Big News: A Wide Awake Nanny!

Oh guys, today was a good day.  I think you’re going to be pretty excited about today.  I know I’m excited.  Maybe that’s why it’s 12:52am and I’m still awake and just crazy enough to start writing a blog post.  Forgive the late-night typos and the lack of pictures, this news just can’t wait.

About a month ago I shared with you about our two newest additions to the Isolation Building.  I wrote about it here: http://wideawakefamily.com/2014/07/04/it-just-keeps-getting-better/  Our two new little guys (the “Littles”) are teeny tiny and we knew they would need a lot of extra support to be able to thrive.  Right before we left for camp in July we brought a bunch of supplies to Romaniv to help the nannies care for them more easily.  We left for camp unsure of how they would do at Romaniv, in their new environment, but hopeful.

Last Friday we finally made it back to Romaniv after three awesome weeks at camp.  Oh my, it felt amazing to be back with all our boys.  They were visibly happy to see us (which was a blessing all on it’s own!) and we were ecstatic to be back with them.  We missed those faces!

We could see right away that the Littles have not been thriving.  I don’t fault the institution, the nannies in the Isolation Building genuinely do care about them and do their best to meet their needs.  I fault a system that sets people up for failure.  Simply put, there is no way it is possible for 2 nannies to give 22 boys with severe disabilities the care they desperately need.  Once you add the needs of the Littles to all the others it becomes over-the-top impossible.  The Littles are still learning to eat from a spoon instead of only by bottle.  Bravo nannies for trying to teach them to take food from a spoon!  They are unable to walk, and one of them is unable to even sit, but who has the time to help them weight bear and learn to crawl and learn to grasp toys and learn to interact with their environment?  With a building full of other boys who don’t understand personal space or boundaries or how to be gentle with “babies” , how do you keep these little ones safe without keeping them in their cribs all day long?  I don’t fault the nannies.  I’m not at all sure how I would do different if I were in their shoes.

The honest truth we saw right away is that there is no way these boys could thrive without a big intervention.

So, we went home last Friday and asked God how Wide Awake could or should intervene.

The thing is, we will be at a language intensive for the next bit and won’t be able to be at Romaniv for 3 weeks.  We couldn’t help but feel a desperation to help before we leave, and on Tuesday Jed and I met with the orphanage’s Assistant Director (who came in on his vacation) to see what that help could look like.

I can’t brag enough about this orphanage administration.  They are so open to help and to new ideas and we are beyond thankful for that.  They genuinely care about the boys and they really do want to improve their lives.  They know they need help and they don’t turn it away when it’s offered.  Thanks to those who have served them faithfully for years, we get to see the fruit that is cooperation and trust and encouragement.  It’s awesome.

In our meeting the Assistant Director was super open to our ideas.  He said “You know our boys.  If you have ideas to make their lives better we will do our best to help you reach those goals.”  Praise God.

We presented the idea of Wide Awake International hiring an extra nanny to care specifically for the Littles for the next three weeks while we are away.  The purpose of the nanny would be:

1.  To feed the boys the way they need to be fed so that they are able to keep down the nutrition they work so hard to take in.  They both have reflux and one of them is still very lacking in the oral skills needed to eat safely from a spoon.  Feeding them properly takes a long time and the regular nannies just don’t have that time with their normal workload.

2.  To provide therapeutic interventions that will help the boys build strength and motor skills- both gross and fine.  They need to bear weight on their legs and arms.  They need to learn to crawl.  They need to learn to grasp toys.  They need to have tummy time and neck control….and and and….  🙂  Any attention to their bodies, any play will help them come closer to achieving those goals.

3.  To love.  These little ones live confined to their beds.  Oh how they would thrive with time and attention and physical touch.  Oh how they would thrive with a walk in a stroller, to feel the sun on their faces.  Oh how they would thrive when being held, just for the sake of being held.

The Assistant Director liked the idea.  He presented it to the Director who liked the idea,

Annnnnnddddd….today we met our nanny!  Wahooooooo!

