Category: Family

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A Season of Hope

It’s the day after Christmas and we all feel like we need at least a day to recover from the festivities. Ha! Are you with me?

For real though, we had a wonderful time together here on the Homestead. We started the day each in our own homes; our family celebrated at home with cinnamon rolls, stockings, and gifts. Then all of us on the Homestead gathered in Side A of the ol’ duplex to spend the day together. There was so.much.food. We cooked together, gave our boys gifts, and had a few moments of relaxation. Mostly we just enjoyed being together with nowhere to be and no meetings or plans to attend to. Then in the evening, we had the crazy idea to take the boys caroling. We loaded everyone up in the vans and drove around the city for three hours, loading the boys in and out of the vans, singing, managing emotions and toileting, and giving gifts. It was a little bit insane and a lot special. I’m hesitant to say it’ll be our new tradition, but I know it meant a great deal to our team. If we’ve recovered from it by next year we might give it another go. 😂

There’s a simmering happening here in Ukraine. I definitely can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in our little corner of Ukraine, there is a palpable feeling of unrest rising. We know we lack the funding to win the war at this point. There are differing views of what a “win” would even mean and a building uncertainty that the win we are hoping for and dreaming of will ever be a reality. Air raids have once again become a daily event and the hits on Kyiv and in our region increase our vigilance once more. But the bigger stress comes from the President’s declaration that 500,000 more Ukrainian men will be conscripted into the military. Summons are being given anywhere and everywhere and the city feels tense, like everyone is holding their breath…waiting for the shoe to drop. We are all painfully aware that there are simply not enough men to fight this war. We know so, so many are dying every day to keep us safe, and many more still will. Each and every one of us knows more men must join the fight, but we hold the ones we love close to us, hoping anyone but them will be chosen.

In this moment of new uncertainty, our Ukrainian family’s faith is being tested in a new way. The question of who our lives belong to has never been more real and actual. The priorities of our hearts are being uncovered once again. What does it truly mean to entrust our lives and the lives of our family to God? What does it truly mean to hand over our whole selves to God? Each man has to decide if he will entrust his life and the life of his family to God, or if he will take matters into his own hands and try to make his own way. And each has to again come to the understanding that God never promised us physical safety. He never promised us that we would not walk through hard times. He never promised us lives of peace. But He did promise that He would never leave us or forsake us. He did promise that when we walked through the fire – He would be there with us. The invitation to surrender our lives to God is not an easy one to accept, but Jed and I have learned over the years (and are still learning) that the safest and most peaceful place to be is exactly where God has asked us to be. The best life for our children is in the place where God has called their parents. We will never ever understand the decision that Ukrainian men are making at this moment in history, and we won’t pretend to understand. But we can understand what it is to walk forward with Jesus, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when the way is unclear. God has not always called us to an easy life. These past 10 years have been filled with much heartache and many moments of pain and uncertainty, but God has never once left our sides. Again, we know we don’t understand what it feels like to be Ukrainian right now, but God’s promises do not change. So all we can do is remind our family here of what God has promised and remain close to them during this most difficult time.

In this Christmas season, when it feels that in some areas of life, hope is lost, we choose to lift our heads.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1,2

Friends, if we are followers of Jesus our lives are not our own. Everything we have, all that we are, we can give to Him. He is faithful. We can place our hope and our faith in Him- not because He is safe, but because He is good. Comfort and safety are not the final goal. He is our goal. He is our prize. A life given to Him is the only life truly worth living.

If you lack hope this Christmas season, lift up your head. Just look at how much God loves our boys, that He would gather this whole team here on the Homestead to pluck them out of obscurity and bring them into the love of a family. Not because they did anything special, but just because he loves them so very much. His love for you is the same. You can count on Him.

Merry Christmas from Ukraine. Thank you for supporting us and loving us along this journey. Thank you for continuing to stand with us and for praying for us. We appreciate you and pray the hope of Jesus fills your heart this day. ❤️

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Life Together is Beautiful

Last week Ruslan and Jed returned home to us at long, long last. Oh, the sweet relief and joy of having them safe and sound, back in our arms. Annnnnnd they brought home with them our dear Christiana! Christiana is a friend of ours and of Wide Awake/Dim Hidnosti for many years. Her dream (and ours) was that once she finished grad school she would come spend a longer period of time here with us as a house parent, living with the boys. At long last, she finished and now she is here! It still doesn’t feel quite real that she’ll be with us for a full two years. I think we all feel a bit of the “pinch me” feelings. 🙂

Now that Jed is home and Christiana is here we really do have what we have always dreamed of. We have our boys living in our beautiful homes and we have amazing house parents living with them, building family. And a huge bonus is that all of us living here on the Homestead truly love and like each other! What we have is something special and right now I’m really feelin’ all the feels about it.

Dajana and Christiana love the boys and are feeling inspired to finally make Side A of the duplex a real home. Just in time for the coziness of the holidays, too! Dajana has such a calm, intuitive way with the boys that you would never know this work was absolutely, completely new to her just a few short months ago. She’s a natural and I’m pretty sure she’s happily surprised by that. 🙂 Christiana is new to us but is already thoughtfully considering how she can create meaningful time with the boys in the evenings when it’s family time. I love that! Oleg and Masha have done a really great job of making Side B into a true home for Anton and Sasha. They are dream house parents and are an example to us all of how to live life not just physically “with” the boys, but to really and truly live with them. To invite them into family, to look at them as equals, and to consider their wants and desires as humans in this world. I, for one, am inspired by them all the time.

What we have together here on the Homestead is a living, breathing, loving community and I feel so honored to be a part of it. Masha recently wrote her thoughts about community life on our team’s Instagram and Facebook pages and what she wrote was so beautiful it made me a little teary. Here’s the translation (Just a reminder, “Dim Hidnosti” translated “Dignity Home” or “House of Dignity” is the Ukrainian arm of Wide Awake. It is the name of Wide Awake’s work that is done here in Ukraine, simply because “Wide Awake” doesn’t translate well into Ukrainian) :

Life in Community
“In this era of individualism, people have begun to lose their sense of community and interdependence with others❌. In a society where no one owes anyone anything, unfortunately, there is very little room left for creating a community where all move in the same direction.

