Thursday, December 31, 2015

Visions, One

Continued from the Agony  

Sometimes it is difficult to find human words to adequately describe visions

As Roma was passing through that thin veil dividing the world we inhabit from the one we are all steadily approaching, two friends contacted me about clear visions they had of Roma the night he made that journey. I've asked each of them to share, in their own words, what they saw. Below is one vision. The other one is coming. 

Two years ago, I met Cheryl Bresin through an adoption and orphan-hosting Facebook group. She got to know Roma and me better by reading But the Greatest of These is Love. We began to message and discovered she lives an hour north of me. Then we realized another member of the group, who also had just read my book, was also close. We met for lunch, and as the case when God puts people in our lives, we three have became close friends. We have met for lunch a few times now, and even gone away on a four-day retreat to discuss the ways of God, as best we can understand Him. Telling our families in September we were going to a cabin by a lake in remote West Virginia with people we met on the internet sounded so wrong.  Unless God is involved, and, in our case, it turned out to be just right. 

Here is Cheryl's vision in her words. 

I am awestruck by how many lives this little boy from the border of Russia and Georgia has touched. So many became a part of this story and have held the Michael family and Roma deeply in their hearts. Roma's giant personality made us all feel that he was a part of our everyday lives. We grieve as his bigger-than-life presence stepped over to the other side; while still leaving the memory of his wide open arms and radiant smile that remains forever etched in our thoughts.

I have read and re-read "You are Mine," from the "Family Connections" series about the miracle of finding Roma's birth family.  I read it each time with the same pause. It was as if God was putting His hand on my shoulder to make certain that I saw.

                                   Part Eight

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;I have called you by name; you are Mine!" (Isaiah 43:1)

I was overtaken by a stillness, as I read the foreshadowing words of the last line of this post, "And now He has called Roma."

After Debbie and I texted that fateful night, I sobbed as my heart ached deeply for my dear sister and her family. I cried out with the words from Romans 8:26: the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

In the early morning of December 7th, I was awakened by God to pray over and over again. I talked to God and Roma out loud. I was lost in time in this prayerful realm. At one point, I drifted back to sleep, then awakened by this noise that filled my room overhead. The sound resembled the beginning of a wind storm with the gentleness of a ocean breeze.The deep warm embrace was like a thick warm cloud that was all encompassing. 

It was Angels, and Roma was with them. They were going to and fro accompanied by this systematic flowing sound. In my humanness, I called out loud to Roma to be strong and voiced that he did not have to leave. The breeze forcefully whooshed a few more times, then faded, and disappeared . . . 

The veil between heaven and earth is truly so thin.

The next morning, I lit a candle to remind myself to pray every time I passed throughout the day. A candle much like the one that burned in Georgia. As it flickered, it held the sadness of loss and the gratefulness for a family that embraced their Roma with complete and immense unending love. A love that reminds us all, "But the Greatest of These is Love."

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:18)

                        *            *            *            *            *            *            

Thanks to my dear Sister, Cheryl, who writes a blog of her own. 
Her words and vision comfort me. Please continue to pray for us.

Cheryl references Part Eight of the Family Connections series, but you can read all eleven posts of that popular series starting at Part One.  

Continue with Goodbye Kid, Roma's brother's Taylor's words at the Celebration of Life. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Agony

Drawing by Kellie Michael Ryan

If you are following our story only by my blog, I have very sad news. A work accident took the life of our bright and beautiful Roma. On December 6, Roma hit a live wire while working on a metal roof, and the shock threw him from the two story ladder. He landed on his head. He was pronounced dead the following morning. 

In these past three weeks of unspeakable suffering, I have also experienced extravagant love. And miracles. I do not believe our story is over. I hope you will follow along. 

For now, I will share what I said at the Celebration of Life for our beloved Roma. I am not one to speak in front of even small crowds, but the huge crowd that showed up to memorialize Roma on that cloudy Monday, December 14, did not faze me in the least. I had a mission: to honor my precious son and thank those who had a part in his life. I could not have uttered a word if prayers were not doing their perfect work. 

Here is the video slide show of our beautiful boy. 


"Today we are celebrating Roma's life. Who can think of Roma without smiling? I'm not surprised to learn that everyone who knew Roma loved him. But I am astounded at the sheer number of people he knew.

There has been a repeated theme of the many messages, texts, calls, and visits we have received since last Sunday night (the night of the accident.) One friend said it like this: "Everyone loved Roma, but God chose the Michaels to be his family." That was God's extravagant love for us.

But God knew this honor of raising Roma was way too big for the Michael family alone. We would need helpers. LOTS of helpers! To aid in the recruitment of many helpers, God armed Roma with a BIG hearted personality, a sweet deposition, disarming smile, and fabled charisma. And oh, those sparkly green eyes. 

Yes, the helpers came. In droves. Neighbors, teachers, coaches, teammates, friends, mothers and fathers of friends. All assisted us in the joyful task of raising Roma. And we are infinitely grateful for the help! God intended Roma to be a blessing to many. He touched more lives in his brief twenty-one years than most people encounter in a lifetime!

