Friday, November 14, 2014

Until we meet again

Last month I said farewell to my bravest hero, my most passionate fan, my fiercest champion. My first and best friend.

My sweet mother passed peacefully into her reward on October 10, 2014. But I will not say I lost my mother. No, my dear mother is not lost! I know exactly where she is!

At the Hospice Home in Burlington, NC, my mother walked through the thin, invisible veil that separates the two worlds, and into her Eternal Home. The veil did not seem invisible to the angels who work in Hospice care. Their testimonies and Mother's faith made the veil more "visible" to me.

For her last three days of life, I traveled from Maryland to be with "Honey," a name given to her by my second daughter, her third grandchild. Kellie was simply repeating what my dear step father had called her. Even though the first two grandchildren called her "Grandmommy" for their first verbal year, "Honey" stuck. It was a perfect name for this gentle Southern lady, and she adored it. Over the years we all called her "Honey" too.

The devoted nurses and staff at Hospice Home confidently visited her room to interpret the signs for us. The most common observation was, "She is 'very peaceful.'" After hearing the description repeated often, almost as a unexpected surprise, I asked if they often saw otherwise during their care for the terminally ill. Oh yes, they had seen fear and anger. I recalled my grandfather, a very private man who died when I was 17. As he lay unconscious and dying in the hospital, we heard indistinguishable groans of agony, terror, and even rage directed at some thing, invisible to us. In contrast, my mother lay there, beautifully tranquil, having left nothing unsaid or unresolved. "She has one foot in this world, and the other in the next," observed one nurse. She took that final step from this flawed, physical realm patiently. I wondered what she must be encountering on the journey to Heaven.

On our previous visit, three weeks earlier, she had gently attempted to prepare me for the inevitable, "Now Darlin', if I die in my sleep, I want you to be happy for me." I assured her that I would, since I plan on a future reunion. So, I was happy for her when she departed with a peace that calmed us all, even the nurses on her death watch, twelve days before her 86th birthday. It would have been selfish to be sad for her. This world is not our home. Death is the most inevitable and unavoidable part of life.

And hers was a beautiful death.

She had always loved the Lord—she shared once that she had felt like a special "pet" of God's. She felt his love so strongly even as a young child. I could recognize her pure God-Love, even when I was very young, as she prayed with us kids as we knelt beside our bed at night in our little apartment. They were intimate friends, my mother and God. She had learned early to trust Him, and learned that He was worthy of her trust.

Her life had not been an easy one. She had grown up during the Depression. Her parents worked in textile mills. They didn't stay married for long. Still she thought of her childhood as a blessed and happy time. Her sickly mother, older sister, Jean, my future mother, little Nell went to live with a relative. (By the way, "Nell" is pronounced "nail" in North Carolina,  but in the South we stretch it out a tad, to two syllables!)  She was smart and excelled in school, achieving the award of Salutatorian of her class at graduation, but there was no money for college, and no expectation to alter the circumstances.

Her first child died at birth. Three more babies followed, me being the middle. My father left the family when I was five. My mother worked hard to support us, and although I am sure we would have qualified for public assistance, my proud mother wouldn't consider it, choosing to model the best example she could for us, trusting God to make a way.  She eventually made a decent living with the Federal Government. Slowly she climbed the ladder to a position as a quality control inspector for military contracts. She gave God the glory for every promotion and advancement. Even though we never owned our own home and had little money for extras, I remember her sharing with a less fortunate neighbor, a single mother of twins. And she always tithed at church, where she was the forth grade Sunday school teacher for a million years. She didn't complain. She didn't gossip. She didn't envy. She had a spirit of love and gratitude. Her life was her testimony of how much God loved her in return.

I remember men calling and her curt response was always, "I don't date." She put her children first considering us an extravagant Gift from God. When I was in college, thanks to a community scholarship, she met and married my dear step father, through an intervention by God Himself. She was confident of that it was a Divine match! We couldn't argue once we got to know this dear, Godly widower, who considered himself so blessed to have been Matched with his adorable new wife. Honey said a faith-filled farewell to Nathan who died in 2008.

I spent my quiet nights at Hospice Home with my mother's life flashing before me. I often imagined Nathan on the other side of the veil with his arms held wide, eager for the reunion. During the three days and nights I spent there,  I grew close to the staff. Did they talk this boldly with others who might not share their faith? And they ALL had a considerable faith. Anyone who works so close to the veil, must see beyond it at times. Even the cleaning lady, 68-year-old Barbara, preached love to my sister and me as we counted down the hours. Leaning on her dust mop on one side, and moving it to the other when her topics of revelation changed, occasionally running it over the shiny floor, still talking about the God she knew so well, occasionally breaking into a hymn.  Barbara was a beautiful, spiritual black woman, rich in Testimony for the Glory of God. She too had known hard times. But not anymore. She had been wooed away from employment of a former family into Hospice care when her gifts of compassion and wisdom were discovered. She and my mother would have been good friends. I brought out a photo of my mother so Barbara could tell me how beautiful she was. Yes she was, on the outside of that already diminishing body and on the inside. Her soul is eternal.

In the past few weeks, I have often picked up the phone to share some news with her, only to remember that she is not there. I have many messages that will go forever unerased from my phone of her sweet, animated, ageless, Southern voice.

I have realized what a blessing and honor it was, and will always continue to be, to have a mother of faith. I had a mother who prayed for us children, for our families and friends, even for our enemies. The legacy she leaves us is a priceless treasure. My mother served the role as mother and father. She was the nurturer, the affirmer, the disciplinarian, and the confidante, the teacher and preacher, the never-tiring prayer warrior, the sweet, warm, and welcoming grandmother and great grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend. I have huge shoes to fill! But I had an awesome teacher!

Until we meet again, sweet Honey.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Prodigals, every one

"Consider it all Joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

The past couple years have been a season of trials. I am learning perseverance. By most standards, "JOY" should not be the first word to describe these experiences, and yet I have experienced remarkable JOY! One important lesson I have learned — Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the Presence of the Most High God. In this period of testing and, yes, even suffering, God's powerful presence has sustained me and brought me to a new level of faith. I am grateful. 