But do people need community now?
As we have already verified over the past year and a half – community, for us, is a huge driving force💪! Without community in various forms of its existence, it would not be possible to achieve goals for the benefit of society. Therefore, the development of local communities right now is very important for the further development of our country.

In a society where ‘no one owes anyone anything’, deinstitutionalization, saving children and adults from institutions, would not be possible. If ‘I don’t owe anyone anything’, then the innocent suffer. People remain defenseless at the hands of the institutional system and there is no one to help them 💔. Would we want such a fate for ourselves, our children, our relatives? Then why should others be condemned to loneliness and a life without a family? We cannot choose to exist only for ourselves – we simply do not have the right to do so while there is such injustice in the world. We must act, join local communities that are already helping people, or create them ourselves 🙌🏻

Would it be possible for the ‘House of Dignity’ (Dim Hidnosti) to exist without community? We can say with confidence: NO. Only in community and unity is it possible to achieve the goal we have set for ourselves – to give dignity, hope, and love to people with disabilities ❤️‍🩹.
The community of Dim Hidnosti is protection, support, and family for the men with disabilities who live with us. Moreover, we are their only family forever.

Community is a calling. Not every person can choose such a life for himself, because it requires full disclosure of your personality to other members of the community 🫣. To see imperfection in yourself and others and to have the courage to forgive, recover, recognize your right to make mistakes, and give this right to others 🤝….
We appear before everyone as we are, without decorations – and there is always a risk of not being accepted or being rejected. But, is it worth taking the risk and finding out what community acceptance and love can be like and how lifelong friendships can realize and fulfill dreams?
🙌🏻

Dim Hidnosti is a place of restoration and healing, not only for our boys but also for those of us who have dedicated our lives to them.
This healing and restoration is possible when every member of our community gives their heart to the work.
We are grateful for every person who has been with us, who is with us now, and who will come to Dim Hidnosti because each has given a part of their life and heart to our boys and this community
❤️.”

The longer I am a part of this community/family God has brought together the more beautiful it becomes and the more thankful I become. Is it always an easy life, living in close community where your actions affect everyone and their actions affect you? Heck no! Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it’s tiring. Sometimes it’s disappointing. But is it worth it? Yes, a thousand times yes. I wouldn’t give up the gift of my Dim Hidnosti family for all the world. They are God’s gift to me and there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Please don’t live life alone. Seek out community. Open your eyes, your heart, your arms, your home. I am certain there is someone who needs what you have to give and your life will be so much richer for having given. We were not meant to walk this life alone. Life together is so much more beautiful.

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Back to School 2023

It’s that time of year again. I can hardly believe it! Summer flew by in a haze of peppers, pickles, puppy, and the pool. (see what I did there…hehe) For reals, it went by so fast! I’m not a mom that gets super excited about her kids returning to school. Sure, I can get more done for work when they are gone at school, but I like having them here! I love the freedom of summer. It’s bliss to not have to have them out the door super early in the morning. I’m a firm believer of letting sleeping children lie and it absolutely goes against my morals to wake my kids up bright and early each morning for school. I detest it! But, summer can’t last forever, so alas, we are crawling our way back into the swing of things.

This is our ninth year in Ukrainian school and we’ve come a long way, baby. It actually hurts my stomach to think about our first 2 or 3 years in Ukrainian school. We knew nothing, understood little, and every day was a lesson in how much we didn’t know. It’s not even just about the language (although most of it was about the language, let’s be honest) but it was also little things like, there are no school supply lists here. You just have to know what is required, and everyone knows the requirements because they never change. There are these little notebooks that the kids need for every subject with different types of lines on them. Slanted lines for the first couple of years while kids are learning to write, grid lines for math and other “mathy” type subjects, and then regular lines for other subjects. But that’s not all! All those different types of notebooks have different varieties with different numbers of pages…so you also need to know how big of a notebook to buy, depending on the grade and the subject. These are not things you ask about, these are things you just “know” because this is how it’s always been. Now it’s second nature for us and school shopping is a breeze, but man oh man, it wasn’t always that way.

Now, entering our 9th year in Ukrainian school and our 8th year in our current school, I can confidently say that we are solidly a part of the school community and our kids are just one of the crowd. They are just Hava, Seth, and Evie. They are not “The Americans” or something special and weird. I feel glad about that and proud of my kids for how far they’ve come. I’m also super thankful to God for leading us to our current school. My kids feel at home there and I know the teachers care about them. That’s not something you can find just anywhere.

The one pic I took on the first day of school

So how old are the kids and which grades are they in? For those of you who have followed our family for a long time, I’ll share the deets, starting with the youngest.

Evie Joy is 5 years old and is in her last year of preschool/kindergarten. Kids start first class here when they are 6, so next year she will officially be in school. Crazy! The kindergarten is in the same building as the school and is a Montessori school. Evie loves to go there and I think it’s a wonderful environment for her. It has been a huge blessing to us to have her there.

Seth is 13 and is in 7th class. Seventh class is when they begin algebra, geometry, physics, and chemistry, so that’s a bit intimidating! Seth has an individual learning plan because of his diagnoses, and the class has an aide available for when he needs extra help. Last year he had his best year yet, so we are hopeful that this year will also go well. He has some good friends at school and socially he doesn’t struggle at all. He is the football star of his class, so as you can imagine, PE is his current reason for getting up each day. 🙂

Havalah is 14 and in 8th class. She doesn’t love school, but is smart and generally does really well. She has some good friends at school and feels her place there. She’s also really involved in our church and the youth group there. She’s doing great and is growing into a wonderful, beautiful person.

Ezra is 17 and will be a senior!! He is currently finishing up his last little bit of junior year work online and will start senior work in October. Our time in Germany really messed up his schooling trajectory, poor guy. But we are hopeful that with a lighter senior year he will be able to graduate next summer. He is doing an American program online so he can get a US diploma. Ezra is also working as an intern for Dim Hidnosti (the Ukrainian arm of Wide Awake) and is on the church youth group lead team, so he keeps quite busy. The kid is never home, I swear. But, when I do see him he is a delight. 🙂 I’m super proud of the man he is and is becoming.

