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All About Sasha: Two Years Home!

This week marks two years since Sasha joined the big Wide Awake/Dim Hidnosti family. I gotta say, it feels like much longer. A hundred lifetimes have passed since then and it seems like our Sashulya has been with us forever. Today Masha reminded our team that it was Sasha’s two year anniversary, and looking back at the photos of the day we brought him home- it’s like a dream. So much in our lives has changed since then.

Because Sasha was moved out of Romaniv to a different institution during COVID and visitors were not allowed, by the time the guardianship was in the approval process and Jed and I were allowed visitation, we hadn’t seen Sasha in more than a year. He acted like he didn’t know us at all and we really didn’t know him well anymore either. We had to start our relationship over completely and that was a very different situation than with all of our other boys whom we visited with often and felt we knew very well. I remember feeling so sad for Sasha because I knew he didn’t remember us well and was confused by all the changes. I desperately wanted him to know that all was well, that his life was about to change for the better, but his understanding of the whole situation was very limited. He was afraid of everything, all the time.

I remember the day we finally, after a million delays, brought him home. The whole team was so excited. We all breathed a big sigh of relief- our boy was home. Now his life could truly begin. In those first days Sasha would just crouch on the floor, making his body as small as possible. He wouldn’t respond to his name at all and didn’t want any physical contact. He was so much in his own little world that he would literally walk into walls. He was a shell of a person. Max and Morgan, an American couple who were living in the duplex as house parents, were the perfect landing spot for Sasha. They poured all their love and attention on him and he began to thrive. It was like we had a newborn baby with us and every little new thing Sasha did and every discovery he made was lovingly documented by our devoted team. It was a precious time.

Now, two years later, Sasha is a tall, almost-17-year-old with a super loud voice and a very strong will. 😆 Gone is our scared little boy. We’ve got a full-blown teenager on our hands now and I think he’s going to be an actual giant. He’s huge and it doesn’t look like he’s going to stop growing anytime soon. Sasha often seems lost in his own world, especially when he has a water bottle or one of his favorite toys in his hands, but when he wants relationship he is the most loving, affectionate cuddle bug there ever was. His smile absolutely lights up the room and everyone who knows him falls in love with him. He’s not afraid to show us what he thinks by batting us away or even falling onto the floor when he doesn’t want to go somewhere. He’s heavy and I think he knows it. 😂 But we choose to recognize that he is communicating, showing us his likes and dislikes and I’ll take that any day over a scared little boy crouching in the corner.

Sasha loves music, especially old Ukrainian and Soviet children’s songs. He is musical and even though he doesn’t speak, he can sing the words to a couple of his favorite songs. Sasha likes water (if it’s warm) and riding in the car- but only if he gets to sit by the window! He likes to kick balls and play in our little ball pit. He’s very tactile and when he’s in the mood he really loves hugs.

Sasha’s diagnoses are Autism Spectrum Disorder and Epilepsy. He also has microcephaly and Raynaud’s Syndrome. Over this past year or so we have struggled to get his seizures under control. The doctors think this is mainly because he is growing at such a rate that we haven’t been able to keep the medication at a therapeutic level. Just last week he had an overnight EEG and we are now waiting to hear the results. Overall, his health is good, we just need to him to slow down on this growing for a bit!

Oleg and Masha are the house parents in the duplex now and they live with Sasha and Anton. It’s so cool because years ago when Masha was an intern at the institution, Sasha was one of the boys on her caseload. Now she gets to live with him like a mama. God’s plans are the best.

We love our Sashulya deeply and are mega thankful he is a part of our family. I’m just so glad he isn’t afraid anymore. I’m so happy to know that every single day he is surrounded by love and is safe. Sasha is precious and our big Wide Awake/Dim Hidnosti family adores him. Happy 2 years, Buddy!

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The Beginning

Every story has a beginning, and today I’m sharing ours!  In this episode, I tell the story of how our ordinary family, living our ordinary life in Oregon started down the path that would eventually move us across the world to Ukraine.  Mostly this is our story of just saying YES to the next thing God asks of us.  Enjoy!

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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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Vlad the Worker Man

When we adopted Vlad we really had no idea what to expect for his future. He could say a handful of words, but they were pretty difficult to understand. His behaviors were VERY institutional. He would screech and scream in public, he flapped his arms and made strange sounds. He had zero concept of appropriate social norms and personal space. He was a little bit like a wild animal, to be honest. But he was curious and he wanted to learn, so we started to teach him. 

The day we adopted Vlad

Over the past 6 years, Vlad has far exceeded anyone’s expectations. He can read and write in Ukrainian and he is fluent in Ukrainian and in English. He’s grown from a 15-year-old who wore size 8 boys’ clothes into a 21-year-old man who is taller than me and still growing! He is responsible and smart and never forgets a face. Vlad is a miracle. 

