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Five Years!

Happy Ukrainiversary to us! Yesterday marked 5 years since the plane touched down in Kyiv and we began our new life. FIVE YEARS! Momentous. 🙂

So much has changed in the past five years it hardly feels like we are the same people that arrived in Ukraine with 12 suitcases and a guitar. For one thing, we’ve grown from a family of 6 to a family of 11. Wooooooah Nelly!

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Then

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Now

Last night we had plans to go out to a restaurant for a traditional Ukrainian meal, but one of our guys was having a rough one so we needed to stay in for the night. After we got the guys to bed we gathered the kids on our bed upstairs and took turns sharing something we each love about our life here in Ukraine. It was a sweet time. Many of your names were mentioned! Along this journey, we have met so many wonderful friends from all over the US and around the world.

I shared with our kids a memory of our very first day in Ukraine. It’s a memory that about sums up our first several months here.

When we arrived in Kyiv on November 13, 2013, our dear friend, Olya, came with us from the airport to Zhytomyr to spend the first couple of days with us, to help us get settled a bit. Keep in mind that we knew ZERO language and were basically clueless about everything having to do with life in Ukraine. Sure, we had visited, but let me tell you- visiting another country IS NOT the same as setting up a life there and living there. The morning after we arrived we decided to hop on the bus with our littles in tow and head to the big grocery store to get some necessities. I remember arriving at the store, hopping off the bus and Addy, 9 years old at the time, saying “It doesn’t really seem that different here!” Oh Addy, bless your heart. 😉  We wandered aimlessly through the store, jet-lagged and overwhelmed. Three-year-old Seth fell asleep in the grocery cart. We knew we needed diapers…and maybe TP? Why did we not make a list??? The kids were being super loud and all the other children in sight were silent…we were stressed and didn’t know what any of the labels on the food meant…

I remember the chaos of figuring out money at the checkout and Jed vowing never to go the store again with all 4 kids. I’m pretty sure that at that time we felt like 4 kids were waaaaaay too many. Little did we know what the future held! Oy.

We got home from the store with as much as we could carry and, after unpacking the bags, realized we still had no idea what to cook for dinner. I think we ended up eating a lot of oatmeal in those early days. Ha! We learned much through trial and error, and still do. But it’s actually quite encouraging to think back and realize how stupid we were then! Hehe.

Now, five years later, we can fondly look back at those beginnings and praise God for ALL the amazing things he has done. When we arrived in Ukraine the dreams we had in our hearts were not even legal. There was no legal mechanism for the deinstitutionalization of adults. We had no idea that two weeks after we arrived a revolution would begin. And as Ukraine endeavors to move toward the EU, our dream of deinstitutionalization is now a mandate. What are the odds? God is crazy good like that.

God had so many beautiful gifts waiting for us in Ukraine. Four of those gifts are currently downstairs drinking tea. 🙂 We had no idea when we first visited Romaniv that we were meeting 4 of our sons. Oh, and if you would have told me 5 years ago that we would have another baby, and that she would be born here in Ukraine, well, I probably would have spit out my coffee. Woooooooah, that was a doozy of a surprise. But, I love how God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. Our Evie blesses our hearts and brings us joy and healing every single day.

It’s funny to imagine that most of our team members were teenagers when we first moved to Ukraine. Kids! I absolutely love the team He is building here. I’m thankful that our guys are surrounded daily by people who don’t just tolerate them, but love them, champion them, and challenge them.

The days are long and often hard, but the years are quick. The greatest gift that God has given to me in these past 5 years is the gift of learning to lay myself down. Daily I’m confronted with my own weakness and my own brokenness. As we serve the broken hearts, broken minds, and broken bodies here in our home, I’m confronted with my selfishness and general ickiness of heart. I thank God that He is moving the hearts of our family from charity to compassion. He is changing us all, from the inside out.

So, here’s to 5 more years of saying YES to the next thing. Thank you to each of you who have prayed for us, encouraged us, supported us. We could never walk this journey alone. Thank you for joining us in YES!

BeLOVE[d]

Photo highlights:

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My Littles, our first week in Ukraine

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Our first Christmas

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Boris and me, back in the day

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2014

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Christmas #2!

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Vladik’s Day of Freedom! 2015

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The day we got the keys to the Wide Awake Homestead! 2016

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A biiiiiiiig work in progress

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Wide Awake Homestead! 2017

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Boris’ Day of Freedom! 2017

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Welcome to the world Evie Joy 2018

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Ruslan and Anton’s Day of Freedom! 2018

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Village Life

We’ve been living in the village for almost 2 months now, so I thought I should give a bit of an update on life here.