Addie is 19 and just began her first college classes this week! My baby is all grown up. Addie is living in Montana with Jed’s parents and is starting the pre-nursing program at a community college there. She’s working as a barista and is excited to finally begin her journey to becoming an RN. She’s wanted this for a long time. Since moving to the US in the spring she got her driver’s license, her CNA license, and her first real job. I’m so happy for her and proud of her and all the adulting she’s having to do with her parents so far away. We are really thankful that she is with Jed’s parents and has other extended family nearby to support her. She is not alone and that calms my heart a lot.

Vlad is 23(!) and is living with my parents in Oregon. He has been with them for a little over a year now and is doing really well. We left him there after our visit last summer so that he could get his teeth treated by an orthodontist. He has braces and his teeth have changed so much! This week he will have 8 teeth pulled and then I think we will see even more progress. Vlad works 2 days a week at a company that employs people with disabilities. He does landscaping and they told my mom he is their star employee. No one is surprised by that, right? Ha! Vlad loves to work like no one I’ve ever seen. He’s proud to earn his own money is thriving there with my parents. He recently got baptized at church and that was a big step for him. He’s spent the last few weeks with Jed and Ruslan in California and it has been a really special time for them all.

So, that’s the lowdown with our kids. This is the beginning of the second school year during the full-scale war and true to form, there was an air raid and they had to go down to the bomb shelter on the first day of classes. It’s routine now and no one is particularly bothered by it, but it’s always a reminder of the difficult and crazy time we are living through. I’m just thankful our school has a functioning bomb shelter so our kids are able to study in person.

Thanks for loving our family through all the years. Many of you have been with us from the very beginning when our kids understood nothing I was often wondering if we’d made the biggest mistake of our lives. Whew. We’ve all come a long way. Thanks for sticking with us!

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You Are Not Going to Believe This.

Oh my goodness, have I got a doozy for you today. I was trying to think of a clever title, but decided to just go with the obvious. You are seriously not going to believe this story, but I promise it’s true.

I’m not sure if you know this, but we have a team of builders who live here and do all the constant building and repairing on our property. They built the duplex and are now finishing up the barn and making accessible walkways around the property. We have a goal that all the construction on the Homestead will be done in the next three years and won’t that be a grand day! But until then, our building team of 5 men is a constant fixture on the Homestead. During the week they live in the old house at the front of the property and on the weekends they go home to their village about 50km away. They don’t have a ton of interaction with our boys, but they are always kind to them and the boys know them.

So, a few weeks ago one of the builders, a young guy named Vadim, was cleaning out the boiler room of the duplex. The duplex is heated with a wood boiler and every Friday one of the builders cleans it out. In the boiler room was a box of recycled documents from our office set aside to be burned. Vadim saw on the top of the pile of documents a copy of our Yaroslav’s passport and noticed that Yarik’s last name and patronymic were the same as his girlfriend’s. He snapped a photo of the document with his phone and texted his girlfriend, Vlada. “Hey look, this guy has your same last name. Weird, right?” (It’s not a common last name) Vlada looked at the name and birthdate and was shocked to put two and two together: Yaroslav is her long lost brother. I.Kid.You.Not. The girlfriend of our builder is Yaroslav’s sister!!! What the heck even??? It’s like a Hallmark movie!

This is how it all went down. When Yarik was small and it was discovered that he had a disability his mother put him in an institution. He is 8 years older than Vlada and she never met him, but she always knew she had an older brother with a disability. Yarik and Vlada’s mother was/is an alcoholic and her parental rights were removed when Vlada was small and Vlada was placed in an orphanage. She was typically developing, so she was not placed with Yaroslav. When she was 4 years old she was adopted by a good, loving family. Vlada always remembered she had a brother and when she was a teenager she decided to try to find him. She contacted her birth mother and was told that Yaroslav had died. She was too late. We don’t know why the mother told her that because we all know that Yarik is very much alive and well with us here on the Homestead. Imagine Vlada’s surprise when she got that text from her boyfriend! Ha!

The discovery about the relationship was made on a Friday afternoon and that very Sunday Vadim and Vlada showed up here on the Homestead. She just couldn’t wait to meet her long lost brother. Over the past month Vlada has visited Yarik here several times. She comes just to be with him, to sit with him, to get to know him. We don’t know if Yaroslav understands what a sister is, but he 100% understands that Vlada is someone special in his life. He asks for her almost every day and cries when she leaves to go home. He showers her with kisses and basks in her attention. He understands that she is there just for him and he adores her. For our Yarik, who’s need for love and attention is like a bottomless pit, Vlada’s presence in his life is a most beautiful, unexpected gift. And for Vlada to know her brother and to have a safe, warm, inviting place to build relationship with him- well, it’s just all around amazing.

Today we will celebrate Yaroslav’s 28th birthday and his sister, Vlada, will be joining us. He will be surrounded by all the people who love him: his big Wide Awake family and his very own sister. God’s love for Yarik and Vlada is just crazy big and we are thankful to be witnesses to it.

BeLOVE[d]


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Update on Our Boys, Part 2

Like I said in the last post, amidst all the talk of war and surviving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s been quite some time since I’ve given you a good update on each of our boys. If you would like to see more frequent pictures and hear about what our boys are up to on the regular you can always sign up for our newsletter (form at the end of this post) or follow our team’s Instagram. But today I thought it would be fun just to let you know how each of our guys is doing and how you can pray for each of them, specifically.

You can find the first part of the update where I shared about Vlad, Boris, Ruslan, and Anton here.

Sasha, Yaroslav, and Vova are the newest members of the big Wide Awake Family and you probably feel like you know them the least. Back when the other 4 boys joined our fam I was active on social media and shared a lot about them. I really want you to know these three boys well too! They are so fun, precious, deserving, and wonderful. You would just love them if you met them face to face. I know it. They are impossible not to love. If you have any questions about any of our boys you are always welcome to write me! I love to talk about them to anyone and everyone. 🙂

Sasha joined our family in 2021, is now 16 years old, and lives in Side B of the duplex with Anton, Grant, and Lois the cat. Sasha (aka Sashulya) is the baby of the family (well, Sasha and Evie share that role…hehe). He is the youngest of our boys by a mile and is the cuddliest, most precious, sweetest, and squishiest ever. Everyone who meets him falls in love with his smile. When we were considering taking guardianship of Sasha we felt like the Lord told us that Sasha would bring us joy. That has been the truth. He had the easiest transition to family life and just brings us tons of joy with his singing and his wide smile that lights up his whole face. He thinks he’s smaller than he is and will try to climb you like a tree if he wants to be held. But, in fact, we are pretty certain that Sasha is going to turn out to be a giant. He’s growing like a weed and his huge hands and feet show no signs of that slowing down any time soon. He’s so big and just solid!

