The Journey to Rowan

Often, we don’t take the time to write a lot about our personal lives in our newsletters/on facebook, not because we don’t want to share, but rather because we are passionate about the Ranch ministry and want to keep it front and center.  We care deeply about the children, youth, and families who are impacted by our partnership with you in the Ranch ministry, and, well, we want to keep everyone’s focus on that…But, Pete and I often remind ourselves…there is absolutely no part of our life that is exempt from God’s will.  He wants all of us and all of our minutes and activities to be for His glory.  We figured we could resurrect this blog and use it for a little while to post updates on our family’s personal journey to our fourth child!

Almost 8 years ago now, we adopted Ava.  That journey is something that is still near and dear to our hearts.  If you want to make me happy, ask me about it!  Ask me about a good friend crying on her way to work the day she knew Ava was being placed in our arms.  Ask me about those first moments with our daughter.  Ask me about the journey, the long months wondering when our child would join our family, the day we got the phone call and other friends came over with sparkling cider to toast Ava! We look at our precious daughter every day with thankfulness that we are her parents, even in the hard moments.  That gratitude extends to our biological children as well…they are not more “ours” because we birthed them…all three of our daughters are “ours” only because God was gracious and gave them to us for a time to raise in our home and to love and to teach.  But, 7 years ago…we were asking God for the specific gift of being able to adopt again.  After our journey to Ava, both Pete and I became even more passionate about adoption.  The image of the children in Ava’s orphanage is seared in my mind, and deep love for my daughter burns in my heart.  We knew there was another child out there who needed a family, and that we could be that family.

We thought we would adopt our third, but God surprised us with the pregnancy and birth of Kylah!  We call her our “move the Johnsons to Mexico” baby.  Right after she was born, we heard about the Ranch, and quite honestly, if we had been in the middle of an adoption, we would not have said yes to the Ranch…we would not have wanted to give up our adoption process.  Even so, when we moved to Mexico, it was with the understanding that we may have to surrender our desire to adopt again.  We moved saying our hearts and home were open to a fourth child, but we honestly did not know it would be possible to adopt while living in Mexico.

Well, with God all things are possible!  Last year, we started investigating a bit more, and God brought into our lives a social worker with experience in helping expats adopt.  God provided, through her, a way to have a homestudy done, and we are now sitting on the edge of being able to pursue a hearts’ desire of ours…adopting and bringing home our fourth child!

An adoption is a different path than a pregnancy, we know that.  But the end result is the same…another blessing, another life to celebrate, another child who will grow up and Lord willing, be a blessing to others and to this world.  But the path…that is something that is hard to explain.  It is challenging, hard, faith-building, patience-growing, and sometimes heart wrenching (so pretty much it could just be called parenting).  We want to share with you all the ways God has worked in our lives, and all the ways He has provided for this adoption.  We have seen God provide abundantly for the Ranch ministry.  That is a separate thing…our adoption is quite apart from that, and since it is personal, we don’t want to use our newsletters or social media platforms as much to share with you.  Hence, a few long notes here…those interested can click and read.  Thanks for being interested!!!  😊


Are you ready for more??

Our first question after deciding we really wanted to pursue an adoption again was “from where??”, and we almost gave up on adopting again during our search for the answer to this question.  In every road-block we encountered, we returned to prayer, asking God if this was a NO, or just a prompt to look elsewhere.  We first investigated adopting in Mexico, but for many, many reasons, this proved next to impossible for us.  As US citizens we still would have had to use a US adoption agency, and they all discouraged us from pursuing this path.  Most of the US agencies approved to work in Mexico have their programs on hold, for various reasons, which we understand, especially after working so closely with the social welfare system in Mexico.  There is not a reliable way to verify that children in orphanages have been “relinquished” by their parents.  A lot of parents here view the orphanages as temporary while they work to become more stable, etc.  Also, the social workers here often do not have the time to put together files on children who would be available for “international” adoption.  (Which our adoption would be even though we live in Mexico, because we would want our child to be a US citizen.) We spoke with other expats in Mexico who had tried to adopt, heard their stories, and felt God close this door completely.  Our desire in this whole process is to also be faithful to the ministry God has given us for this season.  As directors of the Ranch, we cannot pursue just any avenue for adoption because we need to be able to meet the needs of any child who joins our family here in La Paz, with the resources here, which, while many, are not the same as the resources in a big city elsewhere in Mexico or the US.

