Category: Family


Shoe Debates, Friendly Pack Mules, and Spring is Here!

I’m happy to report that THE SNOW IS GONE. The streets are (mostly) dry(ish) and the debate over which shoes to wear has simmered down a bit.  In my previous life, in Oregon, the debate over which shoes to wear was mild and was simply a matter of “is it raining or not.” If it’s raining, you can’t wear Toms.  If it’s not raining, Toms it is! I mean, I was most likely just going to be dashing across a parking lot if the weather was less than optimal, so making the best choice in footwear was not the end all.

In Zhytomyr in the winter, the shoe debate is real.  It is intense.  One does not simply throw on a pair of shoes and prance out the door without a care in the world!  No, no, no.  One is most likely going to be walking a fair distance out in the elements and waiting at bus stops. One must consider the level and freshness of the snow, the amount of ice, the wetness or dryness of said ice and snow.  On some days we have rivers for sidewalks, and on others we have ice skating rinks for sidewalks.  Rivers and ice skating rinks call for different shoes, different strategies.  One must also consider the distance to be walked and the condition of the sidewalks en route.  If I’m taking out the trash and heading that direction, I need to prepare for mudslides (and dead cats, apparently).  If I’m walking down our road in the opposite direction there will be less mud, but a lake or two to be traversed, so that must be taken into account. We’ve become quite adept at deciphering the sheen on the ice and navigating the sidewalks in the safest, non-broken-hip-est manner. Skillzzzzzzz.

My favorite boots for walking in mildly cold, non-snowy weather currently have a break in the sole, so my right foot is bound to get wet.  I keep forgetting to take them for repair, so if I want warm, dry feet my only choice are my snow boots.  But snow boots without snow are a little more Napoleon Dynamite than I’m willing to go, so I usually opt for the wet foot.  Why not just get the shoe repaired you might ask? Yeah, I know. It’s a mixture of forgetfulness, procrastination, and fear of doing new things and not knowing how or what is expected of me.  I guess in the end I just opt for the wet foot.  Don’t judge.

All that to say, soon warmth will come, summer will come, and along with it, fewer and fewer shoe debates.  We will happily pack away the snow boots and non-snow boots.  Multiply that by 7 people and it equals 28 fewer shoes in my entryway and 500 times more peace in my heart.  (Shoe clutter is my nemesis.)


Beautiful dry, snowless, puddless sidewalk!

You know what else comes with warm weather?  Visitors!  We’re preparing our summer schedule and are excited to welcome several friends, old and new.  The boys and our team are going to get so much love and encouragement in the warm summer months!

I’m super excited to have all the visitors too.  I’m excited for English conversations and the joy that comes from seeing our boys through the eyes of others.  It’s a lot of work to host people, but it’s also refreshing, encouraging, and just plain fun. Guess what else gets me excited for visitors?  All the stuff we have them carry over to us from the US!  I’ve been out of brown sugar for over a month and my baking is SUFFERING. Peanut butter and chicken-flavored Better Than Bouillon have also been sorely missed. I’m filling my Amazon cart in preparation. Yes, we totally and unashamedly use our visitors as pack mules. Come on, summer! Hehe

The kids are all doing really well.  In a couple of weeks, we’ll have Spring Break, and then they only have like 2 more months of school!  I can’t even imagine the feeling of accomplishment they will have when they walk out the doors of school on that last day.  We are so close to completing a full year of Ukrainian school!!  There have been many good days, and also many days when we have all been in tears, ready to throw in the towel.  Many days of wondering if it is worth it, but as we round the final corner I think we are all seeing that it has totally been worth the blood, sweat, and tears.  The kids’ language has grown by leaps and bounds.  They never could have grown like that just here at home.  I am so incredibly proud of them.


It is totally NOT ice cream weather, but we got a little excited about the sunshine.

Yesterday we were at the hospital getting Addy, Ez, and Hava mandatory check-ups for school and I realized that I have started to rely on their ears when we are out and about.  I tell everyone to listen, and if I don’t catch what was said, most likely one of them will.  It’s awesome!  All communication outside the home used to fall on Jed and me completely, but now the kids can understand for themselves, and actually, truth be told, they have much better comprehension than I do at this point. Grrrr… the competitive side of me hates that!  But, I love that they can communicate and function so well in society.  That was our hope in sending them to school.

So, here’s to dry feet, American pack mules friends, and Spring Break.  The snow is gone, the sun is out, Brian Adams radio is playing (again, don’t judge), and my heart is full.  Happy Tuesday to our friends near and far!  BeLOVE[d].

PS: You will not believe this! I was typing this post when I had to pause to go get Seth from kindergarten.  On the way home we stopped at the post office and guess what was waiting for us???


