Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Merciful Comforter

Continued from It is Finished

My last post, It is finished, was not the end of my blog, but it was a hard one to write. "It is finished" were Jesus' words on the cross, and when I discovered Roma's final actions and God's persistent warnings, it seemed clear to me that Roma's work on earth was finished too. I hope the post gave some of the 2050 (a new record, by far) page-viewers HOPE, as it did me to write it.

Many readers who shared their thoughts after reading were also heartbroken for Bobby, Roma's boss who witnessed the terrible accident. He was, rightfully so, profoundly shaken up.

I first met Bobby while welcoming visitors in a long line that crept toward us at Roma's visitation at the funeral home on the evening of December 13. Long before he reached us in that extended line of co-mourners and well-wishers, I recognized Bobby. As the unfamiliar man with swollen eyes and blotchy red face neared us, he occasionally sobbed, pulling out his tissues to mop his wet face. He was flanked by other people supporting him.  

When he finally reached us, he was unable to speak for a moment. Then all he could manage was "I'm Bobby." Bruce and I both hugged him as Bobby all but collapsed into his sobs. "Bobby, it wasn't you fault," Bruce and I both tried to console him as he apologized for our loss.

He introduced his wife, brother, and sister-in-law who had come with him for support. We couldn't talk long because the line extended behind him, and we were mentally exhausted. 

Bobby called us mid week, a couple of days after Roma's Celebration of Life to proudly report he had had a star named in memory of Roma. How appropriate that Roma would get to be a star. I had already thought of the comparison. Roma was like a shooting star. So bright and intense, but so fleeting. Bobby asked if he could visit with his wife and son. Bruce and I welcomed Bobby and his family, as Bobby, a kind and gentle man,  came bearing the star registry certificate and a vase filled with twenty-one pink roses. His wife came bearing a tin box with "Roma" on it.

Someone had brought it to her office Christmas party, full of cookies, and she had asked to bring it to us. Their son, 14, came and shared that Roma had played basketball with him and he would really miss him.

Bobby and I have texted and talked on the phone numerous times. We met for lunch once, where we both cried at our table. But Bobby was eager to share a story with me. He and his father went to South Carolina for a fishing trip. One night Bobby awoke because his father had gotten up and sat on the corner of Bobby's bed. Bobby felt him there and swung around to ask if everything was okay. But no one was there. Bobby quickly turned over to check on his dad, who was sleeping peacefully in the other bed.  I asked Bobby if the otherwise creepy experience had comforted him. He agreed it absolutely had. He felt it was Roma.

Another friend shared a eerily similar story before I heard Bobby's version.  A neighbor who knew Roma better than she knew me visited and brought food a couple of days after Roma died. She was trying to be upbeat, but suddenly her face crumpled and she broke into tears. She apologized, saying she was determined not to cry.  But she missed our sweet boy who had been a friend of her son for a decade.

A week later I was returning her dishes. We stood and talked as I told her about the pink roses blooming on my red rose bush.

She looked at me sheepishly, and began hesitantly, "You're going to think I'm crazy." I assured her nothing would surprise me anymore. She shared that shortly after her grandmother died years ago, she felt her grandmother sit on the bed with her. She "knew" it was her. She never had that experience again when other loved ones passed away. Until Roma died. She explained that Roma had come by to visit her son days before the accident. While a group of boys were downstairs watching a football game, Roma came up, just to talk to her and her husband. Roma could talk to anyone, with his easy manner and eye-contact, he endeared himself to many parents. One parent said that Roma made them all feel like they were his favorite. 

Just days later, Roma was dead. She said when they looked at the bar stool where Roma had sat days earlier, she and her husband both wept. The next morning, while she was still in bed, she felt her husband sit on the corner of their bed. She sat up to ask him a question, but no one was there.  Convinced he had been there, and still close, she called his name. He answered from another room.

She was looking at me to see if I could believe it might have been Roma visiting and comforting this family whose home he frequented since he was ten years old.

I confirmed that I believed anything was possible. Roma was still spreading himself around, making himself known. Comforting his heartbroken friends and family. Pointing to God.