Our next step was adopting from US foster care, and again, God closed that door.  We spent months calling various people, talking with social workers, and trying to understand what it might look like for us to pursue this avenue.  Again, we were highly discouraged from pursuing this route by the one (and only one) agency who helps non-military expats adopt from US foster care.

Back to square one…honestly at this point, we almost gave up…it had been months and months of phone calls, prayer, wondering, hoping (but barely), and we really had to analyze what we thought was feasible.  We don’t live a super “normal” life, we live in a place which would take some major adjustments for an older child, we don’t have special education classes readily available, it’s REALLY hot in the summer here with lots of bugs, etc.  BUT…we work with some really amazing physical therapists who use our horses to help children with physical disabilities, we are friends with the director of a state of the art physical therapy center in La Paz, we live on the Ranch where there is so much room for a child to run and be free and outdoor therapy is a proven reality!  We run activities for children, our friends here love children, Pete is a counselor, I’m an educator.  We really felt we could (relatively) seamlessly work another child into our lives.  And we felt we had some tools to help a child with some different special needs thrive and grow.

Pete’s sister and her husband adopted from China a little more than 2 years ago, and we both really bonded with our niece on our home assignment.  So, they were the first ones we called…we asked if they thought it would be crazy to pursue the adoption of a child with special needs from China.  We were so encouraged by their response and their joy, and after praying and knowing that they were praying for us, we decided to investigate more, talk with our social worker, and see what agencies might be willing to work with us!

Guess what…we found the most amazing agency, which also has some really amazing skills at helping us qualify for this adoption (it wasn’t immediately simple for us), and which has tons of experience working with expats.  We felt prompted to move forward with CCAI…and, to tell you, in each step of this journey, we have been holding this adoption with open hands…asking God to close the door or slow us down if we are ever moving ahead of Him or outside of His plans.  He has been so faithful.  Pete and I have many, many moments of clear direction in this entire endeavor, and we are thankful for that.

So…there you are:


The whole process I’ve described took place over more than 6 months…that’s so much longer than with Ava…Pete one night said…let’s adopt.  And the next week, I plopped papers in front of him to sign with our agency, we knew where we’d adopt from, and the date of our first homestudy interview!  It’s not that we were more eager with her adoption; there were just fewer complications, and, quite honestly, we’re not as naïve this go around.

The very first thing we had to do this time was get a letter from Mexico of non-involvement, and let me tell you…it was NOT EASY.  It involved multiple trips to the local social workers offices, multiple investigations of other people who have requested this letter, multiple copies of examples, passports, visas, etc.  Finally, I even had to call a friend in Mexico City, ask her to talk to her friend, and that friend to get in touch with the boss of all the social workers in Mexico, and then ask her to call the La Paz lawyer for the social workers here to explain what we needed and why.  Phew…it was a lot of work.  But we got it this past September (after I made myself a nuisance in the offices here for more than 2 months!).  And, in other good news, we made a lot of great connections through this whole process for the Ranch!

Second, we had to meet China’s qualifications, which we did, mostly, except for that pesky income requirement which China has…but guess what, remember way back when we tried to sell our house before moving to Mexico?  We had no idea what God was doing and why our home didn’t sell…now, we are so thankful! Our adoption agency told us our rental income is considered income, even if it only covers our mortgage! And then, with our Master’s Degrees, China considered us as having “income potential.”  Again, through this process, we just saw how God opened doors for us, and we are thankful.