Roma loved life. He loved his family and his friends. He loved sports. Roma LOVED. He spread himself thin. He lived life to the fullest, as if he knew his time was limited. He careened through life, as though he had a check list. "Football. Yeah, that was great, do more of that." Some things on his vast list were ONE and Done, Thank God! He was like a kid in a candy store, on a stopwatch, arms open wide. He didn't always have time to be careful. He just wanted to experience all life had to offer, the good, and sometimes the not-so-good. He didn't want to miss anything!

Sometimes I would wring my hands as we tried to teach Roma to be a man of integrity. Raising a son sent from God was not a job to be taken lightly! We wanted him to learn to be a good husband and father, do his laundry, and remember him to brush his teeth. 

Lately I've sensed that God was telling me not to fret, but cherish the immense GIFT of Roma. It was as if God said, " I didn't ask you to FIX Roma. All I asked you to do was LOVE him. And, oh, that part was easy.

Remember Roma, and do NOT let his bright but brief life and his untimely death leave you unchanged. Make his life count. He would want it that way. Roma was a shooting star. Such LIGHT! But oh so brief. No matter what mischief Roma was getting into, there was no darkness in Roma. No malice. Roma was pure LIGHT.

I look out on this crowd this morning. Most of you I would have never known without Roma. I am so grateful the role each one of you embraced in teaching him, and being taught by him. 

Many times on Facebook this week I've read "rest in peace, Roma." Really? Can the words Rest and Peace be used in the same sentence with Roma? Hardly!

I think Roma is embracing Heaven with the same gusto he embraced life. He's up there endearing himself to angels, insinuating himself into important Heavenly roles, like sending pink roses, my favorite, to my red rose bush, in December! After a week now, Roma is probably trying to be God's top adviser.

We are all so blessed to have been touched by Roma. We always knew there was something special about him. Roma was God's boy. I didn't know how hard it would be to give him back.

I have prayed that something good will come out of this heart-breaking tragedy. I'm confident it will, for God redeems it ALL! He will not waste our pain. Let Roma's life and death make you a better person. Never allow the LIGHT that was Roma, to be extinguished in you. 

Until we meet again, dear, sweet boy! Thank you Lord for your Gift of Roma. And thank you for all these willing helpers!" 


I will share more in later posts. The closeness of God, the foreshadowing of tragedy, the miracles. My wish is only to bring glory and honor to the Perfecter of my faith. Our Father God is a living and loving Father who is not remote and uncaring. He is close to the brokenhearted! 

To read about finding Roma's family in Russia and the Republic of Georgia in 2015, begin here. It's a long story, but worth the time. 

To continue with first of two visions friends had the night Roma left his earthly life, continue here.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Gift of Desperation

Last May I wrote a post, The Hound of Heaven Winks, which became my most-read post ever. A lost prodigal reaches from a distance for that safety net, a safety net only God can provide.

I'm asking readers to go back and read that post, one more time. Some followers of our story have confessed to reading it many times. But read it again. And pay close attention to Fred this time.

For the past few years I have been preoccupied with the theme of the "Prodigal Son," found in Luke 15:11-32. As I was praying for my own prodigal one night, I started thinking just how different these characters are, the prodigal in Jesus' story, and present day prodigals. I suspect there are many such prodigal sons and daughters lost in the world today with hopeful parents watching the horizon for their return.

In Bible times there were no phones, no email, no cars, no easy communication or access. The father in Jesus's parable acquiesced to his spoiled son's demands. What choice did he have? He had no control over his son's attitude and behavior. He could only control his own actions, so he chose to surrender his son to his demanded freedom, and watched him walk away.

The Biblical dad was spared the knowledge of his son's shenanigans: the wild living, the foolish waste of money, the decadent self absorption, and finally the desperate yet redemptive act of desiring to eat from the pig troughs. The father of the parable could remain hopefully ignorant.

Fast forward to the Twenty-First Century. Modern fathers (and mothers) are constantly hovering, even from afar, bombarded with the highlights of their darlings' sin. (There's that archaic word. SIN.) The texts for money. The promises of change. The pleas for help with the perceived pig-trough meal in sight. The clinging to hope of preventing the crash on the proverbial "rock bottom." The connection. The painful false hope of repentance. The safety net. The dangerous perceived redemptive power of the human safety net.

At sometime in my prayers for Roma I felt God telling me my safety net had to be removed. The two stories of the Prodigal Son bared little resemblance, and the Bible story was the one that Jesus shared. During the past few months, that Sacred Echo of pulling out all forms of protection that resembled a safety net where he could fall and bounce was removed. The fall had to include "hitting bottom."