She is a kind, gentle woman who seems to be just the right fit.  We pray it is so.  She was visibly touched when she first met the boys and she was open to all our instructions and ideas.  Today we discussed our ideas for working with the boys’ bodies and how we would like them to be fed.  If she implements these ideas we won’t help but see improvement. Improvement in their overall well-being is inevitable.  🙂

Our Wide Awake nanny will work from 8-5, Monday through Friday (with possible some time on Saturdays) and her main focus will be the Littles.  If they are sleeping she can help out some with the others, but we were very clear about our expectations that she focus on the Littles.  We really want to see how they improve and how they respond to this care, so as much as we love all our other boys, we need our nanny to be pretty focused.  The Little’s room is like the ICU of Romaniv.  Yes, all the other patients in a hospital need care, but the ones in ICU need special attention for some time.  So it is with them.

Want to know something really awesome that’s like icing on the cake?  There’s this awesome kid in Portland, Oregon.  His name is Athen.  God really gave Athen a big heart for our Boys. He loves them and for the past several months he’s been working hard to raise money to help them.  He’s done a pancake breakfast and raffles and t-shirt sales.  He made bracelets and sold them during school lunch.  He worked hard.  On Monday, the day before Jed and I met at Romaniv to present our idea about the nanny, Athen gave us his total from his fundraisers:  $820.  SHUT UP!!!!!  So, not only did we have a really cool idea to present to the orphanage administration, but we had a big chunk of money to pay the bill for the idea (plus some!).  Too stinkin’ awesome.  Really.

When we get back from our language course we will see how it went with our nanny and at that point we will talk with the directors about a more long-term plan for improving the Littles’ health and well-being.  The rest of the money Athen raised will be put to good use at that time.  I’m confident of that!

So, there you have it!  Now is that good news or what?  How amazing that God sees and He knows our Littles.  He loves them so much that He moved the heart of a boy across the world who didn’t even know them to work his tail off so they could have a nanny just for them.  He loves them so much that He opened the hearts of the Directors to come to work on their vacation to find a nanny and sign papers and talk business and money and schedules.  He loves them so much that He moved the heart of a kind woman to love them and serve them for these next three weeks.

Oh how He loves us!  Woohoooooooo!

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Once upon a time, four years ago, I happened upon a blog of an adoptive mom who had just returned from Ukraine with her two new daughters, both with special needs.  That night, sitting on the couch with my laptop and cup of coffee, my life was changed.  Our lives were changed.

Tears streamed down my face that night as I read every post of the adoption blog.  That night I learned about life in Ukraine for orphans with disabilities.  A whole world was opened to me that I hadn’t even known existed.  I learned about school age children, the size of infants, living their lives bedridden in their cribs.  I learned about mental institutions in rural villages that house the disabled- hidden from the rest of the world. I read for hours that night.  One blog led to another that led to a website that led to another site.  My heart was broken and I knew something big was happening.  God meant for Jed and I to do something about this issue and these children, and He was serious about it.

Now, four years later, I’m in Ukraine, sitting on my bed with my laptop and my cup of coffee, realizing just how serious God was that night.  Yeah, He wasn’t messing around.  🙂

All along the journey that began that fateful night, God has been growing and refining the dreams He’s given us for the orphans with disabilities here in Ukraine.  We knew then, and we know now that He has called us here with a specific focus on bedridden children.  That is a population of orphans that is extremely difficult to reach, but God has been very clear that they are our people.  They are the ones we are to fight for.  Of course we are absolutely in love with many, many people with disabilities here that are not confined to their beds.  The big vision of Wide Awake includes varying levels of ability, but we knew then and we know now that God has a special plan for us that involves bedridden children.

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The big question has always been “How will we gain access to the bedridden children?”  Those children are generally more hidden away and it’s difficult for outsiders to work with them at all.  Perhaps orphanage directors are afraid, maybe they are protective…we will probably never fully understand the reasons.  We have just known that it would be up to God to bring those children across our path.  After all, it’s not like we can just walk into any old orphanage and ask to be shown to the crib section.  Ha!  Access to medically fragile kids only comes with relationship and trust.  Those things take time, so we have not been in a hurry.