Sasha’s development is slow and he often seems to be in his own world. He’ll get fixated on a toy or a water bottle (his item of choice) and he’s a goner. But, some new developments are that he will now often turn his head when his name is called and when food is being cooked he’ll make his way to the kitchen in expectation. Those are big things! It shows that he is becoming more engaged in the world around him. Sasha is very musical and loves to sing. He can even count to 10! Now, he totally doesn’t know what numbers are or that he’s counting, but the team counts to 10 each day during yoga and he is repeating what he hears. He even does it with the same intonation as the team. It’s so cute.

Sasha loves cuddles, eating (I think he’s the neatest eater of our boys), his toys, old Soviet children’s songs, and being with the people who love him. We love Sasha deeply and are so very thankful God has put him in our family.

How you can pray for Sasha: Pray for Sasha to continue to become more engaged in the world around him. Pray for good control, or even healing! of his epilepsy. Pray for our team to have wisdom in how to best reach Sasha and teach him new things.

Yaroslav joined our family this past April, is now 27 years old, and lives in Side A of the duplex with Vova, Lesya, and Carlos the cat. Oh Yaroslav (aka Yarik, Yaroslavchik). Yaroslav gives us a run for our money, just like we always knew he would when we dreamed of getting him out of the institution. He is such a character! I think anyone who has ever visited the Isolation Hall at Romaniv remembers Yarik well. He is just someone that is impossible to miss. He is full of so much life, energy, charisma, and fire- you just can’t help but react to his energy. Sometimes I look at him and I just can’t believe that he is here with us and not at the institution. He was such a presence there!

If you’ll remember, Jed brought him and Vova straight out of the institution and to Germany where they were refugees with us in the church. It was a really miraculous story and I think that’s why it’s sometimes still a little hard to believe it happened. We don’t have official guardianship of Yaroslav and Vova but will start the paperwork process for that this next week. We’ll have a big celebration when they are legally members of our family, but in our hearts, they are already ours.

Yarik has grown and changed a lot since we brought him out of the institution in April. He walks so much better, it’s really incredible. He has good days and bad days, as far as mobility and coordination, but most of the time he is completely independent in his walking. He needs a wheelchair for longer walks, but around the house he is independent. He is learning, slowly but surely, about boundaries and the rules of how to live in a family, but he is sooooo smart. We know he’ll get it. He’s much smarter than we ever realized before. He understands cause and effect, consequences for poor choices, and all sorts of things. He likes “helping” in the kitchen and drinking coffee, but most of all he loves people. Yaroslav longs for love and attention. Like all the rest of our boys, after living a lifetime full of neglect and abuse, his need for love and attention is like a bottomless pit that will never be filled. Sometimes his attention-seeking behaviors can be pretty destructive and tiring to manage, but we know that his journey of healing has only just begun and it won’t always be like it is now. We have hope for his future.

We dreamed of having Yarik in our family for years. I’m so thankful that dream finally came true!

How you can pray for Yaroslav: Yarik has pretty fragile health, so prayers for his health and physical wholeness would be appreciated. We recently did some genetic testing but are still waiting for the results. We want to know how to best care for his physical body and hopefully, we’ll get some answers in that testing. Please pray for Yarik and his brokenness in attachment. He is highly emotional and extremely dysregulated, especially when it comes to relationships. Please pray for him to have peace in his heart and mind, and to better understand the immense love God has for him.

Vova joined our family this past April, is now 27 years old, and lives in Side A of the duplex with Lesya, Yaroslav, and Carlos the cat. I am so so excited to share with you about our Vova (aka Vovka, Vovchik)! Vova is doing absolutely fantastic and his journey of healing over the past 8 months has been nothing short of miraculous. I am just in awe of God’s love for Vova. When Vova was in the institution we heard a rumor that he had Phenylketonuria (PKU), but the diagnosis was not in his paperwork. Once we took him out of the institution and I began to read up on untreated PKU and its symptoms, the more I was convinced that Vova was suffering from that disorder. The wait to get testing and help for PKU in Germany was months long and we ended up returning home before anyone there could help us, but FINALLY, in September we got the official diagnosis. To put it simply, PKU is an inborn error of metabolism that prevents the body from processing an amino acid found in protein. For someone with PKU, protein is toxic to the brain and when left untreated, the person develops a severe intellectual disability. Our Vova’s PKU was untreated for 27 years. 🙁 The only treatment for PKU is a carefully controlled low-protein diet and the introduction of medical food, which provides Vova with a form of protein his body can use. In the US and most other developed countries when a baby is diagnosed with PKU their treatment is overseen by a team of specialists: a doctor, nurse, and dietician. But here in Ukraine, there is a doctor…and me. She basically gave us a couple cans of formula, a list of foods Vova can’t eat, and a wish for good luck. Ha! Let’s just say that my learning curve has been steep. But, over the past 3 months, our team has worked together and we have Vova’s PKU under good control. I do the research and math, write his weekly menu, and go grocery shopping for his special foods. We hired our friend, Inna, and she comes once a week to the duplex to cook for Vova. She has to weigh everything as she cooks and then portions out each meal by weight. Everything goes in the freezer and then the team just consults the menu and pulls out his meals for each day. It’s the only way a team of people could accurately treat his PKU. It’s a lot of work, but it’s going well!

