Wide Awake International

The Beginning

January 14, 2022 Kim Johnson Season 1 Episode 1
Wide Awake International
The Beginning
Show Notes Transcript

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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The vision of Wide Awake Int. is to bring hope, love, and dignity to people with disabilities in Ukraine. We are living that out by bringing our friends out of institutions and into family life. 

Hi this is Kim, and welcome to the Wide Awake International podcast. This is a place where we share stories of bringing hope, love, and dignity to our friends with disabilities here in Ukraine. This is episode number one, The Beginning. Our journey to Ukraine began one night in 2010. I was home with the kids they were all in bed. I had a little foster baby on my lap asleep. Jed was working late. And I was just reading blogs. Somehow I happened upon a blog written by a woman who had just returned from Ukraine. She and her husband had just adopted two little girls with Down syndrome. That blog led to another led to another and soon I was down a rabbit trail of stories of people from the US and Canada who are going to Ukraine and other Eastern European countries and purposefully adopting children with pretty significant disabilities. I had no idea that this was happening. Like I always wanted to adopt, we had always talked about adoption, but special needs were totally off our radar. We would even say like yeah, we want to adopt someday but there's no way we could ever do special needs. And I just read these blogs and I was in awe that people were choosing this life. Then those blogs led to more blogs about the state of institutions here in Ukraine, how children were locked away in these mental institutions and rural villages where they were abused and neglected, teenagers the size of infants in cribs, men and women spending their entire lives in these institutions, never knowing freedom, never knowing the love of a family. I had no idea that this world existed. I remember when I was a kid. There were things on the news about orphans in Romania and the poor conditions there. But I don't know, I guess I thought that that had ended, that that situation was solved. I had no idea and these stories hit a chord in me. My heart was absolutely broken. I remember I was just sitting on the couch crying, bawling my eyes out looking at pictures, reading stories, in absolute shock that this was happening at that time in 2010. Children without parents were suffering so greatly and my heart was moved to action. How could this be? We have to do something. We have to do something. And now, right away. 

Our journey to Ukraine began that night in 2010. But for me personally, the journey to living overseas and caring for orphans began a long time before that. I really can't remember a time in my life when I didn't want to be a nurse and a mom. My dad tells me that when I was little that I would always say that I'm going to be a nurse and I'm going to be a mommy. I'm going to take care of orphans. Jed says that if I could, I would mother the world. I feel like that's kind of true. I love to be a mom and I especially always wanted to be a mom to the motherless. That was always my dream for Jed, though he wouldn't necessarily say that that was his dream. He was more of a free spirit, didn't really know what he wanted to do when he grew up. But when we met we right away started talking about living overseas someday, about helping out with orphan care, about adoption. We knew somehow in our future we would be opening up our homes and our hearts to people that don't have parents. We got married in 2002 and waited for the Lord to send us somewhere. Here we are, Lord, send us! Well, he didn't. He just kept us in Salem. Anytime we tried to go down an avenue of moving overseas it was pretty clear that we were supposed to stay in Oregon. So frustratingly, we stayed and just tried to be faithful right where we were. We tried to say yes to what God had for us in Oregon. We served in our church, took teenagers on trips overseas to help Jed's parents who were missionaries in Kosovo, trying to be faithful as we waited for our time to go.

I remember one night I was at a graduation party and I was talking to my friend Lynn. She and her husband were foster parents and she knew that Jedi had a heart for the orphan. And then I was kind of lamenting that we just always had to stay in Oregon and she encouraged me like "Why are you guys not doing foster care? Foster children are like America's orphans." I'd never thought about foster care. It had never been on our radar. We'd never even discussed it. And it was true. We could be doing a form of orphan care right there in Oregon. And we just had never thought about it because we were so focused on going overseas. Jed and I started to pray about it, and eventually went through the process to become foster parents. Foster Care was our first big yes on this journey. If you have followed Wide Awake at all you know that we always talk about our story is a story of saying yes to God. It's nothing grandiose. There's no magic formula. All we've been trying to do all these years and all we're trying to do today is just listen for the voice of the Lord and say yes to the next thing that He has for us. So our first big yes was foster care. We became foster parents for medically fragile infants. I was working as a nurse at the local hospital. Jed was working at a nonprofit for families at risk. So we really were the perfect people to open our homes to these children who are at risk. Jed and I fostered for four years. It was some of the hardest times and some of those beautiful times. We loved being foster parents. We learned so much in that time about loosening our grip on control because as foster parents you really have so little control. You welcome this child into your home. You love them. You try not to hold back your love even though you know that at some point they're going to leave. And you know that even though you're the one taking care of this child, that you really have no say over their future. The state has the say over what will happen to the child and all you can do is love them while you have them in your arms. That was a perfect training ground for us living in Ukraine. Because life overseas, here in this work, we have so little control and we're always grasping for what little control we have. Foster care was a good chance for us to learn to loosen our grip a little bit and just to trust God that he had our best in mind and that he had his best in mind for the children who were in our care. And even though all those years we were frustrated that we never got to go overseas, we ended up adopting our son Seth from foster care. So I like to think that God kept us in Oregon just for our little Seppy, and I'm super thankful that he did. 