But God.

Last week our team arrived at Romaniv and learned that two new little boys had been transferred to our Isolation Building from the baby house orphanage.  When Jed saw them for the first time his heart skipped a beat (or two).  They are both five years old and the size of infants.  They are bedridden and have spent their whole lives thus far in their cribs.  They are exactly our target population.  For these boys, and others just like them, we have sold everything and moved across the globe.  After months (actually years!) of wondering how we would gain access to children like these they have literally been dropped in our laps.  We didn’t even have to find them.  They were brought to us! I still can’t believe it.

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 Mission to Ukraine has been faithfully serving at Romaniv for five years.  Over those five years they have loved and given and loved and given some more.  They have brought Jesus there and His light and love have changed everything.  It is not the same place it once was.  The staff are not the same.  The Directors are not the same.  The boys are definitely not the same!  Because of MTU’s incredible faithfulness we now reap the harvest.  We are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Because of the amazing work they’ve done over the years we have full access to our boys in the Isolation Room.  We can visit any time we want.  We can take boys to the Sensory Room.  We can try new things and interact intentionally with each boy.  The Directors welcome us whenever we can come and invite us to even come more often.  It’s a situation we could only ever dream about.

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Now we have new boys who are completely bedridden and we have full access to them.  We even got to visit on Tuesday and talk with the staff about some of their biggest concerns about caring for these new boys!  Today we got to bring them a pack n play so they are not confined to their room every minute of the day.  We got to bring them mobiles for the cribs.  We got to observe their feedings and give input and advice. We get to be actively involved in improving their quality of life and it’s unreal.

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Testing out the new pack n play!

Each one of our boys in the Isolation Building holds a special place in our hearts.  We are learning their likes and dislikes, their habits and cues.  I really can’t express in words how much they mean to us and how great our love is for them.  They are our babies, each one of them.  I can’t even believe we have the honor of knowing them and loving them.  And now we have two more to love.

I guess I just had to share how awesome our God is.  His plans are so perfect.  He is so wise.  He placed us right where He wanted us, knowing all He had in mind.  He brought us here with an impossible-to-reach population in mind, and then proceeded to drop them right in our laps.  Incredible.  I can not thank God enough for our dear friends at MTU.  They have paved the way through many hours of love and care, and they loved our boys before we even had a clue of their existence.   We will be forever grateful.  Now to watch and see what God does next!  🙂

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Our little celebrities 🙂

ROMANIV DAY CAMP: A Week in Pictures

Last week was a very special week!  We had a week-long day camp at Romaniv orphanage! For the older, higher functioning boys the staff of Mission to Ukraine does a full-on VBS type camp for them with games, snacks, crafts, and lessons about Jesus.  They had Olympic games, opening and closing ceremonies complete with the Ukrainian flag and National Anthem, and LOADS OF FUN.

Since the doors to Romaniv were open to us all week we just had to take advantage of it and spend some special time with our Boys in Isolation.  Our boys could not handle, nor participate in a camp like the bigger boys, so we decided to spend the week taking small groups of boys aside each day in order to have some more intentional interactions with them.  It was AMAZING.  It was like a dream to be able to be with them one on one, to see them every day, to give them the individual attention they need.  Woohoo!

I shared a small glimpse of each day on the Wide Awake Facebook page, but I know many of you aren’t on FB.  Plus, there were sooooo many wonderful pictures to share- totally deserving of a big fat blog post.  Here you go!  I’m just cutting and pasting the FB blurbs and then you can see the pics of that day following the blurb.  Mmmmk?

ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 1: I can’t even express the joy that was today. We decided for the Isolation Room kiddos we would use this week to focus on one-on-one interactions with the boys. So each day we will be taking a group of 5 boys aside and interacting with them more intentionally.

The Directors gave us the use of the sensory room and it was like heaven. Today we heard the first laughs ever (for us) from two of our boys. Big, hearty, belly laughs that we didn’t even know they had inside them. It was like hearing your baby’s first laugh- PURE JOY. These boys are growing and changing. It’s miraculous. Praise God for His love that never fails!!!