We FINALLY got our gas turned on last week, so that makes village life much happier!  I know many of our neighbors live without indoor plumbing, and therefore without hot water, but…yeah…I’m super thankful we only had to do that for a short while. I guess we’re a bit (a lot) spoiled.

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Our garden is MASSIVE, so much of my time and attention these days is directed toward managing the garden and all that it produces. Almost every day we try to can something so that we can make the most of the garden. So far we’ve put up several liters of pickles and several liters of cherry compote (a popular Ukrainian fruit drink). I’ve never done pickles before, so I’ve just picked out several different recipes from books and online and we’re trying them all! We’re labeling them with the recipe name so this winter we can decide which recipes are keepers and which aren’t. Figuring out how to can in Ukraine has been quite a challenge! Most people here don’t water bath their canned goods, and you can’t get the two piece lids we use in the US. So…we’ve had to compromise. The USDA might be horrified at our methods, but I’m sure all will turn out okay. (Fingers crossed!) Don’t worry, canning pros, we won’t attempt to can anything with low acidity.

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Village life for our little ones has been fantastic so far! Seth, Vladik and Havalah are outside basically every day from sun up to sun down. Seth and Hava both have little friends their same age that live right across the street and two houses down. Kids in the village have free reign and basically just run free all day long. It reminds me of what I imagine life was like in America a couple generations ago. The kids go from house to house, riding bikes, walking to the store to buy candy, and basically just running wild being kids. I LOVE IT. This is what we wanted for our kids, for their childhood. It just makes me happy that they can have that freedom here in the village.  Vladik spends most of his days watching the guys who are working on the house (they’re working on siding right now) and “building” his own special projects with scrap wood. Addy and Ez have a couple village friends, but they are around the house more than the Littles. They are good about helping me with the garden and taking care of our growing animal population (now including a dog, a cat, a hamster and the occasional neighbor cow who pastures in our back property).

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Our neighbors are kind, hardworking people. We don’t know them well yet, but most of them are parents of kids who are at our house all the time, so I’m sure over the coming years we’ll get to know each other well. We’re still quite a curiosity around here. I’m not sure that will ever change. 😉 The neighbors right next door butcher pigs, and the ones directly across the street butcher cows. Oh the sounds that come from those properties! Yikes. But, it sure is convenient when we want to buy meat! Also, the neighbor whose cow pastures on our property gives us fresh milk in exchange for letting his cow on our property. Village life has it’s perks, for sure!

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It’s not as convenient for our church friends to get to us as it used to be when we lived in the city, but oh man, this house is a far better gathering place! People love to be here. The house is cozy, the deck is perfect, and the air is fresh. We absolutely love our house. We can’t wait to bring our boys here! I can’t imagine how much they will grow and change in this environment. It’s going to be just awesome.

Village life is the life for us. We’re so happy here! THANK YOU a million times over to everyone who helped us get to this point. Our guest room is waiting for you. 🙂

family Johnson -21family Johnson -36family Johnson -42Thank you to our friend Andrey for the awesome photos of Vladik’s birthday!  

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Moving Week!

It’s finally upon us!  MOVING WEEK! Be still my heart.

This week we move to the Wide Awake Homestead and my excitement can not be contained. IT’S REALLY HAPPENING. The “2-3 month renovation” that turned into a 9+ month massive overhaul (because, you know, asbestos and Ukraine complications) is finally coming to an end. I don’t think I can adequately convey to you the extent of my joy.

We moved out of our house in Oregon in October of 2012, in preparation for our move to Ukraine. Since then we’ve been a family on the move. From house to house, and from country to country. We’ve packed, unpacked, repacked, unpacked…and on and on, never truly settling. But now, our time has come! We’re moving into our home. Home.

The house isn’t totally finished yet, but we have the first of our summer mission team visitors arriving this Sunday and they need to stay in the apartment where we’re currently living…so yeah, we gotta get outta here! Yikes! Good thing the construction crew are our friends, because we’re all about to get real cozy. 🙂

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Our furniture at the moment includes a small kitchen table, two chair beds, one set of bunkbeds, and some patio furniture. But hey, we’ll happily sleep on the floor if it means we get to do it at the Homestead. Who cares!