In May, after the excitement of finding Russian family members, in the Family Connection series that gave me so much joy and heartbreak to share, Roma fled to Georgia again, then checked himself back into a drug rehab in Florida a month later. He was lost to us. Someone on the inside to share with us the stories of God's pursuit of him seemed lost too. Last year's posts were so exciting to write and read. Now all was quiet. Finding his family was such a God story. There was only silence now. Like the Biblical father in the Prodigal Son was not privy to information, we knew nothing of his activities. Roma had left on a dark odyssey we were, perhaps mercifully, blocked from.

And then on one recent morning I received a text:

"Debbie, this is Fred (last name deleted). I spoke to you about a year ago concerning Roma. Again God brought us together last night at a CR (Celebrate Recovery) meeting. Call me when you are available."

Here we go again! These were the kinds of stories I had grown to expect and cherish from my relationship with God, and Roma.

Fred had gone to a CR meeting the night before, not his usual group, but one he visited occasionally. It was a large group, maybe 150 in attendance. When the meeting was finishing, the leader said, "Can you lead us in the Serenity Prayer, Roma?"

Fred reeled. Roma! He had never seen him in the crowd. Fred found him afterwards and the two marveled again at being reconnected. Fred even teased Roma about being in Florida again, saying, "Please tell me you are in Florida on vacation," even though he suspected, as a recovery addict himself, that rehab had brought him back.

Fred approached the leader after the meeting. "This kid Roma. . . " he began his story about how God had brought them together a year earlier.

The leader replied, "What's interesting is I was going to call on another guy to lead the Serenity Prayer, but when I started asking, that guy got up to get a tissue, so I called on Roma."

So Fred would have never know Roma was in the room if the leader had not called his name! Fred shared with me that he has never felt God direct him to a person like He has Roma. Fred has now agreed to be Roma's sponsor in his recovery. But Fred has repeated several times, "We cannot steal the gift of desperation from him."

Just because I have sensed God telling me to remove the safety net from my dear boy, doesn't mean he is without a Safety Net. God is always present. In the details. Moving us toward Him. Having eyes to see reveals the miracles that abound.

I am confident God's Will is always best. Sometimes we wonder, as I did with the act of adoption, just how painful God's best will turn out to be, if God's best will line up with my expectation. But I am learning, slowly, that I don't expect nearly enough. I don't dream BIG. I am so easily satisfied, or oblivious to miracles that point to God.

I am reminded, for myself, and for my dear gift, Roma, of C. S. Lewis' often quoted writing:

"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot image what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased."

Lord, please give us all eyes to see the miracles, and teach us to dream BIG!

Thanks for reading!

So sad to send you to the next post.

Continue here. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Prayers of a Righteous Man

Part Eleven (Part One starts here. Don't miss any parts.)

I grew up in an era when the Cold War was at its frightening height. The foreboding Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, was dreaded Enemy Number One of our great United States of America. We did not trust the Commies for a minute.

Most of my peers will remember under-the-desk disaster drills in school by day, and the loud buzz interrupting our television programs by night followed by ominous, yet comforting words, "This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. Had this been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to . . ."

I suspect that fear and loathing was part of the reason some older family members were vehemently opposed to our family adopting a boy from Russia. I suppose, to our parents' generation, bringing a seven-year-old child from the most formidable atheistic country in the world was just begging for trouble. "The first seven years of life are impressionable." "What has this child lived through in his formative years?" "What has he inherited from a family he will never know?" These were reasonable questions. Every answer I had for the naysayers was , "I'm sure God knows what He's doing."

Although religion was never officially banned in the Soviet era, believers were usually found guilty of anti-state activities. Only eleven years had passed since Communism failed in the former Soviet Union. For the previous eight decades, government leaders had tried to forcefully purge the country of its religious foundation.

But despite the efforts of the Soviets to dismiss Him, God never left the Soviet Union.

When we hosted little Roma for five days in November, 2001, five months before we traveled to Russia to bring him home as our son, he immediately captured my heart. Even my oldest daughter, thirteen years his senior, and never prone to sentimentality over children, said, "We got the cutest kid in all of Russia!" 

We took him to church with us that Sunday. I was surprised as we drove into the parking lot and he saw the cross. He had learned quickly that we Americans were slow with the Russian language, and it was fruitless to use words with us. His eyes asked the question, and his little hands held together in prayer supplied more visual aids. I smiled and nodded yes. He understood prayer, church, and reverence. I was pleased with his knowledge.

When we traveled to Russia in April, 2002, I encountered people of faith. I was eager when our translator in Roma's home region in North Osettia asked if we minded stopping by her lovely, historic Orthodox Russian Church. We didn't mind tagging along on one of her daily visits during Lent, where she knelt at the rail for prayer and communion. She had given up meat and cigarettes. I had given up nothing. (Except maybe the involuntary relinquishment of my sanity for the first few months of that year, some would argue, longer.)

Days later, back in Moscow, our other translator took us by the famed Cathedral of  Christ the Savior, where she proudly dictated the history. The Soviets (spoken of with disdain) had torn it down in the 1920's during the anti-religious campaign, to erect the ill fated Palace of the Soviets, which was never built past the foundation. As soon as Communism fell in 1991, the citizens rebuilt their church back to it's original glory, complete with gold icons.