Our wonderful Tom and Emma sent us a package with brown sugar, Better Than Bouillon, peanut butter, jalapeños and many other special treats. OMG. Can you believe that timing?  THANK YOU, Tom and Emma.  We love you!

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1.  THANK YOU all for praying for the situation with our new little guy at the institution.  Please keep praying for his health, as well as for the impact of that night.  The impact is far-reaching, relationally, politically, and spiritually.  I know I sound vague, but I gotta be. (Any former youth groupers remember the “unspoken” prayer request?  Ha!)  Just keep praying, pretty please.  Thanks 🙂

2.  School is going great for the kids!  We have gone from daily tears to smiles and declarations that “This was the best day!”.  Of course if you ask, Addy and Ezra will tell you that school is “so boring”.  But, they are making friends and feeling comfortable and understanding more each day.  Our friend, Romana, comes each day at 4:30 to help them with their homework and she is saving our lives, one story problem at a time. I really do like our school and I am so thankful that God has given our kids a safe place to land and grow.

On the bus, headed to school

3.  Jed and Vladik return today! FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY!  I didn’t mention it here, but we had a bit of an immigration fiasco last month.  We are applying for permanent residency and we were missing one apostille.  We didn’t know it, and Jed had to leave the country.  You can only be in Ukraine for 90 days out of 180 days without a visa or residency, and he met his limit.  So, in the dead of night, we made a run for the border.  Think Sound of Music, but much less romantic.  Think tears and a trashed house and frantic calls to friends to take Bluebell at the last second.  We spent a few days in Budapest as a family, and then I returned home with four of the kids, while Jed and Vladik couch-surfed throughout Europe, waiting till Jed could get on the other side of his 180 days.  Finally, today, after 33 days and 10 countries, Jed and Vladik are coming home! Many thanks to our gracious friends all over the continent who have cared for my boys so well.  What would we do without you all?



The border between Germany and Austria

4.  We are hiring a friend to teach Vladik individual lessons at school.  I’m so excited and hopeful for him!  Starting next Monday he will go to school with the other kids in the morning, and his teacher will accompany him.  He will do music, PE, and art with Addy’s class (fifth grade), and then his teacher will give him his own lessons for the rest of the time. Vladik will attend school half day, 4 days a week.  I’m working on making the lesson plans and it’s quite the job, but necessary.  Vladik wants to learn, he wants to go to school like the other kids- and he should! I think he’s going to love it.  I’ll keep you posted!

5.  Today we re-submit our residency documents.  Hopefully, all is in order…otherwise, the 4 kids and I will meet our 90-day limit.  Yeah, let’s not think about that.  Everything will be fine.  Everything will be just fine.  No need to worry….ahem. Yikes.

Photos for residency: no smiles allowed!

6.  Guess who saved my life this past month?  GRAMMY!!!!  When Jed’s parents found out that I would be without Jed again, and this time here in Ukraine, Grammy hopped on a plane and rescued me. Seriously, if Grammy hadn’t come my kids would be running with the wild dogs in the street.  Things were at a critical mass around here.  She has cooked every meal and washed every dish since her arrival.  I bow at her feet. 🙂

7.  For all the Bluebell lovers out there, I’m happy to report that Bluebell is doing just fine.  She is happy and obedient and just a joy to our whole family.  She was a bit bored so we found her some new chewies at the grocery store.  Cow hoof, anyone?

Welp, Jed and Vladik are on their way home from the airport, so I better go.  Thanks all, for loving us and praying for us.  This has been a bit of a tough season, but we know that God’s plans are in motion and our trust is in Him!

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All About Vladik: Seven Months Free

I wish every single person who ever met Vladik at Romaniv could see him now.  You would not know this child.

Jed is back in Ukraine right now and has been sending me tons of pics of my babies there.  When I see those pictures and then stop and think about Vladik living there I almost can’t even imagine it.  The boy I know now is so much different than the boy I knew there.  He’s a new creation.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Vladik is a miracle.  How could a child raised there be this joyful, this full of life, this loving, this generous?  Only God could do something like that.

General Transition: He’s a rockstar. Vladik is growing in his development in leaps and bounds.  His language is growing as well, both Ukrainian and English.  He’ll often ask us what certain words are in English, and if we tell him once he usually remembers.  So, now Vladik speaks a mixture of Russian, Ukrainian, English, and “Vladik speak”.  Everyone in our family understands about 99% of what he says, but it’s another story with the rest of the world.  Slowly and surely he is becoming more understandable.  He desires to communicate and his social skills have vastly improved, so we are not worried.