Oh, and one other small detail…the sewer system isn’t all ready yet, so we’ll need to be super conservative with water for a bit…and…we’ll be using the outhouse. But hey, lots of people in our village live with outdoor toilets. That’s really no big deal in village life. Let’s just consider it another lesson in learning to relate to our new neighbors. Ha!

The house is beautiful. Jed gets all the credit when it comes to the design. He chose just about everything in the house and I think he has great taste! I super super love all the wood. Can you believe that going with wood was the cheaper option???  I know. I could be wrong, but I feel like lots of wood would be really expensive in the US. Here, it is much cheaper, and we like the look of it better anyway. Most of the more expensive, popular-in-Ukraine designs are really not our style at all. So, for the most part we ended up with good deals and a great final product. Score!

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Also, special shout-out to Jed for managing this enormous project. He had no idea when we moved to Ukraine that his job-title would include “General Contractor”! This house has been his full-time job since September, in addition to all his other responsibilities here. He has been working day in and day out to get this first home done as quickly as possible so we could start getting our boys out. This is only the beginning and we’ll be doing building projects for who knows how many years to come, but this first one just feels really significant. I’m so proud of Jed. He has done an amazing job.

Yes, I’m freaking out excited to move in because my heart is so eager for a home. But the main reason I’m freaking out excited to move in is because once the house is fully finished and furnished we can begin the process to start bringing our boys home! After all, that’s what we came here for. The big dream when we moved here 3 years ago was to build family style homes for the boys. The big dream was to get them out. Deinstitutionalization. That reality is so close. It makes my heart beat fast just thinking of it. Guys, this is really going to happen!

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We don’t know who will be first. We are praying about that right now. The Homestead will be a forever home for the boys, so we really need God’s wisdom on who we bring out- especially when it comes to the first few boys who will live in the house with our immediate family.  We have a few boys in mind that we are praying about and deciding between. How do you choose?  They all need out. They all deserve rescuing. God is going to have to choose for us and show us very definitely because we just love them all. Some of the boys are not possible options at this time, while we have small children at home, but many are possible and I can picture so many of them living with us. Please pray for us in this decision-making process.

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How can I thank our supporters enough for making this possible? Thank you to each of you who have given towards the homestead project. Thank you for believing in this vision. Thank you for loving our boys and seeing their immense value. Thank you for trusting us to carry this out. We are so humbled in all of this. Humbled and thankful and rejoicing in all that God is doing.

Once we’re in I’ll give you a video tour of what you helped build.

IT’S HAPPENING. Let’s all give a collective cheer/squeal/whoot/holler/happy dance!

 

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Meanwhile, Back in Ukraine…

We made it!  We’ve been back in Ukraine for almost a week now, and all is well.  We hit the ground running.  I guess I’m learning that that’s kind of our style.  We don’t really know how to ease into anything.  🙂 The travel was great (minus a four hour stint in a Kyiv parking lot due to a busted belt on the van…but that’s another story).  Our puppy made it with us safe and sound too, for all the curious animal-lovers out there. No one left behind!

It’s great to be back with our team, with our friends, with our church. It’s a relief to know that our family is all together and we’re going to stay that way indefinitely.  No more trying to live on both sides of the ocean at once.  It may take a while for my heart to settle into that fact.  Whew!

The big, huge news is that on Monday we purchased the Wide Awake property!!!  It’s official!


The property is in a nearby village called “Ivanivka”. We chose Ivanivka because it’s super close to Zhytomyr, but with plenty of awesome land for sale.  We will be within a community and close to the city, but with space to grow and garden, and space for our boys to enjoy nature and peace without being isolated.  Our team and friends can easily take the city bus to Ivanivka, and our property is not far off the main road, so it’s easily accessible, since most of our friends don’t have cars.
The property itself is a little under 2 acres.  There is an old house at the front of the property, and our family will live in that house after we do some renovating.  It’s not a house that would ever be ideal for our boys, but it will suit our family just fine.  There are established gardens behind the house, several mature fruit trees, and a big grassy field where we plan to build two more small houses that will be home to 4 boys each.  The back of the property is bordered by huge trees.  It’s just beautiful! There are several small outer buildings on the property that have had various uses over the years.  We’ll keep some of them and tear down others.



The plan of attack, after deciding on a contractor and work crew, is to tackle plumbing, kitchen, and heating.  The floors have to be taken out to do the heating, and right now there is no indoor bathroom or kitchen, so those three things have to be done before our family can move in.  Once we are in we will begin work on an addition to the back of the house.  The addition will be home to the first four boys who come out of the institution!

