The Crazy Awesomeness that is our Summer Plans

Summer is in full swing around here and it kind of feels like we’re on a roller coaster at this point.  We know we’re safe, we’re all buckled in, but it’s moving a little too fast for comfort and we kinda want it to slow down, but it’s also really good and all the spins are kind of fun, we we don’t want it to stop.

There’s a lot going on and there’s about to be a lot MORE going on, so I better fill you in while I have the chance.  HOLYMOLY.

We have a volunteer arriving on Sunday and she’ll be here for 3 weeks!  Sara is a massage therapist and works at a community for adults with special needs in Arizona.  She will be helping us implement massage at Romaniv and will be doing some teaching for the nurse there.  We are excited to have her along on this crazy journey.  I’m super interested to see how the boys do with massage!  I’m anticipating a strong learning curve…hehe  THISCOULDGETINTERESTING.

On July 7th we’ll head to Mission to Ukraine’s yearly summer camp for kids with disabilities.  There will be two camps and we will volunteer at both of them. Camp was the highlight of our family’s year last year, so we are very excited to do it again.  Woot!  We’ll basically be there for the month of July.  MTU camp is like my heaven.  ILOVEITSOMUCH.

On July 13th we’ll take a little leave from camp because we have our appointment in Kyiv to request our referral and officially begin the adoption process here in country!!!  Yes!!!  Our adoption dossier was accepted and we are ultra, mega, outrageously excited to get this show on the road.  If all goes well we should have our son out of the orphanage and in our arms by the end of August!  CAN’TCOMESOONENOUGH.

 After the adoption is complete we will all head to the US for our first visit as a family since our move here in 2013.  Our new son will need to go to the US in order to become a citizen, and he also needs quite a bit of medical care, so off we go!  Actually, before we ever moved to Ukraine we had decided that August 2015 would be the time for all of us to come back to the US to visit family, friends, and supporters.  We just had no idea we’d also be bringing back another child!  BIGGESTSURPRISEEVAHHHHH.

The plan right now is that Jed will be in the US for about 2 months and then he’ll return to Ukraine to get back to work. The kids and I will plan to stay in the US until we get our new son’s most urgent medical needs met.  Then we’ll join Jed back in Ukraine. We’re thinking maybe the kids and I will be in the States till after Christmas?  I’m just not sure.  We’re open and we don’t want to rush things.  But in a way it will probably feel like our lives are on pause.  I’m not sure how we’ll navigate that well.  I guess one day at a time.  I get overwhelmed if I think about it too much, so I won’t.  At least not right now.  🙂 PROCRASTINATIONISMYSPIRITUALGIFT.


So, that’s where things stand right now.  A lot goin on, and lot yet to come.  We are doing well, just maybe a bit overwhelmed at the moment.  We have so many ideas, so many plans for the Boys, for the work here.  It’s hard to imagine leaving it all and going so far away.  Wide Awake is granting our local church here in Zhytomyr with funds to be able to coordinate and continue the work at Romaniv while we are gone, so that is really reassuring.  We won’t be leaving the boys without love and care.  Our volunteers will continue to faithfully go and love the boys.  It will just be hard for us to be away. Yet it will be wonderful to be with family and friends in America.  Yet we will also be adjusting to a new son and helping him learn how to be part of a family.  Yet we will not be bringing him home to the house and community where we actually live…at least not right away.

Lots of thoughts, lots of emotions, lots of awesomeness happening, lots of everything.  I’ll do my best to keep you posted along the way.  Thank you all for being such a dear part of this journey.  Thank you for your prayer, your encouragement, your friendship, your financial support.  We have felt so much love and support along every step of this journey.  Praise God we don’t have to walk this path alone!  You are a blessing to us.   WELOVEYOULOTSANDLOTS.