Vladik came to us with many institutional behaviors.  He didn’t know how to behave in most any environment and had a lot of nervous twitches- like sticking his tongue in and out really quickly, licking his hands, and putting his elbows up to his ears, almost like he was blocking his ears.  He would also make tons of inappropriately loud sounds at inappropriate times.  Like if there was quiet he just had to fill it!  If we were in a store or the library and it was quiet you could guarantee Vladik would start filling up the space “BEEP BEEEEEEP!  BEEP BEEEEEEP!”  Oy. We’ve come a long way baby. Now if he beeps we just remind him that he’s not a car and he instantly stops.  🙂 He is sensitive to environments and if all is quiet he is usually good about being quiet.  The only real nervous behavior he still holds on to is the elbows up at the ears, but that one is more and more rare.  He usually only does that if he knows he’s done something wrong, or if someone else is in trouble.  It’s wonderful to take a moment to think back at how far he’s come. Praise God!

Family: We’ve hit a point where it feels like he’s just always been here.  I no longer have that feeling like I’m the babysitter of a child who just always stays (that is a normal feeling in adoption, FYI). He is our son and it feels natural.  I couldn’t have said that even one month ago.  He still loves his Seth and I think when he had his surgery it bonded him more to the other kids as well.  They were all so concerned for him and that empathy really helped with relationship building.  He really is just one of the gang.  I’m so thankful for that.

School: Vladik started school a few weeks ago and is doing amazingly well!  In January he started seeing a tutor for a half hour a day while the school district found a classroom placement for him.  Then in the last week of March, he became a freshman at South Salem High.  Ha!  He’s in a self-contained classroom and we are so blessed by teachers and assistants who love him and treasure him.  Vladik LOVES school.  We started him going half a day at first, but now he is going full day.  Most of the fun, more active learning happens in the afternoon, so we knew he would really enjoy that.  Like every day his class gathers recycling from all the classrooms and they sort and shred it.  Vladik is kinda obsessed with the shredder. 🙂 Today he goes on his first field trip to a recycling center!  He could hardly sleep last night he was so excited to ride the school bus. I am so happy for him that he has this opportunity.  Sweet boy deserves every bit of joy and life that we can offer him.

Medical: Vladik had sleep apnea, so we had his tonsils and adenoids taken out on March 30th.  He also had the back of his throat expanded to make his airway larger.  He did great and has fully recovered.  We had a few scary hours in the recovery room after learning that his body is extremely sensitive to narcotics, but we learned our lesson on that one!  I’m excited to repeat the sleep study, but I can already tell you that the surgery made a big difference.  You know how when you have a newborn and they’re sleeping so still and silently that you have to go super close to make sure they’re still breathing?  Yeah, I had to do that the other night with Vladik.  🙂 I’m used to being able to hear Vladik sleeping from every other room in the house, but that’s not the case now!  He sleeps absolutely SILENTLY.  I’m so so so happy for him!!!!!!  His body used to have to work so stinkin’ hard just to get air.  He had to sleep with his head back and his back arched just to keep his airway open.  The ENT told us that Vladik probably had many very dangerous nights as a small child because his airways were so small.  Thank you God for protecting our baby!  Now I pray that he will start to gain weight since he won’t be working so hard just to sleep.
The next surgery for Vladik is on his right hand.  A plastic surgeon will be giving him a thumb sometime in May.  WOOHOO!  That is the surgery Vladik is so excited about.  We were hoping to do surgery on his feet first, but we won’t be able to.  The foot surgeon will be out of the country for the months of May and June and we will simply run out of time.  We need to be back in Ukraine as a family in August, so we have to let the feet go for now.  Most likely Vladik and I will return for that surgery sometime at the beginning of next year.  So now we just eagerly await insurance approval so we can schedule hand surgery!

Otherwise, I guess I can just say that Vladik is our joy and we love him more every day.  A couple months ago we started teaching him how to hug.  Vladik is very protective of his body and would barely receive a hug.  He would kind of back his shoulder into you and that was as good as it got.  He would often come and kiss my shoulder, but he was too embarrassed or nervous to hug.  We taught him that you give friends high fives, but with family, you need to wrap your arms around them and that is a hug. Now if I say “I need love” (in Ukrainian) he will wrap his arms around me and hug me tight.  And yesterday, for the first time, he initiated.  I was in the kitchen and he came in and said “LOVE!!!” And gave me the hugest hug!

He’s just awesome and we are so thankful that we get to have him in our lives.  Precious, precious boy.

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Puppy Love 

Have you met our newest addition?  

Meet Bluebell!


Oh you know, our life is pretty boring.  We have so much spare time on our hands…so we decided we needed a puppy. 