So, we’ve got our work cut out for us!  The house is old, but structurally sound.  The property has great potential, but a lot must be done before anyone lives there.  It can be a bit (or a lot) daunting when we think of how much needs to be done fairly quickly, so it’s imperative that we just put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Yikes.  In the meantime we’re renting an apartment that we lived in during our first year in Ukraine.


We are so thankful to each one of you who gave to make this property a reality.  Thank you for your generosity.  Thank you for believing in the vision.  Thank you for loving our boys and for loving us.  Thank you for your YES!


For more pics of the land check out this link: https://wideawakeinternational.org/2016/05/17/wide-awake-property/

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On Leaving 

How to begin?  We head back to Ukraine in 12 days.  What the what??????


My last blog post was June 3rd. I have known I needed to write, but it felt like there was too much in there to adequately put into words.  Also, I realized that at some point over the past couple of years I started censoring myself.  I’m not sure exactly why.  I think a big reason is because the more I grew to know and love our Ukrainian friends in Zhytomyr, and the more time we spent away from our beloved friends and family in the US, the more I have wanted to make sure nothing I say is misinterpreted by anyone on either side of the ocean. 

That’s the struggle of this cross-cultural life.  Everywhere you go you are missing one person and glad to see another. Every time you go you are sad to leave one place but excited to reach another.  

All those feelings could be taken the wrong way, misinterpreted, hurtful…if you are the one being left you may feel rejected because we are excited to see the other.  When we are excited to leave Ukraine and get to the US I’m afraid it will appear that we don’t like Ukraine.  When we are excited to leave the US to get back to our life in Ukraine I’m afraid it will appear that we don’t appreciate the US and are “above” our old life. Ugh.  The people-pleaser in me does not have a clue how to navigate that, let alone write about it.  So I go silent. Sorry for that.

It’s just a fact that living between two worlds is very sticky business with no instruction manual.  

How do you leave a place and people well? 

How do re-enter a place well?

How do you leave a place where you are outgoing and confident, a fixer, and a leader and return to a place where you are a learner, an outsider, a person on the fringes of society with a first-grade handle on the language- and not crawl into a shell and hide?

How do you maintain friendships from across multiple time zones while also being fully planted and rooted where you are?

How do you invest in new friendships without feeling like you are letting your old ones slip away?  

How do you fully embrace your overseas life without feeling like you are a traitor to the ones you love across the ocean?

How do you look at pictures of your old friends and their kids all together and not feel guilt and sadness that your kids are not there to join in and grow up together?

How do you leave your mother and father and take away their grandchildren without feeling massive guilt?

How do you be fully where you are when you feel like your heart and life are split in two?

I don’t have a clue. 

One thing I know is that I failed in many of those areas last time we were in Ukraine and I am hopeful that this time will be better.  Last time I lived with A LOT of guilt. Everyday. No one put that on me; I’m awesome at doing that to myself. 🙂

I felt like I was a bad friend to my American friends, but my Ukrainian life took so much energy that I simply couldn’t be the kind of friend I wanted to be to the ones I have loved for many years.  

I allowed all my confidence to be stripped away and socially became a shell of my former self. (Lack of fluency will do that to ya) Making friends was hard for me and I’m not used to that. I ached to be understood and known. (See, just writing that makes me worried that my Ukrainian friends will think I’m saying I had no friends in Ukraine. Ugh! Ha! )

We spent those first two years just learning how to survive and didn’t really get the chance to become fully planted.  Our kids felt that.  I know that couldn’t really be helped.  We had to learn to survive and the learning curve was/is steep. Grocery shopping, banking, post-officing, cooking, schooling, transportation, church, utilities, LANGUAGE…everything was new and we were like aliens on a different planet. There was a lot of everyday living to figure out before any roots could begin to take hold. 

But this time, I think this time is going to be different. Our mindset is different.We are purchasing land and settling in for the long-haul.  We have committed our lives to these boys and once we begin to take them out everything changes. Of course we’ll still come to the US for visits, but my heart and mind need the opportunity to settle in and make a home in Ukraine. I need pictures up on the walls.  I need to know in my heart that until God says differently, Ukraine is our home. No guilt allowed. 

So, if you see us in the coming days, just know that our hearts are confused and there is no easy answer to the question “How are you?” We’re so happy and so sad.  We’re excited and dreading.  We’re confident and scared.  We’re ready and we’re not.  