Pics: Hava in Kyiv with her perty new headband, our beautiful Addy and Hava in Kyiv, St. Andrews Church in Kyiv, our kids with a famous statue outside the adoptions office in Kyiv, St. Michaels Church in Kyiv (my fave), Seth is taller than Hava (and 17 months younger!), my everyday morning view, our garden when it was beautiful, our garden infested with bugs (grrrr…ain’t nobody got time for that!), Seth posing with his new bike, my kids being “special”, our neighborhood!

A New Place

We are rapidly approaching our one year anniversary of life here in Ukraine.

Has it already been one year?  Has it been only one year????

So much has happened in this past year it feels like a million lifetimes have passed since we touched down in Kyiv that cold November night.

Before we moved we’d been warned by other missionaries and in missionary books and missionary blogs that the first year overseas is a beast. We tried to prepare ourselves for that, but how can you really prepare, emotionally and spiritually, to leave everything you have ever known and held dear- and start over? How can you prepare to go from being a pretty smart person to feeling pretty much dumb pretty much all the time? How can you prepare for what it will be like to watch your children hurt and struggle and feel lonely? How can you prepare to go from being a vital part of a vibrant community of like-minded people to living on the fringes of society?

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You just can’t. You can try, but you just can’t be prepared. You just have to jump and trust that your loving Father will catch you.

This first year has been the hardest time of our lives. It has stretched us and jostled us and turned us upside down.

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And yet…

How can you prepare to have your heart invaded by 80 boys tucked away in the middle of nowhere? How can you prepare for the joy of knowing young men and women with special needs who can light up the room with a single smile? How can you prepare to watch God fling open doors that have been shut for years? How can you prepare to feel the absolute smile of God and joy of the Father as you walk right down the center of His will? How can you prepare to watch young men and women loving your children with utter abandonment?

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You just can’t. You can try, but you just can’t be prepared. These things are what you experience in that catch of the Father.

My heart came to a new place this past week. I was washing the dishes and thinking about our upcoming Ukraine-iversary, and I realized that I’m good. I’m okay. We will most likely live here for a very long time, and I’m okay with it. When we moved here we sold everything except what we packed in our 12 suitcases (and a couple tubs in storage). We came here with the mindset that this is our new home until God says otherwise. We knew then that if we came for a set amount of time we would forever be looking at that deadline and we wouldn’t settle in for the long-haul. We know that about ourselves.

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I can’t know the heart of God, and His ways are higher than mine. Maybe He’ll have us leave here next month, but I highly doubt it. I can’t say I know the future, but I can say that the dreams God gave us are big HUGE dreams that are going to take a loooooooong time. So, as things stand now, I expect us to live in Ukraine for many, many years.

We are here for the long-haul, and I’m good. I’m sad, but I’m good. Thinking about the long-haul a few months ago only made me cry. I’ll be honest. Now it makes me cry and it makes me smile. It makes me cry because I miss my family and my friends across the ocean. I saw pictures of a bunch of my family all together last weekend and I bawled my eyes out. I should be there with them. How can I not be there with them? How can we raise our children so far away from family? How can we bear all the missed holidays, all the missed birthdays, all the joys of daily life? Christmas is coming. How will we bear it? I don’t know and I don’t even want to think about it. I guess I have to trust that God will catch us then too. It’s so hard, but we just have to trust Him that He will fill those empty places- for us and our family in the US.  That part is incredibly hard.  I can’t even tell you how hard.

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The long-haul also makes me smile. It makes me smile because of our dear ones here. How could we ever leave our Boys???? How??? How could we leave and not be a part of their lives? How could we walk away and not know what happened to them, where they lived out their days? How could we stop fighting for them? And what about our young adults with special needs? We love them! How could we leave? And what about all our friends? Our church? Leaving here would be just as devastating as it was to leave Salem. I’ll even dare to say it would be more devastating deep down, simply because our loved ones in America are daily loved and care for by many, but our Boys are not.

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Sigh. There just aren’t any simple fixes. It’s just painful and joyful and trustful and tearful. All we can do is trust and keep hold of the hand of our Father.