A few months later, Bobby called me again to tell me he had another experience where he felt Roma sit beside him. He was sure it was Roma.

Almost identical  stories from people who likely will never meet, comforted by a little visit that God could allow. Always pointing to Himself. Their stories give me comfort too. I hope they do the same for the readers.

I'm not trying to tell spooky ghost stories. But I won't put God in a box either. He will not fit in my limited understanding of Him. I'm simply recording a phenomenon I can't explain. I know the  experience had the power to comfort. In His Almighty Power and Mercy and Grace, God has the freedom to do that. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tell His Story, blog interview

I "met" Anna Smit when she commented in early 2015 on my blog post about finding Roma's birth family. She has an adopted brother. God joins people who He will, by whatever means He chooses. Since then she and Wendy Simpson have followed a Call to tell stories of God's great Love, in the midst our darkest grief. Join their blogs and read other stories of people around the world who have experienced their worst losses, and yet found God right beside them. I am honored to be a part of their mission, to point people to God by telling His Stories.

Breaking Light: Finding Life in Death

This is the seventh post in Wendy’s and Anna’s joint blog series Breaking Light, a series in which people from around the world share of their deep valleys and God’s powerful Presence in them, of how He is using what was meant to harm us to bring abundant life.
Today, Debbie joins us with her story of surrender, grace, deep loss and the pursuit of Love. Read below for how you can go into the draw to win a copy of her beautiful book But the Greatest of these is Love.
Anna: Thank you for joining us today, Debbie. Wendy and I are excited to share your (and God’s!) story here.
Of all the characters in the Bible, who do you most relate to and why?
Debbie: I think Moses’ protest sounds familiar. “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) I’ve said that too.
But lately I feel like Paul. Before his ministry, he thought he knew God. As a Pharisee, Paul arrogantly thought he was doing the work of God, getting rid of those pesky Christians. Then, in a sudden revelation, he KNEW Jesus. My journey into deeper faith felt that sudden. That could only have been achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t go looking for it. My “Damascus Road” experience changed forever my intimacy with God. It was like the scales fell off my eyes.
And for all the efforts Paul made for the Kingdom, writing Letters to encourage the new Church, trying to make God known to others, his confessions sound a lot like mine.
“I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out, I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I hate is what I keep on doing.”
Romans 7
Paul mourns of a “thorn” in his flesh that he cannot be free of. God’s response? His Grace is sufficient. There will always be thorns, and God keeps reminding Paul, and me, how very much we need a Savior.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It is Finished

Continued from Ten Thousand Reasons and More.

We knew nothing of Bobby until the hospital gave us a piece of paper with a name and phone number handwritten on it. I didn't recognize the name. I suppose my questioning look encouraged the nurse to add, "He said he was your son's boss."

Bobby had called the hospital so many times to ask for Roma's condition, they had to ask him not to call anymore. They promised to give us his number and we   could contact him. The last time Bobby had seen him, Roma was unconscious but breathing on his own.

When we called the number of the stranger on the morning of December 7, we introduced ourselves. I could hear hope in Bobby's strained voice, "How's Roma?"

Bruce paused just a moment, as though he needed to shield this man we had yet to meet from the devastating truth. "Roma didn't make it."

"Oh my God, Oh God" Bobby's voice trailed off into broken sobs. He continued, though periodic primal groans, "We were finished with that job. . . I was already down my ladder. Roma was getting ready to come down. We were done. . . Oh my God . . . I don't know what made him lift his pole so high and hit those wires. They were ten or fifteen feet above the roof. . .  I was on the ground waiting and I heard a loud pop. I looked up and Roma was coming down. Oh my God. Oh my God." Sobs overtook him again.

I was processing his words. Roma had lifted his extension painting pole high and hit a live wire. It made no sense to Bobby. It did to me.

Roma had many wonderful qualities, but patience was not on the list. How often I had seen the dramatic display from the exasperated boy: Roma's head would drop back and his eyes close in a theatrical display of relief, emphatically uttering the words, "Thank the Lord, that's over,"  regarding some tedious task he was relieved to have completed. The emphasis was NOT on thanking the Lord! No, it was on the completion part. Roma grew up in church and with me, so thanking-the-Lord language was part of Roma's language. He learned it as he learned English. By hearing.