One reader recently messaged me after reading the Hound of Heaven Winks series of posts, "It's stories like these that make me say 'how do people say God doesn't exist?'" So, if my shared stories help people "see" God, I will keep sharing them.

Storytelling. Sharing our testimony. I have been given more than my share of "interesting" material for powerful storytelling! And even instructed, in a dream, to "write all this down." I strive to be obedient to that command. 

My ways are not God's ways, nor my thoughts His thoughts, so I am so thankful that Jesus told stories for illustration, instruction, and illumination. I am grateful that he shared The Parable of the Prodigal Son. 

In The Parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15:11-32, the earthly father does not go after the spoiled, ungrateful son. Unceremoniously, he lets him go. No wringing hands or anxious pleading. No angry threats, no condemnation, or recrimination. 

I have a wise friend, Dave, who always taps his forehead enthusiastically when I share my prodigal stories. "Their brains are not fully functioning. The frontal cortex is not completely grown until they are in their mid twenties," Dave offers an explanation to which I eagerly cling!

And there are new studies revealing evidence of Dave's assertion.  

I have no power to speed the clock. I have no control. I do have power to influence as the clock ticks, but I must be careful how I deliver that precious and powerful tool of influence. It has to be wrapped in unconditional love.

Until that frontal cortex is mysteriously set, (and I suspect I'll recognize some signs)  I often imagine I am talking to a blob of gray clay as I communicate with the young people in my life. Great potential exists in gray matter, as in gray clay. I'm sure it is no accident that God is often called the Potter, and we, the clay. 

As a sculptor myself, I must resist the urge to grab that potential masterpiece sprawled before me and slam it on the table, as I might a real blob of clay (I assure the reader this is a genuine technique called "wedging" and has a purpose!) Sculpting, as "influence," is tedious and delicate work requiring patience. I must be reminded of this. Daily. Hourly.  

Now, back to Jesus' powerful parable. . .

 The father, knowing he had no power to control his self-centered son, lets him go. And in verse 17, (a verse I must have overlooked in previous readings) Jesus said, "Then he (the son) came to his senses."  Hmm . . .  (The frontal cortex element?) God created and understands the workings of these complex organs. The "inevitability" of this step rings true to me. It is part of the process! For all involved. It is in the process that we are transformed! The father didn't say goodbye and then forget about his son. Or even lose hope that he will return. The father never stopped scanning the distant landscape for the boy he prayed would appear on the horizon. Verse 20b reads, "While he was still far away, the father saw him."  

About a year a half years ago, I had a sudden premonition of impending suffering. I have never been prone to depression, so this dark cloud came as a surprise to me. Every perseverance-building incident that has happened during that time, I ask God, "Is this it?, is this what You've warned me about?" hoping that this not-so-horrible experience might be why God issued His warning. I am thankful for His "heads up." He knew these challenges would come, and He is merciful and loving enough to warn me about it, instead of allowing me to be blind-sided. And He has promised to never leave me. That comfort transcends any pain.

That recurring feeling of coming trials also came with a "Prodigal Son" Sacred Echo, leading me to to seek wisdom in all things "prodigal." Prodigal is defined as an adjective meaning "carelessly and foolishly spending money, time, etc."  Another surprising definition is "yielding abundantly." Tim Keller used this definition in his best seller, The Prodigal God

Another important book heightened my perspective, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen. Maybe since I am an artist, I related to Priest and author Nouwen's chance encounter with a wall poster of the famous Rembrandt painting by the same name. Nouwen was struck by the hands of the father. His was a powerful spiritual journey. Aren't they all?

Neuwen recognized his own role as all the players in the drama. First, as the younger son, he searches where "It" cannot be found. Then, as the arrogant older brother, he has been judgmental, vengeful, and unforgiving. And finally as the father, Neuwen knows he must be the welcoming, forgiving, loving father. 

I like to think I was never the "younger brother" in this story. Being an introvert who is averse to conflict and a "rule follower," I never left home to satisfy a wild temperament. Then there are those less prideful moments when I recognize those little signs that I had, indeed, "left Home."  I also confess that I have suffered from the arrogant attitude of the older brother who was resentful of the return to glory of an undeserving "brother." I have also fallen short when I was called to be the spiritually mature "father" who didn't hold grudges, who forgave, and who loved unconditionally. 

I see it as progress. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, "When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less." 

I pray that my eyes be open to my own wretched shortcomings in this unfolding drama, this remarkable journey, remembering that our Gracious God redeems all of it.  

The next post will shift into another surprising God story. I am so happy to share the first part of the Family Connection series, Hope for Restoration. A must read. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Brothers Karamazov

I read The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky a couple of years ago. A 800 page, 19th century Russian epic novel is not usually my cup of tea, but when the title kept coming up on lists of must-reads for Christians, I was curious.

The staggering number of characters and plots is dizzying. Between the three brothers alone, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei/Alyosha, they have a whopping 14 nicknames. Then there is the other brother, Smerdyakav, the illegitimate one. Paragraphs can run on for eight pages! It is not an easy read. I found myself flipping back to remember who was who, and wishing some capable contemporary author would take on the daunting task of updating the behemoth, tidying the subplots, quickening the pace, getting to the point already, modernizing the paperweight!  But I slogged through! In the months that it has taken me to process the book, the reward has come.

More than a few have called The Brothers the greatest novel ever written. Read some excellent reviews here. The book has power. Soviet dissidents in the Soviet Union in the 1970's gave much credit to Dostoevsky and his contemporary, Leo Tolstoy, for their spiritual curiosity in an age of atheistic philosophy in the USSR.

One reviewer on Goodreads writes, "It's hard not to wish that one had such bizarre events going on around one in order to prompt such lofty oratory." His words reminded me of my own remarkable events this summer, summarized in my posts starting with The Hound of Heaven Winks. With the heart highs and lows of the continuing story of my own "Dmitri," it is surprising that JOY is the overarching emotion. Joy is not the absence of suffering but the mighty Presence of God! God continues to show up!

Although the two authors never met, Tolstoy was critical of the younger Dostoevsky, perhaps jealous, but was rumored to have kept a copy of The Brothers on his bedside table.