When the way opened up after clarifying those two steps, it was amazing how God provided for getting our homestudy done!

You might be wondering why we haven’t been sharing this journey publicly from the beginning.  Partly, it is from our desire to keep the Ranch front and center.  Partly, it is because we are holding this adoption with open hands because we are not going to be doing the same amount of fundraising for this adoption like we did for Ava’s.  We are passionate about this adoption, but also about the Ranch and the children, youth, and families who depend on our teamwork with all of you in fundraising. We don’t want to double up!  And, honestly, we don’t have the energy to do so! Instead, we have done the hard work of applying for grants, and in each step, we wait until we have the grant money, and then we move forward to the next step in the adoption.  At this moment, we are so thrilled to share with you that we did receive a hugely generous grant from a Christian foundation dedicated to helping families adopt.  They paid ALL of our adoption agency fees!  We have travel/orphanage fees left, and we have something like 8 grant applications sitting out there, each taking about 3 to 4 months to process.  We only need about 2 more grants (calculating the average amount of grant awards).  Pray with us about that, and we will be letting you know as we continue to rejoice in how God will provide!  (I have another story waiting in the wings here, just wanted to post this eternally long entry first!)


The best part!  We have a 5 year old son waiting for us in China!  China has a large list of children available for adoption that they call the Shared List, meaning that multiple adoption agencies can pull files if they feel they have families that might be good fits for the children on the list.  Typically, these children are on this list because they are older, are boys, or have more involved special needs.  Our son’s file was prepared when he was about 18 months old, and he has been waiting for a family ever since.  His file hadn’t been updated, but for whatever reason (we believe God moved us to ask) we picked his face out of hundreds on our adoption agency’s website, and asked to hear more.  His old file was sent to us; we read it over, took notes, talked with my dad, and sent back an email…basically, we asked for an update and a video, if possible to show where this little boy was currently in his motor development.  Our agency had asked for an update more than once, and not received one, but this time, because they said a family had his file, the orphanage responded.  We received a video and a short update on our son.  We had his file reviewed by a physician who specializes in reviewing files for international adoptions, and after our conversation with her, we felt an immediate peace about moving forward.  We asked China if he could be our son, and we have received pre-approval.

We are currently about 3 or 4 months away from traveling to bring home our son, Rowan!  Our paperwork is done; we are just waiting for it to be approved in China and for them to issue our final approval to bring our son home.  Please pray for our papers to be moved quickly through the process.  It would be ideal for us to travel at the end of August, factoring in various ministry events and season of life here.  But again, we are trusting that God knows what needs to happen and when.  We also want to go as soon as possible, obviously, because our son has spent quite a few years now in an orphanage.  Every month is hard on children and their development when they are not in families.  Pray that God protects Rowan and his heart and prepares us to welcome him into our family!  We can’t wait to share that happy day with all of you!  😊

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Ali Ballet Recital

Ali had a ballet recital this past Friday in the Main Theater of La Paz! It was a shear joy to see the smile on her face dancing in front of a full audience and fulfilling perhaps a dream of every little girl…dancing ballet in a princess dress. Ali has been attending a classical ballet school for the past 6 months and is the youngest in her class by a year. She goes twice a week for two hours and worked especially hard this past month on these dances. Its been quite a lot for a six year old…and all in her second language! She did such a great job and we are very proud of her! You can watch her two dances here. The first is a more “modern” ballet style dance entitled Jellyfish and the second is a more “classical” ballet dance entitled Princesses.

Categories: Family | 1 Comment

From the Mouth of Babes

It has been amusing and a blessing lately to hear how our girls are expressing their faith in God these days!  I am often challenged by them! (Please forgive us for bragging a bit on our kids, there are just as many, if not more, moments of utter meltdowns and temper tantrums, but who wants to relive those???)

