Sunday, May 26, 2013

On my way home!

Hi there,

So, I am in Amsterdam.  My good friends Tanya and Ilya took me to the airport at 3:30am.  We took a few wrong turns and blew out a tire. Kapiatz!  My new Russian cussing style.

I am leaving Ukraine feeling more excited about what God has for us than ever before.

I can't wait to see my kids and I'm worried about my wife's finger.

I can't wait to have a clear thought and tell you all about it.

Oh, and Check this out! 

Ukraine is like heaven, where the Mouse lays with the Cat.   Anya and Vanya, Kiev Vineyard Pastor's kids, wanted a mouse and this is what happened.

Scary drunk Santa photo, thought you'd enjoy.

Skype, Cupcakes, and an Angry Finger.

Hi there!  How's your Sunday?

Mine was fab: great time at church with friends, yummy crockpot lunch by yours truly, super fun skype on the computer with my dear Deanna while Ezra skyped with Jed on the phone,which led to Ukrainian friends on the Jed-skype asking Deanna on the computer-skype what Ukrainian city she and her husband adopted their baby from (Yep, it was confusing in person too).  Ha! 

I had grand plans to totally unload on you tonight.  I was going to fill you in on all my deep thoughts as I begin to really process the trip.  You were going to get quite the earful.  Lucky you! ;)  Then I started making these cupcakes with Ez and totally mangled my finger in my immersion blender.  Turns out it's not a good idea to stick your finger next to the blade and then accidentally turn the blender on.  Oh the blood...nasty.  

Yeah, contrary to what the picture would lead you to believe, I actually am a Registered Nurse.  I promise.  It's just a little known fact that nurses' homes have the most lame first aid kits ever.  I'm always the friend who sends her kids to other friends for bandaids because we rarely have them. Hence the ramshackle bandaging job- I was lucky to find the two bandaids I've got on right now!  I could probably use a couple stitches, but where do you get stitches on a Sunday night? The ER?  No thanks, I'll take the nasty scar.  Hehe...

All that to say, typing without your pointer finger is quite laborious, and not exactly conducive to deep thought unloading.  Darn.  I was feeling really inspired too!  

On another note, Jed should be in the air right now, heading home to us!!!  Yipppppeeeeeeeee!!!!!  I can't wait to be a whole fam again. Next time any of us head across the pond we'll all be together, and our tickets will be one-way.  Crazy, crazy, crazy.  

Welp, that's all I got.  My finger is angry with me so I better go eat another cupcake and watch Call the Midwife.  

For what it's worth, the cupcakes were delish.  :)

Thursday, May 23, 2013


After leaving MTU today, I just had to walk.

My brain was going a mile-a-minute.

I just finished teaching a seminar on Vicarious Trauma (the cumulative impact of hearing many traumatic events in the lives of the people you help).  It is a serious issue for those who work in the Helping Profession.  

I also attended the funeral of a deeply loved pastor who was integral in the work MTU started throughout the Zhitomir region.

As I walked through my new city, the place we will call home for at least the first year of our lives in Ukraine,
I was trying to reconcile a  part of the training I deliberately skipped over.

I hadn't plan to skip this part, in fact, I intended to spend some time on this theme.  But as I looked out at the teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses, and staff I could not tell them that a sign of Vicarious Trauma was connected to their ability to see the world as a good and safe place for themselves and those they love.

Now, before I get too far down this road, I believe this world is full of amazingly good things and good people and safe families and safe environments.

In the US, our biggest business is pain avoidance.  We prescribe, self-medicate, anesthetize and pasteurize our lives from as many problems and as much pain as possible.

At the drop of a hat we start to blame God, country and anything around us when our lives become anything less than ideal.  I'm speaking at myself here.

How could I tell these people, who not only see so much suffering, but experience it too, that the world is a good and safe place and you have a serious problem if you think otherwise?  They would laugh me out of the room.

I wasn't ready to talk about this part of Compassion Fatigue (aka, Vicarious Trauma).

I needed to go for a walk and think about all I have been experiencing on this trip to Ukraine. 

"God, help me to understand this culture and people.  Help me to see the world through their eyes and support them as they work with the most vulnerable in their community."

After a cup of coffee and some quiet time I had a clear thought. A sign of Vicarious Trauma fatigue is the inability to see the good that is around us and trust people in our lives.  It's a slight change from the "everything's coming up roses" worldview that is easy to have when you are hiding behind a shit-ton of missiles and medication.

Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand.  The right to rule over sickness, death, sin and darkness had begun it's reign on earth.  

He didn't stand afar off and point at all that was wrong, Christ came and made wrong things right.  He became one of us and took the full weight of all our bad so we could walk in freedom and goodness and life.  See Isaiah 53:5.

As helpers, our job is to be like Jesus.  To stand in the places where the pain is most severe and cry out for God's Kingdom to come and when we see healing and wholeness and life and freedom we celebrate it as a sign of God's Kingdom here on earth.

We must take care of ourselves so we can serve from the overflow of God's presence  and power in our lives.

