†Thank you for your prayers! ¬†


Visit MTU’s Facebook page to see many more beautiful pictures, and a picture of Romaniv boys doing a traditional Ukrainian dance!




Special Visitors!

Hi! ¬†Wow, it’s been quiet around here! ¬†BUT, for good reason. ¬†Grams and Papi (my parents) are here visiting! ¬†YAY YAY YAY!!!!!!!!! ¬†So, I’d apologize for the lack of blogging, but I’m sure you all understand. ¬†The last thing I want to do when I have my family here is sit down at the computer. ¬†HA! ¬†There’s so much to show them, so many people for them to meet, so many foods to try, so many Seinfeld episodes to watch together….time is precious. ¬†But, they’re still sleeping this morning, so I thought I should take the time to share about their visit so far.

Grams and Papi arrived last Sunday evening and they had a BIG surprise in store for our kids. ¬†They brought along our 10-year old nephew Isaiah! ¬†Oh man, I can’t even tell you how many times we almost blew their secret. ¬†But, we somehow managed to keep our mouths shut and when they walked out of baggage claim with Isaiah in tow the kids freaked out appropriately. ¬†They have been having a BLAST with their cousin. ¬†Addy and Isaiah are just a few months apart in age and have always been close. ¬†So, this was just about this best surprise our kids could have gotten.

photo 3

Here we are at the airport for pick-up. Addy must have jumped up and down continuously for about 20 minutes when she saw Isaiah. ūüôā

photo 3

Catching up on long-lost Lego play

So far we’ve taken them all over Zhytomyr, and yesterday we spent the day in Kyiv. ¬†My dad has all the Kyiv pics, so I can share those later. ¬†I can’t even tell you how much it means to us to be able to take them around our new home. ¬†Now they can picture the people and places we talk about when we Skype. ¬†Now they understand our life a bit and it just makes all of us feel better. ¬†ūüôā

photo 1

Isaiah has done so great here! ¬†What an awesome traveler! ¬†He’s tried all the food, walked many miles, and even learned a few words in Ukrainian. ¬†He’s been a bit homesick the last couple days, but that’s not bad for a 10-year old being so far from home.

photo 4

Ezra is so special…

photo 4

We had smoothies at our favorite little cafe

photo 5

My eyes disappear when I’m really happy ūüėČ

photo (13)

This was probably my favorite day. We took them to our bazaar and we just had a great day. My dad took pictures of blushing Babushkas. Lots of laughs.

photo 4

We went to the local park with a few rides. The kids couldn’t wait to show Grams the rides since they know she loves Disneyland. Hahaha! Not quite Disneyland…but still fun. ūüôā

photo 5

photo 5

Can you tell Ezra’s been watching The Sandlot?

photo 5

photo 1

photo 2

photo 1

This picture was taken after church on Sunday. Aren’t they cute?

photo 2

Approximately four minutes after that last photo we were caught in a TORRENTIAL downpour. You can either laugh or cry…right?

¬†The highlight of the visit so far, for me, is last Friday. ¬†My parents got to come to Romaniv with me. ¬†I’ve been wishing and waiting for that moment since we first visited Romaniv in 2012. ¬†This is the reason we are here. ¬†It is so important to me that my family really “gets it”. ¬†They have always been supportive of our move. ¬†Although they are sad we live so far away, they never told us no. ¬†They knew this was what God had for us, but that doesn’t make it easy to have your kids all the way across the world. ¬†

I needed them to see the faces and hug the bodies of the ones we came here to serve.  I needed them to see why with their own eyes.  So, Friday was my dream come true.  

       photo 3  photo 1

photo 2

photo 4

Friday was also Addy’s first time to come help on the team. ¬†She did great! ¬†She has really taken ownership of the work at Romaniv. ¬†She has memorized the names of the boys and listens when we describe their personalities and needs. ¬†She has been begging to come help this summer, and the Directors said it was fine. ¬†How special that she got to go with Grams and Papi!


photo 3

Isaiah and my dad leave on Friday and my mom stays for ten more days. ¬†I’m trying to treasure every moment without thinking too much about the fact that they leave so soon.