I have always been fascinated with Russian history and literature, even before I knew I would one day be the mother of a native son. As I slogged through nineteenth century Russian writers, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, as a college English major in the 1970's, I was unaware of a Wind blowing through the Russia that young Igor inhabited. Hardly a single intellectual, writer, artist, or musician in the Soviet Union in the 1970's was not exploring spiritual matters, a former Soviet exile living in England told British reporter, Malcolm Muggeridge.

Muggeridge was fascinated, considering the extensive anti-religious brainwashing done on the citizenry for nearly eighty years, and the absence of all Christian literature, including the Gospels. The former Soviet's reply was memorable. The authorities had forgotten to suppress the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, which were "the most perfect expositions of the Christian faith in modern times." No, God had not left Russia. 

Before I learned anything about Igor, I had researched the life of Dostoevsky, and written this post, Powerful Literature. Like our tragic hero Igor, Dostoevsky too spent many years in prison.  For Dostoevsky, prison is where he met Jesus.

I often repeat a question I have pondered since I first learned of Igor, and Liana, and Lia since this story began to unfold the last days of 2014. Did Igor cry out to God in groans too deep for words, that God would protect his baby son, lost to his own family? Lia wrote that Igor took the pain of losing Roma to his grave. I always felt someone most have prayed for this boy. God's swift and determined action  made me feel I was only a cog in a Divine Plan. Now, privy to so much more knowledge, I wonder if my Call, from God, to adopt, was a plan of redemption for a helpless father, a man who seemed "doomed" by the world's definition. I am confident God never abandoned Igor.

Igor died in November, 2006, of cancer, at the age of 41. Lia and his family had pleaded with the authorities to release him from the terrible conditions in the prison, and allow him to die at home, surrounded by his loving family. But the request was denied. He was buried beside his father in Tbilisi, Georgia. All of his heartbroken relatives attended his funeral and a party to honor his life.

The above photo, painstakingly drawn Cyrillic, is translated, "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him." (Rev. 3:20) It was the reverse side of cousin Lia's birthday present in 1998 from Igor, drawn on a bed sheet with a ball-point pen, from prison. I studied Igor's drawing of Jesus at the door, carefully preserved and eagerly shared by Lia. 

No, Jesus had never abandoned Igor in prison. And He never stops pointing me toward Himself. No other talent would have connected Igor to our family more than his being an artist. I was stunned as the image slowly loaded from Lia.

Igor's drawing for Lia's birthday, 1998

Learning the rest of the story, like I have since the end of 2014, has been such a humbling, restorative, and redemptive experience. I wish I had more information, more photos. I can't get enough of this story, though I am infinitely grateful for the discovery. One day I might have more to share. Maybe photos from our meeting in person, Liana and her family, Lia, and hers, the Michaels, and the common denominator, our boy, Roma. 

Until there's more to share, I will let Lia's closing words from her family's shared memories hang in our collective thoughts. It occurred to me as I was reading, her family's thanks should also go to my family, friends, and community who have had a part in raising Roma. To those who know our family in person, and to others who have joined in the story along the way from my book and this blog and have offered prayers on Roma's behalf, Lia's thanks are for you too. And please don't stop praying. An African proverb states, "It takes a village, to raise a child," and this quote has never been so true as with Roma. Roma was never just our son. Lia's final paragraph is for all of you:

"We would like to say huge thank you for all the love and care which you are taking of our Roma. We are fully aware of the difficulties which are connected to raising up children. God bless you. With your help the New Year 2015 was the happiest in our life. We had spent so many nights thinking about our dear Igor's disappeared son, and imagine our joy when we finally found him alive and healthy, living in such a respectful and happy family. Thank God that you exist and many thanks to you personally, for all your great love and affection towards Roma! We, with all our heart, invite you to Georgia, Roma's homeland—this visit will really make us happy! 

With lots of love,

Lia, her parents and family"

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Divine Match Maker

Part Ten

When Igor was arrested in June, 1994, and sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the heartbreaking and accidental killing of  a young man, he must have questioned if he would ever return to his family or meet his unborn son.

Named for his grandfather, baby Roman, nicknamed Roma, was born later that year in August. I don't know if Russian prisoners in Republic of Georgia prisons get time off for good behavior like they do in this country, but if it were possible, Igor had loving family members who eagerly would have testified in his defense. I have "met" many of them. And I believe their stories of Igor. All who knew him claimed he was not capable of murder, only that he, in the words of his closest cousin, Lia, seemed "doomed from the beginning."

For the first, long years of Igor's incarceration,  he could hang on to hope that he would one day return to his family. Even if he served all fourteen years, his baby would be fourteen, an age when a teenage boy would need a father. Through letters home, he wanted to be a presence in the lives of his children. But communication between Igor and his family became more restricted by the prison in Georgia, perhaps because of his Russian citizenship. He had received a letter with a photo of the baby when Roma was six months old, not much after that. Very little information was getting to Liana from her father in the prison, or to Igor, from his family. The prisoners were rarely allowed visitors.