I had the honor of speaking at MTU's morning devotions and I shared from Mark 7:31-37 as model of care for those who work in the helps field.    

Read the passage and think of Jesus' actions more like sign language than a mysitcal ritual.  

Jesus honors this man by taking him aside.  He tells him, through sign language, that he is going to heal his ears and speaking. He looks up to the Father, so the deaf man would know where the healing was coming from.

When it's all said and done the entire community said, "Jesus does all things well!"  Or translate, He does all things completely.

Our work as helpers is usually partial healing: bandaging, counseling, listening, soothing, containing, informing and befriending.  But, as Christ followers, we can appeal to His finishing work and say;

"Father in Heaven, make your name great!  

Just like it is in Heaven, let it be here on earth; In my life and in the families and people I serve.  

Give us this day, everything we need to live lives of freedom in you.  

Let us be forgivers, people who give out love and kindness freely and without reservation, as we have been forgiven and loved much. 

Papa, let me learn the lessons I need to learn without going through the fires of temptation.  Don't let me be so self-focused that I miss your sweet comfort that guides me in the way of peace.

You take all the glory today and I will bathe in the warmth of I life lived near your heart.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Warm Buses and Warm Hearts...hehehe

It's a well-known fact among my real-life friends and fam that I'm an extra warm-blooded person.  I rarely wear a coat, and Jed constantly bemoans the fact that I'm passing that trait on to our kids.  Who needs a jacket?  They're so bulky!  I'd much rather run from the house to the car to the store and back, than to be suffocated by a bulky jacket.  Don't even get me started on the suffocation factor of scarves.  I get it that they're cute, a little pop of color for an otherwise bland outfit, but am I the only one that can't handle the strangulation?  Just the thought of a turtleneck makes me feel like my airway is about to close.

All that to say, warm weather and lack of airflow is a major downfall to my suitability as a missionary.  If you've ever traveled overseas you know what I mean.  Think warm bus, no windows down, stalled in traffic.  I have to talk myself down from the ledge.  "You actually won't suffocate.  There is air available, just breathe deeply."  

The vent right above my head...doesn't work. 
Where am I going with this?  I have no idea.  I just had to talk it out because as I write this we're on a fairly warm bus headed back to Zhitomir.  I've been sweating for the past 12 days, and so it continues today.  (I'm a Bittner.  We sweat.) Anywayssssss....I just needed you to feel my pain for a sec.  I feel better now.  :)

Now, on to more pleasant topics that don't involve sweat and strangulation.  

This past weekend was loads of fun!  We drove back to Kiev on Friday afternoon with our friend Oleg who happened to be heading that way.  He dropped us at the metro and we headed to the church where they were having a concert to reach the unreached.  We took the metro to the stop we knew was closest to the church and then hopped off.  It's like a 20 minute walk from the metro to the church, and Jed, with his bat-like sense of direction, led us straight there without a hitch.  What a guy.

Jed promptly filled in on the bass and we got to see lots of people we love.  It was a good time.  

After the concert we went home with our friend Sergei.  We had the BEST time staying with Sergei and Alyona.  Seriously.  Being around their kids made us miss our babies something fierce, but we managed.  :)  

Alyona cooked for us and fed us nonstop.  Yum.  Who am I to complain?  Her love language is feeding people, and we're eaters; a match made in heaven.  

On Saturday morning we met Jim and Marianna Peipon (remember Olya and I went with Marianna to visit the baby at the hospital?) at their flat to tag along with them to a picnic.  Fun, fun, fun!  The picnic was for a coalition for children at risk.  Basically, a group of people consisting of Ukrainians, Americans, Russians, and Mexicans, who work with children at risk in various ways around Kiev got together to fellowship and eat together.  They welcomed us with open arms and we had a great time.  It was so fascinating to hear about what others are doing to help kids and how God led them to Ukraine.  We made some new friendships and some good connections.  Who knows what God plans to do with those relationships in the future?  We are open, and excited to find out.  Thank you new friends for making us feel so welcome!  We'll see you again soon with kiddos in tow!

Saturday afternoon and evening we hung out with various friends and laughed a lot.  

Sunday, oh I loved Sunday.  It started out with Alyona feeding us some more delicious food, and ended the same.  Hehe

We headed out to church by taxi after the frantic rusharound of your typical Sunday morning.  It was hilarious to talk (sign/google translate) with Sergei about how Sunday mornings are the same for families all around the world.  "Hurry up!  Eat your breakfast!  Stop hitting your brother please.  Grrrrr."  Then you get to church "Hallelujah...."  Yep.  Sunday morning in Ukraine is just like Sunday morning in Salem.  Why is that?  Hilarious and true.  If your Sunday morning isn't stressful, let me in on your secret. ;) 

After a great time at church we joined our friends in their typical Sunday afternoon hangout.  Everyone takes the marshrutka to our fave: Puzata Hata!  Puzata Hata is a cafeteria-style Ukrainian restaurant.  Delish and cheap with plenty of space for hours of chattin' it up.  As our friend Andrei says "Sunday afternoon is for relationship." bad.
After the deliciousness of Puzata Hata we walked for a bit, talking more, till we got to the metro and parted ways.  Sergei and Alyona went to go buy their kids a pet mouse (yep, that's totally not happening at my house) and we went with our friend Elvin to chat more since we won't see him again before we leave Ukraine.  