At first, I think the team was a bit skeptical, and I’ll admit, I was too. We knew that some of the effects of untreated PKU are irreversible, but we hoped to see some sort of change after the diet was started, even if it was small. It’s just impossible to know which aspects of Vova’s disability are caused by the untreated PKU and which aspects are caused by him living in Romaniv all those years. The only way to find out was to begin treating the PKU and watch what would happen. I didn’t expect much, but Vova is changing and it is miraculous to watch! He is making so much intentional eye contact. He is happier, more peaceful. A previous doctor told us he had cerebral palsy because he was so spastic, but the geneticist (our PKU doc) thought the spasticity was more related to his untreated PKU. She was right. His muscles are still tight, but nothing like they were before. Untreated PKU has a really horrid smell and the whole house just reeked of it. No more! Vova smells fresh and clean every day. Vova used to yell a lot- kind of like a singing yell, but super loud and once he started you couldn’t get him to stop. He would randomly start yelling in church, in the car, anywhere. Now he barely ever does that and when he begins you can sometimes get him to stop just by talking to him. Another major thing is that he has started to toilet train! He was fully in diapers and had no interest in the toilet before, but now he will go there himself! He needs help, but he shows when he wants the toilet. It’s unbelievable. He is like a different person.

I am so thankful for our doctor here who has come to truly care for Vova and is so helpful to us. There is a wonderful community of Ukrainians with PKU who have donated their extra formula to us to get us by until the government starts to provide it to Vova in the new year. Our team has done a great job of following instructions and being careful with Vova’s diet. It is truly a team effort and we are rocking it. I’m just thrilled and thankful that Vova has this opportunity to truly LIVE. It’s just great.

How you can pray for Vova: Please pray for continued healing of Vova’s brain and body from the years of untreated PKU. Pray for a reversal of the harm it has done to his body. Please pray for Vova to grow in understanding of our love for him and God’s love for him and for him to learn to trust more. Pray that he would not be afraid.

Thank you again, for walking this journey with us. Thank you for loving our boys and caring about their lives. Thank you for supporting this work so that our boys could be free and live lives full of love. We are thankful!

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An Update on Our Boys, Part 1

We’re nearing the end of a doozy of a year and I realized, amidst all the talk of war and peace, I haven’t updated you on our boys in quite some time. This whole work exists because of them and for them, so I figured you might be wondering how they are doing! If you follow our team’s Instagram account or subscribe to our newsletter you have definitely seen pics of our fellows, but really good updates have been few and far between. So, consider this my end-of-year gift to you- part 1. We just have too many boys these days to try to write one big blog post about all of them. That’s a good problem to have! In this post I’ll share about Vlad, Boris, Ruslan, and Anton, and then in the next post, I’ll write about Sasha, Yaroslav, and Vova. Let’s dive in!

Vlad joined our family in 2015, is now 22 years old, and is living in Oregon Vladislav (aka Vlad, Vladik, Vladchik, Vlad the Builder, Vlad the Chicken Man) is doing fantastic! Many of you commented after his latest Youtube appearance that he was like a completely different person and I have to say that you’re not wrong. Vlad has grown and changed in ways we could have never imagined. When we adopted him 7 years ago he was barely verbal and whatever words he did have were barely intelligible. Now he is fluent in Ukrainian and English (and understands Russian) and is understood well by most people, most of the time. Vlad is crazy smart and crazy creative. We are so proud of the man he is becoming.

Vlad currently lives in Oregon with my parents. After our time as refugees in Germany, our Johnson family decided to make a quick visit to Oregon to see family and to do some Wide Awake business. Right before we left Germany to head to Oregon we had the idea to leave Vlad there for some time. Vlad has a lot of issues with his teeth and the structure of his mouth. Those issues have worsened drastically over the years and no one in Ukraine will even touch him. I get it- it’s a bit of a hot mess in there. There is an orthodontist in Oregon who years ago had offered to treat Vlad for free. We were thankful but knew we could never relocate our family to Oregon for the time it would take to treat Vlad’s mouth. But Vlad has grown, matured, and changed so much, we decided that he was ready to be in Oregon for his treatment without us. It kind of felt like a “now or never” moment. We asked my parents if Vlad could live with them, and they said yes! My mom just retired in May, so she has the time now to support Vlad that she wouldn’t have had before. I was able to visit Vlad there in November and he is absolutely thriving with my parents. We could never ever express to them how very thankful we are for their love and support of Vlad. It means the world to us.

In November Vlad began working in landscaping at a local company that employs people with disabilities. He only went to work once, then got sick, then visited us in Ukraine, but he arrives back in Oregon today and next week will get to begin working twice a week. He is loved by his church family and some of our friends back in Oregon. He is just doing great!! Also, his teeth are really changing. It’s exciting to see that progress. Vlad is happy, healthy, and thriving.

How you can pray for Vlad: Pray for peace in Vlad’s heart while he is away from us. He really does worry about us and our safety. He thinks about the war here and I know he feels a lot of emotions about it. Also, please pray that he would find friendship at his new job. I would just love for him to have a friend there.

Boris joined our family in 2017, is now 30 years old, and lives in our home. Boris (aka Bmo, Borya, Borka, Beemchick, Beemchick my Weemchick) has been in our family for 5 years! I can’t even believe that, but it also feels like he’s just always been with us. We love our Bmo. This year has been a rough one for our Mister Man. I mean, who am I kidding, it’s been a rough one for us all. But Bmo has really shown us with his body how stressful, difficult, and confusing 2022 has been for him. Navigating war, living as refugees, and then entering back into life in a country still at war has been challenging for all of our boys. Their understanding of the situation is limited, and for the ones who are nonverbal, it’s even harder because we don’t know how much they do and don’t understand and we don’t know what worries they hold inside of them. When we lived in the church all together in Germany Boris struggled soooo much. Who knows? Maybe he thought that was our new permanent home. Maybe he thought “Well, I guess this is what our life is now…” He was very vocal about his frustration with life there and he regressed in many of his skills and abilities. It was really heartbreaking to see, and actually, his regression ultimately helped us make the decision to return home to Ukraine. His suffering was painful to watch and there was nothing we could do to make it better for him. So hard. Transitioning back to life here in Ukraine has been good for our Bmo, but it has not been easy. It’s not like we got back home, the switch was flipped, and he was suddenly back to his old self. If only. No, it has been a hard road of recovery, but bit by bit he is getting back to where he was before the war began. We’re still in a war zone though, so some of our struggles will remain until the war ends and we can truly begin to feel safe and secure again…whatever that may look like. It’s honestly hard to imagine feeling truly safe again, but even still, we pray for God to comfort Bmo and bring him peace in his heart. He has made great strides since we returned home in July. We just keep loving him and helping him to feel secure in his place in our home and family. Boris is a gift to our family and I truly can’t imagine our lives without him.