Outside the prison walls, Igor's struggling family faced a difference kind of imprisonment. Marina gave birth to another son,  Rostilav, in December 1999. Rostilav's father, the papa Roma thought was his own, was taken from the family by force. Emotionally fragile, Marina, who often turned to alcohol for relief, was unable to care for her children.

In March of 2000, Liana, fifteen, Roma, five, and Rostilav, only three months, were suddenly removed by the authorities from their home. Concerned neighbors had reported Liana and Roma were often on the streets, begging for food. Not so unlike his own painful childhood experience, his children were delivered to an orphanage. Marina was charged with neglect. Frightened and helpless, Marina had to appear before a judge and answer the charges. She had ten days to get a job and straighten out her life, or parental rights would be revoked. Ten days came and went. Nothing changed.

Cousin Lia learned the location of the children during a phone call from Raisa, Igor's stepmother. She had remarried eleven months after Roman, Igor's father died of cancer in 1987. Raisa was not able or willing to help rescue her step-grandchildren from the orphanage.

When Igor learned of his children's troubling situation, he still had nine years of his sentence to serve. Beloved Lia would help. He knew he could trust her to save his children. Lia tried to help from Georgia, but road blocks met her at every turn. The political hostilities made it impossible for   Georgians to cross the border into Russia. Even though Lia was related, and had the means and the desire to take the children into her home, she was not allowed.

Surely there was a way. Lia and her family would figure out a way to help. Igor trusted Lia.

By 2001, Liana had aged out of the orphanage and attended a trade school. No one thought they would be in the orphanage that long. Liana did the only thing she knew to keep her family together. She marched back to the orphanage as often as she could to visit now six-year-old Roma.

Meanwhile Igor, remembering his months spent in an orphanage as a child with his sister Eteri, must have raged in his raw helplessness to deliver  his son to safety.  His own father had come for him. Surely one day both his children would go home. Surely Marina would be able to get them back, and they could survive as a family. Almost half his sentence was behind him. His behavior in prison was exemplary—he did nothing that might prolong his stay. Some days he could be hopeful. Others, he was despondent.

In their despair, did Igor, or Liana, or Lia ever cry out to God for help?

I grew up thinking the Communists were atheists. Russia had enjoyed only three years of relative freedom since Communism fell after eight destructive decades of evil tyranny before Igor was incarcerated in 1994. But even in darkness, God's Light can never be snuffed out. Even without a teacher, God's truth is written on our hearts

Although no obvious solution seemed forthcoming to an imploding family in southwestern Russia, or their distraught father confined to a Georgian prison 250 miles away, the God of the Universe was already at work making Divine provisions. While everyone wrung their hands in utter despair, God was making a Sacred connection with a clueless and reluctant mother in America. The same month Liana and Roma were delivered to the orphanage, March of 2000,  I "heard" God speak to my heart for the first time about adoption. Although I did not know the tragedy of Roma's birth family until a few months ago, my own drama, told in But the Greatest of These is Lovewas just beginning to transform my apathetic faith.

God was breathing His Spirit, and His crazy idea into my heart as I set innocently, minding my own business, in a small town in Maryland 5000 miles away. In my comfortable little corner of the universe, I was oblivious to the family tragedy brewing in a remote area in the Caucus mountain range.

Had a desperate and helpless father cried out to the Heavens for help for his son he would never know? I keep thinking of Igor—my unexpected tears for him, his loyal, loving family members, his identical appearance to our son—his son and mine, Lia's haunting description of his cursed "doom."

And yet, I know God is fair. God redeems it all. I don't know what that looks like, but I trust God to make it all perfect, even to Roma's first relatives who suffered great loss. Even to Igor. Eventually, God will redeem it all. And I believe the redemption has begun. I pray that Roma's first family will have peace and healing after years of anguish and torment and uncertainty. Roma will not be their son or brother or cousin in the purest sense, but we all pray that we will go forward as family, as best we can. Here on Earth we have limitations, but in Heaven, there will be no barriers to our love and family.

God's Revelation of Himself though these experiences, beginning in March of 2000 and continuing to this day,  has changed me. For the better.

So has Roma's love. I pray my love has done the same for him.

(I have just a few more photos and little more information to share in the next/last post. I still have so many questions. Maybe I'll get more answers.)

Continue with part Eleven here

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Longing for Freedom

Part Nine 

(Part one begins here

(Shortly after my last post, You are Mine, part eight in the ongoing Family Connection series, my computer died. As thankful as I would like to be for my new computer, I am struggling. My new one seems to speak a different language. All my photos are gone, or missing. I can't locate some of my files. Thanks for being patient with me as I've tried to get back on track . . .)

Some kind readers have suggested it might be time for a sequel to But the Greatest of These is Love. These periodic posts might one day serve as outlines for chapters.