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B loves the weighted blanket.

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…and he also loves the ball pit!

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Lesa helped us with the boys on Monday and Tuesday with her 14 year old son Igor. They were awesome. We were so happy to meet them!!

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Sweet S is out of his wheelchair!!!!

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Look at all that eye contact! And a smile!!!!! A few months ago we would have never dreamed smiles like this would be possible from V.

ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 2

Today we fell in love… again. 

It started out a bit rough, with miscommunication and WAAAAAY too many boys with high needs in too small of a space. Ha! We really want the Sensory Room to be a safe place, and boys were stressed and self-harming, so we had to act fast. We switched boys in and out till we has the right mix, and then had a super great time.

Yuroslav, oh sweet boy. He rarely joins us on our Friday visits, content to sit outside in the hall calling out “Mama! Papa!” every so often and sucking his thumb. Today we learned he is strong and he LOVES to play ball. It’s awesome to have the time to connect with the harder-to-reach boys. We can observe them closely and try different ways to make that human connection.

Two days down, three more to go!

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Misha is blind and he loves music. He ADORES music.

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Did I mention music makes him very happy? 🙂

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ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 3: 
Today was interesting and different and goooood. When we arrived, we learned it was “bath day”. We didn’t know, since we never go there on Wednesdays. So, we first waited for baths to be done. It was pouring down rain outside and when we asked the caregivers if we could take a few boys to the other building to the Sensory Room after bath time they WERE NOT having it.  So, we winged it! 

We brought all the boys together and basically did what we normally do on Fridays. At first the caregivers said we could only have one hour with them because they needed to clip their nails and such (remember, it’s Bath Day), but once we got going they relaxed and let stay for the whole time. 

There was some great connection time with several of the boys. Zhenya even fell asleep in my lap! Happy sigh…  We got to connect with a caregiver we had never met before and ease her load for a couple of hours. All in all it was a very sweet time. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Pray we have a dry day tomorrow so we can visit the Sensory Room again! Thanks  

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Christina and Maks got to come help on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This was Maks’ first time to Romaniv. Thank you dear friends!

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Zhenya loves a good cuddle. 🙂

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ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 4: 
Today was a day of hopes fulfilled, and dreams dreamed.  

The sun was out so we got to take a few boys to the Sensory Room! There were 4 boys in particular we were hoping to work with today and lucky us, the caregivers were like “Go for it! Take whoever you want! Take them all!” Ha! We took our 4, plus sweet Yuroslav and Valera for extra cuteness sake.

We had amazing interactions with two of the boys we brought. They are usually very medicated and they sleep a lot. During our time in the Sensory Room they were alive! They smiled and giggled and responded very well. Just what we had hoped for!

The other two boys are always highly medicated and distant. They don’t interact with others at all. Unfortunately we were not able to break through to them today. Their bodies were in the room, but their minds were far away. We have much work to do before we can connect with them in a meaningful way. We dream of that day- the day we truly see who they are. 

We are not discouraged. We are hopeful! We are thankful for an open Director who cares, willing and cooperative caregivers, those who have paved the way for this work. and most of all for a God who is bigger. NO ONE is beyond His reach! One step at a time…

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Misha was not so sure about the swing at first…then promptly fell asleep.

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Valera loves stuffed animals of all kinds. He is so sweet.

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Hahahahahaha

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Orhan does so well with a weighted vest. He is making good gains these days, learning to be less aggressive…one step at a time…

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Z needs to taste everything

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Oooooh it makes noise!

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Tasting the puzzle…

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Leaning in for the cuddle…

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So sweet…

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Ha! Unexpected kiss! Hahaha

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We had hoped to connect with these sweeties, but they are unreachable right now- locked inside themselves. We’re praying for wisdom in how to help them. Pray with us!

ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 5:
Today was the end of a wonderful week spent with Our Boys. Almost all the boys got to go outside to spend some time in the sun and it was WONDERFUL. Their faces lit up when they saw the team arrive for another day. Like “You guys are here AGAIN???” It’s awesome to see them begin to walk, scoot, and crawl to the door when we arrive, hoping they get to go out to play for a bit. 