After that it was home again home again jiggety jig.  Alyona fed us some more, and Jed and Sergei drooled over guitars online- just your typical Sunday night when you live with a musician.  

Anya and I did this:

I give this past weekend two thumbs way up.  We are so blessed to have good friends in Kiev who love us.  The feeling is so mutual.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pics to Hold You Over

Hi all!  Did you miss me?  ;)

What a weekend!  We spent the weekend in Kiev and had such a refreshing, wonderful time.  We will head out bright and early tomorrow morning to take a taxi and a bus back to Zhitomir for meetings at MTU.  

This weekend has been a fabulous whirlwind of fun with our Vineyard friends.  We stayed with Sergei, the pastor, his wife Alyona and kids Anya and Vanya.  They speak about as much English as we do Russian, so it's been quite the adventure. (Honestly. their English is better than our Russian, but who's counting?)  There's been a lot of sign language, google translate, and  shrugs with laughter.  

I'd love to write more, but I'm so tired I can barely keep my eyes open.  Tomorrow night after we're done with MTU for the day we'll have some downtime.  I'll fill you in on all the details then.  

Here's some pics to give you a taste of our weekend fun!

1. Jed joined in on the bass at a concert Friday night.  2.  Anya, Olya, and yummy waffles.  3.  Aslan is on the move!  Hehe  4.  Anya and I gettin' our photo booth on.  5.  Sunny walks after delicious Sunday feasting.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Being Human

Have you ever tried to cut back blackberry brush?

If you have, you are already feeling that sense of dread.  If you haven't, imagine fighting off the huge squid on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

You'll spend hours fighting a blackberry bush and when you step back it looks like you were sitting on your hands, "Oh, that's nice Honey.  What have you been doing out there all morning?"

Shoulders slumped, you head back out to the fray, hoping to make a dent in the seemingly insurmountable task.  Hands bleeding, mud up to your calves, the stench of something that died at the far end of the brambles but you push on.

Though this is a bit of a crass example, there is a similar feeling that must come across the beautiful men and women who faithfully go to Romaniv (an orphanage for boys with special needs) every week.  "Am I making any difference?"

I'm just assuming they feel this way some days, cause riding in the van out there yesterday you wouldn't have known they feel anything but joy.  These folks are my heroes.

Kim and I have a favorite place at Romaniv.  It's called the Isolation Room.  Most of the boys and men are mobile, though with varying levels of difficulty.   I am reticent to show you pictures because it is quite traumatic and I want you to meet them, not just see them.

Let me tell you about Zhenya.  If I showed you a picture you would see a quiet boy, drooling and hunched over.  With his head down, his eyes would be looking up at you with a precious, but distant smile across his face.
But as the music started to play and I had the honor of cuddling Zhenya, his stiff body softened.  As I rubbed his head he leaned into me and fell asleep.  He woke up and smiled at me and I looked into his eyes and smiled at him.  I prayed Jesus would be near to his heart.  That he would feel the love of God.  That he would just feel human. I will continue to pray for Zhenya.  Will you?

Now I need to tell you about Vova.  If you saw him you would see cuts, scrapes and bites all over him. You would see his hands and wrists bleeding and mutilated by years of wounds trying to heal.  You would see an old man in a boy-size body.  But his scowled face softened as a wonderful nun started to play music.  She comes every week.  Vova's posture relaxed, just a little.  I crouched next to him and put my arm around him.  There was a part of me that felt afraid.  I'd like to say I'm in perfect peace at Romaniv, but some moments are harder than others.   He got to spend an hour and a half where he didn't feel the need to self-stim by biting himself.  

Our over-the-top "need" for cleanliness and purel puts up a lot of barriers for us folks in the west, but Vova needs to know he is worthy of love and affection.  He needs someone brave enough.  The amazing people who volunteer weekly to come play with these boys are astounding.   Jesus, be near Vova's heart.  Let him feel your love, Father.  Holy Spirit bring peace to his mind and body.

Lastly I must tell you about Misha.  Last year he was the little boy in the corner who was very closed off, self-stimulated by hiting the bridge of his nose and his temple.  
A year later he looked much healthier, though he has the same wounds he was more engaged with people.  When Betta, the nun, began to play he immediatly softened.  His face relaxed, with the slightest smile.  He swayed side to side with his eyes closed and it was beautiful to see the change in him.  Jesus, be near Misha.  Father, pour out your love onto Misha.  Holy Spirit bring your peace.