The information that flooded into my knowledge in the early months of 2015 have filled in so many gaps of the mysteries in my son, Roma's early life. But everything I learn from Roma's first family begs for more answers as the story unfolds. The story is so rich, so tragic, so real. One important overall revelation has been that Roma's birth family is made up of lovely people with integrity, people who I immediately loved. My most ardent hope is that we will meet one day in person, this side of heaven.

In Face to Face with Igor, (Part Four) I wrote that Roma had shared a few stories of his father. Unlike his happy recollections of his doting sister, his memories of his father were dark and frightful. Once he was eager to point out a steam radiator in a older home. "This what Papa pushed me and hurt my head. Blood. Hospital. " Roma's new English was insufficient to tell this story, so Roma, always the dramatist, was demonstrating how his head bounced off the radiator, complete with "crash" sound effects. He spoke, and acted, matter-of factly, as if he were telling a story of someone else's life.  He was not saddened by the memory.

I, on the other hand, was crushed to the point of tears by my little boy's memory. I could not protect him from that abuse. I knew these memories left scares on my young son. I was glad there were happy memories of love too. I listened with mixed emotions to his cheerful tales of dear Liana who so sacrificially loved her little brother, happy because he had experienced love, and sad because she had experience loss. I had prayed for all his Russian family members with whom he had lived for five years, whose lives could not be without their own share of grief.

Roma had few other memories involving this man he called Papa, other than someone, maybe the police, had come and taken the angry man away one night. His memory was of a violent confrontation.

Over the years he didn't want to talk about his father, so I had to let it go. As he got older and got more involved with church activities, I would tell Roma that I prayed for his family, and suggested it might help him to do the same, reminding him that everyone makes mistakes, and everyone deserves forgiveness. I wanted him to find healing in forgiving them, and I truly had compassion for his family and often wondered how they were doing. I hoped that their period of chaos and loss had been a temporary condition, that unfortunately had severe and permanent consequences. The loss of two little boys, Roma and younger brother Rostilav, had to inflict deep wounds. I prayed that God would give them peace, and a supernatural understanding that Roma was well and very loved.

One of Roma's counselors he visited when he was fifteen, an adoption trauma specialist, had remarked that Roma had done remarkably well as an adoptee. She in fact remarked that she did not find any "adoption trauma" in peaceful, humorous, confident Roma, a first for this therapist of twenty-some years who had two adopted Russian sons of her own. She said it was obvious that someone had loved him, before he came to us. That early love had taught him to bond with us, had made him whole. This precious gift of love I had always known was, at least in part, from his sister Liana. That was the reason I have always loved Liana, and felt such compassion for her loss.

I knew little of his mother, and the father was only an unsettling mystery. Starting in late December of last year, I was learning new information daily. Roma had stopped messaging Liana shortly after we found her. He gave me permission to message her and learn what I could, and share his photos and updates with his eager birth family. He wanted to know the details, but wanted a safe filter, through me. He said, understandably that he was too emotional about this revelation, and he didn't know what to say to his sister, just yet, after thirteen years separated, with different languages. Roma has completely lost his first language.

Once I learned from cousin Lia that Igor had never met his son, the "papa" that Roma thought he knew was not his papa. I knew this was an important treasure in the unfolding story.

I chose my time for the reveal carefully, when Roma wasn't dashing off from home, as usual.

"Roma, what do you remember about your father?" I asked when I knew the truth. Knowing I had learned so much about his family, and I was sharing new information with him daily, Roma's body language told me he did not want to know about his father before his words confirmed it.

"I hate him. I don't want to know about him." Roma was insistent that he was not interested in this man he thought he knew.

"Roma, the man you knew was not your father." His quick glance told me he was interested.

"Wait." Roma froze, processing this new truth. I waited for him to continue, but he was staring back into a different lifetime.

"Roma, the man who hurt you was not your father." I repeated. "Your father never saw you, except in photos."

He never looked at me. But he repeated, "Wait . . . Mom, I have to think about this." He was quiet for many seconds. "I have to remember . . . " His eyes darted and I knew he was conjuring all memories of this man. He was digging deep into a buried childhood. Then his shoulders slumped and he slowly exhaled. I fought tears, almost successfully.

"Roma, that mean man was not your dad."

Roma let go of something I could not quite put my finger on. Was he relieved to learn that violent man's blood did not course through his own veins? Did he dare hope that his real Papa loved him, would have done something to save him, if it had been in his power to do so?

Igor in high school

Whatever it was, Roma walked a little lighter after that knowledge. He would lean over my shoulder when I showed him photos of handsome, tragic young Igor, younger than himself, so full of hope and potential, so wrecked by his own brokenness. Was Roma filled with compassion? Was he proud? Roma, by nature, has the pride thing going on, but this was different.  "It's like looking in a mirror," he remarked after a long study of the eerily familiar face

Roma hasn't read these posts yet. I pray when he is ready to know the whole story as I know it, real healing can begin. The first day we had connected with a cousin on which led us quickly to his sister, I floated around the house on a cloud of pure joy! I recognized God's good Gift!