Today after camp all the volunteers, the staff of Mission to Ukraine, and a couple of the orphanage staff went to a park for a picnic. We celebrated the wonderful strides that have been made this past year, and began to dream of the work that is yet to be done.

Our dreams are BIG. We dream of each boy having an occupation- a way to spend his time, a way to contribute to the world around him. We dream of the Boys serving each other in greater ways; we dream of boys learning to read, learning to walk, learning to speak. Mostly we dream of a place for the boys to be where they can know the love of their Father God through the love of a family. I could go on and on. 

One day at a time, one boy at a time, one YES at a time. Thank you for sharing in the journey! Today, wherever you may be, may you live this day Wide Awake- ready for the next YES that lies before you.

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Sergey got to come help on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. I can’t even tell you what a wonderful servant he is. Sergey KNOWS the boys well and he loves them very much. Thank you Seriozha!!!

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Our wonderful Nina got to come on Friday!!! Every single boy loves Nina. She has the biggest heart and such a wonderful, peaceful way with them. Thank you Nina!!!

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At the closing ceremonies. Our hope for Ukraine is in God alone. He knows and He cares. 🙂

Our dear friend Olya, from Kyiv, came to stay with our family Monday through Wednesday so Jed and I could both be at Romaniv those days.  On Thursday I went, and Jed stayed home with the kids, and then on Friday Jed went and I stayed home.  We both really wanted to be at the picnic on Friday, so wonderful Dima, the driver for MTU, drove the kids and me out to Romaniv on Friday to meet the team and go to the picnic together.

Our kids have been longing and dreaming of visiting Romaniv.  They hear about the boys all the time.  They see their pictures almost daily.  These boys have become a huge part of our lives and our kids were dying to meet them in person.  We haven’t gotten permission yet for Addy and Ezra to visit the boys with us on Fridays, but we feel like they are ready (Hava and Seth are too young).  I wasn’t so sure before- I was afraid Addy and Ezra would be frightened, we didn’t know the boys as well.  But they have been asking more and more, so Friday was a good chance to give them a little taste of Romaniv to see what they thought.

Dima drove us to Romaniv and I told the kids if the team wasn’t quite finished and if they were still inside we would ask the caregivers if we could come inside to see the boys just for a minute.  You would have thought we had backstage passes to the concert of a lifetime they were so excited!

When we arrived the team was still cleaning up, so I took the kids to the Isolation building.  They were immediately greeted by the boys who were outside and I was so proud of them!  They looked the boys in their eyes and shook their hands- even Hava and Seth!  They looked a little unsure, but not really afraid.  Then Addy and Ezra came inside the building and got to meet several of the boys inside.  They knew them from the pictures and they were OVER THE MOON to meet them!  You could see they were excited, but also nervous.  I mean, it’s a big sensory experience even for adults, so I thought they did really well.  The boys can look kind of scary, it’s super stinky, but they both really loved it.  They have been begging to go back, so we just need to pray and ask God what He has in store for our kids at Romaniv.  I hope soon they can be joining us regularly.  It’s part of who they were created to be!

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Addy and Seriozha. His face lit up when he saw her. I wonder when he last saw a little girl?

IMG_6491Overall it was a fantastic week.  I can’t even tell you how extraordinarily thankful we are for those who have gone before us.  For years, MTU and several volunteers have faithfully poured in to the boys and the staff at Romaniv.  Without their faithfulness and perseverance we would have never had the week that we did.  The Directors are so open to the help- that is a huge answer to prayer.

There is a lot of work to be done.  There are many boys not pictured here because they were too medicated, or too withdrawn to participate at all.  There are many boys still locked inside themselves.  Our boys still spend the majority of each day tied to their beds because there isn’t enough staff to keep them safe from themselves and others.  Many of them only see the sun when we come on Fridays.  Oh there is so much to be done.  BUT weeks like this remind us of just how far things have come.  God has done the miraculous in Romaniv and He’s not about to stop now.