One of the dreams we have for our boys is that they would each grow into their full potential. That they would be allowed, in this space of healing and love, to fully become the men they were created to be. For Vlad, we saw his great potential for growth, and an impossible dream began to grow in our hearts. We began to dream that Vlad would one day have a job. 

Vlad is a hard worker around the house and once he understands a task, he completes it in a timely fashion. We knew he would make a great employee, but the barrier to employment was a cultural one. People like Vlad, with significant intellectual and physical disabilities do not work here in Ukraine, in general. I mean, it would be extremely rare to see someone like our boys out in about in public, let alone working at a public establishment. You just never ever see it! But still, we dreamed of a future in which Vlad could work and grow in his independence. 

Then we met Dima. Dima owns an electrical supply store in Zhytomyr. Jed met him through the construction of the duplex. They did some business together and discovered that they had mutual friends. Dima had even visited Romaniv once! Jed and Dima developed a friendship and Dima became interested in our work. He came out to visit a few times and began to more fully understand what we are doing here. Then he told us he wanted to help. Jed heard those words and decided to not hold back. 😉 “You want to really help? Would you consider giving Vlad a job in your shop?” Without hesitation, Dima said that yes, he would be happy to give Vlad work. Oh.my.word. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Vlad as happy as he was the day he learned he was going to be a “worker man”, as he put it. 😆

Vlad and Dima on his first day of work

On May 11th Vlad began to work in Dima’s shop. For the first couple of days Tanya, our special ed teacher, joined him to help coach him on appropriate behavior in the workplace, and to help Dima find the best tasks for Vlad. He started out working twice a week for a couple of hours at a time, and now works 3 days a week for 4 hours each day. He is one happy dude. Vlad mostly works in the back of the store, bringing inventory from storage to the front and helping with counting inventory and such. Dima told me this week that he has to check up to make sure Vlad doesn’t make mistakes, but that he has progressed a lot in his abilities over the past couple of months. They are so patient there and truly want to help Vlad to be successful in his work. It’s become a bit of a mission for the store employees. It seems like they all feel joy and pride in the sense of purpose the work brings to Vlad’s life.

Vlad at work

This month Vlad became an official, documented employee. I can’t emphasize enough what a miracle that is. It just doesn’t happen! We are so proud of Vlad and so thankful to Dima and his staff for making this happen for our guy. Vlad is growing in independence and maturity and having an occupation is a priceless gift in Vlad’s life.

Yesterday we celebrated Vlad’s 21st birthday. He’s an adult. He has a job, responsibility, a paycheck. I think back to the little tiny 15-year-old we adopted and marvel at all God has done. He has brought the right people into Vlad’s life at just the right time. We are so thankful and so proud.

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All About Sasha and Life in the Duplex

If you follow our team’s social media accounts or if you’re subscribed to our newsletter you already heard the wonderful news that Sasha is home! I’m finally getting around to writing about it in this space. Two weeks ago we got to bust him out of the institution for good. It was a long road of documents and jumping through too many hoops, but that’s all behind us, and our Sasha is now safe and sound in his forever home. We are so relieved and thankful. Thank you for all the prayer support along the way.

Sasha lived with his mother for his first 11 years and then was removed from her care and placed in the institution. I remember the day he arrived at Romaniv. He was so beautiful! He looked so innocent, so full of life. We were all devastated to see such a precious soul sent to such a dark place. He was affectionate, sought out eye contact, and could even sing songs; it was obvious that he had been loved. We knew his innocence wouldn’t last long, and sure enough, over the following months and years, we watched him quickly decline and turn into a shell of his former self.

Sasha’s first day at Romaniv

A couple years ago a social worker asked us to help find a home for Sasha, and since we knew we were creating forever homes for people just like him, it seemed obvious that he should be the first boy to come live in the duplex as soon as it was ready. Jed started on documents, Max and Morgan picked up and moved their whole lives to Ukraine, and the duplex was made into an absolutely beautiful home, all so Sasha could know love and be free. And FINALLY it is a reality. As I’m writing this he’s on his way to a swimming pool for the first time. He loves water, so I’m guessing he’s going to be pretty excited. 😊

Because Sasha’s history is different from the rest of our boys, having lived with his mother for so many years and having obviously known love at some point, we were hopeful he would have an easier period of adaptation. And so far he has! Also, he is just now 15, and the difference between taking a 15 year old out of an institution and a 30 year old is not small. His brain is more pliable. He is more flexible. He seems to learn more quickly. Yes, we are in for a marathon, not a sprint, but the head start of him being younger is a pretty big deal.

