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. ūüôā

Happy Birthday Zhytomyr! We're big fans!


Sunday Mornin’ Meetin’ Time

Today as we were getting ready for church I thought, “Hey! ¬†I should take pics of going to church today!” ¬†So I did. ¬†That’s how brilliant revelations come to me. ¬†Isn’t it miraculous?

It’s not all that exciting, but I figured some of you out there might be interested in our Sunday morning routine here in Ukraine. ¬†So, here ya go!

8:15am– I wake up and realize the time. ¬†I wonder how my children can still be sleeping, and then remember they stayed up far too late last night. ¬†Aha! ¬†We need to leave for church at 9:30 if we’re gonna make it in time.

Let the Sunday morning rush begin. ¬†You know it well. ¬†Rummaging through piles of laundry for something presentable that doesn’t need ironing (because who has time for that?), scrounging up a quick breakfast to keep the ravaging wolves at bay, reminding everyone again to please brush their teeth, trying to find matching socks for the Littles, and then giving up and just putting on the closest two that semi-fit. ¬†Are we the only ones that don’t lay everything out the night before like we should? ¬†Yeah, we could, we should…but isn’t this way so much more fun? ¬†Hehe…

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Someone decided to get all gussied up in his Sunday best!

9:45am– We should have left 15 minutes ago in order to walk to the bus stop, catch the bus, and then walk the rest of the way to the church, but we didn’t. ¬†Now we’ll need to catch a taxi along the way. ¬†In the past when we were running late we would call a taxi to come to our house and take us to church. ¬†Well, after multiple failures going that route, we found it’s much easier to just find a taxi on the way. ¬†Apparently our street is impossibly difficult for taxis to find, AND there’s another street in town with the same name as ours. ¬†Eight times out of ten they end up going to that other street. ¬†So, we started asking them to come to the street by our street, but would still end up waiting a long time. ¬†Finding our own taxi saves everyone a lot of Sunday-morning-church-prepping-sanity (which the other mommies out there know is in horrendously short supply).

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Yeah, our street doesn’t handle rain all that well…

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We walk to the place where a couple taxis usually park and find a willing party.  For about $1.50 we get a quick ride to church.  Sweeeeet.

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Jed, the taxi-wrangler

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Seth always likes to sit in the middle so he can watch where we go.

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Married women have to cover their heads at our church. Like the look? Haha! (Hava was mad because she wanted to sit next to Addy) ūüôā

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10:00am– Kids are dropped off in Sunday School class and church begins. ¬†Havalah and Seth are trying out the 4-6 year old class this week since they like to be together and Seth turns 4 this week. ¬†Woot! ¬†Up till now they’ve been in the 3 year old class. ¬†Addy and Ezra go to class together with 9-11 year olds.

Church is mostly in Ukrainian, with a good smattering of Russian thrown in for confusion’s sake. ¬†ūüėČ ¬†Our pastor speaks Ukrainian in church, but the guy who preached today preached in Russian. ¬†Our church here in Ukraine is VERY different than our church in Salem. ¬†They’re almost as different as they could be. ¬†Really. ¬†It’s like a whole new world. ¬†There is a choir, no clapping, lots of Babushkas, lots of special solos, lots of standing up and sitting down all together, and only a piano. ¬†Every week different children sing or recite Scripture and elderly people recite poems or Scripture. ¬†I really love how every age group is involved in every service. ¬†There is much I miss about our home church. ¬†MUCH. ¬†But, we know this is where God has us for now, so we learning and we are content. ¬†Today there was a baby dedication, so that was super cute. ¬†ūüôā ¬†Also, today a Babushka loaned us her hymnal (everyone has their own) to use during the hymns, so that was fun to be able to sing along. ¬†We need to buy our own. ¬†We just keep forgetting!

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12:00pm– I leave the service to go pick up the Littles. ¬†Church isn’t over yet, but if I wait until church is over to go pick them up they are the only ones left, so I’ve picked up the idea you’re supposed to pick them up at noon, even if the service is still going.

I take them outside to play and Addy and Ez soon join us. ¬†Addy’s teacher said a few kids from their class are singing next week and she wants Addy to recite a Scripture. ¬†Fun!

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12:20pm- Church is out and Jed FINALLY comes outside. ¬†(Some things never change, eh Salem Vineyard peeps? ¬†Hehe) ¬†Apparently I missed out big time. ¬†After I left to go get the kids the pastor introduced our family to the church. ¬†Oops. ¬†Welp, at least Jed was there to represent. ¬†It’s fairly obvious that I belong with him, so it’s probably okay that I wasn’t in there…still, oops. ūüôā

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We walk to the bus stop and wait for the trolley bus to take us on home. ¬†And that is that! ¬†Another Sunday morning come and gone. ¬†Now I’m sitting here all cozy with a big ol’ cup of coffee, the kids are playing, and Jed’s on a date with Havalah. ¬†I’m so happy to not have to think about the kids’ homework I’m almost giddy.

Happy Sunday to you!