Before you rush out and buy it, I'll warn you, it isn't for everyone. I repeat, It is not an easy read! It has been called a murder mystery, but the mystery is solved a few chapters in. Dmitri, the eldest is accused of his father's murder. He is arrogant, but not unlikable. Then there is cold, intellectual Ivan. The youngest brother, Alexei/ Alyosha is called the hero at the beginning of the story by the narrator, but he doesn't seem to do anything heroic, by the world's standards.   And mysterious Smerdyakav. Four brothers from a rich and despicable father, Fyodor Karamazov. The book was actually intended to be the first of a trilogy. The next installment was to follow the brothers to America. But Dostoevski died four months after The Brothers was published.

The sheer mass of this book had been almost prohibitive for me, and being a slow reader, I felt like I could have lived the story as fast as it took me to read it. And that was one of the  points. As one night in the story symbolically turns into morning, the message of the book dawned on me. The characters changed not nearly as fast as I would have liked. So too, in life. The change came slow and with some emotional sting involved. I continue to think about the characters. And not until I looked back on the story does it continue to change me. I want to be like Alyosha. I strive to be like Alyosha. He is the hero.

"Life is a journey" has become a cliche. But the Power of the Universe keeps nudging us back to the High Road of this journey. We wander off, He comes after us. It is a Supernatural experience. Pay attention and experience the JOY of the journey.

If you can get through The Brother's Karamazov, it just might change your life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Light Bulb Power

Summer has a way of distracting me from quiet, introverted activities, such as writing blog posts. Although life has not paused, we have enjoyed a few weeks of peace.

Roma has been home a month from his adventure in Idaho. Quick recap:

First week, he stayed home, reconnecting with friends, readjusting to house rules after four months with no rules.

Week two we spent together, en route to and from Atlanta.

Home again for the third week, Roma continues to struggle with house rules.

Week four he was in Pittsburgh, PA with our church youth group for work camp, repairing houses.

Building his character, his humility, his gratitude, his faith, and his testimony!

Am I waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop? Maybe, but I am also celebrating a season of relative calm. Calm before the next storm? Maybe, but God reminds me that tomorrow will have it's own worries. I will not "go there" today!

If you are a new reader, you should at least go back to The Hound of Heaven Winks and read all the newer posts from that point. My wish is that each post reads like a continuing story, like a chapter in a novel. Maybe one day there will be a sequel to But the Greatest of These is Love. Roma is more than eager to be a colorful, engaging character who diligently strives to create interesting drama!

More on our trip to Atlanta: On Sunday, July 13, Roma and I headed south, first stopping for two nights in North Carolina to visit friends and family. On Tuesday, we continued to Atlanta for two nights for a court appearance on Wednesday for his arrest for "disorderly conduct," which is, by the way, a "city ordinance," and does not affect his clean criminal record. He does, however, owe me $350 for his fine.

For me, the highlight of this trip to Atlanta was the opportunity to meet two very dear Sisters in Christ who had previously been dear Facebook friends, Nancy and Beth. Such JOY in meetings those two Godly women who God had clearly placed in Roma's and my paths!

We stayed an extra night in Atlanta so Roma could attend the Wednesday night service for young adults at Passion City Church. He had met friends there with whom he wanted to reconnect. In the "Oval," outside the theater, is a wall with light bulb sockets creating the words, "Jesus is Life." On his last visit before he left for Idaho, Roma lit one of those light bulbs. Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City, talks about those lights, starting about the 11:00 mark, and mentions Roma's name, at the 15:00.

Once home from Atlanta, as Roma was again struggling to live in a house with rules, I frantically read a book, Losing Control and Liking It, How to Set Your Teen (and Yourself) Free. I only have a teen in our house for a few days, so I am reading fast! I would recommend it, but start before your child is a teen!

God is clearly after Roma. So I wait for the Supernatural Work of the Holy Spirit. Losing Control reminds me I have no control over Roma and his choices, and I do not have to take responsibility for them. They are his. Mine are mine. I have "influence" but not "control." How can I best exercise my influence? By loving him and continuing to "be there." I see growth. I celebrate every victory. It is a process. God is in control and continues to make me aware that He wants His job back!

Starting in my next post, I might change the name of a certain character in my ongoing saga, the protagonist who is also sometimes the antagonist, in order to protect the guilty. I think I will name my new young, lovable, exciting, and sometimes exasperating character Dmitri, after a brother in Fyodor Dostoevsky's magnum opus, The Brothers Karamazov.  The Main Character will remain the same—God! Read some of the reviews on Goodreads. An 800 page, 18th century Russian epic novel might not be your cup of tea, but the book has staying power. It influenced intellectual Soviet dissidents in the 1970s, sparking interest in spiritual matters—taboo topics in the former Soviet Bloc.

Dostoevsky wrote that each of the three brothers described his own faith journey's steps.
Dmitri, the self-centered, happy-go-lucky eldest brother is not a bad guy, but he makes poor choices.
Ivan, the middle son, is an intellectual atheist.
Aloysha, the youngest, is a man of considerable faith, the "hero" of the story, as the narrator points out in the opening chapter.

You will read the next 790 pages paying attention to learn why Alosha is the hero.

Read more about Fyodor Dostoevsky in this post, Powerful Literature.

Roma's light in lower right corner in the "F" of LIFE
Would readers like a more tumultuous update like the past several posts?  Those are the stories that "write themselves." They give me chills to live, write, and read. Those are the exciting ones. But life is not always exciting. Not always a mountaintop experience. Sometimes we dwell in the valleys. Most of the time. God is no less present in the valleys.

Roma has had experiences in his short life that are becoming part of his testimony. My testimony too! He has plugged his light bulb into the Source, and witnessed the results. That knowledge is powerful! Will his light always shine bright? No. Sometimes we move too far from the Source of Power. But we remember where the Source is when we long for that Power. If we could only understand the Divine Pull and comprehend God's infinite love for us, and the lengths to which He is willing to go to bring us back to that Source.

I don't often "get it." How could I expect "Dmitri" to understand.

Thanks for tuning in! Keep praying!