Taking Sasha home!

When Sasha first came to us he was afraid of everything. He resisted any transition to a different activity or a different location in the house. He was afraid to lay down to sleep and paced in his room till all hours of the night. On the first night, it took three of us to change his diaper because he was just so afraid. He didn’t really want to be touched. But he has already grown so much! It’s pretty miraculous how ready he was to be loved and cared for. He is so affectionate. He loves hugs and kisses and when he is sad he wants to be held and comforted. He is feeding himself- slowly, but safely. He smiles and has started to make some sounds. He is easily overstimulated and is pretty food-obsessed, but overall, he is really doing amazingly well. I think his development is going to explode over the next several months. It’s so fun to watch him open up and show more and more of himself.

Sasha is under the legal guardianship of Jed, but he lives in the duplex with Max, Morgan, and Anton. Max and Morgan could not be a better fit for Sasha. They love him so much and from day one they gave their hearts away to him. It’s clear that Sasha cares for them and feels safe with them. It’s just so beautiful!!! They are so attuned to Anton and Sasha and their moods, their needs. Max and Morgan are all in and they are doing a fantastic job. It’s a really wonderful thing to be able to trust them completely with the boys’ care. We are nearby if they need us, or if they have questions, but we don’t worry for one second about the boys because we know they are in capable, loving hands. I really can’t express how thankful we are that God brought Max and Morgan to us. What a gift!

Probably the biggest struggle we’ve been working through since Sasha came home is with Anton and his emotions about it all. Anton has big, big feelings, and any negative emotion is expressed with anger. It’s his go-to and he really hasn’t ever known another way. He’s had tons of transition over this past year and we expected that adding Sasha to the mix would be difficult for him. Sure enough, last week he really struggled with anger and aggression. Max and Morgan were super attentive and patient, we changed our schedule of assistants to give Anton more stability, and it seems like he has begun to turn the corner. Over the weekend he even showed some sadness with tears and crying. That’s something we haven’t really ever seen with Anton. It was super encouraging to see him working through sadness with tears instead of anger and aggression. If you remember, please pray for our Anton. He doesn’t want to hurt others, I really believe that. He just grew up his whole life in an environment where anger and aggression were the main modes of communication. Learning a new way takes time, but we won’t give up on our boy. He is learning. Please pray for Max and Morgan too. They really want to keep Sasha safe, and constantly being on the lookout for Anton’s mood shifts can be really exhausting. Pray for them for peace, wisdom, and perseverance. This work is certainly not easy. Worth it? Yes. But easy? Noooooooo. 😳

Lately, I’ve been struck by how wonderful it is to have the gift of time with our boys. We are in no rush for them to meet some sort of developmental milestones. Of course, we want to encourage them to meet their full potential and we want them to have as much independence as they are capable of, but we are in no rush. We have the rest of their lives to help them learn. The most important thing is that they are safe and they are loved. As long as they are safe and loved- and they know it, then we have met our goal. My favorite thing is to look out into the backyard and see Anton on the swing, Sasha playing with a ball (or eating grass…🙃 ), and Bmo just enjoying sitting out in the sun. They are free! They are loved! They are valued and surrounded by people who truly know them and see them as individuals worth fighting for. Life with our boys is a gift. Sometimes it’s really hard, but a lot of times it’s really beautiful. What an honor to be the ones who get to show them love. What an honor to be the ones with whom they feel safe and at home. We are blessed to have our boys and I really can’t imagine a life without them.

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Changes for Good

January ended up being a pretty great month. To start with, Jed’s mom brought Vladik home to us. Yay! Then she stayed for a month to spend time with us and help with the kids so Jed and I could go to the Vineyard UK National Conference in Nottingham. One of our partner churches flew us out there for the conference and a few days of rest and man oh man, we didn’t even know how much we needed it until we were in it.

When you’re knee deep in a project or work it’s helpful to get away and regain some perspective. We’ve been neck deep for the past year and a half, so our perspective in some areas was severely lacking. Time away spent with friends who love us and speak into our lives was a precious treasure that came just at the right time. I’m so thankful we had that opportunity.

While we were away we had good news and not so good news. The good news was, our precious “Preston” flew home to Indiana with his new family to begin his new life! The bad news was, our “Aaron” who was just adopted from Romaniv (the last child who was available for adoption!) failed his medical exam and therefore wasn’t issued a visa to the travel to his new home in the US. Noooooooo!!! Failing that exam is every adoptive parent’s fear. Additional testing had to be done, and now there is an 8 week waiting period for those results to come back. Obviously, Aaron’s family couldn’t wait 8 additional weeks in Ukraine, so a different plan had to be formed.

