Thursday, September 21, 2017

God in the Details

Part 11, Day 5

Before I get into our story of the fifth day, the day we were going to meet Liana and her family, I will back up a few weeks to first tell another story.

I wanted to take gifts to Roma's family members I was finally meeting in person.  What do you give people you've never met? As an artist, I could think of one way I could share myself. I painted small rocks, a popular American art form. Here are some of them. 

For Liana, Roma's sister, I decided I would paint a small, 8x10 inch portrait of Roma. I surveyed friends to decide whether to "return" Roma to Liana as the precious little boy she remembered, or as the handsome young man with whom she would never be reunited.  They agreed that I should take him back as he had left, as the sweet, smiley boy she was so devoted to.

I chose my favorite photo of him, as an eight year old, half a year older than when Liana had last seen him, in 2002. I couldn't decide on a background. Suddenly I decided on a scene from Georgia I had seen while investigating Roma's ancestral home. I had sent some of his ashes to be buried beside his father, and traveling there to meet his family, I decided a Georgian scene made sense, at least to me.

In my investigations of the Republic of Georgia, one picture kept coming up. I was drawn to the mysterious image of an ancient hilltop church. I hoped it held some significance to their family, or at the very least, it was a recognized national symbol for Georgia.  I convinced myself it would work.

I studied lots of internet images of the fabled fourteenth century structure that sat isolated atop of a 7,000 foot mountain, surrounded by a veiled, sacred vastness with even higher mountains for the backdrop.

The photo I chose had clouds. I normally don't like to paint clouds. As I struggled with their realism, Bruce suggested I leave them out. "They look to stripe-y. Too straight across," he critiqued.  Headstrong, I was determined to persevere.  Finally satisfied, I wrapped it in pink rose paper, and slipped it in a gift bag for Liana. 

Fast forward a few weeks, and Misha and Lia were picking us up on the morning of June 8 to head to our next adventure. On this day, we were traveling to meet Liana who was also traveling from Russia.

I could tell by the way Lia's eyes danced when she said the word "Kazbegi" that the region was special to her.  During this highly anticipated and emotional drive to meet Roma's sister, my eyes leaked for most of the three hour trip. According to Roma's stories, Liana, ten years his senior, was a doting and stable figure for him in his turbulent childhood. She had loved him well. Her love had taught him how to love and trust others, which made his transition with us in 2002 easy. He understood family; he knew how to love and bond.

During the drive, I recalled the joy in finally locating Liana in the last days of 2014, and the heart wrenching message I had to send her less than a year later. Our plans to reunite the long-lost siblings, separated almost thirteen years, was not to be.

Not only had I grieved for Roma the past one year, six months, and two days, I had grieved for Liana, and then Lia, his father's first cousin, when I became aware of the extended closenknit family. A family who I had grown to love and respect from our first awkward translations on, Russia's social media. My favorite blog posts were sharing this unbelievable and wonderful news. Read the story beginning with Hope for Restoration.

photo from my window
On our way to meet Liana. I glanced over at Lia, now seated beside me in the back seat, who smiled back at me through her own tears. Lia understood. Sweet Lia was wearing pink roses to honor my love of the now sacred-to-me flower. They were on her shirt and on her black canvas shoes. I reached out and squeezed her hand, so wishing there was no language barrier, and we could just chat freely, yet thankful for universal languages, like smiles and tears. 

We stopped at a couple of sites along the way. Another beautiful church, and an impressive overlook at the astounding beauty of the snowcapped mountains. The air chilled as we headed north and into the mountains. We stopped to climb up on a glacier, my first. I never imagined Georgia, only twice the size of the small state of Maryland, would have so many varied attractions. 


Lia in rose shirt and shoes. <3 

When we finally pulled off the road up to the little pink cottage in the rural village, my heart  pounded. When I saw Liana, my leaky eyes gushed, seeing this beauty who had lovingly and sacrificially cared for her little brother, my youngest son.  All eyes were on us, as we embraced. I shared that meeting on Facebook later, and apparently, we weren't  the only ones crying.

Another cousin of Igor, Roma's father, is an English teacher nearby, and translated for us. As we ate lunch, this cousin, I can't recall her name, listened to Lia, Liana, and the other Russian and Georgian speakers tell her the story. I knew they were talking about Roma, our adoption, and other details, because often they would gesture to us, as if we understood they foreign words. The translators eyes would fill with tears as she listened, probably for the first time, to the story. Then she turned to Bruce and me,  visibly touched, and said, "You hear stories like this, but you don't expect them to happen in your own family." I certainly related to that sentiment.

After lunch, we sat and the translator made it possible to share our thoughts. Liana shared her heartbreaking memory of when she went to say her final goodbye to Roma in 2002, as the orphanage officials told her she could, yet when she arrived, he was already gone. Understandably heartbroken and angry, she demanded to know why. They told her that his new family, us, showed up early and insisted on taking him early. It was a lie. We were actually surprised the morning our new son was delivered to our host family's door two days before the court date. Our adoption agency had told us we would take him after our court appearance when Roma would officially become our son, and not before. I was sad to see so much pain in Liana's eyes as she relived the devastating memory. Perhaps they had done it to spare the siblings the agony the separation would cause. I'll never know. They had also had her write out a statement relinquishing all rights to her brother. That seemed an unneccesary cruelty, since she had no power, and she tortured herself for years for turning him over to the orphanage.Her signed form was a formality. She spoke to the translator passionately. "He wasn't an orphan. He had a mother and a father. They distracted me away, and took him. They had no right to take him."