"Roma, I'm so excited that we have family in Russia."

"Mom," he scolded me. "I have family in Russia." He acted as if it were no big deal, and even told me it was no big deal, but I knew it was a big deal to him. His whole reality shifted. He had an identity.  I studied the glow of his face as he daydreamed. This revelation was a very big deal. He continues to process this new reality in little bite-size pieces. He trusts me with the tender story's safe keeping and sharing. I try not to tell him more than he is interested in hearing. But I had to tell someone, so I write these posts.  Thanks for reading and validating this is indeed good news!

One day Roma's curiosity will get the better of him, and he will be drawn to read this story in the privacy of his time alone. When he does, he will learn the truth, and as we have all hopefully experienced, the truth will set him free.

Continue with Part Ten here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

You are Mine

Part Eight
(start with Part one here)

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 
                        I have called you by name, you are mine." 
                                                                      Isaiah, 43:1b

I'm taking a brief break while mourning Igor's misfortunes and processing all that has gone on so far in 2015. Perhaps this post ties in some way to the continuing story that God is revealing . . .

In March of 2000, fifteen years ago this month, I was just beginning the surprising and agonizing journey of having my very immature faith tested. While trying to convince God of His error in choosing me for adoption, God showed up to state His case. The story is documented in my book, But the Greatest of These is Love.

Yes, I was stubborn, but God was relentless. He pulled out all the stops because He had a boy who needed a family, ASAP. God had chosen my family, but I had all the kids I wanted.

During that period of troublesome angst, I also experienced an awareness of God I had never known before, On two occasions during that period of God drawing me closer to Himself, I was wakened by hearing someone call my name. Out of a dead sleep I heard a loud whisper calling "Debbie."  It was so clear, I sat straight up in bed with a racing heart, and answered, "What?'

Michelangelo, God giving life to Adam
It reminded me of the story of Samuel. In First Samuel 3, we learn that in this period of Biblical history,  words and visions from the Lord were rare. When young Samuel heard his name being called, three times, at first he basically answered like I did. But there the similarity ends, for Samuel finally answered, with his master Eli's prompting, "Speak, for your servant is listening." I'm still working on that servant part!

The Lord's response to Samuel? "See, I'm about to do something that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle."

I recall a memorable incident that happened shortly after God had His way and Roma arrived in our family. I had picked up my precious little bundle of energy from a birthday party. He was babbling on in his broken English about the fun he had experienced at the party, likely his first ever. His new vocabulary was insufficient to describe his joy, so he used loud sound effects and wild arm motions.

My attention was suddenly and unexpectedly diverted as I noticed a street sign at an intersection in an area of town I rarely visited. I had an instant fastback to a murder that happened on that street many years earlier. A man had returned home in the middle of his night shift to shoot his wife as their young children slept. I rolled past the sign in silence. But as I turned to see why Roma had become quiet all of a sudden, he was watching me, his green eyes narrowed. He simply said, "Killing is a terrible thing." I was startled. It was as if he had heard my thoughts.

"What made you say that, Roma?" I asked, trying to be nonchalant.

He just shrugged, and said in his husky, thick accent, "Ah dunno."

I have never forgotten that incident. Most of us have had experienced something like this. It isn't that rare. We say the same words at the same time as a friend, or think of someone, and they call. Even science backs up this mysterious phenomenon. God designed the human brain with such magnificent intricacies, we do not have a human hope in comprehending its depth.

Last summer when I had another period of intimate closeness with God, documented in the Hound of Heaven Winks (most-read post ever) series, I would go into my dark closet, drop to my knees, and plead my case for my lost boy.

I prayed, "Lord, let him hear you call his name." I remembered how powerful that experience had been for me. As I prayed, often I would envision what that would look like. Sometimes in my attempts to help God answer my fervent prayer, I would even call out Roma's name in a loud whisper envisioning  I was right by his ear as he slept. I trusted that God could connect my brain with his, even from a distance as far as Maryland to Atlanta, in a powerful, transforming moment.

Recently, just after I posted  The Applause of Heaven, I was sharing the story with Roma, the story he will read when he is ready, about the lights going on.

"That would have freaked me out if I'd been home when that happened," Roma confessed. But he was not resistant to talking about it, or even believing such an outrageous story could happen. So I continued.

"Roma, have you ever had an experience you would call, um . . . 'spiritual'"?

He didn't pause for long.

"Well." he started slowly, gauging whether he should continue with his own crazy-sounding story. "Sometimes, when I am sleeping . . ."

He paused as chill bumps covered my arms and I willed my eyes to stay dry because tears are a instant barrier to Roma's vulnerable honesty. I knew what his next words would be.

"I hear a voice calling my name." Having admitted that strange part, he gained momentum. He put his fingertips together and held them close to his ear. "It is like a loud whisper  right in my ear." He smiled at his story that seemed to happen on another universe. "And it's annoying."