I know, I know, most everyone thinks we’re crazy to have a puppy right now, but there’s a method to our madness. I promise. 🙂

You see, Vladik LOVES dogs.  He has no fear of dogs (in fact, the dogs would be wise to fear Vladik a bit) and loves to wrestle them, run with them- and just be with them.  Around Christmas time we started thinking that it would be really good for Vladik to have a dog, especially with all of his upcoming surgeries.  Also, Vladik has loads of energy.  The kid doesn’t stop.  We started thinking it would be great to have a dog, someone for him to spend some of that excess energy on.  


I put a feeler post out there into Facebook land, something along the lines of “We’re thinking of getting a dog to be a companion for Vladik. Thoughts?” And the rest was history!

Our friend Paige responded that her English Shepherd had just delivered a litter of 10 puppies and that English Shepherds are a great breed for companion and therapy dogs.  We researched the breed and we were sold.  We began planning how we could swing getting an English Shepherd for Vladik.  Not long after that, Paige told us that she and her husband had talked, and they wanted to gift us one of the puppies for Vladik!  AMAZING!

Shortly after the new year we went to visit the puppies and decide which one would come home to us.  Paige had prayed and asked the Lord for it to be made really clear, the right pup for Vladik.  The kids and I sat in a circle on Paige’s kitchen floor and she put all the available puppies, with different colored collars, in the middle of our little circle.  One puppy, the one with the blue collar, went up to Vladik immediately.  She chewed on his shoe, laid on his lap, walked circles around him and then just sat at attention right beside him.  And that was that!  Blue collar puppy had made her choice.  Paige was so happy, because that was the exact puppy that she had originally that would be best for us!  Blue Collar Girl became Bluebell, and a few weeks later she came home with us. 


Having a puppy is a ton of work, of course, and I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I’ve thought “We’re truly gluttons for punishment”, but we already love our Bluebell so much!  Really. She’s smart as all get out and so stinkin’ soft.  She feels like a stuffed animal! Yes, she chews and chews and chews, but she is learning! Bluebell is just the perfect dog for our family and we are so blessed to have her.  We plan to take her back to Ukraine with us and I’m pretty sure she’ll love her life once we have our group homes on our little farm.  Think of how much joy she’ll bring to all our boys!  I can’t wait to see it! 

So, there you have it.  That’s why we have a puppy at a time when it seems like probably the worst idea ever 🙂  Call us crazy, but we’re already in love.  No turning back now!


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Rhythm.  Every family has it’s own rhythm, it’s own way of keeping time, moves at it’s own beat.

Our rhythm…do we even have one????  I can’t ever seem to find it.  It must sound something like an elementary band playing together for the first time.  There’s a drum there…and the instruments are playing…but the rhythm is ALL OVER THE PLACE.  Hahahaha.  It’s crazy, and wild, and just when it starts to sound and feel kinda good a squeaky clarinet pipes in and ruins everything. 😉
I long for a nice, steady beat, but I think I’ve started to slowly swallow the fact that I just ain’t gonna get it.  We are wild.  We’re all over the place.  We’re kinda scattered and wacky, but THAT is our rhythm.  And it’s beautiful, in it’s own special way.
Jed left on Sunday for Ukraine and is now back with our Boys.  I already miss him here with us, but I am so relieved that he is there with them.  My heart aches for my friends across the sea.  I think about them so many times throughout the day.  Whenever I worship or pray they come to my mind and won’t leave.  I think God is calling me to almost constant intercession on their behalf.  That’s cool and all, but my arms ache to hold them and squeeeeeeeze them.  🙂 Having Jed there just puts my heart at rest.

It’s interesting, but we both just felt like for sure Jed needed to be there now.  Our volunteers have been visiting the Boys faithfully, three times a week while we’ve been gone.  They have done an AMAZING job.  It’s not like Jed is so super special that he can love the Boys better or something (although he is pretty darn special, in my book), but we just knew he needed to get there.  So, it feels good to have him there, right where he is supposed to be. He’s hosting a team right now, then he’ll be working on some training with our new teachers, encouraging our volunteers, working on a super special secret project, and just spending loads of quality time with the Boys we love so much. It’s all good.

The kids are doing awesome at school.  They totally love it- all four of them. They have friends there, they love their teachers; school is a wonderful gift to them right now.  It feels super peaceful having them there.  I was all worried that Addy and Ez would be massively behind because of our crazy rhythm, but thankfully, they have done fabulously.  They are both a little behind on math, but are otherwise right on target!  Whew!  All those homeschool worries were for nothing.  Yeah, most of my worries end up being for nothing.  Worrying is such an awesome use of time.  Not.