Continue with Prodigals, Every One, here. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Building a Palace

The last series of posts beginning with The Hound of Heaven Winks, garnered a lot of page views, shares, private messages, emails, and teary phone calls. And I'm sure many kind people kept their opinions to themselves when they thought I'd lost my mind or joined a cult! One expressed concern was that I have been too open about my son's private life. Perhaps I share too much. But I share to the Glory of a loving God who I want to make visible.

The calls of encouragement and thanks I received far outnumbered the ones I interpreted as assessing my insanity. After all, I was writing about "spiritual warfare"! Angels and demons! Casting out demons! You know, stuff Jesus talked about! 

Many readers have asked, and yes, Roma made the trip to Idaho, the build up to which was documented in the previous posts. The journey to Idaho was a divine arrangement by a miraculous act of a merciful, gracious, active, persistent, and supernatural God, and servants of God who answered the Call along the way. Every experience Roma has lived adds to his growing testimony that I pray he will one day share. Will it be soon? Or must he endure many more stories of how God found him as he was running away or bouncing along in the pit of hell? I don't know. Roma is only 19. 

Did I understand at 19? I might have thought did. I grew up in the church. I did all the "right" things, for the most part. I never doubted God's existence. However, I didn't know I was asleep in the faith, comfortably just coasting along. I was shaken awake in my fourth decade with an experience I describe as the "scales falling off my eyes." I had been blind, but suddenly I could see! I didn't understand then that it is a process that continues throughout life. Powerful readings, conversations, and experiences have peeled additional layers of scales back on a regular basis over the years. Every time God reveals a new bit of His Truth to me, I become more curious and thirsty for more Living Water. To know and love God, and to make Him real to others has become my life's greatest desire. 

When I was experiencing my born-again epiphany, a trusted friend who knew what I was going through sent me an article that led me to a book that resonated with me. I wrote about it in my post, Quantum Change. The book by the same name is not about "religion," it is a psychology book. Check it out. I am convinced what I experienced 14 years ago was indeed a Quantum Change, where my priorities changed through no effort of my own and I met God for the first time in a powerful, intimate, life-changing way. 

I have prayed for this kind of life-changing experience for my children and everyone I pray for! I didn't deserve it. I didn't go looking for it, because I didn't know I needed it or that it was even possible.  It was an extravagant Gift from God that I initially tried to reject.  

So I circle back, as always, to the God who relentlessly pursues us. All the time.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: "Christ says, 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good . . .Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.'"

What are humans, that God is mindful of us? I ask myself this question all the time. We know what God wants from us.We are most often not having any part of it, so we keep running! We wander off, God comes after us, offering His best. We are always wondering how painful God's best for us will turn out to be.

I wish I could paraphrase C.S. Lewis, but no one can express ideas like he can, so I will end with another quote from Mere Christianity,

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself."

We would be wise to let Him have His way!

Continue with Light Bulb Power

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Angels and Demons, part two

My last post ended with me in a state of near hopelessness, for the first time ever. Roma seemed to be lost in a haze of evil. I couldn't reach him. He didn't want to be reached. I went to bed Sunday night despondent and crying over my lost boy.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." –Psalms 30:5

Monday morning, June 23, when I woke up, the world seemed much brighter than the night before. I reread Roma's texts. "You need to reconnect my phone, I have to be able to contact Markus."

Who was Markus? Did he mean Mark? Mark was the man who wanted to take Roma and other young men to his ranch in Idaho for a week. The mere suggestion of the trip had "irritated" Roma two days earlier. He had said, vehemently that he was NOT going. But Nancy was so sure Mark was the "real deal" from her first meeting on Saturday. I totally trusted Nancy!

I turned his phone back on. I texted, (even though I had been instructed to stop responding to him), "if you want to go to Idaho, we will pay."

"Yessssss" he texted back. I knew whatever his reason for deciding to go, God wanted him there.
Our texts through the morning revealed a hurt boy. We "made up," and I offered grace to a boy who needed my love like never before. He needed mercy so much more than the world's view of "justice" at the moment!

I had spent Saturday afternoon, before all Hell broke loose, literally, reading the long, detailed, articulated email and information Mark had sent me after he met with Nancy and husband that afternoon. His testimony and career credentials were impressive, and Sacred Echoes rang throughout. His recorded testimony included his unexpected Call to mission work in Russia, much like mine to adoption. The God-you-have-got-to-be-kidding feelings, the provisions supernaturally supplied for the Call. And, "coincidentally" (I think not), he mentioned in his email the name of only one young man who was a past ranch visitor. Mark had no way of knowing that I just happened to know this young man's mom on Facebook. I live in Maryland, and Beth, in Atlanta. As Facebook friends-you-don't-actually-know go, Beth is closer than most. We were connected by a mutual friend, adoption, and my book. We have even spoken on the phone a couple of times, and prayed together for our boys!

Sunday I sent Mark an email informing him of Roma's arrest. Would that preclude him from going, and could the trip help him if he didn't think he needed help?

Mark said that Disorderly Conduct was a misdemeanor, and he had met much tougher cases than Roma. He was hopeful. No, he changed his word to "confident."

I asked the price of such a week. Only his plane fare. Mark said he and his wife had been blessed with this mission and would provide for all his needs for the week.

Too good to be true?

Beth, my facebook friend who had prayed with me for our boys was learning the same time I was that her son and Roma had been invited by Mark to dinner! She was speechless on how it had all happened. She called me and we marveled at God's work in the lives of our two boys. She echoed Nancy's sentiment that Mark was the real deal! She said that whatever Mark suggested, do it.

Mark called on Monday evening and patiently answered our many questions. He had had an experience with God many years ago. He had been an addict and almost at the point of death when God came to him. He spoke of the demon who had lived in him, causing depression and addiction. He said as soon as he saw Roma, God told him that Roma was the one he was supposed to take to Idaho. That many of these boys adopted from Russia had a foul spirit attached to them.

Nancy messaged me on Monday morning to say Mark had just called her husband. Remember, Nancy and her husband had not met Mark before Saturday, less than 48 hours earlier. Mark asked if they could pick Roma up from his hotel room that he would soon be checking out of, and bring him to their house. Could he stay with them for one night? He would keep him until Thursday, June26, when he would fly out with Mark instead of waiting until Saturday, June 28, with the other boy, Roma would fly with Mark. Mark was afraid to leave Roma unattended until they got on the plane. He didn't want anything to happen to Roma to prevent him from going. He said that Roma's demon was fighting for his life, and would try to stop him from going to Idaho. I looked back over the past few days and saw it was true.