So, I’m in a new place. I’m in a place of seeing the long road stretched out before me and feeling okay with walking in that direction for many more years. There will be plenty of tears and joys along the way, I’m sure of that. But oh the peace that comes from saying YES to Jesus- one step at a time. There’s just nothing like it.

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.  🙂

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First S’mores of the season

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Romaniv Sweetness

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“Mama Nina”

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

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Football!! (Soccer)

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

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Fun with friends

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Flying kites with cows. Hahaha

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Free-Range Sethers

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Making friends in our neighborhood. Slowly but surely!

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Ezra found a pet at the park…meet Slimey!

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

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Olya, my Ukrainian Mama 🙂 Я люблю тебе Оля!

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

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

On Walking, Smelling, and Celebrity Sighting

Today was so full!  Full of funny moments, full of awholelotta walking, and full of joy.

Here’s just a few moments of note.

1.  Addy and Ezra’s class went on a trip to the local puppet theater today.  We found out just yesterday that kids who wanted to, could go today.  I wondered why we always find these things out at the very last moment.  Then…aha!  I discovered an announcement board outside their classroom!  Yes, I know, it’s been there all along…but when all you see everyday is walls filled with things you don’t understand, it’s hard to know what to pay attention to and really try to decipher, and what isn’t worth your time.  I don’t often have the desire to stand in the school halls with Google Translate at my side, so I usually go with the “if it’s really important they’ll tell me” route.  No more!  I will now be vigilantly watching for new notes on the announcement board.  No more surprise field trips for the Johnson fam!  We will now be well-informed members of society.  (Here’s to hoping at least)

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The wonders you can find on this “Announcement Board”! Look, a spelling word list! Hmmmm I wonder how many of these we’ve missed. Oops.

2.  When I dropped the kids at school this morning their teacher asked me if I wanted to come along on the field trip.  Sure, why not?  She mentioned it was quite a long walk, but if I thought the Littles would be up for it they could come too.  Well, Jed was in Kyiv today, so if I wanted to be there then the Littles would have to buck up and and hike along with us.

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I gave Hava and Seth a pep talk about being strong, not crying and whining when we go on the long walk….blah blah blah…”If we whine and cry then Teacher probably won’t invite us on another trip, right?”

I’m happy to report that they did great on the walk.  🙂  It was about a mile walk from the school to the theater.  It was HILARIOUS to be a fly on the wall with Addy’s and Ez’s class.  It’s also funny to learn all the in’s and out’s of school here.  Like, for field trips, there’s no permission slips, no planning what parents will drive, no parents at all!  Their brave teacher just confidently lined up boys in one line and girls in another, and headed out on the walk with all of her students.  Along busy streets, across crosswalks, she walked in the front, trusting the kids would follow.   When school classes cross streets they hold up a red flag so cars will stop.  One kid in the front of the line holds a flag, a kid at the back of the line holds a flag, and the teacher holds a flag.  When crossing a street she just walks on out there, risking life and limb 😉 and stands in the middle of the street for her class to cross.  They do this every day when they walk from one building to another for lunch.  Today I got to see it in action.  I tell ya, that teacher is one brave woman.  One woman, taking a whole class on a mile walk through town to a field trip and back.  She totally rocks it.  I wasn’t a ton of help since I had Havalah and Seth, but I tried to keep the stragglers from straggling too far behind.

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3.  I’m a “smeller”.  Smell means a lot to me.  How things smell really matters, I can’t overlook a bad smell with much grace at all.  It’s a struggle.  But, being a “smeller” can also bring a lot of joy!  Good smells make me so happy!  Anyway, I do have purpose for telling you that.  While walking back to the school today I had such a strange moment.  I smelled a very beloved smell.  I smelled “Mission Trip” smell.

