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

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

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

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My kitchen reality.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Just another night of Just Dance on the Wii. 🙂

 

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

 

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

 

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In the meantime Hava is losing hers. 🙂

 

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

 

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Valerchik!

 

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A little Boris lovin’

 

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Seriozha loves Masha. We do too.

 

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Play is the work of children. 🙂

 

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

 

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Stop the cuteness!

 

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Our bus stop. Perty eh? Haha

 

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On the bus. I think Addy took this one…

 

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

 

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

 

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Loveliness

 

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

 

About a Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is of the essence.

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

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.  🙂

 

 

Swiss Shock and Awe

Welcome December! How did that happen? November was like two seconds long. I was planning to do a Thanksgiving post, but then we lost electricity for 5 days, and then we had Thanksgiving, and then the next day Addy and left for Switzerland!

 

I have a lot to be thankful for. Even more so after this weekend. Oh God, why are you so good to us??? Wow.

I might have told you before about our Switzerland connection, but just in case I didn't, or you forgot, I'll sum it up real quick like.

 

Many moons ago, in my former American life, I loved a little boy in Ukraine. My friends and I desperately wanted to find this little boy a family because he resided in an institution much like Romaniv and we knew he needed out. A few friends and I decided we would organize a day dedicated to this precious boy (who now lives with a wonderful family in Texas!!!) and try to get as many people fundraising for him on one day as we could. Adoption is expensive and many times if the money obstacle is removed, it makes adoption more possible.

Well, as we were fundraising in Oregon a woman in Switzerland, Sandra, contacted me by email and told me that she too was fundraising for the very same boy! She desperately prayed that he would find a family, and our friendship grew as we advocated for our sweet boy.

 

Once we knew we were moving to Ukraine, Sandra chimed in and said if we ever made it over to Switzerland we should share at her church in Lucerne. We highly doubted we would make it to Switzerland, but thought the gesture was nice. Well, God knew better. It turned out that last January we needed to go to Switzerland to get our Ukrainian visas and we got to visit Sandra, her family, and her church.

 

The International Church of Lucerne embraced right from the get-go. They fell in love with our Boys and God broke their hearts. They began to support us in prayer and with some finances. I can not express to you how warm and loving is this awesome community of believers. They are the real deal and I can't believe we get the honor to partner with them.

Jed went to Switzerland in September for a family wedding and got to visit our friends in Lucerne. He told them of our need for a van to transport volunteers to and from Romaniv, and right there on the spot they decided to do a Thanksgiving fundraiser to buy a van for Wide Awake. Awesome.

 

So, this past weekend was the fundraiser and holy moly, I guess I set my expectations just a wee bit too low. God blew my itty bitty expectations out of the water. What a generous, loving, beautiful community we found in the International Church of Lucerne. In one weekend they donated thousands of Swiss Francs. THOUSANDS. Those thousands, in addition to gifts from their body given to Jed in September will buy us a van. Need met in an instant.

Blown away, humbled, joyful, tearful, THANKFUL.

Jed kinda kicked me out the door by sending me on this trip to Switzerland. He knew I needed a breather and a time of refreshment for my spirit. I felt nervous, and unsure, but excited to go. I brought Addy with me, and thought if nothing else it would be a special time for the two of us together.

It was that, and so much more.

Many of you have donated and donated and donated to this cause. Many people have given thousands of dollars to help improve the lives of our Boys. Many people gave before we moved, and many more people have given since. We are thankful for every single cent, and for every single bit of love that goes along with the cents. THANK YOU!! Because of the distance, all that communicating and giving is done online. Yay for internet! This was different though, because this was the first time I had seen a group of people, in the flesh, get behind this cause and get behind our Boys like this since we moved to Ukraine. It's different now that our Boys aren't just an idea or a passion. They are our friends and our loved ones. When I share about them now it's with a knowing that comes from hours spent together. Watching strangers work hard to prepare and then pull off an event like this just for our Boys, after really knowing our Boys is a whole new ballgame.

 

I just sat there, watching pies being auctioned off for my Boys and tears filled my eyes. How is God so good? How is it that He cares so much about our Boys and about us that He put it in the hearts of people thousands of miles away to give so generously and selflessly?

I wish so bad I could tell our Boys how much they are loved from afar. As I sat in that room on Friday night I wondered what each of the Boys would think and feel if they were surrounded by as much love as I was that night. I felt so honored, so loved- to overflowing. My spirit didn't see that coming. 🙂

 

To the International Church of Lucerne- your love and care for our family and our Boys is absolutely amazing. You tell us that you love and you care, and we believe it. Not just because of the money (which of course we couldn't appreciate more!) but because of your warm hearts and open arms. Your love is evident on your faces and we are just so thankful that God has brought our lives together. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for every bit of generosity poured out last weekend and in the months since we met. You have made a difference.

 

So, there's my Thanksgiving post. I'm not sure I've ever had a Thanksgiving where it hit home more. Praise God, it's time to go van shopping!! Yeehaw!

 

PS: Addy and I also got to spend some very special time with family. Brett and Rachel just got married and it was such a joy to be with them. Serious balm for my soul. Brett and Rachel, we love you and are so proud of you. Addy and I loved and savored every single minute with you. Ukraine is waiting for you!!! 😉

 

The Most Important Post

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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