This job had lasted weeks. I had driven him to this work site in downtown Frederick, Maryland,  as had Bruce. Originally Roma had said they were going to make a lot of money on this job he predicted would last only a few days.  Bobby's words reminded me of Roma's eagerness to be done with it. And he finally was that Sunday afternoon.

Now I had a clear picture of what happened. At the long awaited and overdue moment of completion of that painted metal roof,  that job that had annoyed him for two weeks too long, Roma lifted his extension pole in a final flourish of "Thank the Lord" triumph. "It is finished!"

Roma on a roof at the Pittsburgh Project, 2014
And, just like that, it was over. Roma's beautiful life was done. The live wire knocked him out, and he fell, unconscious, to the sidewalk below. It was finished. He had no fear. No pain. The lights just went out.

I believe it happened this way. It gave me peace to know he didn't know he was falling away from the second floor roof, so he felt no fear, and no pain when he hit the sidewalk, head first. God had pulled the vital, real Roma away from the scene, as a lifeless body fell. 

Bobby called two more times that afternoon, crying. I tried to comfort him. He apologized, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I really loved that kid." I tried the best I could to sooth this man I'd never met. This man who had the memory of my son's last moments of life and the horror of the graphic accident forever burned into his memory.

The next afternoon, Bobby called again. "I've been seeing wires and ladders all day. I'm really shaken up." I wanted to remind Bobby I was really shaken up too, but he added, "When I turned onto Wisconsin Avenue, right in front of me, a wire sparked with a big ball of light and a loud pop, almost like an explosion. It scared the hell out of me. Right in front of me." Then he continued to tell me how sorry he was, and he didn't know if he could continue to work.  And he really loved my kid. I was still thinking of the wire lighting up in front of him.

"Bobby, did the explosion of light comfort you at all?"

"No! It scared the hell out of me."

"Did you ever think it might have been Roma saying, 'Hey Buddy, I'm okay. Don't beat yourself up. It wasn't your fault."

"No," he paused, "but maybe it was Roma," he said without emotion.  But the thought sent Bobby into another round of sobs. "God, I really loved that kid. I'm so sorry."

I pushed the point I was desparate to believe. "Maybe it was Roma. Maybe he was saying 'Hey man, don't beat yourself up. I'm okay. I'm better than okay.'" I felt such compassion for this man who seen my boy die. "Bobby, it wasn't your fault."

Roma, high and lifted up, on a roof at the Pittsburgh Project in July 2014

Bobby's eyewitness account of the events of the afternoon reinforced what I had come to believe. That God had taken Roma because it was Roma's time to go. His work here was complete. God had warned me. He had lovingly and mercifully prepared me to let His boy go.

I kept thinking of Taylor's wise words. Taylor was about to turn 13 when Roma burst into Taylor's quiet, calm world. (And "burst" pretty well describes Roma's activities!) Just days after Roma came, Taylor recognized that Roma was not the little brother he was expecting to live at our house. Brave Taylor said, that until he could think of Roma as a brother, he would consider him an exchange student from God. That image changed forever the way I would look at my new son.

I kept thinking of Taylor's observation. An exchange student comes from afar. Then he returns. He does not stay. Roma had been Called Home. His time with us was complete.

After more contemplation, I understand that Roma hadn't really come as an exchange student. No, his role had not been as a student at all. Roma had come as a teacher. Oh, what that boy taught me. And in the six months since he returned to God, I look around and see he taught so many more people than I could have imagined. Even people who never knew him. And Roma continues to teach us. One of his friends just told me the other day that Roma was a "once-in-a-life-time kid." So he was. Oh, how God loves Roma. And how He loves me, to have picked me to host him for fourteen years!

Roma came to us as a smiley, exuberant, beautiful seven year old, ready to take on anything. The child feared nothing. He visited for a joy-filled and exciting, and often challenging fourteen years. He returned to God at twenty-one, after we were all better people for knowing him.

He had been home for seven weeks to the day.

When we arrived at Shock Trauma, Roma was in room seven.

When we returned the next morning, Roma had been moved to another floor. He was, again, in room seven.