The consistent faithfullness of Mission to Ukraine and the volunteers who come every week is making a difference in these boys.  They are changing, growing, healing.  God's Kingdom is coming and it is beautiful.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Matt. 5:3

It was our absolute honor to come alongside MTU yesterday and love on the boys and men of Romaniv.  The mutual love and excitement in the air was almost tangible.  We can't wait to be weekly participants in this mission of love once we move to Zhitomir.  

As we rode home, I marveled at Betta's smile.  She didn't need to know that what she was doing supported brain development and attachment.  She just feels God's pleasure as she loves on His children.  Glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven breaking through in the most unlikely of places. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's Not Nothing

Have you ever tried to move a piano?

Have you ever set out to lift something you have no business trying to move?

You call all your friends, you even grab a neighbor or two.  Everyone gets their hands on this huge piece of wood. 1... 2.... 3...  

If you got enough helpers you're thinking, "Wow, we got this!  Geez, this thing is dense."  Though the weight is significant and you can tell that you are part of lifting something quite large, it's not unbearable.

On the other hand, if you only have three other fellas... That pre-war mass of oak, steal and copper is a whole other animal.  1... 2... 3...   "put it down! put it down!"  

You all step back and think, "What did we get ourselves into?"  You do a bit of strategizing,  come up with your best possible plan, dig deep, get a little angry and hype yourselves up.  You grab that big piece of wood and with every muscle and ounce of strength; you heave that beast out of the house.  

Hold that feeling in your mind.  The one we've all felt right before doing a job we feared would break us.  You knew the weight was crazy, we are bending at the knees, stealing ourselves for the pain...
1... 2... 3... 

As I landed in Kiev yesterday I started feeling this weight.  Not overbearing, just a subtle nagging in the back of my brain.  I was mostly sensing God's pleasure and enjoying the sights and smells as Sergie, Elvin and I headed for the metro to find the closest Puzata Hata.  YUM.

It was so nice to sit down and hear what God is doing in Elvin's life and to hear Sergie's passion for Ukrainians to know Christ.  They are sweet brothers and I'm looking forward to spending time together, playing music and drinking some good beer.

After having a full belly, which is what Puzata Hata means, we dashed off to where I could get on the bus to Zhitomir.  "Kim, I'm so close."  I woke up a couple hours later and stumbled off the bus.  Right after I grabbing my bag I started looking around for my beautiful bride.  

I knew I would see her bright eyes and shining smile, if I kept looking around.  Then I heard my name through a wide grin and turned around to see Kimber skipping toward me.  I am the most blessed man in the world.  I am married to a beautiful, confident and passionate woman who loves God and loves people.  She is going to change the world and I get to watch it happen right in front of me.

She dragged my 'sight-for-sore-eyes' back to the house we are living at to FaceTime the kids and get cleaned up. "You can't fall asleep, Jed."

As we went out for dinner, that nagging feeling started at me again.  Hand-in-Hand with my wife, talking about her adventures and what God was speaking and doing and I couldn't shake it.  So, I decided to embrace the feeling and see where it would take me.  Let the melancholy sink-in and figure out what I was trying to process.  All the while, feeling God's pleasure as I listened to Kim share about the wonderful people she met and all the wisdom they had shared with her.  

I fell asleep, holding Kimber and feeling blessed.  But, I also just had this sense of weight.  "What we are about to do is weighty.  It's costly.  It's real,"  I said to myself.  This isn't just a dream off in the distance.  This is happening.  1... 2... Zzzzz...  I was out cold.

I woke up with Matthew 11 running through my noggin'.  "My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  I felt like Jesus was saying, "My yoke is easy and light for you, but it's not nothing.  You are joining me in something I hold dearly and is heavy on My heart, Jed."  

I  can feel the dense weight of what God is calling us to, but, in faith I trust that He is carrying the weight.  
So, instead of digging deep and hyping myself up, I am sitting here feeling the density of what we are a part of, but I am entrusting the weight of it in the hands of the one who stretched out His arms for the world.  He lifted a far heavier piece of wood and I can trust Him.  1... 2... 3...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

You Can Never Make Enough New Friends!

Well hello there!

I have had such an interesting time here in Zhitomir so far.  As I walk around town I find myself trying to memorize everything I see, like I'll be tested on it later.  Which, I guess I kind of will be tested on it, say, come November?  If I see a nice store I try to lock it into my brain and remember the sign.  If I see a nice park with kids playing I tuck that one away for later.  I take notes in my phone of bus and marshrutka prices, grocery prices and what food you can find where.  Who knows if any of this will really help later on, but it makes me feel better, so don't knock it.

Yesterday morning I woke up with absolutely no idea what we were going to do that day.  (Remember the whole staying awake stewing till 1:00am?  Ahem.)  I woke up at like 7 and called Jed on skype.  

"What are we going to do today?  If we don't make contact with anyone will the day be wasted?"

Jed, being ever wiser than I said "Just go outside, walk and pray.  That's the most important thing you can do."  What a guy.  

So, I headed out the door, headphones on, walking and praying for our new city.  I want to see these people the way God sees them.  I want Him to completely have His way in our lives and in Zhitomir.