How you can pray for Boris: Please pray for Boris to have peace and calm in his heart and mind. He is sooooo stressed much of the time. He even shakes because of the tension in his body. He isn’t harming himself, but he is very obviously not at peace.

Ruslan joined our family in 2018, is now 35 years old, and lives in an apartment with our team member, Luda. I would say that out of all of our boys Ruslan (aka Rus, Ruslanchik) has grown and changed the most over this past year. It’s absolutely incredible to see how much he has matured! Rus really doesn’t like change, especially when it is unexpected. He is a big fan of routine and knowing what comes next. So, as you can imagine, we were quite concerned about how Ruslan would do when we evacuated to Germany. I am amazed to say that Ruslan did amazingly well in Germany, and he even thrived there. If you would have told me a year ago that Rus would sleep in a room with 7 other people and do just fine I would have laughed in your face. But he did! He slept with 7 other people in one room. He lived with 39 other people in the church and was mostly happy. It was truly miraculous. One massive saving grace was that in Germany Ruslan was able to work. A place that employs people with disabilities took Rus and Vlad under their wing and the two of them were able to go to work 5 days a week. I think if Ruslan hadn’t had the stability of the work he would have really struggled in Germany. It was such a loving, positive environment and Ruslan really thrived there. We are so thankful for that experience.

After we returned home to Ukraine Ruslan began working at the electrical shop where Vlad used to work before the war. Our friend, Dima, really believes in the value of our guys and dreams of providing more work for people like our boys. His team likes having Rus there and Ruslan feels so proud to have occupation. He is slowly learning how to do different tasks and Dima even makes up work for Rus, just so he feels that he is helpful and needed there. It’s really great. Ruslan works at Dima’s shop Monday through Thursday for a little over 2 hours a day. We are super thankful to Dima for loving Rus and providing him with the possibility to work.

Ruslan is fun-loving, and caring, and really loves to pray and go to church. We love him so very much!

How you can pray for Ruslan: Pray for Ruslan to continue to grow in wisdom and to truly know that he is loved.

Anton joined our family in 2018, is now 34 years old, and lives in Side B of the duplex with Grant, Sasha, and Lois the cat. Our precious Anton (aka Antoshka, Antoha, Antonchik) has gained so many words over this past year! When we first took Anton from the institution he could say one word, the Ukrainian word for “God”. If you asked him who loved him he would answer “God”. Over the years he has learned to mimic a lot of words that people say and sometimes repeat after them, but this year he has begun to say a lot of words independently! It’s really great when he can express his wants and desires and we can only hope that his verbal skills will keep growing because I think better communication is key to helping Anton when his emotions are too big to handle. He is a high-emotion dude and in the past, any negative emotion would be expressed in anger. He is now able to sometimes express sadness too, which is a big step!

Germany was pretty rough on our Antoshka. Our living situation was basically like a mini institution and he absolutely did not thrive in that environment. It was no surprise to us that he struggled. Actually, I’m pretty amazed he held it together as long as he did! I didn’t really talk about it publicly, but in May we ended up sending Anton from Germany back to Ukraine to live with our team members that had remained here at the Homestead. Anton was struggling so hard and his aggression was growing and growing. He basically became a 1:1 and since there were so many vulnerable people living all together and no way to isolate him, there was just no way for us to keep people safe. It was actually a really tragic and impossible decision. We felt we had no option. We had to remove him from the church, but there was nowhere for him to go but home. Oleg and Maxim, two of our team members, were living here at the Homestead so Grant drove Anton to the border of Ukraine where Oleg met them and took Anton home. Although we felt we had no other alternative, it ended up being the best decision ever for Anton. We knew our guys could keep him safe and if things were to go bad here they could easily put him in the car and drive to Western Ukraine. We didn’t worry about his physical safety, but we definitely worried about his emotional state and how he would feel, being separated from all of us. His understanding is really limited, so we knew he would be super confused and sad. But, Oleg and Maxim did a great job with him and actually, once Anton was back here we knew it was just a matter of time before everyone else joined him. We are his guardians. We knew we couldn’t stay a couple of countries away from him for long. He just gave us the kickstart we needed. 🙂

Since returning home Anton has done fairly well. He has his good seasons and hard seasons, but overall I would say he has had more good times than bad times. He is surrounded by people who love him dearly and he knows it. He is happy, healthy, and growing and he is very precious to us.

How you can pray for Anton: Please pray for Anton to learn to care for others. Pray for him to learn to express his emotions without aggression toward others.

Thank you for loving our boys! I know much of the growth they have experienced is because of the faithful prayers of the people who love them. They are all on journeys of healing and we are so honored to walk beside them and to be their family. Thank you for helping to make their freedom possible.

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How Are the Boys?

It’s been a while since I wrote an update about all our boys, right? I tried valiantly, for a while, to do the prayer team updates once a month, but I got a little burned out on that. It just ended up being too much. So…it kinda fizzled. Sorry about that. 🤷‍♀️ I’ll make it up to you now with an update about each of the boys you love so much. As you’ll see below, they are just doing really, really well. We are thankful that right now all of our boys are happy, healthy, and thriving.

Vlad. Can you believe our Vlad is 21 years old now? He’s officially an adult, so he’s working hard at learning how an adult should behave and taking on more adult responsibilities. Vlad has taken on the responsibility of caring for the goats along with the chickens and I have to admit that I get a good chuckle watching him try to wrangle them into the yard at night. It is a sight to behold and probably the only time you will ever see Vlad angry at any living being. 😂 He still goes to work at the electrical shop 3 days a week for about 4 hours and it’s going “okay”. There are good days, and not so good days. Vlad has the most wonderful, kind, patient boss, but it’s still a challenge for him to stay focused and motivated at work without mom or dad there to keep him in line 🤦‍♀️. I hope he can keep his job, but he’s going to need to rise up to the challenge if he wants to keep working. We’re also searching for the balance of what kind of work can challenge Vlad so he can grow, but also work in which he can be successful. It’s all one big experiment.