He used number seven in his email address and in his passwords.

He wore number seven on more than one sports jersey. 

Roma in a familiar stance, wearing number seven, 2011

He was pronounced dead the morning after his accident, on December 7, at 7:16.

And seven is the  Biblical number of completion and perfection.  

Thank the Lord. It is finished. 

Continue with Merciful Comfort                                                                                                                   

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Shared Blogs: Jesus Wept

More from Anna's blog

Breaking Light: Jesus Wept

This is the third post in the series Breaking Light: God’s Treasure in Vessels of Clay. Wendy and Anna are hosting Breaking Light throughout June and July, every Tuesday and Friday. The winner of last week’s book prize for commenting on last week’s posts (here and at Wendy‘s) is Heather who blogs at: Congratulations, Heather! Wendy will be in touch to arrange postage to you.
Today, Anna and Wendy have invited Jennifer Moye to tell her story of seeking God through fear, heartache and the absence of Christian community. But she also shares of God’s loving pursuit of and grace for His people and a beautiful ministry being birthed through the hardship and suffering she has faced.
Anna: Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today. To help our readers get to know you better, it would be great if you could share what one of your favorite Scriptures is and why it means so much to you?
Jennifer: One of my very favorite Scriptures is John 11:35 “Jesus wept”. This verse reminds me that Jesus was human just as I am. Somewhere along the lines society has told us we need to be strong, and by being strong that means we shouldn’t cry. But Jesus did. It was part of Him. It was a natural response to something that broke His heart. It is a reminder to me that it is not just okay, but it is in the nature God instilled in me to respond to my brokenness with tears. If Jesus did it, then I should never be ashamed of doing the same.
Anna: What a beautiful gift our Heavenly Father has given us with tears. Such profound two words, aren’t they? I love how God has used and is using just two words to bless you so deeply.
Jennifer, I know from a little you have shared with me before that you have gone through some very hard times in your life. What events, circumstances or struggles in your life have been and/or continue to be your deepest valleys?
Jennifer: There have been several times in my life I would consider to be deep valleys. Two times jump out at me.

Blog shares, Under the Shadow of His Wings

(copying and pasting Anna's blog has caused some irregularities on this page. I have tried to fix it, but to no avail. Sorry.)

I am continuing to write my blog posts, because there is more to tell about Roma. In the meantime please follow along with this new introduction and mission field–To point readers toward God!  

Anna and I "met" in cyberspace when she "stumbled upon" my blog just over a year ago, when we were just discovering Roma's first family. A New Zealander living in the Netherlands, Anna followed my story, learning through tears of Roma's heartbreaking death from a blog post. Anna, who also writes of God and His goodness in her loss of her mother, has felt God lay on her heart to join a group together that understands that our souls grow through grief. Get to know this Godly young woman Anna, who has recently published her own book, and Wendy, with whom Anna has linked arms in a mission they feel led by God. She has invited me to join a blog exchange with others where my story will be featured later this month. I love how God is moving His people into unity. 

Follow along. If you comment, you will be entered to win a gift. When it is my turn, the gift will be my book. If you comment on the blogs of each Anna and Wendy, you will be entered twice. You may know others whose suffering has broken through to a more enhanced faith, and may join this group of bloggers intent on pointing readers to God. I'll be sharing more from this group. Please join us in the conversation. 

Breaking Light: Under the Shadow of His Wings

This is the second post from Wendy and Anna’s joint blog series Breaking Light. Today’s post is a conversation between Wendy and Anna about their experiences of God’s breaking light through the darkness of cancer, fear and great loss. Wendy has also shared this post here on her blog – Breaking Light: Under the Shadow of His Wings.
Psalm 91: 1 – 4 (NIV)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
   my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
   from the fowler’s snare
   and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
   and under his wings you will find refuge;
   his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Wendy: “Anna, of all the characters in the Bible, who do you most relate to and why?”

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ten Thousand Reasons and More

Continued from Pink Roses, Beauty for Ashes

You can click on the red type to hear these lovely songs and see the slide show of our beautiful son. 