I had been walking and praying for a while when my phone rang.  It was Tammy Swailes, one of the contacts I had hoped to make here in Zhitomir!  Okay, funny story: back when I was a kid my parents had a friend named Mary Jill.  I think maybe she was from Alaska, and I'm pretty sure we met at least once. (Hi Mary Jill!) Throughout the years I would hear her name, but I never really knew her.  Anyway, when we started to tell people we were moving to Ukraine, my uncle and my dad told me that Mary Jill was now a missionary in Hungary.  "You should connect with Mary Jill!  Maybe she knows people in Ukraine!"  Hmmm, maybe?  So, at one point we connected with Mary Jill, and when she found out we were going to be living in Zhitomir, sh told us that lo and behold one of her dearest friends lives near, and works in Zhitomir!  Enter Tammy Swailes.  :)

Tammy called me as I was walking and praying and asked if I was up for a coffee.  Hint: I'm always up for a coffee.  So, she swung by, picked me up, we picked up Olya and headed for a place in Zhitomir that Tammy said I needed to know about.  While we drove we tried to figure out how we were connected.  Funny how small the world is and how the foreigner population in Ukraine is even a much tinier world.  I love it!  

Oh my, was Tammy right about me needing to know about the absolute gem she took us to!  Thank you Tammy!!  I am forever indebted.  She took us to "Global UA", basically a huge shopping mall with a ginormous grocery store called "Караван" (Caravan).  It also has a big electronics store, a second hand clothing store, and all the other more expensive type stores that malls usually have.  The second hand will come in handy (haha) since clothes here are so expensive.  We looked around and then had a coffee together.  Tammy has lived here for like 12 years.  Wow!  I just found my how-to-live-in-Zhitomir mentor.  Are you up for it Tammy?  :)  

For Addy, look!
We had the greatest time.  Tammy is so warm and comfortable.  Olya and I both agreed that we are big Tammy fans.  So, thanks Uncle Steve, Dad, and Mary Jill for making that happen!  God is so good to look out for us and bring friendship from the least expected places.  

After coffee Olya and I said good bye to dear Tammy and decided to browse a bit more around the mall to see what we could see.  A few minutes later my phone rang and it was Alla, the second contact I was hoping to meet here in Zhitomir!  At this point I just had to laugh at myself and my pointless worrying.  I'm sure God already had a good chuckle at it.  I would love to say I learned my lesson that God has everything planned out and I don't need to worry, but I have a feeling my learning is just beginning.  :)

Alla is Ukrainian, and she is a part of a small group here called Bible Orphan Ministry (BOM).  BOM does great orphan outreach and I've followed their blog for quite some time.  All this past year I thought they were located in Kiev, but I was really happy to find out they live in Zhitomir!  I had no idea that Zhitomir is kind of a "hub" for orphans with special needs for this region- and even other regions.  Hmmm...curiouser and curiouser... :)  Fascinating that God would plant us here, eh?

Olya and I met the BOM team, Misha, Alla, Nadia, and Oksana at their church and then we set off for an orphanage about 30km away.  Every Friday they visit this orphanage and teach the older kids about Jesus.  The Director loves them and totally allows them to preach the Gospel.  We went on a Tuesday because they were going to do the final class for the kids who are "graduating", or we like to say, aging out.  This week they will leave the orphanage and who knows what their futures hold.  

Three of the kids will go to study at a trade school a ways away.  A few of them have families, but they are pretty poor, so they won't have the opportunity to pursue any studies.  At least one of the boys can't read, so that's not an option for him anyway.  Some will be on their own.  

There are several people we know of who focus ministry on typical kids who are aging out of orphanages.  I always knew this work was important, but never felt a particular passion for it.  I definitely felt a passion for the disabled who age out to mental institutions, but honestly hadn't given a ton of thought to the typically developing teens.  All I needed was to meet some of them face to face and that all changed.

These kids are babies!  They are just babies!  The BOM team gave them gifts of bedding, a cooking pot, a bowl, and a spoon.  The kids were ecstatic.  Such treasures!  

After BOM shared with the kids and gave them gifts they asked me to introduce myself and let the kids know why I was there.  Oh my, how humbling to share just a bit with those precious kids.  How is it that I have the life I have and they have theirs?  How is it that I was raised by parents who loved me and taught me to love?  How is it that I have the choice to move here and care for others, when these kids have no choices?  Why them and not me?

Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!  
Luke 12:48 (MSG)

Humbling.  Wow.  Praise God for people like Alla, Misha, Nadia, and Oksana who spend their lives equipping these kids who have so few people rooting for them.  Alla told me they make it a point to often tell the kids that Jesus loves them and He created them special.  They are precious to Him.  May that truth dig deep into their hearts and settle there for good.  

After we left the orphanage we went out to eat and chat.  The BOM team got comfy with Olya and I and we had some good laughs.  Eating together does that.  Don't you love a good laugh over dinner?  

Don't buy the serious face.  Misha's a joker :)

So, for a day with absolutely no plans, God managed to fill it up quite nicely!  Ha!