Physically, Vlad is doing great. We decided to wait until next winter to being working on his orthodontics back in the US. Right now he is needs a lot of support from us and it just doesn’t seem like the right time for him to be so far away. We’ll see! He is generally happy and thriving. The other day he brought me his Christmas list that he wrote out himself. It was written in a mixture of Ukrainian and English and it just made me smile. He is such a joy and we are thankful that he is our son.

Boris. Our sweet Bmo is doing so great!! He really is growing and changing right now. He has started to communicate more and more of his needs and desires and I think that brings him joy- when we understand him. He mostly communicates by bringing us the thing he wants (like a cup when he wants a drink, or his blanket when he wants to sleep), but he also will occasionally use cards. It’s encouraging to see him trying to communicate. He’s also using the toilet more frequently with great success. We are all super happy about that!

Boris is still med-free and self-harm-free. We stopped giving him meds at the beginning of last year and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t hit himself even once. I’m still in awe of that miracle. I never dreamed he would have a life without hurting himself. He has been laughing a lot lately and is just generally really happy and content. The past couple of weeks he has been vocalizing more too! It’s so strange to hear consonant sounds coming from his mouth. What if someday he speaks!? 🤩

Ruslan. Rus is still living with Luda and her son, Nazar, in an apartment in town and it is great. Luda is really the perfect person for Ruslan and they do so well together. She gives him a lot of independence and he is thriving in that. He is growing and maturing, emotionally, and is all-around happy! Of course, he still has his moments when trauma rears its ugly head, but he is growing in that. He is better able to handle unexpected changes in plans and negative emotions. The team has been working hard on that with him.

Ruslan loves meeting friends for coffee. When he goes to a cafe he always orders a “cappuccinko”. 😂 He is so super social and I love watching him at church, how he walks up and greets all the different people he knows. Such a man! I’m really proud of Ruslan. He is making great strides and brings us a lot of joy and laughter. In the past, my relationship with him has gone through some difficulties, but God has brought a lot of healing to my heart and I’m so thankful that I am in a place right now where I can just delight in Ruslan. He is a precious gift to our family and our team. 🥰

Anton. Antoshka is talking up a storm! In the past, Anton has really only spoken we have asked him to, when was repeating after us, or when he was angry. But right now he is in a season of exploding vocabulary! He is talking on his own accord and saying things we have never heard him say before. He’s singing a lot too, which usually is a sign with him that all is well. He’s in a really good place these days.

Back in the late summer, early fall he was really stressed and had lost some weight. He was looking pretty skinny and just not healthy, in general. But, over the last two months, he has gained 12 pounds! Anton really shows us his emotional well-being through his body- his skin coloring, his weight. So a chubby Anton is a happy Anton. And that makes the rest of us happy too. 🥰 Anton is taking more “responsibility” for Sasha and will even take things away from him if he knows Sasha is holding something he’s not allowed to have. The other day I was in the kitchen at the duplex and I heard Anton yell “Sashaaaaaaa!!!” I ran to the bathroom and Sasha was trying to climb into the (empty) bathtub while Anton was trying to stop him. Big brother was watching out for Sasha. 😊 This is huge because in the past Anton has really only ever seemed to care about Anton. The fact that he is watching Sasha and interacting with him like that is actually a big step for Anton. I’m proud. ❤️

Sasha. Oh Sasha. He just brings us all so much joy! I remember back when we first decided to pursue guardianship of Sasha, we felt the Lord speak to us that he would bring joy to us all, and that has totally been true. His transition to family life has been the easiest of all the boys- by a mile. He was just ready! He is the cuddliest, sweetest man-child (😆) ever. Often Sasha is in content in his own world, but as time goes by he is more and more willing to engage. He responds to his name now (sometimes) and will follow some simple commands. Sasha loves to cuddle, sing, run, spin in circles, play with water bottles, and grab everything in sight that he’s not supposed to have. 😉 He also really loves to eat, but I think that goes without saying. He is a 15-year-old boy, after all and he’s growing like a weed. He’s about to grow out of all of his pants and has gained about 25lbs. since he came home to us in May. 😱

Sasha has epilepsy and when he came to us he was on two medications: one he took twice a day and one he took three times a day. Now, six months later, he takes only one of those medications, twice a day. Woot! The neurologist is happy with the changes in Sasha’s brain activity and now that he is on less medication he is more interactive and alert throughout the day. Sleep is sometimes a bit hit or miss, but mostly fine. We are just so incredibly thankful that Sasha is in our family and we all adore him. He is a gift.

Thanks to everyone who prays for our boys. It is such a joy to share how they are developing and changing. Sometimes it feels like we struggle with the same things over and over, month after month, year after year, (because we do…😜) but when I sit down and write out an update like this I marvel at how much they really have grown! These are not little children we are talking about! Besides Sasha, these are grown men, yet they still change and grow. They have so much to overcome every single day, but they do it. They allow us into their worlds and they let us love them. And then they love us back. I know I’ve said it a bazillion times, but I just can’t even begin to imagine our lives without our boys. They are God’s gifts to us.

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How Life Works Now

Hi Friends! Fall is here and I’m there for it. I LOVE FALL. It’s sunny but cool, the leaves are starting to turn, pumpkins and squashes are showing up in the market. It’s wonderful! This season makes me want to bake every single day. I have to hold myself back for the sake of all our waistlines. 😆 Fall treats and beverages aren’t a thing here, and you won’t find any pumpkin patches or corn mazes, but that’s okay. We have to make the fall magic up ourselves and I’m ready. Let’s do it!

If you are subscribed to our newsletter you heard the news that Max and Morgan, the house parents in the duplex, were moving back to the US. It was a very sudden move and kind of turned life on its head. They just left on Thursday and we are figuring out what our new normal will look like around here. I’ve had a lot of questions about what that means for us here and how things look without house parents, so I thought I’d share.