Part of our team with Preston before he flew to his new home

I shared that story on our social media and invited people to help cover the expenses of caring for Aaron for the next 2 months, as he requires full-time care, and the Wide Awake community rallied! In less than 24 hours all of the expenses were covered, plus additional funds that the family can use for airplane tickets when they travel back at the end of the waiting period. Thank you so much to all who gave so quickly and so generously! The family was blown away by your love.

The plan we came up with was that Max, one of our team members who is currently on a break from university, would live in an apartment with Aaron for the 2-month waiting period. When Jed and I arrived back in Ukraine after our England trip we picked up Aaron in Kyiv and brought him to our house for the weekend because Max wasn’t available to start caring for him till Monday. Aaron did SO WELL in our home. He obviously loved the stimulation of all the people, the space to move around, the toys and balls. It seemed like a no-brainer to all concerned that he would be better off in a family environment instead of one-on-one in an apartment.

Aaron knows he’s not allowed in the kitchen so he sited riiiiiiight at the edge 😆

That left the question of how to make it all happen. Aaron on his best day still requires full-time supervision and assistance. There was no way we could simply add him to our family and not change things up. The money had been donated to care for him, we just had to find the best way to use it. Then we had an “Aha!” moment and we made a decision that was better for all involved. Andriy stayed with us in our home, and Ruslan moved into the apartment with Max. Not what you were expecting to hear? Yeah, it took us a bit by surprise too, but sometimes the most obvious answers are the hardest to come by. 🙂

For several months we had been mulling over the idea of moving Ruslan to an apartment, even before Anton moved. There are several reasons that made this the right choice for this moment. First, Ruslan has a great potential for independence. He will never live alone, but he has great potential to learn to care for himself in many ways. He wants independence. He sees all his friends (our team) live in apartments with friends so the concept was interesting to him. In an apartment setting there will be more time and space for him to learn skills necessary for independence.

Second, Ruslan is highly anxious and quite obsessive. Anton did not thrive in the large family environment, and Ruslan, although he managed it better than Anton, also had big struggles. Ruslan wants to control everything and everyone in his environment. He’s been learning that when you live in a family it’s not possible or necessary to control everyone and everything, but in the large family context it was causing him a lot of angst.

My fave pic of Ruslan ❤️

Third, there were some personal matters that made it necessary for the health of our family that Ruslan moved to a different space. To protect the dignity of all of us I don’t want to really expand on that. Everyone is safe, and no one has been physically harmed, but you just can’t predict how interpersonal relationships will develop when you bring new people into your home, specifically people who have endured 30+ years of trauma and abuse. We have learned much from having Ruslan in our home, and we love him dearly. It is just healthier for everyone if he lives separate from us. I know it might seem like I’m glossing over this, but I hope you can trust that this is not a decision we came to lightly. We have been agonizing over how to make it work, interpersonally, with Ruslan in our home, and the reality is, it just can’t work for the long term. If you have more questions about this, please shoot me an email. I’m happy to talk.

This move, even though we had considered doing it for a long time, was unexpected, but it feels 100% right. When Anton moved out it was traumatic and sad and felt like a loss (at the time). This does not feel like that. Ruslan was excited for the new adventure of living with Max, and Max is the perfect person to lead Ruslan into a more independent life. Anton’s leaving felt like failure, at the time, because Anton is developmentally much younger. He was confused and it felt like getting him out of the house ASAP was the only option in that stressful situation. This move feels like a next step. Aaron’s coming into our home for this time caused everyone to rethink how we are doing what we are doing and shook us up a bit. But we feel confident God used that situation for all of our good.

Bmo-Olaf

At church on Sunday Ruslan was happy, loved and well-cared for; Anton was happy and loved and content. They arrived at church with different people, but were still surrounded by so many who love them. God is so faithful to provide the people to love our boys. Every one of them is in a good spot right now and we couldn’t be more thankful.

I don’t know what the future will hold for Ruslan and Anton. Possibly they will stay in apartments, possibly they will live in the duplex, we’re tossing around the idea of tiny houses on our property. We want to do what is best for them and we are committed to them, so we know God will show us in his timing.

I wanted to share with you so you would know how to pray and also so that those who gave toward Aaron’s care would be fully informed on how the money is being used. Max is being paid to care for Ruslan, so that we have the ability to care for Aaron in our home. Same use of funds, just a “change in seating”, if you will. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. We always want to be open and honest. Thank you for your love and encouragement, as always!

