The Tension

This living-overseas-everythingisnew-missionary-stillawifeandmomfirst-immersion thing can be quite the doozy at times. It’s a rough and wonderful road. Sharing about it though, is fine line to walk.

I want to be real and honest.

But I don’t want to be a complainer.

I want to be me.

But how to “be me” from behind a keyboard?

I want to be respectful of people here in Ukraine.

But there are things here that are difficult for us, since this is not our home culture.

I want to be respectful of the people back in the US.

But I also want them to be challenged and encouraged to think and dream bigger- and act.

I want to share all so people know how to pray.

But I don’t want to share all because I know many Ukrainian friends read this blog and I don’t want them to worry about us or feel bad for us.

I want to share about our Boys and their need and their worth. I want to share about their lives and things that break our hearts and should never have to be endured by a human.

But I don’t want to share too much because I don’t want to disrespect them or exploit them or break relationship with the Directors at Romaniv.

 

Fine line. Tight rope walking.

 

I say all that just so you know that when I write things on this blog I don’t take it lightly. There are many people to consider and many points of view to consider. Many times I write to clarify things in my own mind and heart. Sometimes I don’t really understand my own feelings until I type them out. It’s kind of like a form of therapy for me. Lucky you, my dear Readers! Ha. I also always want to be honest about this journey. Maybe it could help others who are setting out on a journey like ours. I know I love reading honesty from those who have gone before. Somehow it settles my heart to see they struggle with things similar to my own.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out my heart and feelings surrounding the balance of being a mother and a friend and a cross-cultural-worker here in Ukraine. When we first arrived here Jed and I both jumped right on in to work. We both volunteered at MTU, probably pretty equal amounts. Whoever wasn’t at MTU was home with the kids. It was an important time for us to figure out where we fit into everything here, and to see where God wanted us in the mix.

Then we had the summer, which was basically a whole family affair (which was AWESOME…). And now we have reached the fall, and we have a new norm. I think this new norm will be the norm for some time to come. I LOVE the new norm, but my overachieving, worker-bee, people-pleasing self won’t let me be completely at peace about it and I don’t know what that means.

The new norm is that Jed does most of the work outside the home, and I am home a lot more with the kids, reminiscent of our lives back in Oregon. Of course we both go to Romaniv twice a week, do language tutoring together, and we both work together on our youth nights for graduates, but most of the rest of the work is Jed’s. I get to focus more of my time on the home, the kiddos, and being Mom and Wife. I am in love with this. I know the kids need it and they thrive when I am home more. Focusing more time on our home and our family brings me great joy and fulfillment. When I’m gone from home a lot I feel scattered and yucky.

So, I know this is a good set-up. I know this. But then I start to question myself.

I don’t question if it’s a good thing that I’m home more. I value motherhood and I think stay-at-home moms rock. I have always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mom with no outside work committments, but that has never been what God had for me. It’s not the focus at home that I question, it’s the time spent not focusing outside the home that has me evaluating my heart.

Do I have such peace at home partly because it’s easier to be home than out in the culture that is still difficult for me? Do I have such peace at home because I feel smart at home and I mostly feel dumb as soon as I walk outside my front door? Hahaha…not kidding…hehe. When I’m at home I have this feeling like I should be outside getting to know my neighbors, or taking the kids to the playground so they can have more exposure to language and I can brave it with neighborhood moms. But as it is, I already feel like I’m not investing enough time in to the relationships here that I already have. It’s like that guilty Oregonian feeling you get when the sun finally comes out. You feel like because it’s sunny you should be outside NO MATTER WHAT. Because you never know when you might get sun again! Well, what if I don’t feel like being outside that day? What if I have inside work to do that day? Too bad. If I stay inside on a sunny day in Oregon I am riddled with guilt. (Is that just me, or do other Oregonians catch my drift?) (PS: I think I have some guilt issues)

I’m used to watching over all the friends in my life and making sure everyone is okay and included and taken care of, but I don’t have that role here with friends. Here, we are investing that time in to our Boys, and frankly the work at Romaniv can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting. I love those Boys more than I could have ever imagined and am fully committed to them and their well-being. It’s just that with being a wife and with our kiddos at home and then our kiddos at Romaniv…I don’t have a lot of reserve left on a day to day basis. I love my friends here so stinkin’ much. I just don’t feel like a very good friend here in Ukraine and I hate that feeling…but I feel helpless to change it.

Are all these feelings okay? Or am I relying too much on myself? Maybe I’m being lazy and selfish? It’s like I still have a short-term missions mindset that I have to give up every spare moment to the work and ministry here, but we are here for the longhaul. There will be no longevity if I live this life like a short-term missions trip. I know that, but I still battle. How to find the balance of time and energy spent?

Anywaysssss…balancing focus on the home and focus outside the home and all my feelings surrounding that is exhausting. I know what the answer is: walk in the Spirit. Be available to God and when He says to act, act. Be fully at home when I’m home, but also be aware and listening for the whisper to go outside and talk to the neighbors. Be aware of my friends and listen to promptings in my spirit for when I need to reach out. Stop being a people-pleaser and only live for an audience of One. Say YES. I know these things, it’s just all easier said than done.

So, there you have it: my Monday afternoon therapy session. Ha! I just think it’s important to be honest about this journey. Then you can all know how to pray! 🙂

Oh this road, it’s so unpredictable. Thank you Jesus for walking by my side.

 

On the Move

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I started packing today. We’re moving! YIPPEEE!
(That yippee wasn’t intended for the move itself, but more for the end product of where we’re moving to)

On Saturday we are moving to a new home here in Zhytomyr. It all happened really fast, hence me just starting to pack today. Yikes.