We all closed our eyes, and exhaled in unison, fighting against the assault of a fifteen year old memory of a then-seventeen-year-old girl who had no control over a helpless situation. Even our driver, Misha, was wiping his tears.

When those of us around the table had cleared our minds of tortuous memories, I offered Liana my gift bags.

I had University of North Carolina NCAA championship tee shirts for Liana's boys, ages seven and nine. I was confident Roma would want his nephews to have shirts of his favorite college team. I brought his NY Yankee baseball cap and a few other sports jerseys in his private and cherished collection.

I had a painted rock with a pink rose. "This is for your mother," I mentioned the person who was never mentioned. There were understandably complicated feelings surrounding this woman who I will never know, the one who had given birth to Roma and Liana, and two other lost children. The room felt awkward at the reference of her. "Please tell her that Roma forgave her. And I know he would like her to forgive herself." I had a Russian friend translate my story about the meaning of the pink rose, and had printed it off and enclosed  a copy with each gift. I wanted Marina, Roma's mother, to think of the miracle and see God every time she saw a pink rose.

When Liana opened Roma's portrait, our translator looked at me strangely and asked, "How do you know about this place?" She pointed to the background, the church. I explained that I had seen it on the internet and was drawn to the image.

I didn't know the name of that church I painted in the background, or its location, when the painting started taking shape weeks earlier. On this afternoon, June 8, 2017, a year and a half after Roma left us all, here on a Sacred pilgrimage, sitting with people who shared his DNA, and who were never really strangers, I would learn that Gergeti Trinity Church was in the region of Kazbegi,  miles from where we sat in Liana's little pink cottage with pink roses on the tablecloth, on the curtains, on the bedspread, on her dishes. Unknown to us, our afternoon plan involved driving to the church of my painting's background.

Kazbegi was the home of the Sudzhashvilis.  It had been Roma's last name, and we kept that name for his middle name. Many of the cousins still live in the village. Our translator's family business in part was driving tourists to the elevated peak where the church set. The church I had painted in ignorance was our destination on this sacred day of meeting Liana, in a region from where Roma's family had originated. It all made perfect sense, in the usual way God shows up and shows off in my God-Stories, excitedly told, yet pale in comparison of His greatness.

While we waited for an available vehicle for the assent, we drove around the village. When we returned, Igor's cousins and aunt had prepared a meal for us. As the translator told the story to her mother and brother, I found a photo of Roma on my phone to show them the cousin they would never meet, but would undoubtedly have loved. The brother looked briefly at a strangely familiar young man smiling back, and he almost recoiled from the image. He handed it back to me quickly, and waved me away as his tears overtook him, the red rims emphasizing his green eyes, the color of Roma's. It was too much like Igor, he told his sister. He couldn't see any more photos. Lia had once told me Igor seemed "doomed from the beginning." Now his son had met a tragic end too, and dredging up all the sadness was too much for the big man who had played with Igor as a child.

In late afternoon, we got into the four-wheel drive vehicle to make the half-hour drive of steep switchbacks to the top. Looking down out of my window, I could see the rough, rocky paths we had just traversed far below. There were no guard rails to hem us in. Occasionally there were stretches of impotent barbed wire to hold us on the road. I wondered if any carfuls ever slipped off the road and down the side of the sleep mountain. When we were almost to the top, my Fitbit signaled that I had walked 10,000 steps, many of those recorded were from being jostled on the road to the summit. Although I thought of all the dangers we could face, I never had a single fear.

Once we all unloaded from three-seat Mitsubishi, and walked to the summit, there was a hushed holiness shrouding the fourteenth century church and grounds. Surprisingly, we had the place almost to selves. I imagined the impossibility of bringing building materials to this height with no modern technology. It was a dramatically cloudy afternoon. It had a clear feel of sacredness,  almost like an electric charge was in the air. The silence had a sound of its own. The immense mountains looked not so far away until you looked down and saw the tiny villages dottting the far-off valleys. It was hard to take it all in. We walked the grounds and inside the church. We took photos. But the most remarkable sight was what was happening in the sky.

Notice the tiny houses below that look like rocks.

The lighting was dramatic

"Look at the clouds," I pointed, calling to Bruce. I leaned in close to my husband, under his arm as a shield against the late afternoon, altitude, and miracle chill. Yes, God was there. So close.  The "stripe-y" clouds that were in my painting, clouds I had agonized over and refused the easy-way impulse to leave them out, had gradually formed themselves in "stripe-y" patterns. right in our majestic view. Only God! 

Here is a link to a video I found on the internet  that reveals the spirit of lovely Kazbegi. Put it on your bucket list! 

Another internet video. Next time, maybe we'll walk up! 

I'll share another story that ran concurrent with this one, but I couldn't write them at the same time. Each deserve their own sacred space. 

Thanks for reading.

Continue with Oh, How He Loves Me. His great love continues to astound me! 

Dont miss the exciting and heart breaking stories about finding this lovely family. Begin with Hope for Restoration. 

Many Roma and God Stories begin with The Hound of Heaven Winks. 

Writing through my grief begins here with The Agony. But don't stop there, or you'll miss the miracles! 

Readers can start at the beginning of our story by reading But the Greatest of These is Love.

Be blessed. Even in the pain, I feel like I have lived something Sacred. 

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