“Aaron” living large in the village

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2019: A Year of Learning and Miracles

Well this year sure flew by in a flurry! I was just looking through the 2019 blog posts to find the highlights to link here and saw that I really didn’t write a whole lot. That in itself shows what kind of year we had around here: fast and furious. 🙂

Here in our home, with Anton and Ruslan, this year has been unbelievably difficult. There have been many beautiful moments, don’t get me wrong, but the overarching feeling when I sat down and initially looked back over this year in our home was not “beautiful”, it was “stinkin’ hard and painful”. It has been a year of learning to lay down our lives and learning what this dream of deinstitutionalization really is. Of course we already had some experience with Vlad and Boris, but for many reasons it has just been exponentially harder with Anton and Ruslan. We have learned A LOT. We have changed A LOT. And we have so much to be thankful for.

I’d love to sit down and report to you the many great strides and changes that have been made in our boys, and while they have changed and made some strides, the greater changes have been made in the hearts of our family.

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This year has forced us, Jed and me, to dig deep down inside ourselves and deal with our junk, ’cause Lord knows we’ve got a whole lot of it. Many times this year the way has felt so dark. We have felt hopeless, helpless and in way over our heads. We’ve learned, and are still learning, how impossible it is to do this thing of deinstitutionalization in our own strength. We’ve learned that we’ll most definitely burn out and cope in unhealthy ways when we try to do this on our own. We’ll get bitter. We’ll pick up our phones as an escape. We’ll get all judgey. We’ll lose our patience with our kids and we’ll even stop laughing.

There’s just no way around it. We either do this thing with Jesus, or we fail. That has been the big lesson of 2019: Jed and Kim without Jesus doesn’t work. Praise God for his never-ending mercy and unrelenting love toward us, and thank God for your prayers and encouragement that have sustained us in the darkest of times.

We are different people than we were at the beginning of the year, in a good way. So when I look at it that way I am filled with thankfulness for this past year of struggle. We are changed. Our kids are changed. They have grown and stepped up and matured. Our team has grown and stepped up and matured. Our team has grown in love for each other and we have learned so very much about the path that lies ahead of us. If we had never brought Ruslan and Anton into our home we would have been dreadfully unprepared for the next phases of this journey. So, praise God that his ways are higher than ours. All the tears, all the struggles with self, all the sleepless nights have been 100% worth it. I mean that.

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When you look outside our home at the other parts of this Wide Awake machine there are no shortage of miracles. 🙂

In January we sent out desperate plea for our “Preston” to be adopted. The government was threatening to send him back to the institution if he did not have a committed family by summer. A family pretty quickly stepped forward and they met Preston on Christmas Eve. 🙂 Christmas Day at our house was spent with Preston and his new family getting to know each other. Praise God for his love for our sweet boy.

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Preston with his new daddy on Christmas Day

In July we sent out another desperate plea for our “Aaron” to be adopted. He was the last boy at Romaniv available for adoption and was going to age out at the end of the year, making him forever unadoptable. That same day, as the post was being written, an adoptive family was at Romaniv for another boy (“Kayden”) and they also fell in love with Aaron. They ended up adding him to their adoption and had court for him on December 18th. Aaron is legally an orphan no more, saved at the very last minute by an AMAZING family. He’ll go home to them in January. Praise God for his pursuit of the ones left behind and forgotten for so many years. This is such a huge miracle!!!

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Aaron will go home with his new family in January!

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Kayden was adopted in the fall by the same family. Look at him on his first day of school!

If those adoptions were the only thing that happened this year it would be enough to be a miraculous year, but let’s not forget the ginormous building right outside our back door. Ha!

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the next Wide Awake home is well on it’s way to completion. The roof is on and the windows and doors are in. We are looking at a completion date of late spring, early summer. It’s amazing!!!  (and did I mention, huge?)

The house is a duplex, so it has the capacity to be a forever home for 8 of our friends from Romaniv- four on each side, plus the people who will live there with them.

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We are still searching for who will live in the duplex with our boys, so if this is something that your heart can’t let go of, please contact us and we can begin a conversation. I promise we are great neighbors. 😉

As we end the year I want to say thank you to this Wide Awake community for being such a wonderful source of encouragement and support to us and our team. In the good times you have celebrated with us, and in the hard times you have encouraged us, trusted us, and lifted our arms, encouraging us to press on, and reminding us of our why. We thank God for you and look forward to the growth that will happen in 2020!

BeLOVE[d]

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The Best Kind of Story+ A Birthday Wish

It’s story time. And this is the best kind of story. This is the kind of story in which all looks hopeless and then, at the last second, hope arrives and the helpless one is saved. This is the kind of story where life is lost, and then life is found. It’s the kind of story where love wins over fear. It’s a story of miracles.

