I recently came across this photo from my high school yearbook. I was immediately snatched back to 1974. The Annual Staff had come into my art class with a mission, to fill pages of the year book. I was listening attentively to my friend, Candy, to my right, telling her typical funny stories, as Jim Croce broke my tender heart from the radio behind us. I was absent mindedly scraping clay with a tool. The photographer watched me for a moment, then asked to take my picture. I felt flattered, but awkward. I've never loved the camera aimed at me, so I diverted my eyes, lost in my self-consciousness, for a moment captured forever, a message in a bottle to be discovered years later, when roses, pink roses, would flood my broken heart with healing balm.
So much during this past year of grief and God's Presence in the midst of it, reminds me that God wrote the end from the beginning. He did it with His story in the Bible. Why am I surprised that He did the same with mine? It is a mystery, one whose revealing brings me surprise joy in the midst of pain.
God wrote the end from the beginning. He loved me before I was born. He knit me together in my mother's womb. (Jeremiah 1:5) He numbered the hairs on my head (Luke 12:7). All my days are written in His book. (Psalms 139:16) God knows me intimately. There's nothing that's hidden that won't be revealed. (Luke 8:17)
God loved me when I was that young 18-year-old, molding my beloved roses, not knowing then I would go from 18 to 60 years old at warp speed. But when I look back, as we all do, I see His fingerprints all over my life.
Just before Christmas, I came across a box of letters my mother had saved. I was ecstatic to find THE letter I had forgotten existed. Written on vintage stationery from 1975, I told my biggest fan, my mother, about an exciting development in my love life. (I put that cherished letter aside until after the busy holidays , and, sadly, I've not yet been able to find it again. I'll keep looking.)
In my innocence at nineteen, I told my mother about that beautiful boy who had captured my heart. He didn't know in his own 21-year-old innocence that I had chosen him for my life's partner. In one of our playful conversations when we were "just friends" he unknowingly encouraged my fantasy by saying if we ever got married, we would adopt. It was definitely not my plan to adopt, but I was giddy at the thought that he would even imagine that we might one day marry.
Over the next fast 25 years to 2000, 23 years married to that beautiful young man, and three children, the topic of adoption never surfaced again. Not until God utterly stunned me with the foreign thought in March, 2000.
But before that shocking revelation in 2000, other foreshadowing had gone unnoticed, or suppressed.
* * * *
In the mid 1980s I remember a moment as clear as a movie clip. I was walking from the kitchen into the living room of the first home we purchased. The radio was background music, all but silenced by my loud imagination. My ears were suddenly opened to the words as if the volume had been turned up. Tears ran unchecked down my cheeks as I listened to the lyrics for the first time.
Former member of the band The Police, Sting, was singing a haunting song. Russians. We were still in the throes of the Cold War, and the Russians were the enemy, so I had grown up believing. But now I had tears streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks, moved by Sting's words, "What might save us, me and you, is If theRussians love their children too." I had my two adored young daughters, Kellie, one and Heather, three, napping safely in their rooms. I was overcome with tears, with crushing compassion for the children. Innocent children. In this case, Russian children.
* * * *
I worked for National Geographic on the magazine's supplement maps for most of the 1980s. I recall a day when we were cleaning out offices and there was a massive book give away. People were grabbing copies of new releases. The only books that captured my imagination were two discarded mid-century books written in Russian, from a researcher's shelf. I couldn't read the words, of course. But I was drawn to the mysterious Cyrillic alphabet and the photos from an unfamiliar world.
* * * *
More hints came several years later, in the early 1990s. My dear grandmother-in-law handed me a catalog to choose some puzzles as gifts from her to my children. The one I chose without hesitation held no special memory for me. I might not have been able to tell you much about the building in the puzzle's image, only that I remembered it from a dark auditorium during Art History classes. It was Saint Basil's Cathedral, in Moscow, the capital of the recently dismantled Soviet Union, once again named "Russia." (I chose the image of Saint Basil's Cathedral, with a view the crosses on the spires for the cover of my book, Butthe Greatest of These is Love.)
* * * *
In the Spring of 1992, Heather, then in the fifth grade, was chosen to be a part of the All County Chorus. She and a friend met at our house to practice their songs. When they agreed to practice for me, I couldn't hold back tears with one of the selections, Song for a Russian Child. I challenge you, as I mop tears now, to listen with dry eyes. (This is not Heather's chorus singing it, although I'm sure Bruce recorded it and we've hidden it from ourselves in a safe place. Like my lost letter.)
The night of the performance, I was thankful for the dark auditorium. While I dug deep in my purse for wadded tissues, I noticed no one else in the audience was moved like I was. How could everyone sit quietly and clap stoically, while I was almost out of control with emotion? Where did that sadness come from, I asked myself, as the song ended and lights were bright again.
On that evening of overwhelming compassion, the boy God had chosen for me wouldn't be born for another two and a half years.
* * * *
God doesn't wind us up and let us go on our own power. Surely that is how I must have thought it worked. I recognized none of His foreshadowing until weeks after He came to me on a March evening in 2000 with a mission I so desperately wanted to decline, when He came to harvest the seeds He had planted throughout my life.
When I invariably go AWOL. He comes after me. "Remember, Debbie," He whispers, "Remember how perfect MY PLAN is?" I do! His plan brought me Roma. And a sure knowledge of God. Although we know His plan is always best, we fear what His Plan will ultimately cost us. But the conscious AWARENESS of God is worth the cost. His revelation of Himself is stunning.
A wise young friend, Megan, gave me this verse yesterday, and as so often happens, it came up mysteriously in my reading this morning.
"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." Deuteronomy 29:29
I am eternally grateful.
I am eternally grateful.