Today I said good bye to Olya (boohoooooo) since she needed to head back to Kiev for work.  I explored Zhitomir, did a thorough investigation of available foods at the big grocery store at the mall (gluten-free pasta!  Who knew?), and skyped with family and friends.  Tomorrow I'll spend the day at MTU and hopefully look at some apartments with the realtor.  

Best news?  Jed is on his way to the airport and tomorrow night he'll be with me!!!!  I am so ready to have him here.  I hope the day passes quickly until he gets here.  :)

That's all I got for today.  Off to bed now, dreaming of my babies at home.  I miss them a ton, but God is so gracious to help all of our hearts.  Thank you family and friends for loving on my babes.  Knowing they are with people who love them dearly keeps this Mama from becoming a hot mess.  THANK YOU!

I'll leave you with a glimpse of the cuteness that is my babies 
(minus Addy and Ez because it took me a minute to figure out how to take a screen shot)

Lucky me.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pass the Tissues...

So last night I laid in bed awake till almost 1:00am with a brain that wouldn't shut off.  What was I thinking about, you ask?

-What will we do tomorrow?
-I have to take advantage of every moment.  What if none of my contact hopes works out for tomorrow?  Will it be a "wasted" day?
-Is Mission to Ukraine (MTU) expecting me to come in tomorrow?  Hmmm...I better check in with them first thing.
-There sure are a lot dogs barking.  Kinda makes me feel like I'm in Kosovo.  :)
-I hope Jed gets to Zhitomir okay on Thursday.  He won't have a will I know when to meet him at the city center?
-How will I fit all my kids on the tiny marshrutkas they have here in Zhitomir?
-I kind of wish I had ice cream right now. 
-How will my kids make friends here? 
-Will we be lonely? 
-What will we do tomorrow?????  Surely God has a plan, right?

Yeah, my mind was spinning and I was kind of worrying...about everything.  People tell me all the time that they could never do what we are doing, or getting ready to do.  How do we do it?  How are we so brave?  Hahahahaha!  Now you see.  :)  We are nothing special.  Sometimes we look like deer in headlights.  We cry (well, not so much "we", more "me"). We fret.  We keep ourselves awake worrying about things we can't do anything about.  But, in the end we just put one foot in front of the other and praise God He's not afraid to use cracked, imperfect vessels like you and me to be His hands and feet.    

It kind of reminds me of our time fostering.  People would always say they could never foster; that it would be too hard to let the babies go after you start to get attached.  Let me tell ya, it was too hard.  It was impossibly hard.  But, God called us to it and He gave us grace for what He called us to.  It doesn't mean it didn't hurt like crazy.  It doesn't mean we didn't ever cry ourselves to sleep at night because of the heartache.  It just means that when He calls you HE gives you every single thing you need to accomplish His purposes.  And because of that I would do it all over again in a second.  

This is scary.  This is wonderful.  This is exciting.  But trust me; we are not anything special.  Talk to our close friends and family.  Pass the tissues, 'cause we all got issues.  We worry about all the same things you would worry about if you were in our shoes, but we know He will give us every single thing we need to accomplish His purposes.  We just need reminders of that every 5 minutes or so.

That truth is not only for us!  I don't know who all is reading this, but I know that God wants to remind someone about this truth today.  

He is enough.  He will make the way.  He will smooth the path.  His word does what it sets out to accomplish.  He doesn't expect you to be super strong or super brave or even a little bit perfect.  He asks you to be willing, and the rest is up to Him.

Step out!  Act on the dreams God has planted in your heart.  Tell Him you are willing and watch what He does.  Don't let fear hold you back.  Love fully.  Live fully.  Trust.  (I'm preaching to myself today too!)  
Isaiah 55:10-13 rocks my world: 

"For your thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares The Lord.
As the heavens are higher than then the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." 

Oh, but it gets better.  Listen to what happens when we trust!  This is the best:

"You will go out in joy and be led out in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.  
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree (Ha!!!  Yesssss!) and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.  
This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed," 

It is my joy; it is your joy to partner with The Lord in His work.
Trees clapping, hills singing...bring it. 

It was sunny, but consider yourself winked at.  :)

Monday, May 13, 2013


Today in 21 Easy Steps:

1.  Wake up at Olya's and head for the metro.  Take a marshrutka (mini bus) instead of walking because Addy's little rolling suitcase I brought doesn't like Ukrainian sidewalks.  :)

2.  Head down the blue metro line.

3.  Switch to the red metro line.

4.  Find bus headed to Zhitomir.

5.  Hop on the bus and find Dima, fellow Kiev Vineyard friend, headed to Zhitomir as well!  Small world.

6. Olya and Dima take care of some planning for summer camps as we head down the road to Zhitomir.  Nice multi-tasking!  I stare out the window, on the lookout for coniferous trees.  Surely they exist in Ukraine, right?  In Kiev all you see is leafy trees.  I'm an Oregon girl!  I need to see some needles on those branches!