Vladik is still doing fab.  He is starting to test the waters a bit these days, and that’s actually a good thing!  He feels safe here.  He’s had a few medical tests so far, just to check on his general health, and has done great with them all. This week we get to test him for parasites…stool sample anyone?  Fun times, fun times…nice timing for Jed to leave.  Vladik is a little confused now that Jed is gone, but he understands that Papa has gone to work with our friends.  I’ll blog about all that later.  We have a pretty unique experience of removing him from Romaniv, but continuing to work there…it’s a strange road to navigate, for sure.

So, that’s the rhythm we’re in now.  Daddy’s working hard across the sea, kids are rockin’ it at school, and Mommy and Vladik are learning how to listen and obey, checking out lots of different doctor’s offices, and eating lots of mashed potatoes.  Yummmmmm.

Till next time, keep on keepin’ on!

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Together At Last

Our family of seven is together at last.  Vladik and Jed arrived from Ukraine on Thursday night.  The wait is over!!  After months of loving our Vladik and leaving him behind a gate, he is out and ours forever.  We are so full of joy.


So it’s been 4 days home together and I’m just in awe that he’s really here.

Vladik sitting at our kitchen table.  Vladik shooting hoops in the driveway with Seth.  Vladik shopping with us at Winco. Vladik on the carousel. Vladik at church.  Vladik NOT at Romaniv.

He loves to play, watch cars, and take showers.  After 15 years of constant filth and neglect, he just beams when he knows he is clean.


It’s like a dream.

He’s doing awesome.  Of course, there are adjustments to be made and there have been a few tears, as we all process yet ANOTHER transition, but in general he just fits us like a glove.  This is a love that has grown and developed over two years, so there is a lot that is natural about it.

I’ll talk more about the details of his adjustment later in the week, I just wanted to let you know that he is home and we are blessed.  I can say with complete honesty that we are eternally grateful and humbled that God gave Vladik to us.  He is a precious soul that has been hidden away for far too long, and we are the ones who get to watch him come to life.  It’s the best thing ever.

Every day, multiple times a day, Vladik asks each member of our family if we love him.  “Mama, do you love me?  Papa, do you love me?  Addy, do you love me?  Ezra, do you love me?  Hava, do you love me?  Seth, do you love me?”  When we answer that yes, we love him forever, he laughs and claps his hands with joy.  That love, that belonging, all of our Boys deserve that.  My heart breaks that even though Vladik is out, they remain.

A wise adoptive mama friend said this, and it is also my heart’s cry:

“I have become convinced that to be indifferent, to do nothing, to ignore, to refuse to act, to stand back and allow broken and wounded populations to continue to suffer…this is the great sin of our lifetime. We are a generation of emotionally paralyzed people, and thus our behaviors become paralyzed. We spend so much time waiting for a sign, a signal, a calling…that we forget to DO. This simply must change. We as humans, as fellow travelers in this life, in this moment, must work, and work HARD to change what is unjust. The moment is now. Stalling has only ever cost us liberties, time, and lives. The procrastination just isn’t worth the price.

GO and DO.

Change the world.

Change a life, and in so doing change YOUR life.

Pay attention to the brokenness. 

Give generously. 

Love big and refuse to look back.

Even when it is hard, you will never regret it”


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Johnson Kids Meet American School

So I’m sitting here in a coffee shop ALL ALONE. I’m not sure the last time this has ever happened to me. Wait, has this ever happened to me before? It feels very strange and even a bit wrong. I feel like I’m forgetting something….or four somethings. 🙂

The Johnson kids are in school. Wow.

You know, I think I must be a slow learner, because God keeps telling us to do stuff I said we would never do. Maybe I should keep my mouth shut a little more often. Hehe. We are a homeschooling family. I love homeschool. It just works for us. It clicks with us. Why would my kids ever need to go to school when I can teach them just fine at home? Well, enter moving across the world and then one year of Ukrainian school then international adoption then temporarily relocating back to the other side of the world and a multitude of doctor’s offices and surgeries to come and you get the idea: school must happen and I’m not going to have the time to do it myself.

Jed and Vladik are still in Ukraine waiting on documents to be able to leave the country; meanwhile the kids and I are here in Oregon getting settled and prepared for their arrival. And the kids started school on Tuesday. Eeeeeek!

We are so blessed to have an amazing Christian school in our city with teachers that know our family and have been praying for us for years. In fact, my mom, my brother, and one of my dearest friends are three of them!  The school is giving us some financial aid, so praise God for that. We still haven worked out exactly how we’re going to pay for the rest of it, but God knows and He will provide.

Jed and I felt really strongly that it wouldn’t be the best idea to put our kids straight from Ukraine into public school where we knew no one. We also knew that I won’t be able to cart them to all Vladik’s upcoming medical appointments, so this school is a huge answer to our prayers. Already, after the first week, I know it was the right choice. The kids are happy and loving it, the teachers are wonderful, and I know they are safe and loved.

