Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Gift

Anna, a New Zealand native living in The Netherlands, stumbled upon my blog on Google three years ago and started followiong along as we were finding Roma's birth family. We have become friends along this life's journey. She invitited me to be a team member of her new website, Beloved Prodigals. What an honor to write today's post. Enjoy. Everyone knows a prodigal.


Find my latest blog post, The Gift,  at Beloved Prodigal. https://belovedprodigal.com/2017/12/24/the-gift/


Saturday, November 11, 2017

God's Secret Agent


Sixteen years ago, on November 8th, 2001, I drove to a church in Frederick, MD to pick up a little visitor. The mysterious little stranger had come with four other Russian children for a week long hosting opportunity through a Frederick adoption center. It was almost risk free, because there was no obligation to adopt. I kept reminding myself of that assurance--"No obligation to adopt." The adoption center had made that clear, easing my fear. They wanted host families to bring these children over so they could get to know them better in order to place them in forever homes. I was hoping that might be in someone else's family.

But God had shocked me a year and a half earlier with an unmistakable, and at first, a very unwelcome, CALL to adoption. I was terrified as I entered the side door of the church's basement. God must have laughed at my fear, for He knew it was a perfect match. God sent His Secret Agent, Roma, to ROCK. MY. WORLD. As Roma invaded our lives that week, and in the fourteen years that followed, and continues to this day, a God more REAL than I had previously known slipped in too. We thought God wanted us to save a little boy, but God used Roma to save us.

By the evening of Noveember 14th, the day that smiley boy got back on a jet taking him back to Russia, I had surrendered that battle to the Lord. I knew Roma was Hand-picked for us. In April, 2002, we flew to Russia to bring our God-given son home. My personal faith journey that had begun in March of 2000, when God whispered "adoption" to my shocked and unreceptive heart, was about to become intense and authentic. And marked by JOY. And even challenges that grew my faith and trust in God. 

The video below is of that week's visit. It begins the first time I laid eyes on the boy who would forever change so many lives. This little Secret Agent had my heart at the 58 second mark. Advance to the 13:30 mark to see how the assertive little guy initiated his new prospective famiy over the next few days.  See the look at delight at the 18:30 , and enjoy Roma's contageous laughter at the 22:00 mark. How could one child who had endured a rough start to life contain so much Joy?  And have so much to give away? Only God can do that! 


I am thankful, even in grief, because I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6. I am SURE of this. Praise God for that Blessed Assurance. He is close to the broken hearted. 

                                                                           Enjoy!  





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

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


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. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Oh, How He Loves Me!

Part 12, continued from God in the Details.


I've previously introduced readers to Misha, our driver and tour guide while visiting the Republic of Georgia. Misha replaced our first tour guide we had lined up, just days before we left on our sacred pilgrimage to meet Roma's family. (If you haven't read the linked stories, they are a must for understanding and seeing God more clearly. And pointing to God is THE purpose of my stories.)

We first noticed similarities between Roma and Misha's driving. The excessive speed, the impulsive passing.  Both treating a Toyota van as a sports car. Then we observed a similar big heart. During our week together, we noticed that Misha seemed to know  people wherever we traveled, a trait that mystified us about Roma. If he, and similarly Misha, didn't know them, he was chatting with strangers, introducing himself, making himself known. And Misha was "spiritual." Misha never failed to cross himself when entering a church, and kissing the images of Mary and Jesus. He excitedly bought  an icon of a Saint to add to his collection for his home wall reserved for icons of faith. Read more about Misha in this playful "warning" about his driving. And more about Misha here.


On the third day, I looked up from my vantage point in the back seat and suddenly I saw it. Everything became clear, and I almost laughed out loud from the sheer JOY of recognizing God at work. God surely has a sense of humor. But before I tell you, dear reader, what it was, you have to read a little further.

When we traveled to the holy ground of  Kazbegi on day five to meet Liana, three hours from Tbilisi, Misha learned more of Roma's story from our conversations translated by an English-speaking cousin. Misha was often moved to tears hearing Liana's stories of her little brother being ripped from his family, a beloved little brother who she repeated was NOT an orphan, who had a mother and a father.