I’m only resolute one thing: I know that I know that this is the life God has created us for and I WILL NOT allow guilt to rob me of the joy that comes with following Jesus and saying yes. 

So there. That’s the *pretty much* uncensored version of my heart.  If you are a person who prays we would sure appreciate your prayers over the next several weeks.  The kids are struggling with all the change and the chaos in our home is great at the moment. We need peace and knowing and joy in the journey.  

Thank you for walking with us! 

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The First Time

Four years ago today we met our boys for the first time.

On that day we had no idea that those beautiful boys would become the loves of our lives.  We had no idea they would become our mission, our dream, our passion, our dearest friends.

Jed and I had arrived in Ukraine just days before on a crazy adventure.  We landed in Ukraine knowing not a single person, nor a single word of Ukrainian or Russian (don’t try that at home).  All we knew was that God was calling us.  He had children in Ukraine that we were supposed to respond to somehow.  We had been praying and dreaming and looking at pictures and it had become clear that we HAD to travel to Ukraine to see for ourselves.  We had to smell the smells, see the sights, touch, feel, listen.  Only then would we know God’s next steps for our family.

Our first day in Ukraine

We made a handful of email contacts, “We want to serve children with disabilities…can we come see what you do?” We stayed in hostels, fumbled with public transportation, and had an adventure we would never forget.

On the day we were to visit Romaniv for the first time with our now partner organization, Mission to Ukraine, we had butterflies in our stomachs.  I remember Jed and I both wondering how we would feel when we met the boys.  Our hearts had been broken for orphans with disabilities in Ukraine, but we had never actually met any of them.  What if we got to the orphanage and were too overwhelmed?  What if the sights and smells and sounds would be too much for us?  We so desired to give our lives to them, but what if our bodies rejected that dream?  What if our humanness held us back?

I remember when we walked into the first room, empty of things except benches against the walls.

And boys. So many boys.  Our babies.

They walked toward us with arms outstretched and soon we were swarmed by them.

It smelled so.bad. The smell took my breath away.

The boys looked unlike any people I had ever seen before.  The neglect was unreal.   I had moments of panic as they reached for me, unsure how to respond to them, unsure of what they would do.

The sounds assaulted my ears: moaning, crying, and shrieking intermingled with laughter and words I didn’t understand.

It was completely overwhelming in every possible way.

And yet.

I remember so clearly the moment when Jed and I made eye contact through the crowd.  I glanced over at him wondering if I could tell from his face what he was thinking.  Personally, I was both totally freaked out and totally in love at the same time.  My heart was exploding and I knew.  I just knew THIS was what God made me for.  I looked over at Jed, his body surrounded by boys on all sides, and our eyes met.  His eyes were full of tears.  He nodded at me like “Yep, this is it.”

I wonder what we would have said if God had let us in on the little secret that we had met our future son that day?  Wow. 🙂

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The rest is history.  After that trip, we came home, founded Wide Awake, left our jobs, passed off our church responsibilities, sold everything, and moved to Ukraine.

We thought we would serve at Romaniv for a year and then maybe move on to an institution further south, but after one year we knew we could never leave.  We were made to love those boys.  Our lives were not complete without them.  Our children had grown to love them.  How could we walk away?

And so, we press on.  We step forward with the dream to get our boys to safety.  It is our joy to serve them as long as God allows us.

I am in awe of all God has done in four short years.  He has raised up a team of young people to join us in this beautiful work.  Their love and commitment to the boys is incredible. He has given us relationship and favor with the orphanage administration.  He has brought along partners to support the work. He has given us interns and teachers.  He has moved the hearts of adoptive families to come rescue their sons. He gave us our Vladik. He has provided funds in miraculous ways and Jed is in Ukraine right now looking at land to purchase for the first group homes.  Our God doesn’t mess around!

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All the awesomeness that God is doing, we couldn’t see any of that on that day four years ago.  We couldn’t foresee how He would care for us and pave the way.  We couldn’t imagine how His love for the boys would trump every opinion that said nothing could ever change.  All we knew was that God was asking us to say yes.  We can’t see what He will be doing in four years from now, but it’s okay.  All he is asking is for us to say yes and to keep walking.

So today, all you need to do is say yes.  You don’t need to know all the details.  You don’t need to have it all figured out.  Just listen to what the Father is saying and join Him in His work. SAY YES!  This life is short and we only get one shot at it.  We don’t have time to focus on our own comfort.  This life is but a blink of an eye.

Look with eternal eyes.  Be brave. Have faith.