We needed to make those final arrangements that no parent ever intends to plan. We scheduled Roma's visitation for Sunday, December 13, and his Celebration of Life the next morning, December 14. "Celebration" seemed to fit Roma' life better than the word "funeral."

To select music,  I turned to Roma's Atlanta mother, Nancy. Roma had attended church with Nancy's family during the summer of 2014, after God connected Nancy and me very dramatically, as only He can do!  (See the Hound of Heaven series) I love to remember  that season of miracles, once God had opened my eyes to see, evidence of His activity was everywhere.

Nancy had sent Roma to Passion 2015, a Christian conference for 18-25 year olds in Atlanta in January 2015. She had taken him to a David Crowder concert. She had welcomed him into her family and took seriously her God-given assignment of showing Roma the love of Jesus. Nancy had seen Roma worship as I had never had the privilege to witness. She would know what music moved him. I sent her a message before we left for our appointment at the funeral home.

After our not-so-terrible visit at the funeral home, we stopped by our church to put the date, December 14th, on the church calendar. When we entered the office, the entire staff seemed to be congregated there, and  a new wave of tears came on both sides of the desks. The expressions of sympathy were hard to accept.  

Seeing Carmen, reminded us that we wanted her to sing at the service celebrating Roma's life. She agreed eagerly. I told her we were  waiting for Nancy's suggestions. I knew I wanted Ten Thousand Reasons to be part, but that was a song Roma sang around the house, and if Roma could sing it with his three-note range, it was probably appropriate for the rest of us melodically-challenged folks to sing. Carmen could handle something more challenging with her beautiful and powerful voice. I told her I would send the options Nancy suggested when we got home.  Arriving home, I checked and Nancy had sent me not only several recommendations, but also Roma's reaction she herself witnessed:

"He LOVED The Revelation Song by Kari Jobe—he told me one day it was his favorite of all songs and that it brought him to his knees every time. He also shared that it made him cry and touched his soul-we played it in the car all the time! Oh my now I'm in tears again!!!   
Also Debbie—Come As You Are-by David Crowder-that meant so much to him-He cried when we went to The David Crowder concert and Crowder sang it God's Great Dance Floor by Chris Tomlin—Roma would dance and clap-such joy in him when he heard this song.   Even So Come—Passion CD from last year—oooh how Roma worshiped when they played it"  
I know he's with Jesus and that makes my heart leap for joy but this is so much harder than I expected—I loved him Debbie and will miss him terribly."

Who but God Himself could have sent Roma and me such a friend as Nancy?

I thanked her, and was so grateful she knew and loved Roma so well. 

Surprisingly, I remembered to sit down at the computer before I got distracted away, and sent Carmen an email, copying and pasting Nancy's suggestions, along with her commentary on Roma's reaction she witnessed as he sang each song, as I have shared above.

Then I allowed my distraction away from the computer. Bruce called me two hours later, asking if I had sent the email, because Carmen never received it. 

She shared with Bruce that, while awaiting my email, they practiced Ten Thousand Reasons several times, to be prepared to lead the congregation. Then she checked her emails a few more times with nothing from me. They tried to anticipate other songs that might  be possibilities, choosing The Revelation Song.

When Bruce walked into the church, they were practicing it. He assumed they had gotten my email with the information. He was overcome with tears. Then Carmen told him she had never received my email.

Why hadn't she received it?  From my "sent" folder, I resent it, confirming the original time I sent it the first time, two hours earlier. The curious thing was that as Bruce walked into the church, Carmen, being accompanied by one of Roma's peers, Emily, was singing Revelation Song, not yet knowing it was his favorite and the song we would be asking her to sing.

Nancy's other choices we would use for the DVD created for the visitation. (If you haven't seen this, and especially if you never knew Roma, it is worth watching.)  I wanted to listen to each song to chose only three, as suggested by the funeral director.  I started typing into the search bar. "God's" and suddenly "Great Dance Floor" automatically filled in the line, complete with "Chris Tomlin." How strange. Only one word, a common word, "God's" and the rest filled in.

The next song on Nancy's list was "Come as You Are," by David Crowder." Certainly a word as common as "come" would have lots of hits, surely before a Christian song. But again, the exact thing happened. I typed the first word, "Come,"  and the rest filled in, "As You Are," by David Crowder.