Right now Anton and Sasha live in the duplex. There is space there for two more boys, so in the future 4 boys will live in that home. But right now there’s just the two. Every week, Monday through Friday, an assistant (or two) comes to the duplex at 8:00 am and assumes care of the boys until 5:00pm. The assistant helps bathe them, fixes their meals and helps them to eat, plays with them, takes them for walks, loves them and treasures them. We have the best assistants!! For reals. Everyone on our team loves our boys deeply, and each of the boys has some level of attachment to our different team members. They are not lacking in love, that’s for sure! Then, for now, Jed goes to Anton and Sasha at 5:00 when the assistant leaves and we kind of tag-team both houses until the boys go to bed at 8:30pm. Then Jed sleeps at the duplex and is with them in the morning until the assistant arrives. On the weekend we tag-team both houses, since assistants have those days off. Some of our team members have volunteered to help out on some weekends, so whenever they are available to do that we will be super grateful!

It’s certainly not ideal, but we know that God is with us and will give us everything we need. Our boys are safe and loved. We want to make them the priority during this time of transition and make sure they feel nothing but love from us. We have decided that in this time we need to just make our lives and our world really small. These boys are why we are here and now is the time to lean into that. We aren’t quickly making sure their needs are met so we can get on to the next thing, because our life with them is the thing! They are our family and we are honored to love them.

As far as our kids go, they are totally good with it. They are taking turns spending time with Jed at the duplex and spending the night there. Our kids also love the boys and see them as family, so they understand that Anton and Sasha need all of us to step up and help each other.

This plan is working for now, but it’s obviously not sustainable for the long haul. I really like living with my husband…😆 So, if you would be praying with us for God to provide more helping hands and open hearts we would really appreciate it. We have boys we love deeply sitting in the institution, and a two big, beautiful homes ready for them to live in. All we lack are people to love and care for them.

I know God will provide, in His perfect timing.

Thank you for loving us and praying for us!

Addy and Anton

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Ruslan and Anton: Three Years Free

This past week was a big milestone for our family. We celebrated three years of freedom for Anton and Ruslan. Three years!! It seems like they have been with us for so much longer. It’s a little hard to remember life without them. Three years ago when we brought them out of Romaniv to join our family we committed to them for life. We committed to love them and care for them always. We naively thought we knew them then. Now I think of how much they’ve changed and I can see that we really didn’t know them at all. They had never had the opportunity to truly be known, and I’m incredibly thankful that now they are loved and known and treasured by many, many people.

If you’ve followed our journey for a while you know that life with Ruslan and Anton has not been an easy one. We have had our fair share of struggles along the way. When we committed to them for life we thought we knew what that would look like. We thought they would live with us in our home, like Boris, forever. Well, that dream lasted a year and a half, and then we realized it was 100% not sustainable. Together we have journeyed through times of great joy and great sorrow, great healing and great pain, great suffering and great hope. It has been a massive rollercoaster. BUT- I am happy to report that God has always been with us. He has never left us or our boys and he has always given us exactly what we needed. He has taught us and helped us and we are all better having traveled this path.

The day we took Anton and Ruslan home ❤️

Ruslan is living with Luda, a member of our team, and her teenage son, Nazar. They live in an apartment about 10 minutes away from our village and Ruslan is doing FABULOUSLY well. He is happy and thriving. Since living in the apartment he has grown so much in independence. We are seeing now the man that God created Ruslan to be and we are so proud of him. He brings us lots of laughs and his love for “cappuccinkos” rivals the biggest coffee fanatics’ out there. 😂 Ruslan still struggles a lot with the trauma of his past and life with him is not all butterflies and unicorns, but Luda has great patience and they really are suited so well for life together. God blessed us abundantly when he brought us our dear Luda. What a gift.

Anton is living in the duplex, right outside our back door, with Max, Morgan, and Sasha. Life in the duplex is the best of both worlds for our Antoshka. We learned that he’s not well-suited for life in a big family, and over time it became unsafe for him to live with our family since we have small children in the home. But, he really does best when he is close to us and can see us every day. He’s a mama’s boy and I love him right back, so the duplex is the perfect place for him. Also, the proximity allows Jed and I to be a support when Anton is struggling. Man, I’m so thankful for that home! Anton has also grown and changed so much in the past three years. He is saying more words and we are all learning how he communicates and what he needs in his environment to thrive. He still struggles with anger and aggression, but he is also learning about sadness. He is learning that it’s okay to be sad and not every negative emotion he feels needs to go straight to anger. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to make mistakes. Over and over our team shows him that he is loved no matter what. His road to healing has been a steep one, but we love him dearly and we will not stop walking with him.

Last Sunday, on the anniversary of Ruslan and Anton’s freedom, our family picked them up before church and took them out for coffee. It was the first time it was just the 11 of us since Anton and Ruslan lived with us. I can’t even tell you what a precious time it was. Every time I think of it I get all emotional! We have all come so far together. I just kept looking at their faces and feeling overcome with thankfulness that they are our family. I was reminded of what blessings they are and what an honor it is to love them and be loved by them. When our boys love, they do so without restraint. They have like a sixth sense about people and when they feel that you truly love them you will have a friend for life. They are our precious, precious gifts from God and I so needed that reminder.

Our Boys

Sometimes in the daily grind of life here our focus can shift. We can get caught up in problem-solving, scheduling, budgeting, and team management. Our boys can easily become problems to be taken care of or tasks to completed. We always love them, but their demands and needs are so great that if we aren’t careful they can become our “burdens” when God is inviting us to recognize that they are our blessings. They are so valuable and our lives are forever changed because of them. I’ll be the first to admit that I have had seasons of feeling burdened by the responsibility of our boys. The responsibility for their lives is huge! But that responsibility is an honor- not a burden. My prayer is that our hearts will always remain soft to our boys. That in the good times and the bad we would recognize that they are our blessings- our gifts. They bring us joy. They teach us to love unconditionally. In loving them and caring for them our own weaknesses are brought to light and we have the great privilege of working that stuff out and not being allowed to just sit in that place of weakness and selfishness. As their lives are changed, so our lives are changed. Not one of us remains the same on this journey of bringing the lonely into family. Praise God for that. ❤️

BeLOVE[d]

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