It will be scary.  It will be hard.  It will be uncomfortable.  It might smell bad and be really noisy and dirty and messy.  Oh but the joy, the joy that comes with that mess is worth it all.

Don’t be afraid.  Say yes today and trust your Father.

He is good.

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ONE YEAR!!!

One year.  ONE YEAR!  Today marks one year since we landed in Ukraine to start this crazy new journey.    We’re calling today our “Ukraine-iversary”.

I remember the elevator door opening in to the baggage claim at the airport in Kyiv.  I remember looking around and wondering how on God’s green earth were we going to get all 12 suitcases, all 4 carry-ons, all 5 personal items, the guitar, and all four children from baggage claim, through customs, and to the van that we hoped was waiting for us.

And then.  Then I saw frantic waving through the sliding door as it opened and closed past customs.  There were at least 8 friends from Kyiv Vineyard with HUGE smiles on their faces, waiting to help us out the door.  Oh the relief.  Those dear, sweet friends will never understand what the moment meant to me.  We were not alone.  We had loved ones waiting for us.  And that’s how it has been along this whole journey.

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Now some of those who greeted us are like our Ukrainian family.  Now Vasya, the driver who I hoped and prayed really would be waiting for us, is a loved friend who drives us to and from Romaniv almost every single week.

What a journey.  What.a.journey.

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This year has been full.

Full of laughter, and full of tears.  Full of hugs and kisses, and full of loneliness.  Full of learning, and full of humility.  Full of intense joy and intense grief.  Full of being a stranger, and full of absolute belonging.

But most of all, this year has been full to the brim, and then overflowing with blessing.

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God has blessed us this year beyond our wildest dreams.  His goodness has been without end.  This has been the hardest year of our lives, but also the absolute best year of our lives.  There have been days when we felt like the craziest people on the face of the earth, but God has walked beside us every second.

You know what’s exciting?  This is just the beginning!!!  One year is like nothing!  We’re just scratching the surface of the plans God has for the special boys and young people we serve.  The dreams He has been giving us are even wilder and crazier and bigger than before.

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THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU a million times THANK YOU for walking with us on this journey.  Thank you for your prayers, your encouragement, your comments, your emails, your financial support, your care packages, your love.

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 We are blessed to have you on the team.

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To celebrate this most awesome Ukraine-iversary we have brought back the BeLOVE[d] t-shirts! 

We will be selling the shirts until the end of the month, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward the transportation of our volunteer teams to and from Romaniv.  They are Jesus’ hands and feet to our Boys and your support helps them (and us!) get there as often as possible. 

Check out the sale at www.booster.com/wideawakeinternational

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The Tension

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

I want to be real and honest.

But I don’t want to be a complainer.

I want to be me.

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

I want to be respectful of people here in Ukraine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine line. Tight rope walking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New House Pics

“I can’t believe we live in such luxury!”- Addy

We moved on Saturday and that about sums up how we all feel about our new house. I can’t even tell you how thankful we are for our new place. There are still a few things to unpack, but it already feels so much like home. We love it here!!!! I’m trying not to hold on to the feeling that it’s too good to be true. Right now I’m just taking the blessing and savoring it.

We decided to move because we really wanted a yard for the kids to play in. We also wanted a place that would be more easily accessible for wheelchairs, and somewhere that would feel a little more like a home. Our old place was a big blessing and it completely suited our needs for our first year here in Ukraine, but now it’s time to settle in and make a home for ourselves. We just couldn’t see that happening in our old place.

When we walked in to this new house for the first time I could already picture where we would put the Christmas tree. I was sold.

It’s a rental and it costs the same amount as our old place. At the old place we were paying for location. We were almost across the street from MTU and super close to the city center. That was important for learning our way around our city. At this place we are paying for the quality of the house and the outside space. Our location isn’t as awesome, we can’t just walk to the center, but the location isn’t bad either. We are still just a five minute walk to the bus stop and there is a small bazaar about 10 minutes away, by foot. We can get veggies there, meat, dairy products, bread. My language skills will be challenged, since the nearest supermarket is a bit further, but the food at the bazaar is fresh and good, so we’re happy.

Here are the pics, as promised!

A little friend out the back door

Behind the house

All of the property up to the white wall is ours! Oh boy, time to get our garden on!

What you see when you walk in

View out the living room window

Toy-containment area 🙂

Our room

The kids’ room. The couch turns into a bed that the girls sleep on.

Welp, that’s about it.

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On the Move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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