One more. I tried Even So, Come, and after typing "Even," like the other times, the rest of the title filled itself in in the search bar. Complete with "Passion."

I've tried typing in those first words since that day, and it doesn't happen, but that week in December, I had my eyes open for Miracles, and God was showing off. I know Roma was close by, trying to give Him orders suggestions. Roma always likes to be the boss. 

Continue with It is Finished

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pink Roses, Beauty for Ashes

Continued from More Light Bulbs

By December 10th,  hardly anyone was unaware of Roma's passing. Tear-stained faces mirrored my own as I opened the door, welcoming well wishers bearing food, flowers, and open arms for hugs, trying the best they knew how to assist the living in dealing with the dead.

They had the same questions I had. How could Roma be gone? He was Roma! Roma was invincible. Roma  always landed on his feet. God met him around every corner. God was still using Roma. How was it possible that Roma had slipped away from our sight, this time permanently?  None of it made sense. Not without God. And what kind of God allowed this to happen? Did I believe what I had always professed to believe about God? Was He still good? Could He be trusted?

Three days after Roma departed, we suddenly had days reaching 70 degrees. In Maryland. The sunny weather helped my mood. In addition to friends pouring their love out on us,  the sun and warmth were another balm for my broken heart.

See the tiny pink rose?
I was standing out in the yard talking to the flower delivery woman for the second time in two days, and I turned to go back inside. Something drew my attention to the other side of the sidewalk leading back into my house. I walked over to get a closer look. At first it looked like scrap of pink tissue stuck on a thorn on our knockout rose bushes. A closer look revealed that it was a pink rose. It wasn't a perfect rose. It looked as if it had bloomed quickly a few days earlier, with only a few malformed petals. I cut it and put it in a bud vase on the table where all the other florist flowers were displayed. The next day, I noticed two more pink buds. Throughout the week they kept budding. In December. In Maryland.

A pink rose. I hadn't noticed my apparent obsession with pink roses until I had a first-time house guest in October who remarked, "You really love your pink roses."

Sunroom love seat
My dishes
Hmm. As I started to observe, I was a little self conscious of my decoration choices. As an artist, I like to think I have good taste that often runs toward eclectic. I love what I love. But had I overdone the roses?  They are eye-candy for me.  They had "sprouted" so gradually over the years I hardly notice that they now had overgrown the garden, if such a thing is possible. They were on my dishes. My salt and pepper shaker were pink rose buds. In the sunroom beside the kitchen, I looked around: Upholstery on the love seat, the hook rug on the floor, plates hanging on the wall. A bench, a chest and even the woven wood roman shades that hung on my windows, I had painted pink roses. And ceramic and dried pink roses were here and there. On the sheets where my friend slept, the towels hanging in her room. 
painted tray

Pin bought in Russia, 2002
 Wow, I had overdone the pink roses. In every direction I turned, I could see a pink rose. They had sprouted in my closet, in my jewelry box, in my cabinets, on the walls, on the furniture. You get the idea. My house had become a virtual pink rose garden.

Trunk top detail, painted in 1984

needlepoint pillow

treasured antique dust-catcher
clock face
Yes, those are salt and pepper shakers.

I could go on for pages, but I won't. 

I couldn't help thinking of Roma's wish to buy me flowers for my birthday, twelve days earlier. Now, I had pink roses blooming in December, in Maryland. For a week, I checked daily, finding new and more perfect pink buds every day.

True, it had suddenly become unseasonably warm, so I guess skeptics could argue that roses blooming in Maryland in December was possible. But skeptics would be hard pressed to explain one thing. My precious little pink roses were blooming on my red rose bush.

It was easy for me to imagine the JOY in Heaven as God, with Roma in close pursuit, gave me gifts of love, beauty for ashes. 

This a rose blooming on the same bush today, May 21, 2016. I would have never planted red rose bushes. The builder did. I would have planted pink ones, of course. But then I would never have been so joyful when pink roses started blooming after Roma made his untimely departure in December. He didn't forget me. I was overwhelmed with extravagant LOVE!