Hava and Seth are both in kindergarten.

Ezra is in fourth grade and Grams is his teacher!

And Addy is doing fifth grade.

This world of American school is like another foreign country, but so far we seem to be navigating it okay (minus being late on the FIRST DAY…oops). It’s a breeze compared to navigating Ukrainian school…I mean, for starters, everyone speaks English! Ha!

So, that’s where we stand now. On another note, if you could pray for our adoption process we would super appreciate it. We are hitting delay after delay after delay and we are so tired and ready to be together as a family. Vladik and Jed still wait for documents and the kids are missing Daddy like crazy. Praise God they have done amazingly well during all this transition, but we are soooo ready to be done!!! Thanks 🙂

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A Love Story, Part 3 

This is Part 3 in our adoption story.  You can read Part One here and Part Two here!

After camp Jed and I both began to see Vladik differently.  Our hearts toward him were changing, but it wasn’t something we talked about with each other.  We both just knew in our hearts we had a special love for him. Honestly, every person who serves at Romaniv has their “favorite”.  Ha!  You know, that one boy that you just connect with in a special way.  My “favorite” changes from week to week.  😉

Separately, Jed and I both began to think more and more about Vladik.  Our love for him grew and grew. Separately, we started to wonder if God had something more for us and Vladik together.  We didn’t know even what that would mean.  We didn’t know how old Vladik was (it’s impossible to guess the ages of the boys at Romaniv), if he was even available for adoption (only 9 boys out of 86 at Romaniv can be adopted), or what God had in mind. Then, over time we both, separately (great communication skills, eh?), began to feel like God was maybe asking us to consider adoption.  Holy smokes.  Scary thought.  It’s one thing to love Vladik at Romaniv and camp.  It’s a whole other thing to love him in our home, as our son, for the rest of his life.

In October Jed and I began to talk about Vladik together.  We both shared with the other our musings about adoption and laughed about how crazy it sounded to bring pursue adopting one of our boys while continuing to live in Ukraine.  Was it even possible?  I mean, all of our boys have so many needs, could we raise Vladik here and continue to be effective in the work God has called us to?  Was Vladik even adoptable?  What about our other kiddos?  Were there any safety concerns for them?  Would a family need to live in America to be able to adequately care for Vladik’s medical needs?  How could we afford an international adoption while living on raised support?  Would it be possible to do an American adoption from Ukraine while living in Ukraine? So much to pray about and consider. We decided to keep those thoughts to ourselves for the time being and just wait on the Lord.  We knew that if He wanted Vladik to join our family He would speak to us.

The very next morning, after we had first talked about our love for Vladik we got an email from a dear friend in Switzerland. She told us that she had had a dream about us and felt like she was supposed to share, even if it sounded strange to us. She dreamed that she was coming to visit us in Ukraine and we were so excited because we were adopting two boys from Romaniv!  In the end we ended up adopting one boy, but then before we could get back to adopt the other one he passed away. 🙁

Of course we didn’t know what the whole dream meant, but wow.  What an encouragement from the Lord that he would speak to us through our friend about adoption when we had told NO ONE our hearts! Shortly after that we found out from the assistant director of the institution that Vladik was one of the few boys available for adoption!  Oh my.

Then came November, a really dark time for us.  We began to learn more about what makes Romaniv the way it is.  Jed always says “Romaniv didn’t get the way it is from everybody doing their best job.”  Ain’t that the truth.  The plain and simple truth is that the enemy has kept that place in darkness for far too long, and he doesn’t plan to give it up easily.  This work we do is absolutely our dream come true.  We couldn’t imagine doing anything else, yet this work comes with plenty of pain and heartache. All is not lollipops and roses.  We try to be very positive about what we share on social media about the Boys and our work.  It’s not like we’re dishonest or anything, it’s just very important to us that we always maintain the boys’ dignity, and to remember hope when we share.  Our boys have had everything stolen from them.  We will not go in and steal their dignity as well.  Honestly, though, the more and more time we spend at Romaniv, the more and more layers of ugliness we uncover.  That’s just bound to happen.  In that regard, November was just plain rough on our spirits. It was not pretty. We couldn’t manage to think of much except putting one foot in front of the other.  The weight of injustice became almost too much to bear.  Adoption dreams were on the backburner.