When we moved here almost a year ago we moved into a home that suited us really well for this first year in Ukraine. Our current home is super close to Mission to Ukraine, it has plenty of space for guests, it was in our budget, and it has been fine for the past several months. But, we have known all along this wouldn’t be our place to settle down in. It was a stop along the way. 🙂

We decided to start looking for something that had a yard. Oh how we have missed having a yard and a garden!! Our current home has no land or yard at all. Any and all of the land outside our door belongs to the neighbors and is a constant construction zone. We also wanted some place that could be more easily wheelchair accessible. If possible, we really wanted a house, not an apartment.

Last week we looked at two houses and the second one seemed just perfect! So, we’ll move in on Saturday!

Pros:
-It is a one-level house. I LOVE one-level houses.
-It’s really well built and nicely insulated. Ukraine is supposed to have a crazy winter on the way, so this is very good.
-MORE COUNTER SPACE!
-It has a living room! Our current home has a big dining/kitchen area, but no living room. We’ve missed having a couch. 🙂
-It’s cozy and compact. I don’t like a lot of house to clean.
-Here’s the kicker: It has an ENORMOUS space for a garden. I mean HUGE! We thought we would have to move out to the village to get land like this, and we were willing to, but finding it in town is even better! There is a big front yard/driveway and then in the back there is garden space that just goes on and on. We are happy, happy, happy.
-We’ll be about 3 blocks from a small bazaar, which is super convenient for shopping.

Cons:
-We don’t know anyone in the part of town we’re moving to. We don’t know the shops or any neighbors…starting from scratch in that way is kind of intimidating.
-The new place quite a bit further from Mission to Ukraine. No more 3 minute walks to MTU- now it’s a bus ride away. Boohoooooo
-It’s a two bedroom house, so there’s no guest room. But don’t worry, friends! The couch turns in to a bed. We’ll still have room for you!

We’re happy and thankful to have found a cozy place that looks like it can be a real home. We’ll make sure to post pictures when we’re moved in!

Now, back to packing. Yayyyyy…..sorta.

Quiet Giddiness. Giddiness About Quiet.

I can’t even believe what is happening right now at my house. I’m feeling giddy, but I’m afraid to get too giddy, lest I fall in to premature giddiness.

We are having quiet time right now…and it’s quiet.

I know.  Unbelievable.

You see, I feel I have good reason to be giddy about this.  I’m almost afraid to say it, but I believe we have entered a new phase in our family- uncharted territory, if you will.  We may have just entered the phase of “Quiet Time that is Actually Quiet”. Eureka!!!!!!!

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Once, ten and a half years ago, we had a baby girl.  Then, 21 months after that we had a baby boy. Then 16 months after that we welcomed our first foster baby.  That sweet first foster baby ushered us into what I’ll call “The Season of the Baby”.

(I can call it that now, with a smile, but during that time it could have been more honestly called “The Season of Insanity” or “The Season of Non-Stop Newborns for 5 years” or “The Season of G-Tubes and Alarms and Syringes and Gear Up the Wazoo” or “The Season of No Sleep for Five Years”.)

During that time of fostering we had a total of 10 infants, two of them being Havalah and Seth.  🙂 At one point during that time we had a five-year-old, a three-year-old, a 12 week old (Hava), a 9 week old who was born at 29 weeks with multiple special needs, and a Korean high school student.   Oh, and just to make things even more exciting, Jed worked in a city an hour away and was finishing his degree in night school.  Jesus take the wheel.  I get panicky just thinking about it.  We loved foster parenting, and I can without a doubt say it was one of the most difficult and most wonderful experiences of my life, but it is not for the faint of heart.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, no regrets, I’m just saying it was a tad exhausting in every way imaginable.

(You can read more about our fostering journey here, here, here, and here.)

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BUT, right this very minute Seth is upstairs playing PLAYING!!! in the bedroom, all alone, and he has been for the past hour.  I told him we were going to have quiet time and he didn’t have to sleep (naps don’t go over well with Seth), but he needed to play quietly and not come out until the timer went off.  The timer just went off and he said he wanted to stay and play longer!!!!  I CAN’T BELIEVE IT.  Seth has just recently really begun to play with toys, and because of some of his prenatal history I never expected a ton of independent play from him.  Boy oh boy, is he proving me wrong.  Just like he always has.  🙂  What an awesome boy.  Hava loves to play alone, so quiet time is like heaven for her.  Addy and Ez are home from school today, reading in the other room.  Ezra is reading…ALONE.  Somebody pinch me.

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So, yeah, I’m a little excited about the quiet time possibilities.  I feel like a whole new world has opened up.  Maybe I could bake, or study language, or read a book, or teach Addy and Ez without 236 interruptions or… think!  So far I’ve baked pumpkin cupcakes and swept the floor and written this post, and I still hear him playing away.

Quiet Time for the win!

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Happy Birthday Z-Town!

Happy Birthday Dear Zhytomyr!

Today our city turned 1,130 years old. I guess that calls for a celebration!

Here's a peek at how we spent Zhytomyr's special day.

An organization that encourages mothers put up pictures of some of our local moms with their children with special needs. We were so happy to see many of our sweet friends looking so beautiful! So special.

We tried out some of the local scaryish, ricketier than you can imagine, rides!

Of course ice cream was a must. Duh.

There was so many elderly men playing music together. WE LOVED IT!

Somebody even put bubbles in the fountain! PARTAYYYY!

Seth made sure to wear his special cape for the occasion. We had to take a lot of pictures to prove how it flew behind him when he ran fast. 🙂

Happy Birthday Zhytomyr! We're big fans!

 

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. 🙂 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! 🙂

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.