All throughout my teen years I went on mission trips.  I traveled all over the world during high school and college.  God put the world in my heart and I just had to go.  There’s a certain smell I remember from mission trips that I’ve never smelled in the US.  It’s a smell you smell when you’re walking on a city street.  I don’t know what all it entails, but it’s a mixture of gasoline, tires, foreign food cooking…and I don’t know what else.  I love that smell.  To me, that smell means Jesus.  It means being Jesus to the people He’s called you to.  It means going out of your comfort zone and giving your all for His sake.  It means loving people that you don’t understand and doing things you don’t understand, simply because Jesus said to, and it is what you were created for.

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Today I smelled that smell.  It hit me like a ton of bricks.  I looked around and saw my children walking ahead of me in a line with their class.  I heard the buzzing of Ukrainian/Russian swirling around my ears.  For a moment I thought “Oh my word.  This is really happening.  This is my life.  I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE THIS.”  I was overcome with thankfulness, and completely humbled.  All my life I dreamed of this and now it’s happening. May I never, ever forget what a joy it is to serve Christ in this way.  The last couple weeks have been hard for me, personally.  My heart needed that smell to remember it’s purpose.  🙂

4.  Jed got to spend the day in Kyiv with some boys from Romaniv!  MTU took some of the highest functioning boys to see a dolphin show.  Jed got to go along and he had a great time.  I’ll let him tell you about that at another time.  I just have to share a sweet moment that happened on their way home.

Jed texted me as I was cooking dinner and let me know the boys’ bus was stopping at MTU on the way back to Romaniv so the boys could use the bathroom and volunteers could go home.  He asked if I wanted to come say hi.  YES YES YES!!!!!  I hurried the kids to put on their shoes, paused on the dinner-making, and flew out the door.

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On their way to the Dolphins!

Oh.My.Word.  Dream come true.  Watching my own kiddos meet some our “Our Boys” was so, so sweet.  They Boys were so curious and kind.  They attempted the kids’ names and shook all their hands.  Valera, our “helper”  (highest functioning boy) in the Isolation Room was there and I was so happy for the kids to meet him!!!  We talk about him all the time.  I feel like “The Boys” have been like some big mystery to our kids.  Now they have faces for some of the names.  Now they see they are real people.  Ezra and Havalah were pretty shy. Seth was curious.  Addy was smitten.  Her eyes were glowing.  It was like a celebrity sighting! As soon as we walked out of the building to head home she said “Mom!  When do I get to start helping at Romaniv???” Soon I hope.  🙂

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McDonalds in Kyiv, complete with balloons!

So, that was today.  There were other small funny moments too, like when I walked in to gymnastics to pick up Addy and one mom that I see all the time finally blurted out “Why did you come to Zhytomyr??”  Hahaha!  Like it’s been bugging her all this time and she finally just had to ask.  Hilarious.  Or when the kids were getting ready for bed and Hava and Seth tricked me.  They acted like they had their jammies on, but then on the count of 3 pulled back their covers to nakey little bodies.  Oh they laughed so hard!  Meanwhile Addy died laughing as Ezra screamed over and over at the top of his lungs, “Слава Україні!  Слава Україні!”  (“Glory to Ukraine!  Glory to Ukraine!”)

Is this life for real?

Let Go, Revisited

On January 8th, in the dawn of the New Year, I wrote a post about my theme for 2014: “Let Go”.  At that time it was something the Lord was softly whispering to me, and as I thought about it more I realized that it was something that really needed to begin to happen in my life.  I began to realize how much of my life I hold on to every day, and because of that, how much less I am holding on to Jesus.

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I sit here now, chuckling to myself about what God really had in store for me in the “Letting Go” realm.  Chuckling as in, if I don’t laugh I’ll cry, sorta chuckle.  Annnnnd it’s only March.  Ha!

Much of the letting go in that post was concerning the need for me to let go as a mother.

“Before they were our babies, they were His. My kids belong to God. Forget what our culture says is required for a happy childhood. What does God say my kids need? What does God say is important for a child? Those are things to focus on and invest in. If my kids have all the happiness in the world, but their hearts are far from the Lord, what have they gained?”