Then two of our boys whom we love VERY much were sent to a hospital several hours away and were lost to us.  The Director said they would be gone for at least a year, and “maybe forever”.  It felt like a death.  We just arrived one day and they were gone.  Oh, the tears.  We were devastated because we knew those boys would not understand what was happening.  Would they be scared?  Would they be treated well?  Then we remembered our friend’s dream.  One of the boys that was sent away, Valera, was Vladik’s only real “peer” in the Isolation Hall.  He was the one other boy who would try to play a little, and the two of them were attached at the hip.  One of our big issues with adopting Vladik was knowing we could never take him away and leave Valera behind, but Valera was too old to be adopted. When we first started talking about adopting we had discussed trying to get guardianship of Valera and were really thinking we could find a way to take him home too, and then he was gone.  Just like the dream.  So, so sad.  Maybe this adoption idea was too much for our hearts to take on.

Sweet Valera

December came and we prepared to make a couple Christmas videos for Wide Awake, to introduce people to two of our boys.  Jed decided to feature Boris in his video because they have a really special connection.  I couldn’t decide who to feature in mine!  After lots of indecision, I decided to feature Vladik in my video because my deepest connection was with him, and I hoped maybe his family would discover him by watching the video.  Jed and I had basically stopped talking about adopting him ourselves, so if he couldn’t be ours I made it my mission to find him a family of his own.


Thousands of people saw the videos of Boris and Vladik.  🙂  Only a few days passed and a family wrote an email inquiring about adopting him!  My heart leaped and sank at the same time when I read their email.  Is that even possible?  It sure felt like it.  We wanted a family for him so badly, but oh man, I had so hoped it would be us.  Whenever our kids would watch the video of Vladik (which they were slightly obsessed with) Havalah would say “But Mommy, we don’t really want him to be adopted right?  Because then we would never get to see him anymore!”  She said it every.single.time.  Anyway, I got over myself 😉 and was truly excited to get that inquiry about Vladik, but then we found out that the interested parents were too young to adopt Vladik.  They were only 12 years older than him, and by Ukrainian law adoptive parents have to be at least 15 years older than the child they are adopting.  Back to the drawing board, loving our boy more than ever after seeing how many people responded to his preciousness in the video.

Then one morning in January Jed woke up early and felt like God spoke to him super clearly, “So, when are you gonna finally move forward with adopting Vladik?”  Uuuuuuh now, I guess????  Ha!  Jed came and told me he felt like we were supposed to go for it, and that was that.  I mean, we loved him, he needed a family, it was really a no-brainer.  All of our reasons for saying no seemed absolutely fearful and selfish and lame.  Our baby was right in front of our faces and he needed his mommy and daddy.  We sought wisdom from our parents, our pastor, and a few friends, and they were all completely supportive and completely not surprised.  🙂  In mid-January we began working on documents, and on August 31st Vladik became our son.

It might have taken 15 years, but Vladik is finally found.  We pray and believe that God will use Vladik to be a voice for those who are yet to be rescued. We pray and believe that God will use our family, and our adoption story to show Ukrainian people the value of our Boys.  It’s awesome, God has spoken to us, and to many others that Vladik is going to bring our family so much joy.  We know that of course there are bound to be some rough moments ahead, but we just keep getting the word “JOY”.  As Jed and I drove away from court after the judge declared Vladik was our son we had tears streaming down our faces: “How is it that God saved Vladik for us?  How did we get to be the lucky ones?”

He is so valuable.  He is so beautiful.  He is our baby and we are the happiest, most blessed family in the world.


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A Love Story, Part 2

This is the second part in a series about our adoption story. You can read Part One here

After God turned our hearts to Ukraine, and orphans with special needs there, we knew we had to go check it out for ourselves. I remember the first time we visited Romaniv in 2012. We saw Vladik there and our hearts were touched because we saw that he had Apert Syndrome like Jonah, the boy we had loved. I even wrote a bit about him here. Then, as you know, we ended up moving to Ukraine in November of 2013. YAY!

After our move, we began to visit Romaniv every week with MTU (Mission to Ukraine) and grew to love all the boys. The boys in the Isolation Hall were our main focus and every week our love for them deepened as we came to know them more.

We loved Vladik very much, but honestly, not any differently than any of the other boys. I guess he held a special place in our hearts because of Jonah, but we weren’t considering adoption at all. I promise! Ha! We had ended up adopting our Seth before we moved and felt that someday we would adopt again, and most likely that would be a Ukrainian adoption, but the idea was far away in the future. We did not even remotely think about adopting one of our boys. I mean, how could you pick just one, when our biggest dream is that they would all know the love of a family? Yeah, not happening.

Then came MTU summer camp. The last two summers our family has had the EXTREME pleasure of serving at camps for kids with disabilities, put on by Mission to Ukraine, one of our non-profit partners here in Zhytomyr.

They have loved our Vladik for many years. Just look at these pictures! 