Several years ago, in the Eastern United States, Nate and Jen saw a documentary that would change their lives forever. They saw a film about orphans with special needs in Bulgaria. The film showed how the children were mistreated in institutions and the results of a very broken system. After that film they knew they had to do something. They were moved to action. (My kind of people!)

Nate and Jen’s hearts were turned toward adoption and they went on to adopt a little boy from Bulgaria and then a little boy from China. But they weren’t done yet. Or rather, God wasn’t done with them yet. 🙂

In the summer of 2018 they began the process to adopt another little boy. This little boy was in southern Ukraine. In fact, he was in the very orphanage that God used to turn our hearts to Ukraine back in 2010. Nate and Jen fell in love with this boy and were moving forward to make him their son, but then, while they were still working on documents on the US side, the little boy died in Ukraine.

I can’t imagine the heartbreak. To make the decision to adopt a child is no small thing. You have to be ALL IN. And then to find out the child died without knowing the love of a family that you desperately wanted to give. It’s just so so terrible.

In their grief, Nate and Jen understood that they had love to give, and that many other children in Ukraine waited for families, so they decided to continue the adoption process. Much to our joy and surprise, they chose to adopt “Kayden”, one of our boys!

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Kayden was in pretty bad shape at the time he was chosen and we knew he needed to be adopted in order to survive. He just wasn’t/isn’t strong enough to live many more years in an institution. So we waited eagerly for the time when the documents would finally be completed on the US side and Nate and Jen could come to Ukraine to meet Kayden.

Earlier this summer the moment arrived! One Friday morning  in July they were driven out to the institution and got to meet their boy and begin the in-country adoption process. They got to spend a few hours with Kayden, and then of course they got to meet all our other loves who are equally as precious and equally as desperate for love and attention.

We had plans to meet up that night for dinner in the city, so they texted me when they arrived that evening at their hotel room. We chatted a bit about their day and then, out of curiosity, they asked if any of the other boys were adoptable, because they had heard none were. I clarified that yes, just one more boy was available for adoption, “Aaron” and I sent them this video so they would know who I was talking about:

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Their reply “We love him.”

Nate and Jen spent the weekend with our boys and grew to love them more and more- not just Kayden, but all of them. They are a pretty lovable bunch, if I do say so myself. And then at the end of a whirlwind few days they were headed back to the US to wait for a court date.

On their way home they messaged me to let me know that they were praying about coming back after this adoption to take home Aaron too. Aaron, that one boy, the boy in the video, the last boy who is available for adoption at the institution. They knew that his time was short, as he ages out in December, and they just couldn’t fathom leaving him behind.

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Guys, my heart skipped a beat or five when I read that message. Seriously? Hold up. Back up. They were thinking about adopting Aaron? Let me just tell you, I love Aaron deeply. I adore him. I see him for the precious little boy that he is deep inside, but I can tell you that not many see that. He is despised by nannies. He is bullied by other boys. He is about as far from an orphanage favorite as you can get. My faith has been so very small over the years that I have hardly advocated for him. For several years I knew he was available but I left advocacy for him on the back burner, instead advocating for all the others- the ones who seemed that they would be “easier”, the ones I could get decent pictures of, the ones I could write glowing reports about. I hate that I did that, but I want to be honest.

As much as Jed and I love Aaron, I had almost zero faith that anyone else would love him as much as we do. I halfheartedly advocated for him, but my deepest fear was that I would write as honestly as possible about him, but then a family would arrive to adopt him and be instantly scared off by his behaviors. The boy is loud. He is highly sensory seeking. I really do believe that he will change within the safety of family, but I can’t make any promises at all. I knew a family would have to take him as he is, and I just had no hope that anyone would.

But God. God promises to be a Father to the fatherless and He.Keeps.His.Promises. When our faith is small, that is when His glory shines brightest. Lest I should think that any of this has anything to do with how well I advocate or how catchy our blog is or how many followers we have to “like” our posts. This work is God’s work and these boys are His and we are simply his vessels. Thank God that His ways are higher and his timing is perfect.

I am just so deeply grateful to God for keeping His promise. And I’m so deeply grateful to Nate and Jen for seeing our boys with eyes wide open and not allowing fear to hold them back. I just almost can’t believe it’s actually going to happen!

Right now they are in the process of making necessary changes to documents so that they can bring both Kayden and Aaron home. Once they get them home there will be no more adoptable boys at the institution. Each one who has the possibility for adoption will be adopted. It is well with my soul.

As you can imagine, deciding to add another child to an adoption adds quite a bit of expense. So you can guess what I’m going to say next. 🙂 Would you help me support this family and their huge step of obedience?