There is a lot of construction going on in La Paz right now…the city government is tearing up old roads and putting down new roads.  For good reason, as there are potholes of death here!  Apparently, the new roads are, in theory, able to withstand the extreme heat and hurricanes and somehow prevent potholes.  Well, the result is, we are now living in a giant maze.  It feels like the streets that are open and closed change every day, so I’ve been driving down some different streets lately.  The girls and I had to find a new way home this past week, and we drove past a beautiful house.  I said to the girls with longing, “Girls, that house is beautiful, don’t you think?”  And Ava immediately said, “Yes, Mommy, but not as beautiful as the gold houses in heaven.”  True, Ava!

The other morning, the girls woke up and stayed in bed singing together…”Our God is greater, our God is stronger, our God is higher than any other.”  Over and over and over again…because they couldn’t remember the rest of the song.  Annoying, but seriously, how can you stop them from praising?

Again, another rather interesting moment…the girls went out front and starting shouting, “God is the king of us.”  No joke…in our front yard and at the top of their lungs.  We had to have them quiet down a bit, while still encouraging them that what they were saying was true!  I seriously have no clue where they got this idea.  I promise I am not a sidewalk evangelist!!!!

And then, what has really touched our hearts lately is the generosity of Ali.  She received a Rainbow Loom for Christmas from Pete’s sister.  Ever since, she has been making bracelets and selling them (thank you to all our very kind friends here who have bought one from her, lol).  The other day, she opened up her wallet and gave all the money to Peter Gatto for the Ranch!  Every last peso.

As we encourage our kids, I have to remind myself daily that these are the things I want to cultivate in them…a love for God, a desire to praise Him, a compassionate spirit, generosity, and prayer.  It makes the task of parenting simpler and harder all at the same time.  Simpler, because it’s really God doing a work in them, not us.  Harder, because I know we are called to teach and set examples.  And I am so often tempted to focus on other skills…academics, sports, whatever else, above their spiritual lives…because that’s what I’m tempted to do in my own life.

What do you do to help your kids (or students or grandkids or nieces/nephews, etc.) love Jesus more?  Any good ideas to share with us as we are on this journey together?

Categories: Family | 1 Comment

In which Leviticus applies to real life…

I just finished reading through Leviticus this morning…it’s taken me over a week because, well, to be honest…I find myself questioning the usefulness of its inclusion in the Bible…just being real here, ya’ll.  Actually, last Saturday I started in on the book and complained to Pete I didn’t understand the point of reading it, but I persevered.

Well, now Pete is blaming me for the pain he’s been in all week.  Let me share with you how it all started…

Pete began developing a weird rash last weekend…he looked up poison ivy (it really isn’t a problem here in Mexico), he looked up spider bites, bug bites, anything he could think that might be causing the rash.  I, of course, was busy applying Leviticus to our life, declaring my dear husband unclean.

I suggested he might need to present himself to a priest for an inspection.

He opted for the doctor.

The doctor took one look at his stomach rash and declared he had shingles.  Yikes!

Pete had to do a lot of research on Google to convince me that he was not, in fact, unclean (or…contagious).  He did this in between spasms of pain.  Poor guy.  I felt just a bit bad about laughingly telling him to go to a priest.

It gets better…this Sunday, a family is bringing a slaughtered lamb to the Ranch…no joke!  We’ll be cooking it up into this delicious dish here called “birria.”  So, Leviticus 14, the whole sacrifice for atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness…we’ve got that covered, too.  Although, we’ll probably forgo the putting of blood on the ear lobe, finger and toe.

In a serious thought, though…Leviticus does make me think about God’s HOLINESS, and then it makes me more thankful than ever for Jesus!  And appreciative of how compassionate and merciful Jesus is, and the extent to which His once for all sacrifice totally rocked this world of ours!

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The Movies and God

We took our girls to the movies for the first time this past week. It was in celebration of our forever family day! (a.k.a. Ava’s adoption day).