MTU actually plays a giant role in every part of this adoption. We came to Zhytomyr to volunteer for MTU. We heard about the work they were doing at Romaniv and longed to be a part of it. They had been visiting the boys for several years before we came along. If it weren’t for God leading us to MTU there is no doubt in my mind- we would not know Vladik. 🙂 THANK YOU MTU!!!!

Anyway, every year Romaniv sends 6 boys to MTU’s camp, along with one of the nannies. This is outrageously amazing for our boys. They never ever leave the grounds of Romaniv. It is their entire world. But, every summer 6 boys get to escape for 8 days and truly LIVE.

They are treasured at camp. They laugh at camp. They play at camp. It’s like Disneyland on steroids for these boys. We were at camp last July waiting for the bus to arrive from Romaniv and who, to our enormous surprise, stepped off the bus? VLADIK! We had no idea any of our boys from Isolation were coming!!!! Vladik had never been to camp before! We were so happy!!!!

You guys, Vladik did so great at camp. Oh, my word. He started out the week with many institutional behaviors (screaming at the wrong time, loud noises at inappropriate times…) but after only 2 days at camp, those behaviors were gone. He was trying to sing the songs and do the motions. He was doing his best at the games. He was sitting quietly during lessons. He gained new words every day. It was so beautiful.

The most unexpected and most beautiful thing for Jed and me was how Vladik connected with our kids. Addy and Ezra had met him at Romaniv before camp, and Vladik had immediately taken a liking to Ezra. Vladik likes most people, but for some reason (God) he really latched on to Ezra during the couple of times Ez came to Romaniv. That relationship only grew at camp- and the feeling was mutual. Ez was drawn to Vladik and really began to love him.

One night toward the end of camp, I was putting the kids to bed in our room and all the lights were out. Jed was away and the kids and I were talking about our day. I asked them each what was the best moment of their day and the most difficult moment of their day. That day the camp had held the Special Olympics, so there were a lot of great moments to talk about. When it came to my turn to share Ezra piped up, “Mom, I bet I know what your hardest moment was. When the Romaniv boys were getting their medals at the Olympics I saw you crying. I bet that was hard for you.” I answered him that that moment was actually my best and most difficult moment all at once. It was the best because I saw all the joy on the boys’ faces and I was so happy to see them so happy. But it was the hardest because they were the only campers who didn’t have a mommy to walk them up to the front to get their medal. I was sad because I knew they were going home tomorrow and I knew that their home was not a good place.

All of a sudden, in the dark room I heard a weeping, almost a wailing coming from one of the beds. It was Ezra! “Ezra! What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“Mommy, why? Why do the boys have to live there? Why do they have no mommy? It’s not fair. I don’t want them to go back there! Why does Vladik have to live there? He’s my friend. How long is he gonna have to wait till his family finds him?”


Pretty soon all four of my kids were weeping. Their hearts were broken for the boys. In that moment they really got it. They really began to understand why we live here in Ukraine. They began to understand why we sold everything and came to love these boys. Ezra said “Mom, we can never leave Ukraine. The boys need us!”

That camp, that night, our kids fell in love with Vladik. That night my heart began to shift. I began to see Vladik in a new way. I shared the story with Jed and he cried. We could barely stand to see him get on that bus to head back to Romaniv. Something was stirring. God was up to something!!

PS: Thank you MTU for the pics of Vladik when he was little 🙂 

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Vladislav Christopher Johnson- orphan no more! 

Today, in a courtroom in Romaniv, Ukraine, Vladik was legally declared to be our son. We are officially a family of seven! 

Ours was the first international adoption in the town of Romaniv and we are praying it helps to pave the way for many more to come after us. The court went well and although it was a long, serious affair, there was nothing scary or tense about it. All the parties represented agreed that our family adopting Vladik was in his best interest. The representative from the orphanage said “You can see they love him like parents.  It’s almost like he’s already a part of their family!” 

Ain’t that the truth. 

Remember when I wrote this post about Vladik being found by a super lucky family? So yeah, the secret’s out: we are that most lucky family. It was KILLING us to keep the secret for all those months. Whew! I’m so glad we can now share our joy with the world. 

The story of how we came to adopt Vladik is wonderful and beautiful, and tomorrow I’ll begin to share it all with you.

Now we have a 10-day wait (Ukrainian law), and then we will be able to take Vladik out of the orphanage FOREVER. 

The first of our Boys, redeemed. 

Once he was abandoned, but today he is a beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, and cousin.

Our hearts are full and we pray many families will come after us. Our Boys are absolutely treasures. How blessed are we that God gave one of those precious treasures to us for our very own?? We are the luckiest. 

Praise God. He sets the lonely in families!!!! 


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