Praise God for his abounding love for these boys and their caregivers.  Praise God that what was once hidden is now brought to light.  Praise God that He has a hope and a future for each boy, for each person He created.  And praise God we get to partner with him that!

 

 

 

 

 

Fun in the Sun…THANK YOU!

Oh Romaniv…oh sweet boys.   I wish so much that each of you could visit Our Boys and spend even just a few minutes with them.  I wish I could accurately and fully express just how we feel about them.  They are beyond precious to us.  I remember the very first time Jed and I ever visited there…nervous, excited…never the same.  Never would I have dreamed at that time that we would now be so invested in to these boys.  We are learning about their little quirks, their likes and dislikes, who can eat a banana on his own and who needs help; who will try to eat rocks and grass outside and who will try to escape; who will throw their shoes on the roof of the building and who’s feet are too twisted and misshapen for shoes at all; who needs to be held tightly when overstimulated and who likes to sway…the list goes on and on.  There is so much to learn and we have the time to learn it.  These are the things that matter.  To know and to be known, I’ve never understood the importance of that until this move.

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Our Isolation boys stay inside all day every day.  There are simply not enough caregivers to take them all outside.  All day every day in the same small building with the same hall and same rooms.  No wind in their face, no sun on their skin, no grass between their toes.  They eat in their building and sleep in their building.  It is their whole world.

A few weeks ago we decided to ask the caregivers if we could take the boys outside during our Friday visits.  We weren’t sure if they would allow it, but it never hurts to ask!  Surprisingly they said yes without hesitation.  The only problem was digging up enough shoes and coats for all the boys.  Oy.  Yeah, they were only able to find enough shoes and jackets for 8 of the 21 boys.  We were disappointed that some boys would be excluded, but we still took several of them outside.

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Later that day I posted about the visit on the Wide Awake Facebook page.  I mentioned that there weren’t enough coats and shoes to go around and that people could let us know if they wanted to help with that.  Oh.My.Word.  You guys!!!!  Your generosity blew us away.  Within the next couple of days $725 was donated to buy shoes and coats for the Boys.

THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!

We went to Mission to Ukraine (MTU) to discuss how and where to purchase the needed items for the Boys.  They, in turn, contacted the Director at Romaniv and he indicated that they should have enough coats and shoes for all the boys…they just needed to be taken from storage.  So, we are a bit halted right now on buying the items as we try to verify if there are truly enough clothes for everyone, and if not, what sizes are needed.  We already know the shoe supply is not adequate.  We’ve got some foot measuring to do.

(Hint: nothing happens quickly in these here parts.  No biggie, we’ve got time.)

In the meantime, we’ve been able to take the boys out every Friday since!  The caregivers have found enough slippers for those who are willing to go outside.  Most of them are broken slippers and don’t stay on worth beans, but at least it’s enough to get them out the door 😉 It’s been warm enough that we haven’t needed jackets, so we have time to work on that issue.

One need that did arise is the need for hats.  Our Boys never see the sun, so you can bet they are as pale as can be,  We realized right away that they needed hats to provide some sun protection while we’re outside.  So, we were able to use a portion of the donated funds to buy hats for the boys!

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A few of our more interactive boys were SO EXCITED!!!  It made us feel so much better to know their little white faces were protected.  The last thing we need is a sunburn to rain on our parade.  🙂

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Thank you to each and every person who donated so graciously.  Each step forward greatly improves their quality of life and we just can’t thank you enough for making it possible.

We’ll keep you posted on the shoe and jacket purchases.  We really need to get some shoes that fasten well so “you know who” can’t chuck them up on the roof of the building quite so easily….ahem….not to name any names…  🙂

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…ahem…

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What? You want me to actually keep this on my head???

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Wishful thinking!

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Maxim stole my camera and took this one 🙂

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Annnnd here’s me begging Maxim to return the camera…haha

If you are interested in donating specifically for the boys at Romaniv, here is a link to their fund.

 

 

 

 

 

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?