Tomorrow I turn 40 (yes, I know, the big 4-0) and I can’t imagine any better gift than to see this family, who are adopting the FINAL TWO BOYS, be supported. I don’t want them to have to worry about money at all. Would you consider giving a tax-deductible donation to their adoption fund in honor of me turning old?

You can give your tax-deductible donation here. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your prayers, support and advocacy. Two more boys are about to know freedom and the love of a family. THANK YOU GOD!!!!

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The One Left Behind

Today our precious “Kayden” met his adoptive family. That means that Aaron is the only boy available for adoption at the institution- and he ages out at the end of this year! SEVEN of our boys have been advocated for and are now living in families. SEVEN boys who were once lost are now found.

Aaron is the only one left behind who has the chance for a family. I wrote this post a couple of years ago. Will you please help me share Aaron’s face? He is so in need of the love of a mama and daddy. 

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Today I want to help you get to know our precious Aaron.

I haven’t done much advocating specifically for him.  Out of all of our boys who are available for adoption you probably know him the least.  That’s my fault.  My faith has been small.

This is the thing: some kids are really easy to write about.  Every picture you take of them is adorable and people can’t get enough of their cuteness.  Maybe they smile all the time and our cameras seem to find them on every visit.  I can’t keep cuteness like that to myself!  It just wouldn’t be right!  😉

Other kids are more difficult to write about.  Maybe they don’t photograph well, or maybe they just never sit still long enough for anyone to capture more than a blur of movement. Maybe their behaviors are really difficult to manage and it’s hard to know what to say.  Maybe there aren’t many cute stories to share…maybe none of their history is known so it’s hard to paint a whole picture.

Aaron is one who has been difficult to write about.  I haven’t quite known what to say.

One of my biggest concerns with advocacy is that I want to be very, very certain that I am writing with honesty. I have nightmares about adoptive families arriving at the institution, meeting their child for the first time and saying to me “You didn’t tell me this!”  I know that adoptive families can never truly understand what our boys are like, or what Romaniv is until they arrive and see it firsthand: smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the pain.  But I’d like them to at least feel that I was honest in my description of the son they have fought so hard to rescue.

Because of that, it’s more difficult to advocate well for a child like Aaron.

He’s so difficult to photograph. His behaviors are extremely tricky to manage.  He is not liked by many of the orphanage staff. His quality of life is so poor, I can’t even accurately describe it.  He is loud. When we first met he was like a wild animal: a sensory-seeking boy in a sensory-deprived environment.  His life is pure nothingness so he searches for sensory input however he can get it.  If that means he has to literally climb up a team member’s body to get their attention, he’ll do it.  He absolutely LOVES water, but never gets access to it, so we have spent many a visit with one team member’s sole task being to keep Aaron from ripping the sink apart in his desperate attempt to feel the water.

He needs so much more than he is getting- in every single area of his life.

But the thing is, all the reasons that make advocacy difficult are the reasons why Aaron needs a voice maybe more than any of the other boys who are available to be adopted.

It’s almost impossible to get a good picture of him.  But I think he is absolutely beautiful.

He is loud and he screams and he has no words.  I hear the plea of a baby boy asking for his mommy.  I hear a sweet little boy whose voice is never heard.  I hear a child crying to be rescued.

He is a wild man who drives the nannies absolutely crazy with his quest for sensory input.  I see a little boy who is desperate for a big backyard and a dog and a hose on a sunny day.  I see a sweet soul who needs to be able to swing for hours on end, feel the wind in his face and the grass under his toes.  

God has given us a very special love for our boys that goes beyond reason.  It’s a supernatural love that could only come from him.  He gave us mommy and daddy love that sees the beauty of our boys, even when they do things that would not be considered beautiful, or even cute. He gave this love to us so that we would have the umph and the passion and the drive to fight for them.  He gave us voices so that we could speak for the voiceless. He made us totally biased, because our boys need people who are on their side and are completely biased for them.

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I am biased in my love for Aaron.  It’s true!

So today I speak for Aaron and I tell you that he is a treasure. He has boundless energy and so much curiosity. He wants to learn and soak in all that life has to offer. And this most precious treasure is desperate for a family.  His situation is dire.  He is unwanted and disliked and abused…and soon his time will run out. I want to talk all about the ways I believe he would change in a family, but I need to tell you how he is right now, because I can’t know he will or won’t change. A family that chooses him needs to come in with eyes wide open and love him just as he is.