So back to that night in 2010 when I was reading, blubbering over the blogs with that foster baby on my lap, that foster baby was our Seth, who we ended up adopting a couple of years later. Jed comes home from work. I'm a disaster on the couch. I think he was a little afraid to come inside, to be honest. He comes inside "Whoa, what's going on?" And I just explode. "Oh, you have no idea. I just didn't know about these children in Ukraine. They're suffering. They're so neglected. They're, they're abused. They're hidden away in institutions. Like did you know about this? I didn't know about this. We have to do something. And we have to do it now! I'll let you know something about a relationship. I am the gas pedal. And Jed is the brakes. Thank goodness that I have Jed for the brakes. I have no idea what we would have crashed into by now if it wasn't for his wisdom, to just slow down. So in that moment, he put on the brakes like "Whoa, lady. Why this? Why now? There are so many different injustices in the world. Why that? Why are we supposed to respond to this?" I had no answer for that. All I could say was that I'd never felt so strongly in my spirit that I had to respond. This wasn't just "I'm sad about this." I felt this agitation in my spirit that we had to respond, that God had something very special for us that had to do with this issue of children and institutions. And that once we knew about it, we couldn't unknow it. We couldn't just go back to our lives like they didn't exist. We had to respond. Jed agreed that we would pray, that we would take some time wait on the Lord to hear what he had to say.

I would describe this time of our lives back in 2010 when we were seeking the Lord about how we should respond as a time of "severe spiritual agitation". We just couldn't rest. God was stirring up something in us like he'd never had before and we were just so discontented with our lives. We were so aware of how we had chased comfort and how we'd gotten comfortable and that we knew God was asking us to do something and we knew we had to respond. And we just weren't quite sure how. Until one day, I was reading another blog. And on this blog, I read about a little boy in Ukraine that needed to be adopted. He had Apert Syndrome. He was about four years old and was about to be transferred to another institution. Right now there's a lot of orphan care reform happening in Ukraine, but back in 2010, this is kind of the way that it went: infants and small children who were in orphanages, they were in places called Baby Houses. Then when the child reached about four to six years old, they would be transferred to an institution. In the institution, there could be any range of children and adults from ages four to 18, to 35, even. At the institution where we volunteer, at the time when we moved to Ukraine, there were ages six years old to 35 years old all together in one place. So this little child was in a baby house and he was about to be transferred to an institution where the quality of care, in general, goes away down. When children are transferred to institutions they just, in general, do not thrive. It's so much better if they're able to be adopted from a baby house. This child needed to be adopted. There was something about him that I was drawn to. I couldn't stop looking at his picture. I felt like God had something for us that involved this child. I showed Jed the picture of the little boy and he agreed that we could pray about possibly adopting him. 

Anytime you decide to adopt a child, it's a ginormous, life-altering decision. If you decide to adopt a child with a known disability, it just adds another layer of ginormoty. Is that a word? It's a huge, huge decision. And when you adopt from a place like Ukraine, you're given very little information about the child before you bring them home. You might have a few diagnoses, they're probably incomplete. Maybe even totally wrong. You really just have to be very open-handed, that you're gonna love this child no matter what they bring to your life, no matter what their future holds. And that was a big hurdle for us. You know, I had said before that we had dreamed of adoption, but we had always said we would not do special needs adoption. I just never wanted the kind of life where you have a child who may never leave you. I didn't like the idea of not being able to be empty nesters, of possibly being caregivers to our children for the rest of our lives. That was not a future that I desired. And I didn't really think that that was a future that I could do. And then God really started to kind of point and kind of draw attention to those places in my heart- those selfish places. Like why am I not willing to have that kind of life? I see that these children are suffering. But no, I just really don't want to be inconvenienced. You know, I have my idea of how my life should go and I'd rather be comfortable. I'd rather be cozy. I don't really want to do anything that that's that's really that hard. Oh my word. Guys, that is gross. God just began to show us how we were chasing our own comfort and how we were living in fear and we didn't want to give up those dreams that we had. But then you see these pictures of how these children are suffering and you're like, 'How can I just sit here and do nothing when I know that they are over there living like that, and that I can make a difference and I could help this child but I don't want to because it's uncomfortable for me.' Oh, we really had to face our own grossness inside of our hearts and
give up the future that we thought that we were going to have in place of another future that possibly God had for us and we really had to decide like are we willing to go in that other direction. 