7.  As we near Zhitomir pine trees start to pop up.  It's a sign!  Not only is Zhitomir one of the rainiest cities in Ukraine, but they have coniferous trees!  I am at peace.

8.  Take taxi to Mission to Ukraine because I can't remember exactly how to walk there, and Addy's suitcase doesn't like Ukrainian sidewalks, remember?

9.  Meet landlady at Mission to Ukraine, give MTU staff big hugs.  SOOOOOO happy to see their faces again!  Sigh....contentment.

10.  Walk to house we will stay in for the next several days while in Zhitomir.  We are pleasantly surprised!  This is a great place. :)

11.  Take marshrutka to city center to find some food.  Hunger calls.  We eat borscht and crepes at delicious Celantanos.  Again, contentment.  

12.  Now we have our bearings so we walk back to MTU.

13.  Meet realtor, Sveta, at MTU and head upstairs to chat House Hunters International details.  Coffee and tea provided by the fabulous Oksana.

14.  Take marshrutka to check out apartment for rent.  Pleasantly surprised yet again!  The location isn't good, but it gave me an idea of what is possible on our budget.  We plan to meet the realtor again on Thursday when she has had some time to look around for what we are interested in.  Sweet, Christian lady.  Yay God!

15.  Obligatory stop for ice cream.  (Duh.)

16.  Take marshrutka back to city center.

17.  Walk from city center back to our neighborhood because we don't know what marshrutka will take us closer to home.  :)

18.  Stop at the store for groceries.  It's a small store where everything is behind the counter and you have to ask for whatever you want.  Note to self: don't attempt this store alone.  Yikes. ;) 

19.  Walk back to house. 

20.  Skype kids, meet pastor with extra key, make dinner, start laundry, make contacts for tomorrow, hang laundry to dry, do dishes, write blog.

21.  Pass out. 

I can't really describe my feelings at being in Zhitomir today, knowing we will live here.  I have too many feelings ruminating to be able to accurately describe them, so I'll wait and try another day.  :)  

All I can say is that I truly can't believe this is happening.  
Happy, excited, freaked out, impatient, dreading, scared, confident, trusting, fretting, content.
All of the above within a 5 minute stretch.  Oy. God is good and His love never fails!  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blind Date on Sunday

Warning, I'm in a bit of a mood.  Not a bad mood, just a quirky mood.  An I'm-not-sure-what-will-come-out-of-my-mouth (or fingers) mood.  You've been warned.  Now feel free to read on.  :)

Today was loads of fun.  I laughed a lot today.  Don't you love days like that?  

Today I got to go to Kiev Vineyard!  I love that place so much.  Jed was super jealous, and you all should be jealous too because it's a wonderful place to be.  Hehe

Last year when we walked into Kiev Vineyard we felt right at home, and I felt that even more this time.  I feel like I can just "be".  I don't have to be "on".  I don't have to be a certain anything.  I am loved just as I am.  I may not understand a lick of the worship or teaching, but I understand the heart, the passion, the love.  Our hearts beat the same as the other hearts in that room and that's enough.  


After church my friends Anya and Sasha walked me to the metro because I had a blind date with an American couple.  Anya and Sasha were pretty afraid to leave me to navigate the metro alone.  What? Me, alone in a city of millions of people I can't communicate with, on the metro, alone?  What's to worry about?  Ha!  I wasn't worried at all.  

They wanted to come along, but I promised I would be fine. After I finally promised to call Sasha when I arrived, they let me go.  I felt so loved!  :)

The metro is a people-watcher's heaven.  Seriously.  Old people, babies, people in a rush, people taking their time, people with flowers, people with guitars, Babushkas with big grocery bags.  I just want to squeeze those cute little grandmas!  They're so stinkin' cute!  

Annnnnd I made the trip without a hitch!  Aren't you all proud of me?  

I met Kevin and Debbie Nelson on my blind date and just had the best time.  I can't say enough.  I love them!  The crazy thing is, I got their info from my friend Kim who's been praying for them for a long time now, but she's never met them.  Jed and I thought we shouldn't turn down any possible connection so we emailed the Nelsons and arranged the date.  Then I was talking with a co-worker at the hospital a week before I left for this trip and she told me she has a cousin in Kiev and I should meet her.  Well, the cousin just happens to be the one and only, Debbie Nelson!  Ha!  Destiny's child I tell ya.

Kevin, Debbie, and I went to my fave restaurant, Puzata Hata, so I was instantly happy.  We proceeded to spend the next almost 3 hours chattin it up about life in Ukraine and what brought us all here.  I can't believe I didn't get a picture of the Nelsons because they are just fabulous.  They are real, funny, wise, and faithful.  God first took them to Russia where they served for several years, and now they've been in Ukraine for the past 8 years.  They gave me advice on everything from prayer support, to visas, to apartment choosing, to appliance voltage, to grocery shopping.
(You all know I was thankful for that one in particular!) 

I would totally consider a second date with Kevin and Debbie.  Too bad it can't be tomorrow!  :)

I managed to make it home to Olya's apartment without getting even close to lost, and came home to an apartment filled with friends.  Success.