This was starting to sound like a Frank Peritti novel!

Before this experience, I have talked about "spiritual warfare" in abstract terms. But now I have witnessed it, and felt it, and Nancy was constantly validating my suspicions through the weeks of our close communications. And now a man God so clearly led into our lives is talking about casting off demons? This man who is a lawyer and scientist by profession?

Nancy successfully handed Roma over into Mark's care on Tuesday, June 24. Tonight, June 25, Nancy is picking him up to take him to his last, for a while, Wednesday night service at her church. She asked me if it was okay. I messaged back, " BE VERY CAREFUL WITH HIM! Haha! I feel like you will be in possession of the box that holds the Hope Diamond. The box doesn't look like it, but Satan wants to steal it, and God has gone to amazing lengths to protect it! Please keep him on a leash and in ankle cuffs!"

She wrote right back, "I will protect it with my life!"

What are the chances all these connections would have happened without Divine Help? Zero!

Had I continued along my stubborn path, having once said that if a child of mine was ever arrested, I would let him sit in jail a couple of days to learn a lesson. Satan was counting on that. I am thankful for Nancy's gentle nudge that we needed to get him out. The window of time was so small, to get him off to Idaho. Had I been firm about my earlier conviction that Roma needed to learn the hard way was exactly that, MY convictions. I had not consulted God about it. And the Enemy didn't want Roma to get out. He wanted Roma to miss this trip that God so clearly was lining up.
The timing, the circumstances, when I look at the bigger picture, were uncanny. Roma meets a man on Saturday, and by Tuesday, is staying at his family's home. On Thursday he will be flying off to a new opportunity. Had I listened to MY conviction to turn his phone off forever, this opportunity would be lost.

So many pieces of a enormous puzzle. Every piece has it place, and its purpose. During this season of testing, I have learned so much about God, and the Enemy. God's love is incomprehensible. His mercies are brand new every day! My life is enriched by a new, improved prayer life. Never before have I spent so much time on my knees or on my face, pleading my case, and Roma's, before the throne of God. And God showed up! Another layer of scales have fallen from my eyes. I also have a new, dear Sister, Nancy. We will meet one day, hopefully before Heaven! I have a new peace, that He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world.

I have no idea what tomorrow holds. None of us do. But today brings great JOY! And I will embrace it!

Thanks for your continued prayers.

To the Glory of God! Amen!

Next post, Building a Palace

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Angels and Demons, part one

Continued from Trying to outrun the Hound, but steadily losing ground.   

I had a dream several weeks ago in which I was sharing some "Roma stories" with a group of friends. Since he arrived in our family at age seven, Roma has supplied us with ample entertaining, funny stories to share.

As I turned to leave, a close friend of mine was standing near the door. She said slowly and deliberately, "Write all this down." That was the end of the short dream.

After the past week, the dream makes perfect sense, so I am writing it all down.

If you don't know who Roma is, and are unfamiliar with the events leading up to this post, you will not want to miss the prior posts, The Hound of Heaven Winks, and next Trying to Outrun the Hound, But Steadily Losing Ground about this incredible Odyssey with God. To start at the the beginning of the Odyssey, read my book, But the Greatest of These is Love!

I have met, up close and personal, a loving God who relentlessly pursues us. I have seen an illustration on a grand scale, of the Powers of Heaven fighting the dark powers for the soul of one lost and loved young man, my son, Roma

Roma has been in the Atlanta area since May 6 after he walked away from his halfway house in Florida. At that time, I sprayed prayer requests in all directions. One happened to hit my new best friend, Nancy, within reach of Roma, in Georgia. I live in Maryland. I only knew Nancy from a Facebook adoption group. Almost immediately Roma and this sweet family bonded. Since then, they have gone out of their way, and way out of their comfort zone, to reach Roma. They have taken him to church on Sundays and mid-week services, and even had him over for dinner, and eventually had him spend the night.

He has had no job and has no (legitimate?) source of income, but seemed to be satisfied just coasting along. Pot and alcohol are regular pastimes. I work at a high school, and I understand that this is not unusual activity, Have I needlessly created a pathology? Maybe, but raising a child sent by God is not to be taken lightly! (And they are ALL sent by God!)

Nancy's and my desperate prayers started to include that Roma and his roommate would part ways. We both kept getting dark vibes about his living situation.  She had even graciously offered to give him a room at her house, but my memory of living with this lovable, but often difficult young man was too fresh! I would NOT impose the experience on anyone else. Especially people I was just beginning to love! And Nancy has a beautiful young daughter, and Roma is a hopeless romantic!

I did mention to Nancy that she might put the word out, if there might be a family man who had a passion for boys like Roma. Surely there were lots of people just waiting to take on lazy, pot smokers as projects! We continued to pray for a change in Roma's living arrangements. It did not seem to be a good match for either boy. Along with my daily nagging about getting a job, I added that a new roommate would be in his favor, maybe he could make some good friends at his new church. Roma flipped out, saying that his roommate was his good friend. They had been through a lot together. I was told to back off.

Friday morning, June 20, I got a phone call from Roma that began, "Mom . . . okay . . . I have to tell you something. But it isn't my fault." Oh my God (meant as a prayer!) He's in jail!

But no, he and his roommate had had a fight and since it was his friend's apartment first, Roma was out. I almost laughed at our blessing of having a homeless son! He was with Nancy, always the angel, who he called first. She picked him up at another friend's house where he went after the fist fight! Roma is many things, but not a fighter! He is 5'9', 145 pounds, in heels and soaking wet! His friend, a former football teammate is 6"5' and weighs a lot. But Roma assured me he was okay, but added that his roommate could seriously use a detox program. Nancy set him up through Sunday in a hotel room near her family's home.

Later when we spoke, Nancy mentioned that someone had told her there was a man who had a calling to work with young men in addiction. She would find out more.