Could you pray with us? ¬†Although we’ve had a great time, both of my parents have been sick on this trip. ¬†ūüôĀ ¬†My dad got a bad head cold that seems to be improving, but he still has a lingering cough. ¬†Ukraine has not been kind to my mom’s stomach. ¬†Yesterday in Kyiv she was pretty miserable and today she seems even worse. ¬†It’s such a bummer! ¬†I really want them to be well so we can enjoy these last couple of days to the fullest. ¬†Thanks for your prayers!

Anyway, I just can’t say enough about how much it means to have visitors here. ¬†I know it’s expensive to get here and not exactly a vacation locale, but it blesses us SO MUCH when people come and see our new world. ¬†We have had the best time. ¬†I don’t want it to be over!!!! ¬†ūüôā

The Last Bell: Ukrainian School


Praise the Lord. ¬†I honestly don’t know who’s happier, the parents or the kids. ¬†ūüôā ¬†I am VERY VERY VERY happy. ¬†I feel like our whole family just graduated from first class. ¬†Addy and Ezra’s transition in to Ukrainian public school has been very much a whole family endeavor, and we are all happy and relieved that summer break has arrived.

photo 1

The last day of school in Ukraine is traditionally called “Last Bell”. ¬†All school lessons in Ukraine, every day, begin and end with the bell. ¬†So, the first day of school is called “First Bell”, and the last day every year is the “Last Bell”. ¬†It’s a very important day in Ukraine! ¬†There is ceremony and tradition and celebrating. ¬†I like it very much.

Yesterday was Last Bell at Addy and Ezra’s school and it was such a cool experience! ¬†I love how much we are learning about Ukrainian culture by having our kids in school. ¬†It’s a whole new world.

Normally the program is outside, but it rained yesterday, so everyone gathered in the gym. ¬†The first four classes (primary school) had their program together. ¬†Everyone lined the edges of the gym, each class in a line with their teacher, and then parents behind them. ¬†Our kids’ school is fairly small, so we could all fit.

photo 2 (32)

photo 3 (27)

It started with a flag ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem, then the Director said a few words. ¬†An older man spoke also, but I have no idea who he was or what he was saying. ¬†Ha! ¬†After he spoke a bunch of kids ran up and gave him flowers, so he must have been someone special. ¬†ūüôā

photo 4 (25)

Notice the sea of big white bows? We call them “puffs”. It’s a cultural thing for special occasions. ūüôā


Then the Director handed out special awards of achievement to a few children from each class. ¬†After a few minutes of that, our kids’ teacher turned around to me to ask me if I had a camera. ¬†I said yes, I did, and she motioned to me like I should be ready. ¬†Then she said “Addy, Ezra- microphone”. ¬†Oh! ¬†Huh?? ¬†I promptly pulled my camera back out and waited for whatever was next. ¬†The Assistant Director got up and started speaking. I heard her say the word for “Americans” and my ears perked up. ¬†She called Addy and Ez up and gave them a special award for diligence and achievement for their work in learning Ukrainian language! ¬†It was so special. ¬†Then she leaned down and was talking to Addy. ¬†I realized that she wanted Addy and Ezra to recite their poems in Ukrainian for the assembly! ¬†Poor Addy didn’t understand what they wanted her to do, so her teacher went up and helped her understand. ¬†They both said their poems for everyone and did awesome! ¬†We were so proud of them!!! ¬†Their teacher was positively beaming, she was so proud. ¬†It was very sweet. ¬†It feels like their whole school is cheering on their little Americans. ¬†Haha! ¬†We need all the cheering we can get!