Tomorrow Olya and I head to Zhitomir to check out the future Johnson landing place and to meet with a realtor.  It should be quite the adventure.  House Hunters International anyone?  

Good night all!  A special good night to my Mom.  Love you Mom!  Happy Mother's Day!  Here's your present! 

(She wants more pictures of me on the blog, just like I can't get enough pics of my babies while I'm gone.  Once a mommy, always a mommy)  :)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Celebrity Sightings

Today I had a celebrity sighting, Ukraine style.

Ever since this journey began in 2010, we've been on the lookout for people in Ukraine doin' the stuff.  "The Stuff" being, outrageous obedience to God.  We've been on the lookout for people who are living lives Wide Awake, lives that don't make sense to the world, but make perfect sense when you're talking The Kingdom.  Lives lived on the edge of their seat...awaiting the Fathers voice.  

About 2 years ago, while on the lookout for such people, I stumbled upon the Malone family.  Chris and Mary Malone first had 4 healthy biological kids, and then their 5th child, Ethan, was born with an extra chromosome and their lives were changed forever.  Their eyes were opened, like ours, to what life is like in Ukraine for orphans born with Down Syndrome, like Ethan.  Since then they have adopted 4 precious kiddos from Ukraine, all with Down Syndrome.  My kind of people!

After I'd been following their story for a while I read that they were moving their family to Ukraine!  Okay, definitely my kind of people!  Last year Jed and I tried to meet the Malones when we were in Ukraine, but they had just recently moved and the timing didn't work out.  Well, today it worked out and it was seriously like a celebrity sighting!  :)  

God has opened the doors for Chris and Mary to be able to minister to other local families who are raising children with disabilities.  He has provided a wonderful home where they can welcome mothers in and encourage them as they navigate raising their special children.  What a breath of fresh air!  Absolutely brave and beautiful and humbling and awe-inspiring.  

Olya and I got to meet up with the Malones and attend a special Easter program for kids with disabilities and their families.  Puppets, cartoons, singing, beautiful children free to be who God created them to be, smiling mothers relieved to see their children accepted and embraced.  We loved it!

Thank you Chris and Mary for your obedience to do what may sound crazy to a lot of people.  I think it's radical and amazing and I can't wait to join you in the craziness. :)
You can follow the Malone's journey here:

After the program we headed to Chris and Mary's house to chat and meet some other pretty special celebrities!

Randy, Cephas, and Lucia Kacirek.  

I can't even tell you how happy I was to see those faces in the flesh.  
I've been following the Kacirek's adoption journeys (yes, plural) for some time now.  I love Tina's heart and her writing.  Talk about people living on the edge of their seat!   

Randy and Tina just adopted Cephas and Lucia from an orphanage here in Ukraine. Randy and the kids have been staying with the Malones as they await their flight home.  

I wish I could adequately explain the beauty.  Cephas and Lucia were both "laying down" children.  Both unable to walk, they laid and waited for years and years.  Now they are chosen!  It is unbelievable.  The Kacireks met Cephas and Lucia in 2010 while they were in Ukraine adopting one of their sons.  They fell in love.  In the fall of 2012 the kids were moved to a different facility and Lucia made sure the caregivers knew she wouldn't be there long "My parents are coming for me".  When Tina asked Lucia if she ever worried when many months had passed and they hadn't returned to Ukraine for her.  Lucia replied "No, I wasn't worried.  I knew you would come."

To read more about Lucia and Cephas I really encourage you to read these two posts (at least):
You will not be sorry. 

Their stories are of the amazing redemptive work of God.  He's always rooting for the underdog.  He's always behind the scenes: moving hearts, making ways, smoothing paths.  How did Lucia maintain such hope- despite her hopeless circumstances?  She was literally adopted in the knick of time.  She was about to age out and be lost in the system for the remainder of her days.  Yet she knew.  She had faith.  Both Cephas and Lucia have such life in their eyes.  Cephas could talk your ear off in a minute flat.  He doesn't miss a beat!  Lucia was telling Olya her story, and about how she so happy to have a family now, with a mommy and a daddy- every child's dream.  

Thank you Randy and Tina for keeping your hearts Wide Awake.  It was worth it for those two treasures.

I wish each one of you could just spend 5 minutes with Cephas and Lucia Kacirek, with Ethan, Matthew, Micah, and Eliana Malone.  Six beautiful children created with purpose and destiny, now called son and daughter, sister and brother- all because some people said yes.  The Malones and Kacireks would tell you they aren't celebrities, or superstars (though I might beg to differ), they are just people who said yes- Wide Awake.  

Please don't turn away because the need is overwhelming.  The need is great, but God is greater.  We can't respond only to need.  We see the need, our hearts are broken, but we respond to His voice.  

If He says pray, pray!
If He says give, give!
If He says go, go!
If He says adopt, adopt!  

Every yes is valuable.  Every yes is beautiful.  Just say yes to your yes!!!  DO IT!  

 Olya has a new friend :)