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Little did I know when I wrote that post, that a month later Addy and Ezra would be attending our local Ukrainian school.  Never in a million years would I have predicted it.  Before we moved and people asked about what we would do for school I answered them that we weren’t sure, but definitely they wouldn’t be in a local public school.  Oy.  Yeah, what do I know??

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Addy and Ez have been in school for a month now.  That act of “letting go” has been one of the hardest undertakings in my life.  I know they don’t understand much of what is said during the day at school.  I know at times they are nervous.  Making friends has been difficult because they can’t speak more than a couple of words to the other kids.  I so want them to be happy.  I don’t want them to be lonely. They say they like school, but I wonder, deep down, are their little hearts okay?

Let go.  We are being obedient to the Lord.  Their happiness is not reliant on me.  God will give them all that they need.  He created them KNOWING this would be their life.  Addy and Ezra, Havalah and Seth were each called to Ukraine, just as Jed and I were.  So what if the American culture says they need lots and lots of friends and activities to be happy?  They have each other as friends.  They have a Mommy and Daddy that love them.

Let go.

Little did I know when I wrote that post about letting go, that 2 months later Ukraine would be at the brink of full-on war.  With Russian troops moving further and further inland, no one knows what will happen next.

What does it mean to truly LET GO when face to face with war?

I have no idea, but I’m learning every day.  We never could have anticipated that God would call us to this.  But, He did.  He knew full well what was going to happen in Ukraine a week after we arrived.  He told us to come, to love on His children who have been hidden away for far too long.  We came without a Plan B.  Ukraine is our home now.  Ukraine is God’s plan for our family.

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What does it mean to lay it all down for the sake of Jesus?  What does it mean to be ALL IN, and to really mean it?  What does it mean to say YES, without conditions?  It means the same thing now as it meant to us when we came here.  Only now we better make sure we really believe it.  Is our Yes truly without conditions? We are here in Ukraine until God tells us not to be here anymore.

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Because of the political situation here, many people have been asking us when we will come home.  Many have asked us if we have a red line, like “If such and such happens, then we will leave.”  We have no line.  All we have is the voice of the Lord, just as we did when we flew out of Portland on November 12th.  We are watching the news; we are not seeking out danger, but who ever said God will always steer us clear of danger?

Let go.

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I know we have our children to think of, and believe me, there is no one that wants our kids to be safe more than Jed and I do.  But more than parents who try to keep them safe, what our kids truly need is parents who will listen to the voice of the Lord and follow Him no matter what- letting go of all else, and clinging with all they’ve got to the hand of Jesus.

Our friends here in Ukraine have no exit plan.  Our boys at Romaniv have no exit plan.  What of the countless others who lay in their cribs day after day, completely unaware of their homeland’s turmoil?  They have no choice, no option of leaving their crib, let alone their country.  

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So here we stand and here we stay.  We continually ask the Lord for wisdom.  At the same time we continually ask Him to help us let go of ourselves, in order that we might hold more tightly to Him.

Please listen to my heart.  It’s not that we are trying to call ourselves some sort of heroes or attempting to be foolishly brave.  The Ukrainian people are the ones who are brave.  The heroes are the Ukrainians who live for Jesus despite the injustice that has surrounded them all their lives. We are simply reminded that a life of obedience does not always equal a life of physical safety.  The Ukrainian people need the hope of Jesus more than ever right now.  With a new government being formed there is new hope for the children we have come to serve.  We believe with all of our hearts that we are here in Ukraine for such a time as this.  If you’ve followed our story at all you know that we didn’t arrive here by accident.  🙂  God made the way and He has a purpose in it.

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When we very first started on this journey, way back in 2010, God gave us some verses.  They have been my comfort more times than I can count.  It had been quite a while since I looked them up, and today I wept as I read them again.  Just knowing that God knew all about this way back then is such a comfort.  He does see.  He does know.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities…

‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you…

All your sons will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace,  In righteousness you will be established: tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear.”

Isaiah 54:2, 3, 10, 13-14

Let go with me, will you?  He promises to be more than enough.  I intend to trust that.