After the awards were done, an older class got up and did a cool dance to celebrate summer break, there was more flag ceremony and the National Anthem was played again. ¬†I’m totally not kidding when I say I’m pretty sure my kids have heard the Ukrainian National Anthem more times than they’ve ever heard the Star Spangled Banner- and we haven’t even lived here 7 months! When Seth hears the beginning of the song he says “–°–Ľ–į–≤–į –£–ļ—Ä–į—ó–Ĺ—Ė!” (Glory to Ukraine!) Ha! ¬†After the anthem, the program was finished! ¬†The kids got to go to the cafeteria for a snack and then all the parents took a ginormous amount of pictures. ¬†Their teacher also gave each child a diploma for finishing first class.

photo 1 (32)

Addy and her friend, Masha

photo 1

First Class 1-–Ī

photo 5 (22)

Flowers for teacher

Then we were free!!!! ¬†We practically floated home we were all so happy. ¬†We celebrated by taking the kids to the movie theater. ¬†It was our first time in a movie theater here and we had fun. ¬†We saw Rio 2, in Ukrainian of course. ¬†ūüôā

Now we have three months to decide what to do about school next year for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah. ¬†For Addy and Ezra we have a couple options, one being continuing on in their current school. ¬†Kids here stay with the same children all the way till graduation, and they keep their same teacher for the first four years, so that would be a nice, familiar place to return to in the fall. ¬†We’ll see. ¬†We need to pray and figure out what God’s best school plan is for this next year. ¬† I don’t even want to think about it right now. ¬†The homeschooler in me is just SO HAPPY to have all my children at home. ¬†Sigh…bliss.

photo 2

What do with Hava next year is another mystery. ¬†Children don’t start “official” school here until they are 6 or 7- usually closer to 7. ¬†Before that, most children attend –ī–ł—ā—Ź—á–ł–Ļ —Ā–į–ī–ĺ–ļ “sadik”. ¬†It’s like daycare/preschool/kindergarten. ¬†They do learn the kindergarten fundamentals there, and if your child doesn’t attend sadik they really won’t be ready for first class. ¬†So, in order for first class to be easier on Havalah when she turns 6 or 7, it really does make sense to put her in a sadik, at least part time. ¬†Parents can choose how often they send their kids, so it’s not mandatory that she go…we just feel like it would benefit Havalah to get more time each week for language acquisition, since she is pretty much always just home with us, hearing English. ¬†BUT- I really, really don’t want her all alone in a class where she doesn’t understand anyone. ¬†She’s so tiny! ¬†AND, I really want her to learn to read and write in English first.

School has definitely been easier on Addy, because she already has such a great grasp on English reading and writing. ¬†Ezra, on the other hand, doesn’t read or write in English super well, and now after 4 months of Ukrainian school and no English school he is on about the same level with both languages when it comes to reading and writing. ¬†(Of course he has almost zero comprehension of Ukrainian reading) ¬†I know this is normal and he will catch up, it’s just nice with Addy to know I don’t need to worry about building her English language skills- we can just work on Ukrainian. ¬†Ez needs help with both. ¬†Hence me wanting Hava to learn English skills WELL first.

photo 3

Oh my, all this bilingual stuff makes my brain hurt. ¬†I wish there was a manual for all this. ¬†ūüôā ¬†Ah well, one day at a time. ¬†The important thing is that they are learning and they are growing. ¬†We have our whole lives to learn. ¬†I don’t want to be in a rush on their behalf. ¬†At this point we are leaning toward putting Havalah in a sadik two mornings a week, and doing home school kindergarten the other three days.

photo 2

Addy, Ez, and their super teacher

photo 3

Havalah has a little kid “teacher crush” ūüôā

So far we’ve been really happy with our experience in Ukrainian public school. ¬†Our kids’ teacher is so kind to them and she truly cares about their success. ¬†Addy and Ezra feel comfortable at school and the kids are nice to them. ¬†Never in a million years would I have imagined I would be a mom and my kids would be in a national school in a foreign country. ¬†I mean, as long as I dreamed of being a missionary you’d think I would have thought this one through, but nope. ¬†I guess I probably always thought they’d be homeschooled, or go to an international, English speaking school or something. ¬†What an interesting road we travel. ¬†For all it’s ups and downs and uncertainties I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

photo 4


photo 5