Pete and I love movies. We love a good story. We were excited to take our kids. Here are their reactions:

Kylah: ate the caramel popcorn and candy, fell asleep in a sugar crash.

Ava: as we walked in she said, “Wow” in a voice of awe. (That’s right, Ava, and it never gets old.)

Ali: we sat down, got settled in our seats and were waiting for the show to start. She leans over to me and says, “Mom, this is a lot bigger than our T.V. This is the biggest screen I’ve ever seen. But nothing’s bigger than God.”

Ok, there are times when I wonder if our kids are listening, if we’re teaching them what we want to, if my daily choices in life are backing up what I want to communicate to them about God, about the Kingdom, about priorities in life. I wonder if I let my kids watch too much t.v. (probably, yep). I beat myself up for not reading to them more or yelling at them during shower time (I HATE shower time. I get wet as I try to rinse shampoo out of hair from a VERY low pressure shower head. It feels like a sauna in our bathroom. The girls complain. I complain.) Some days I check my email or my facebook or whatever one too many times.

And then Ali says something like that, and I’m encouraged. And I’m also challenged. Again. God IS bigger than all these distractions in our lives. I don’t know about you, but media is a HUGE distraction for me. I am positive I spend too much time consuming media. Instead, it’s God who needs to consume me, and media mostly just gets in the way of that. And this week, He used my daughter to remind me again of proper priorities.

“Tomorrow is a new day. With no mistakes in it (yet).” From a good story. (Anne of Green Gables)

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” From the best story. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

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Adaptive Riding at the Ranch

This past week, the Ranch hosted a training and a clinic in adaptive riding.  Two instructors certified through PATH International were on site to train our staff and volunteers in how to teach riding and horsemanship to children with disabilities.  We then hosted more than 50 children from several local schools over the course of 4 separate clinics.  It was an amazing week!

We learned a lot about horses, therapy, and how to facilitate children with differing abilities.  The smiles and transformations that took place in the children once they were on the moving horse was amazing to see.  What a blessing it was to be able to work with the children and their families.  We are incredibly grateful for the opportunity.  We hope and pray that we can expand on this opportunity and continue to develop relationships with the families and schools who came to the Ranch this week.  The community gathered around these children, too.  We had volunteer medical crews on the Ranch, as well as a police escort for the children’s school bus, and many parents and teachers participated!  We hope to share some specific stories with you in the coming posts.  For now, enjoy the photo below and keep praying for wisdom as we pray about how to continue developing these ministries!

horse ministry

Categories: Family, Horse, Mexico, Ranch | Leave a comment

A Brief Update!

We have had an incredibly busy month! It’s been full of new work, some travel, and lots of learning, as always. In a nutshell, here’s some things we’ve been up to in the last month. Pictures will follow once I get organized enough to download them to the computer from our various devices! Stories will also be coming; they are in my head, but getting them into the blog has been on the back burner. These weeks have been so busy we haven’t had much time to pause and record. 🙂

1. Started ESL classes at the community center in Marquez de Leon.
2. Traveled to Tijuana/San Diego to take care of a car permit issue and pick up a second car for work! God blessed us with an amazing trip and an amazing ministry that helps find cars for those working in ministry!
3. Hosted, planned, helped lead 4 short term trips.
4. Began planning for 3 different Easter camps that we will help facilitate for Mexican churches at the Ranch in the next 3 weeks!
5. Solidified some job descriptions/roles for our team at the Ranch.
6. Started leading a children’s Sunday school in Marquez de Leon.
7. Continuing to get to know our neighbors through playdates, dinners, walks on the Malecon together!
8. Learning to live without the guarantee of running water for the past 2 weeks. (We should be back in business in the next day or 2…our landlord is installing a cistern for us!).

As I said, I will post pictures soon! We have gotten very busy and I am working toward getting caught up in our correspondence, this blog, and emails. Thanks for your patience and prayers for us and for your willingness to stay in touch with us!