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The Last Bell: Ukrainian School


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Addy and her friend, Masha

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First Class 1-–Ī

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Flowers for teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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Addy, Ez, and their super teacher

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Havalah has a little kid “teacher crush” ūüôā

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

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Coffee Chat

On the eve of tomorrow’s presidential elections here in Ukraine, there is much that could be said. ¬†Things are getting more and more crazy in the East. ¬†I can’t even keep up with the news properly. ¬†People on both sides of the conflict are dying and no one knows what will happen next. ¬†Please join us in prayer for tomorrow’s elections! ¬†Pray that people would not be hindered from voting. ¬†Pray that there would be loads of courage and wisdom on each person who decides to make their voice heard. ¬†Pray for honesty and that corruption would be far away from these proceedings. ¬†That almost seems impossible, but we are praying it anyway. ¬†God is doing a new thing here and we choose hope. ¬†

Let’s chat. ¬†Let’s pretend you and I are sitting down for a nice, hot cup of coffee and you just asked me, “So, what have you guys been up to?”

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We’ve been great! ¬†I’m so glad it’s almost summer break. ¬†One more week of school and we’re done!!! ¬†Addy and Ezra had testing last week in reading, writing, and math and they both did fine on all the tests. ¬†Yay! ¬†They both recited poems in their class program and did awesome. FIVE MORE DAYS!!!!! ¬†Good thing too, because it’s really hard to think about school when it’s 80 degrees with blue skies and all the neighbor kids get to stay out playing till after 9:00 every night. ¬†ūüôā

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Speaking of neighbor kids, we have a couple that have started to come over faithfully to invite the kids to come outside and play!  They are sweet little girls that are both 11, and they really enjoy playing with the kids.  They usually bring an assortment of siblings and other tag-alongs with them.  One day they were so desperate to communicate that one of them actually ran inside her apartment and came out with an English-Russian dictionary!  Thank you Jesus for fun kids to run around with.

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The little girls made our kids this picture as a gift. Notice the bottom, “Set, Hava, Ezra, and HARRY” Hahahahahaha!!!! Looks like Addy’s got a new nickname!

So, in case you didn’t know, Ukrainians have a thing for hedgehogs. ¬†Everyone loves hedgehogs here. ¬†You can find candy named after hedgehogs; they are a super common theme in kids’ books; many families have stuffed animal hedgehogs in their houses, and the kids have homework that involves hedgehogs at least once a week. ¬†I love it! ¬†I don’t get it, but I enjoy it. ¬†Well, a couple nights ago there was a hedgehog on our street! ¬†I’d never seen a real one before! ¬†Coooool. ¬†One of the neighbors lightly kicked it until it rolled in to a ball and then he picked it up. I’ve got to admit, I’m becoming a fan!

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We had our second Youth Night at MTU last week. ¬†It was karaoke night and we all had a blast. ¬†We got to be outside, we ate food, chatted, sang, laughed, bowled. ¬†So many smiles…I am absolutely in love with Youth Night.

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Jed even pulled out the air guitar. Intense.

Last week classes at MTU ended for the school year. ¬†Now we enter the summer schedule, which is shaping up to be pretty stinking fun. ¬†I’ll do a post about that later. ¬†Over the past couple of months my friend Tanya and I had the best time meeting with some of the moms whose kids are served at MTU. ¬†Normally while the kids are in classes, the moms meet with Olya, a staff member of MTU. ¬†They chat, pray, and study the Bible. ¬†Olya is pretty busy, so Tanya and I took a couple of her groups and have met with them several times. ¬†We had such fun!! ¬†We drank tea, prayed, chatted…I absolutely loved getting to know some of the moms of the children and youth we serve. ¬†These are some awesome, strong, brave, and loving women. ¬†I adore them!

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Mommies and Me

Today was such a fun day here in Zhytomyr!! ¬†They hung up a record-breaking, HUGE HUGE HUGE Ukrainian flag on a building in our city center. ¬†There was a big gathering today at the flag to hear from some important people in the city, to hear some beautiful music, to sing the National Anthem, and basically just to show support and love the for this wonderful country. ¬†Many, many people were dressed in traditional clothing, there were flags everywhere…it was AWESOME. ¬†I was so thankful we got to be there to participate! ¬†Zhytomyr, as a city, has honestly been a bit sleepy when it comes to all that has been happening these past few months. ¬†But now, a few days after the attack and deaths of some of our own Zhytomyr soldiers who were fighting in the east, Zhytomyr is sleeping no more.

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The view from the other side of the city center. Massive!!!

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University students in traditional dress marched and chanted in the streets.

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Johnson kiddos feelin’ the love…

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Our dear friend Olya helping Havalah in the sidewalk chalk competition. Kids were supposed to draw something to symbolize their love for Ukraine.

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Addy, hard at work. Her writing says “I love Ukraine” -in Ukrainian! Nice job sis!

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Showing our flowery support with traditional hairbands ūüôā

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Some of our favorite people: Oksana, Nastya, Tolik, Victor, Katya,Olya, Oleg, Tanya, and baby Zakhar. (Seth was sooooo done. Haha)

Thank you for loving the Ukrainian people alongside us.  May God have His way and may many hearts be turned to Him during this time.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20, 21

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. ¬†ūüôā ¬†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 ūüėČ 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. ¬†ūüôā

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. ¬†ūüôā

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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, “–°–Ľ–į–≤–į –£–ļ—Ä–į—ó–Ĺ—Ė! ¬†–°–Ľ–į–≤–į –£–ļ—Ä–į—ó–Ĺ—Ė!” ¬†(“Glory to Ukraine! ¬†Glory to Ukraine!”)

Is this life for real?