Nancy and I frantically messaged, trying to decide what was in store on Sunday when he was out of his hotel room. I looked into homeless shelters, Job Corps, anything. I checked into flights for me to go down, and other flights for him to come home. I felt strongly it was not time for him to come home.

At 3:30 that afternoon, Nancy messaged me that her husband had talked with the man her friend told her about, who had a heart for young addicts. Roma had agreed to go with them to meet with him the next afternoon. I was humbled that Nancy and her husband were willing to spend their Saturday afternoon with my son. She wrote, "And wait till you hear this–God is in this BIG time–Not only does he have a heart for teen/young addicts–he particularly has a deep passion for helping boys from RUSSIA!!!"

You can't make this stuff up!

Saturday, June 21. I prayed that Roma would be interested in what the man had to say, and thanked God over and over for sending Roma straight into Nancy's heart! What are the chances that I would ask for prayers in a secret Facebook Adoption group and a woman I had never met would respond who would develop such a heart for my boy. And have the time to devote to his various and extensive needs!

She reported later that he had been very interested to learn that his man took young men on retreats to his ranch in Idaho for a week, if God pointed them out to him. This man, Mark, said that God had clearly said to him that Roma was to be one of these young men when he met him. Roma was all in for another new adventure, until Mark started talking about addiction and recovery. I can imaging Roma writhing with his demons over such talk. Roma texted me that he was irritated. He was NOT going.

Nancy messaged me later. This Mark was the real deal. We needed to persuade Roma to get on that plane next Saturday. Nancy was certain it would be a good opportunity for Roma.

Sunday morning, June 22, the phone woke us at 6:00 am. I handed the phone to Bruce, the strong one–I sensed bad news. His strong "Hello" soon gave way to a quiet, shaky voice. The hospital? The morgue? I ruled at the morgue with his comments. The hospital? My imagination filled in every question I had. I got up to look for insurance information. Then I could hear a woman's voice. A familiar woman's voice. I had only talked to Nancy a few times, but I recognized her voice. Bruce was grabbing a paper and pen from his desk,

"Dekalb County Jail."

@#$%!!! Then, "Thank you, Lord!" I said. I was thankful my son was in jail! When had I lowered the bar so low on my expectations! But he was not dead! He was very much alive!  Until I could get my hands on him!

Poor Nancy had to be the stand-in mom with my son in jail for the charge of Disorderly Conduct!

The next few hours went very fast. I spent five hours trying get through to the jail. Unsuccessfully. When I did finally reach a warm body, I was going to pay his bail with my credit card. No, the bail has to be paid in person and $350, exact cash. I explained to the disinterested woman that I lived in Maryland, 13 hours away, and I was satisfied to leave him in jail for the WEEK, but Nancy assured me that jail in Decatur, Georgia, or any jail, I'm sure, could be an institution of higher learning ("high," being the operative word!)! The hook for me was getting him out to go to church with this family at their 5:00 pm service at Passion City Church where they had taken him for the past three Sundays. We worked all day trying to reach the right number that would unlock the door, literally. Nancy's husband went to his ATM for get the $350 bail money to take to the arresting police department, then back to church, because this Sunday was very busy Sunday,  being Generosity Sunday! No Kidding! The police station told him it could be up to five hours before they could release my son, who by that time might be a hardened criminal! So he would miss church after all. They would go pick him at after church, around 7:30.

Roma entered jail and 3 am and was released about 8 pm, seventeen hours later. Nancy wrote that, if we didn't mind, she and her husband would like to take Roma out for a bite to eat and have a long, honest talk with him.

Where do we find friends like this, except for God connecting us? I headed to my prayer closet to pray for what I hoped would be their meeting with a contrite, humble, sniveling mass of repentance.

my sweet boy, age seven
Nancy's message revealed my unrealistic optimism.  I called him. My young jail bird was cocky and totally unrepentant. "Mom, it was nothing, It probably won't be on my record since I've never been arrested before." He laughed.

"Roma, being arrested IS a big deal!" Our conversation went from that high point and plummeted to him dismissing us as parents and telling us to have a nice life!  He HUNG UP ON US! In my frustration and anger, I suspended his phone service. He continued to text saying "you need to reconnect my phone, I have to be able to call Markus." But then the arrogant lad texted "Stop responding to me!" So I did!

I was defeated. There was no hope in the foreseeable future. I started to worry, for the first time. I believed the lies the enemy told me! My last message to Nancy that night was "In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father does not go after the son. He lets him go.

That might be true for the earthly father. But not so for the Heavenly Father!

This seems to be a good place to take a breath and rest my speeding fingers. I will try to post the rest of the story tomorrow, or rather the next installment of the ongoing story of our Amazing God who promises to never leave or forsake us!

God bless! Please pray for Roma!

Next post, Angels and Demons part two

Friday, June 6, 2014

Trying to outrun the Hound, but steadily losing ground

Continued from The Hound of Heaven Winks

It is easy to overlook miracles, until you've experienced one from a front row seat! Once you have eyes to see the evidence of God, His involvement is hard to miss! 

I have these front-row seat experiences at such a regularity, I call them Sacred Echoes, borrowing Margaret Feinburg's title of her book by that name. They have a repetitive nature, in case I miss the Message the first time!  People always tell me I have the most amazing stories. I can't deny it. But I believe we all live amazing Moments of God's extravagant Presence, if we have eyes to see the miracles that we too often miss.

Readers obviously like a feel-good story. My last post, The Hound of Heaven Winks racked up page views, comments, and shares, and initiated emails, phone calls, and community chats more than any other post to date, blowing past long time front runner, Celebrating Mediocrity.

My last post ended with Roma, my son, adopted at age seven, now nineteen, heading to Georgia after trying to give God the slip as he left the halfway house in Florida. If you didn't read The Hound of Heaven Winks, you must go back and read about our awesome God. (And if you didn't read But the Greatest of These is Love, the story full of miracles about our adoption, again, you must read about our awesome God!)

After Roma had been in a suburb of Atlanta for almost three weeks without a job, I started to wonder how he had money to eat. The possibilities were troubling. We kept open the lines of communication, "speaking" daily, mostly by texts.