During that time when we were praying, we hadn't really shared with anyone else. We were just praying Jed and me, I went to a women's retreat from our church. In our spiritual journey, in our faith tradition, we believe that you can hear from God that He can speak to you through the Bible, through a song, through another person. And this woman who knew nothing about our current journey, she came up to me at that retreat, and she said that she felt like she had a word from the Lord for me. And she said, "God has you on a very difficult journey. And he wants you to not be afraid to move forward. Fear not fear not fear not." Okay. I went home from their retreat told Jed "God says we need to move forward, that we need to not be afraid." And I look back on that word now about "God has a very difficult journey for you". And of course, we assumed that that meant adoption. And now I think about the last 10 years and think he Yeah, it's been a difficult journey. But I often go back to that word of "Fear not, Fear not. Fear not. Don't be afraid to take the next step. Don't be afraid to say yes." It all began with that word and I'm so thankful that God spoke to us in that moment. So we decided to move forward in the process of adopting this child from Ukraine. 

With Ukrainian adoption, you gotta be pretty flexi. You are not matched with a child that you were hoping to adopt until you actually get to Ukraine. So you can pursue adopting a child. You can have a child on your heart and in your mind, but you don't know if you're actually going to be able to adopt that specific child until you go to Ukraine. So we had started gathering all the documents, started the home study process. And one day I get a email that the child that we were hoping to adopt, that little boy in southern Ukraine had been adopted by another family. An American family had gone there to his orphanage to adopt a little girl, met him in the process and fell in love with him and decided to add him to their adoption. Oh, the devastation. I felt like it had it was a death. And I know you might not understand. We'd never met this child. All we had were a couple of pictures. We were not promised that we would be his parents. But the journey that we've gone on to get to the point where we were willing to say yes to him. It was a long one. It was a painful one. God had turned our hearts toward this child and we had so many hopes and dreams of a future with him. And then in that one day, all those dreams died. And we were left like what do we do next? What was that all about? What about when God told us to move forward and told us not to be afraid? What was that all about? We were kind of reeling. And you know, I'm the gas pedal, so of course, I was thinking, "Well, we just need to find another child. God still wants us to adopt. Obviously he spoke that word about not being afraid to move forward. So let's just find another child." Jed, the brakes, was thinking more like maybe we should pray. Maybe we should pause, think about a little bit. So we decided to take a while just to pray, to pause, to wait and see what God had for us. We knew we still had that agitation that we were supposed to respond. I guess it was gonna look a little different than we thought. 

So Jed is out mowing the lawn, having a conversation with the Lord "Okay, God, like what was that all about? Where are you taking us on this journey? What do you want from us? How do you want us to respond?" And he felt like the Lord spoke to him and said, "Jed, I needed you to fully commit to that boy, I needed you to turn your hearts toward that boy. I needed you to love him like a father, because I need you to love a lot of boys like a father." He came in and told me what he felt like the Lord had said, and it set us on another course on our journey. I think back to that now about needing to love a lot of boys. And I see where we are now in Ukraine. Loving a lot of boys and men like their mother and their father. And I just think man, God knows what he's doing. You know, we get so focused on an end goal. We get so focused on where we think God is leading. And we can forget that it's all about the process. It's all about the journey. He had to take us to this place of letting go of giving up control, of being willing to set aside our comfort, being willing to set aside things that we thought he had for us in our life and to turn our hearts in another direction. So much about the process of just saying yes to Him and opening up our hearts and opening up our hands. And you just never know what the end is going to look like. We're still on this journey of saying yes, we're still on the journey of being okay with not knowing the end result. It's so much about the process and the beauty that happens in that process. And the next episode I'll talk about how that conversation with the Lord out while mowing the lawn led us in another direction than we originally thought. But today, I just want to encourage you to say yes to the Lord. Say Yes to the next thing he has for you. Trust him on the journey. It's okay just to let go of what you think the end result needs to look like. And fear not. Fear not. Fear not. 

Thanks so much for listening today. I'm having fun sharing our story and I hope you're enjoying listening. Go ahead and subscribe if you don't want to miss any of the episodes. And please feel free to pass this podcast along to your friends and family. We're always looking to build a wider net of support for our guys here in Ukraine. And you know, it's our dream to bring even more boys out of the institution and into family life. So the more people who join our team, the better. We'll talk to you next time. Don't be afraid to say yes to the very next thing God is asking of you. Bye.