Liana might not have recognized like Bruce and I did that Roma's best advocate and protector was this loving sister standing in our midst, who, in 2002, was a month away from being an adult when he vanished from her life. A month later she could have be granted guardian rights and financial help with her minor brother. Her reaction to the calculation of the enemy, and her pain and loss and resentment was reasonable.

We shared all we knew with them while we had a capable translator. We answered all their questions. The new knowledge of the exorbitant costs of adoption seemed to have confirmed the corruption they had suspected. Liana poured herself out remembering her days before and after Roma disappeared. We shared the story from our limited understanding of what was going behind the manipulated scenes. Oh, the tears of knowing.

Misha's and my red eyes met, and I whispered, "Tragic, isn't it?"

"Yes," he wiped his leaky eyes, reflecting, "yes, tragic."

Liana shared that she could not think of her little brother as dead. She often thought of him as still living, enjoying life, over there. I told her that I didn't think of Roma as dead (Oh how I still hate that word) but always thought of him on another adventure, the grandest one on his long list of big adventures. 


Then everyone scattered to tend to another meal, or take a breath from the outpouring of grief, Misha and I found ourselves alone, overlooking the vast, stunning view from the back yard of Liana's pink cottage, talking about our pilgrimage, these family members who until five days ago, I did not know in person, the brokenness of the world, and the celebrity of Roma, behind our trip.

Sweet Misha looked at me again with tears brimming. "I never knew Roma, but I "lahve" (love) him."

"Yes, you would have certainly loved Roma, Misha. Everyone did," I answered, rretrieving my phone from my pocket. I found the photo and eagerly showed it to Misha, knowing it was time.

Misha looked at the photograph, then quickly at me, his eyebrows knitted with clear confusion.

"You're like Roma!" I said excitedly as my voice cracked.

Animated Misha grabbed me suddenly and hugged me tight, as the tears of understanding ran down his cheeks.  And mine.

How good is God to change our driver so late, and replace him with someone so like Roma, to drive us all over our Sacred Pilgrimage. God gave me a glimpse of what Roma would be like as a 38 year old. And it was good.

So, on this late afternoon of long shadows, in a place I could never imagined I would be, with a story only God could write, in the yard of a family with whom I was everlastingly linked, I was overcome by pure joy. I felt Roma's warmth and smile and could sense God say, "See how much I love you?"

Yes, gratefully, I do!



This photo is not Roma, but Misha, who from the front, has no resemblance to Roma. But from my seat for the week, was very much like Roma. What a comfort to feel God and Roma everywhere on this Sacred Pilgrimage. 

Yes, I am am blessed, And thankful. 







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. 


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 VK.com, 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. 







Vardzia and Akhaltsikhe






Part Ten, Day Four


Our first stop on day four was at Vardzia, a massive cave monastery in southern Georgia.  It is written that Vardzia was built in the late 14th century after 10,000 Turkish troops marched into Georgia but were defeated by a bold Georgian army of only 2,000 men.  There are only 750 rooms remainting of the original 3,000, after an earthquake in 1283. Until the earthquake, the caves had been previously hidden completely underground until it lost its surface rock.  The caves stretch along the cliff for over 1600 feet and up to nineteen tiers. The Church of the Dormitian dates to the 1180s, when most of the cave dwellings were excavated by order of Queen Tamar, also referred to as King Tamar. The intricate complex could once house 50,00o people, The Mongols from nearby Turkey were a constant threat, and the site was mostly abandoned in the sixteenth century after the Ottoman invasion. 










Internet photo of pharmacy








This video is a good guided tour of the astounding network of caves that once contained 3000 interconnected chambers and tunnels. It also contains information about Akhaltsikhe, our second stop of the day. 





Well groomed and restored 13th century city of Akhasltsikhe.









Day Five, we travel to meet Roma's sister as she and her family travel south across the formidable Caucasus Mountains from Russia.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading! Please continue to Part Eleven, to meet Roma's sister, Liana! God in the Details. YES HE WAS!




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.