I am part of a private, supportive adoption group on Facebook. I posted, on Sunday, May 24, asking for prayers for my lost boy. One member, Nancy, messaged me to ask how she could  help. She lives near Atlanta too. I mentioned that I hoped Roma's thirst for God would drive him back to church one day soon. She graciously offered to invite him to her church, Passion City Church where Louie Giglio preaches. I knew of Giglio from a video, but all I could remember about it was the amazing universe God has created and big suns! I did't know much more about him other than he knows a lot about outer space!

On Wednesday Roma shared that he had had nightmares the previous night. I have never know him to have trouble sleeping, even when he first joined us at age seven. I interpret the nightmares as confusion and spiritual warfare. There is a battle raging against terrifying enemies!

On Thursday Nancy messaged again, asking if her daughter, close to Roma's age (wise woman!) could call him and invite him to church on Sunday evening, to a service that attracts many young people in the congregation. I was pretty confident Roma would go. He is an extreme extrovert, and has probably been spending too much time alone, in front of a screen of some kind. His soul is dry from pursuing the world and trying to elude God. I know this because another Facebook sister has told me that is what she is praying for my boy—that he becomes thirsty for relationship with God. I gave Nancy Roma's number.

Then I contacted Roma and asked permission to give a stranger his number, in case he needs anyone down there, and oh, by the way, she might invite him to her church. We texted back and forth and finally he said "sure, whatever," which I interpreted as an enthusiastic "YES!" (Well, it definitely was not a "No!")

Nancy and I frantically messaged back and forth. Her daughter called Roma. She reported that he was "very pleasant." He would consider the invitation, and call her back in a day or two.

Often I decide to drive in silence on my 15-minute commute to my part-time job, in order to "Be still and know that God is God." But on Friday morning, May 30, I decided to tune in to my Christian radio station, WAVA, in case God had a message for me. Focus on the Family was beginning, and the morning's guest was none other than Louie Giglio. I just shake my head sometimes and marvel at God's creative provision. I almost felt Him smiling and asking from the passenger seat, "Are you paying attention, dear one?"

"Examining My Past for a Better Future" was the title of Giglio's message that morning—exactly what Roma needs to hear. Older adopted kids carry heavy baggage of grief, loss, and abandonment from their  past that is too bulky for ill-equipped young souls to carry alone.

After work, I contacted Nancy again, a woman I have never met in flesh and blood, but who is suddenly my sister. God, Himself has introduced us! I messaged her to share about the Holy time with Louie and God in my car.

Nancy reported on Saturday that Roma had called and wasn't available to attend church this Sunday, but maybe next Sunday. A little later, Roma called me to say he wanted to come home to Maryland. He was restless and disillusioned in Georgia. I reminded him it was not our idea for him to go to Georgia, but he shouldn't bail out again when things get difficult, but stay and learn the lesson! I was secretly happy he was experiencing that dryness that my friend was visualizing for him. I suggested he accept the church invitation. Without a job, what could he be doing of any importance on Sunday evening?

Later Nancy messaged to say Roma had called and had changed his mind about attending church with them.

Nancy's family picked Roma up on Sunday at 3:30, and spent some family time with my lonely boy, until the service started at 5:00 pm. As they were picking him up, I headed into my newly requisitioned prayer closet that I have utilized since Roma went AWOL in Florida. After spending silent time in the dark and praying, I headed to my favorite chair and opened the Bible for the next phase of the battle. God led me to Psalms. I "randomly" (right!) began in chapter 139.  I was struck in verse 5 by the image of "hemming in" which had been the words of yet another Facebook sister. Then by the time I was at verse seven, I had the image of the Hound of Heaven again: "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?"
Verse 13-14: "You knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

I read to the end of Psalms and stopped to eat. I checked my email, and another new sister had sent me a link to a Louie Giglio video. It just happened to be the one I have seen, about the universe, "How Great is Our God." I sat and watched all 40 minutes of it. When he started quoting the same verses I had just read, in Psalms 139, around the 19 minute mark, again I smiled, acknowledging God's presence, and His question, "Are you paying attention, dear one? Don't miss the Miracle of My Presence!"

Monday's report brings news that Roma is actively looking for a job, and plans to return to church next Sunday. His new "extended" family in Georgia has displayed the love of Christ to my spiritually parched boy. Love like that is hard to refuse!  

Thanks to all who have entered the Pursuit on Roma's behalf with your prayers and answering the still small Voice to respond to Roma and me. I am comforted and awestruck as I imagine God's earthy creatures joining the Heavenly realm in the pursuit of one lost soul.  

Try as we might, we can never elude God. The best we can do is deceive ourselves that we have hidden from Him.  Perhaps, like Saint Augustine, we pray for God to take away our lust for worldly things. And like Saint Augustine, we add, "but don't do it just yet." We don't understand that only Living Water can satisfy this hunger and thirst.  Like it or not, we are made for God.

It is impossible to grasp the depth of God's love for us. "What are humans that You are mindful of him?," David asks in Psalm 8. I ask too. But I am reminded by God, who is always nearby, that Roma is a treasured child of the most High God. So am I. So are you. 

Why do we want to hide from that kind of Love?

Continue this story with Angels and Demons, part one

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Hound of Heaven Winks

I recently heard prayer described as unleashing the mighty powers of Heaven. I am a visual learner, so I easily "see" that imagery. My friend said it like this: "There is a spiritual battle going on in the heavenly realm and when we pray we offer the angels from heaven power to fight the battle against evil." The all-powerful Hound of Heaven and His army are relentlessly pursuing His people for His glory.

If you read my book,  But the Greatest of These is Love, you probably fell in love with my charming son Roma, now 19, adopted from Russia at the age of seven. I tell this story not to expose Roma's life and invade his privacy, but to glorify God. 

Roma went into drug and alcohol rehab in Florida in early March. Prior to his departure, he was out of control, making bad choices. If his lips were moving, he was lying. He stole from his family. He stopped coming home at his midnight curfew. His anger raged against his dad and me. He wanted freedom to live as he wished.  