See my boy.  Please see him.  Imagine if he was rescued and brought into a family where he could get love and care.  No doubt it will be a difficult road to walk, and the adoptive family will need to be prepared to devote a lot of time to Aaron, but oh my, it will be so worth it! To watch him come to life would be an absolute miracle to behold.  The parents who get that privilege are blessed indeed. I know from experience.  🙂

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God knew Aaron before he was even born.  He saw him in his mother’s womb and formed him there.  He created him for purpose and destiny.  He is as valuable as you.  He is as valuable as me.  He is as worth it as my Ezra, my Seth, my Vladik.  He is someone’s son- they just don’t know it yet.  He shouldn’t be spending his summers sleeping on a mattress to avoid attention and abuse.  He should be running in the sprinkler and going down slides and eating Popsicles.  Why not?  He’s just a little boy.  A little boy in a desperate situation.

So, please pray and please share.  Please pause and ask the Lord how you should respond to Aaron.  Don’t dismiss him because he sounds difficult, please.  He is made in the image of God and he will bring blessing and joy to some lucky family’s home.  Maybe yours?

 

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You can read more about Aaron and donate toward the cost of his adoption here. Interested families are welcome to contact me with questions at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

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FAMILY FOUND! + An Encouragement

Yes, it’s true. A family has committed to adopting Preston!

WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! So many tears and cheers around here!

Thank you to every single one of you who donated to his adoption grant and shared his face with the world. His mommy and daddy found him via social media, so sharing does work! They are a family who have been around the special needs adoption world for a while now, advocating and supporting other families. Now their time has come, and I’m super glad about it.

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So many of you have asked how best to support Preston, and now his family and I can tell you that there are two BIG ways you can help.

  1.  Pray. If you are a person who prays, please pray for Preston’s family to be able to move through the adoption paperwork with lightning speed. Pray that no roadblocks get in their way so they can get to their boy before he is moved.
  2. Donate. The biggest obstacle to this adoption happening in a timely manner is MONEY. Adoption is sooooo expensive and this family needs our financial support to help them move along quickly. They have decided to commit their lives to Preston. In that commitment, they have agreed to all the costs that come with adding a new member to the family: emotional, physical, and financial. Let’s be real, it’s expensive to care for a child with significant special needs. Their adoption journey with Preston will continue on for the rest of his life, and so will the financial aspects of it. I would just love to bless them in this part of their journey. I would love money to not be an obstacle at all in bringing him home. Follow this link to give a tax-deductible donation to the family’s adoption fund: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

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I know many of you were touched deeply by Preston and his story. He is a very special boy who is destined for great things. Many of you expressed to me your desire and willingness to be his family, and for that I thank you. Thank you for opening your hearts.

I know there are some happy, yet broken hearts out there, mommies and daddies who hoped Preston would be theirs. I want to tell you that I know exactly how you feel. Our journey to our life here in Ukraine started out in that exact way. We committed to adopting a boy in Ukraine, and gave our whole hearts to him in the process, but another family adopted him before we could get there. We were happy for him, that he wouldn’t have to wait for us to have the mommy and daddy that he so needed, but at the same time we were absolutely crushed. How could we have such love for a child and then have it turn out that he was not meant for our family? It was a difficult and confusing time. I wrote about it here. 

Long story short, God used that little boy in southern Ukraine who was never meant to be our son, to turn our hearts in the direction of Ukraine, in the direction of our future. God spoke to Jed so clearly in that time,

“Jed, I am so much more interested in the process than in the end result.  You have one end result in mind, but I’m taking you on a journey.  I needed you to love that boy like a father.  I needed you to love him with abandon.  I needed you to have that father’s heart for him because I need you to love lots of little boys and girls like him.”

I believe that is the current storyline for some of you. Preston as your son was not the end result God had in mind when He grabbed your heart, but instead He is using Preston’s story to start you on a journey. If that is the case, please don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Stay in a posture of YES. Do not be discouraged. Do not harden your heart. Do not simply move on. Quiet your heart and ask the Lord what He would have you to do next because I guarantee there is a reason your heart was so touched. Our end result is us in Ukraine with a houseful of broken and beautiful men so in need of love and healing. Your end result may not be the same (If it is, come on over! We could use some help over here! Haha), but it may be the adoption of a different child, or foster care, or advocacy. This gut-wrenching, pit of your stomach, can’t eat, too many tears, broken and open heart are unto something. So don’t miss it. These times of prompting from the Lord can be game-changers.

If you need some encouragement (and you have a few spare hours…hehe) go back and read the beginnings of this blog. You’ll see how we had no idea what we were in for, but we just wanted to say YES to Jesus. It has been a wild ride, but I don’t regret one second of it. Not that we’ve got it all figured out by any means! But we have walked the road of disappointment that led to great great joy.

I promise to keep you all updated on Preston and his family’s adoption journey! So stay tuned!

BeLOVE[d]

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