Categories: Family, Marquez de Leon, Mission | 2 Comments

Feliz Cumpleaños

Thanks to all who showed their love and support this past week for Ava’s birthday. We had a great time celebrating with our new friends at the library and today going for a bike ride and getting ice cream on the malecon.

Happy Birthday to our precious Ava and little Mexicana!

Happy Birthday to our precious Ava and little Mexicana!

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Top Things I’ve Googled Since Living in Mexico…

What would I do without internet…seriously…I would probably freak out so much less, I’d have more time to read, you know…real books, I might actually do crafts with my kids instead of pinning crafts that look like so much fun…I wouldn’t have made so many delicious dinners…I actually do put into practice the recipes I read online, at least there’s that.

But, I would know so much less.  I mean, Google…it fulfills my quest for knowledge like skittles fill my belly.  And to enlighten all of you, dear friends, today I will share my favorite topics-to-google-while-living-as-a-gringa-in-Mexico.  You’re welcome.

1. “What are the symptoms of Dengue fever.”  Yes, that was a minor freak out moment, when Kylah got so very sick our first month in.  Thankfully, I phoned a friend who talked me down.  And then we actually visited a doctor.  That helped.  Or not, when he told us it’s not really the season for Dengue right now, but that there have been a lot of cases of Scarlet Fever going around.  I don’t actually know what that is, but I did manage to restrain myself from Googling it.

2. “Efficient time saving method to hand wash dishes.”  Ummm…please don’t judge me.  It takes a while to get used to hand washing after having a dish washer.

3. “How do I know if my child has worms.”  Because they are drinking the shower water, and it took a while to teach them not to drink tap water.  And you just never know, right?

4. “Chocolate chip cookie recipe without brown sugar.”  Let me save you the time…it’s not worth it.

5. “Can African Americans get head lice.” Apparently, only a very, very small percentage.  But what can I say?  We have an exceptional child in every way.

And the winner of the silliest thing I’ve googled in Mexico:

6. “What to do if you get hot pepper in your eye.”  Yes.  This happened to me.  And it hurt worse than I remember child birth hurting.  And Kylah was breech. While cutting jalapenos one day, my knife sliced through the pepper skin and a seed jumped out at my face, landing in my eye.  It might have well been a match lit on my eyeball, because that is how much it hurt.  Maybe more.  I ran screaming to the bathroom.  Ali continued to color.  Kylah continued to play with her toys.  Ava ran screaming with me, thinking mommy was surely dying.  (She still cries at the mention of hot pepper seeds.  Sympathetic child.)  After 20 minutes of cool water running into my eyeball, I still could barely open it.  I walked half-blind to the computer and googled it.  Do I need to go to the E.R.? Am I going blind????  I found a solution.  Dump milk in your eye.  I was desperate.  I dumped an entire liter of milk into my eye.  Immediate relief.  Then I made cookies.  Without brown sugar.  And I’m not blind.  But I am still a bit scared of cutting hot peppers.

Categories: Family, Stories | 4 Comments

Abra Palabra!

Abra Palabra reading time.

Abra Palabra reading time.

We have recently been attending “Abra Palabra” a fun reading and activity time at a local library and art studio. It meets twice a week and has been a great time to get to know other families and for the girls to make friends and play outside. We have been honored as the group has quickly welcomed us in and is throwing a birthday party for Emily on Thursday. One thing we really love about the Mexican culture is that there always seems to be an excuse to bring extra food and make regular daily activities into a party. We have been attending for only two weeks and Emily’s birthday will be the third party for the group! We look forward to celebrating and further entering into Mexican life.

…Oh…and if you are worried about the girl in the back who is passed out…don’t be…she is just taking a nap! …which is a whole other discussion on Mexican culture which we enjoy!

Categories: Culture, Family | 3 Comments

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