We knew this plan would fail, but we were powerless to control him. We told him, sure, he could live his life his way, just not in our home. He had to go. We believed living on the streets, for the second time in his young life, would not foster growth for this young man who was removed from his Russian family after repeated reports to the authorities that the small child was begging on the streets for food. We offered an alternative after much prayer, research, and reaching out to anyone who had experience with addictions. A plan emerged for a thirty-day drug rehab followed by possible four-six months in a halfway house with intensive therapy. The intensive therapy was key—Early issues of trauma to adopted children often hijack their lives. A trusted young friend who got his own life together and recently graduated from Pepperdine Law School, shared his successful experience in Delray Beach, Florida. He offered me hope for Roma's success. 

In order to locate a reputable treatment center, I prayed and googled "Celebrate Recovery," a Christ-centered recovery program, in the Delray Beach area. Many churches offer CR in Delray Beach, Florida, the rehab capital of the country, apparently. One sponsoring church also had listed on their website "Adopted Orphan Care." Those words jumped out at me.  I reasoned that this church might understand square-peg Roma.  I emailed the contact name for rehab facility recommendations.  A woman emailed back and recommended a facility her own son had attended with success. My "thank you" reply included a request for prayers for Roma with a link to my book, stating that God had merged my life with Roma's in a "God story."

Roma was initially eager to head to Florida, to live close to the beach after a long, cold winter in Maryland. He breezed through the 30 days of intensive residential rehab. He moved into his halfway house, got a job, a bike, and it appeared all was well. I felt he was gradually preparing me for the idea he might not leave Florida, but stay after the half-way house residency. 

Then the rumblings of discontentment and denial began. "I hate it here. You guys made me come. I wasn't doing hard drugs like everyone else here. Just alcohol and pot. Lots of people do pot. It will be legal soon." (Roma is not a quiet kid, so read all of that with volume and passion!) We offered encouragement. I was actually glad things were getting "hard" for him. He had work to do. "Roma" I said gently, "Life isn't about doing the easy thing. You will learn so much by working through the hard stuff." Less than profound, I know, but he would only listen to short, simple sentences. We refused to allow an easy exit from the halfway house.

Earlier this week, five weeks into the halfway house program, we were devastated to learn, and not from Roma, that he had left the halfway house and quit his job. His plan was to go to Georgia, move in with a friend from his days at Fork Union Military Academy, get a job, go to college, figure it out, and make something of his life!  Reasonable plan!  But, after spending his last paycheck on a tattoo a few days earlier, he was in need of money to eat and check his bag on the plane. He texted me, unaware of my recent revelation, to ask for $40 "for groceries."  

"Nope,"  was my return text, as the truth that Roma had bailed was just, at that moment, coming into the light of day from his former counselor. The timing was eerie. The day before, news of the tattoo, also not from Roma, was revealed. We were not willing to offer financial help to our darling boy, sporting a new tattoo and who slept in a car the night before.

I texted him periodically though the day, just to remind him I love him.  He texted back more than usual, sizing up the potential to manipulate, sensing my sensitive mother's heart. He asked again if I could just help him out with $25, at least, to check his bag on his flight to Atlanta. (I would later learn his friend's mother paid for his plane fare.) No deal. The texting stopped.

That evening, May 6 about 7:45, a man called who introduced himself as Fred, someone who runs a Celebrate Recovery center in Delray Beach. He reminded me of the email written weeks earlier, long forgotten. He said the woman who received it forwarded it to him  in case Roma ever showed up at CR. 

The stranger began his story by saying "This is a God story." I lowered myself into a nearby chair to listen. A half hour earlier, he had stopped at Dunkin Donuts. After exiting his car, a young man approached him on the sidewalk, asking if he could spare some money. 

Fred told the young man that he didn't give money to people he met on the street. But he added, "what's your name?" (Who asks strangers begging on the streets their names?)

"Roma" the young man answered. Suddenly the man remembered the forwarded email and became alert.

"I know you! You were adopted from Russia!" At this point Roma was stunned. They chatted a while, as Roma told Fred his whole history. Fred, 39, was intrigued as he has been in recovery for many years, and he was blown away by this Cosmic experience. He said Roma was there with him, and did we want him to give Roma that %#$& twenty-five dollars to check his luggage to fly to Georgia. The answer remained  "no." He agreed that no was probably the right answer. He offered what seem like an inspired plan: he would mail Roma's luggage to him when he got to Georgia. He shared his opinion that the halfway house might not be the best place for Roma at this time. There were truly hardened drug addicts there, which might frighten Roma, who, for at least the past twelve years, had lived a sheltered life. 

Once off the phone, I sat processing the call. Over 60,000 people live in Delray Beach. What are the chances that a man reading about an adopted Russian boy named Roma would be approached by the same boy a few weeks later on the sidewalk? And what made Fred ask Roma's name? I am convinced it was a Divine appointment. As I sat recalling Fred's words, a text interrupted my state of awe. My humbled boy texted his chill-bump-covered mom. He wrote,

"Only by the grace of God could that have happened! I couldn't thank y'all enough for everything y'all have done for me. I will not let you down anymore."

Fred called again later. Not wanting Roma to spend another night in a car, he took him to a Christian halfway house run by a friend, where he could sleep on the couch and would be fed. That night Roma was in the company of seven devoted Christian men. And God!

The next morning I received an email from Fred, who was apparently still marveling about the experience. He wrote, "God has tremendous plans for Roma!" I put a book in the mail for Fred! He will really be touched by the rest of the story.

The night before, I had been in tears about the path my son was choosing. But in the middle of my fitful sleep, I was comforted by a dream: I was looking through a doorway, an ancient arch of cracking plaster. I was watching a scene from Roma's life, like a movie. I was standing on the right-hand side of the entrance when I sensed someone standing very close to me. I turned and it was Jesus.

I am not naive enough to expect Roma to change overnight. It might take years. But I do believe he is keenly aware that he is being Pursued, that his life is somehow not his own. Like me, he will fight for control. Yet, I am confident that the many prayers lifted to Heaven on Roma's behalf have indeed unleashed the Hound of Heaven. 

He who began a good work will see it through to perfect completion! 

"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine." Isaiah 43:1

Praise God!  

Don't miss the next installment of this story with  Trying to out run the Hound, but steadily losing ground