I laughed,  "Yes, Roma, it is annoying. I understand. I've been there!"

I confessed that has been my exact prayer. Roma told me to stop praying that prayer.

I know what it is like to resist that "Call," a call that is annoying, from our human standpoint. That Call that asks the impossible of us, to leave our gods of Comfort and Ease and head  down an alternate Road less traveled. I know what it is like to surrender to the Call, if only once in a while, and encounter Supreme JOY.

And I know from experience God is relentless in His Pursuit of  His Called. That reassurance gives me a peace that goes beyond human understanding.

I pray. God shows up. He reveals just how much He wants to be close to me, how delighted He is for the moments I have my eyes on Him and "get it." He shows me how powerful our prayers are. So I
will keep praying—more so than before, until I forget and become lazy, again. I pray I will not retreat into the god of ME so far this time.

I wonder if Igor was praying for his young son in March of 2000, as five-year-old Roma was torn from his family and delivered to an orphanage at the same time God began hounding me about adoption. Perhaps God heard the desperate pleas of a devastated and helpless father. Maybe God took a quick look around the world and He chose my family as the best possible match. He could see the big picture of the healing and redemption, and ultimately, JOY, of this divine story.

Yes, I was a project, no doubt. I was a very self-centered lover of comfort, an unwilling participant in the divine drama God drew me to. But God is God. I am no match. I am His. He has called me by name.

And now He has Called Roma.

Continue with Part Eight here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Praying for the dead

Igor, age 17
Part seven,  (Begin with Part One of the Family Connection series here)

The tears I shed for Igor, and they were many, took me by surprise. Dead eight years. Why could I not get him off my mind? Why did I cry and cry for days over him, and still do? And why did I have an overwhelming desire to pray for him?

In my Protestant tradition, I have never prayed for the dead. I called my daughter, Kellie, who is a Catholic convert, and a wise and Godly young woman. We talked and she sent me some readings. 

I also checked the internet. "Opinions" on praying for the dead run the gamut. I say "opinions" because how can anyone really know for sure? How can "experts" speak with such authority, and be in complete opposition to one another? In any case, I don't know the truth. I'll admit it. I don't think anyone else knows either. Not for sure. The people I trust the least are the ones who are most confident they are right. Even God tells us that His thoughts and ways are not like ours, and His ways are higher than our our own. (Is 55:8-9) Thank God, for who could trust a god who thinks like we do? People who claim to know it all start to sound sanctimonious to me. 

People are referred to as "grasshoppers" in Isaiah 40:22. Maybe that means we cannot know the mysterious ways of God. We can't see the BIG picture, like God can. We only see the grass and dirt in our little, isolated part of the world. 

In my research, some people called it an "abomination" to pray for the dead. But there is also that verse that keeps resounded, 1 Peter, 4:6, "the Gospel was preached even to those who are already dead, so that they might be judged according to human standard in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit." I pray God will open my eyes to His ways and His thoughts, as best I can understand, as a grasshopper. 

It is a mystery. It was not as if I was going to conduct a seance, but I felt a connection with the father of my son that went beyond curiosity. So I will pray for Igor. And I will "hold him in the Light," as Lia said she would do also for my deceased mother. 

It was easy to agree to hold beautiful, tragic Igor in the Light. Before I even knew the story I am sharing, I felt an otherworldly connection with this man when the likeness of his son starred back at me. His photos captured a boy and young man who rarely smiled. Had he known so little joy in his short life? 

First photo faxed from Russia
I thought back over  the photos of his son, even the first cherished one I ever saw of  him. What surprised me from the very  beginning was  Roma's joyful smile. I had not expected it.  Not from a boy from  an Eastern European  orphanage, who was old enough to know his family, then be torn from it. But there was a twinkle, a knowledge of joy. And when I met him, I was taken back by his belly laugh. The small, wiry boy laughed with such a force and exuberance, he brought us all into his excited happiness. Where did his joy come from?

                              *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *   

The year, 1994, had begun with such hope for twenty-nine year old Igor. He finally had a job as an artist that suited him. He had never been trained as a painter, but he looked forward to more practice and perhaps instruction. He would soon have enough money saved to be able to bring pregnant Marina and their two daughters to Georgia, if he could find a way to get them across the closed border. 

The news of the death of his five-year-old daughter, Diana, was a devastating blow for Igor. Making a terrible situation even worse, he was unable cross the border back into Chechnya to grieve with his family or attend her funeral. He withdrew into himself, and would not even allow Lia, his most loved and trusted confidant, to comfort him. 

Back in Chechnya, Liana, ten years old, must have thought the world was coming to an end. She had adored little Diana. Her sister, her best friend was gone. 

I couldn't help but think of a parallel. I remembered when my son Taylor was born, five years after Kellie. My oldest, Heather, was seven and a half, and had many outside interests and activities. As expected for that age gap, she was not as interested in a new baby. But Kellie adored her little brother. She mothered him with me. She carried him around and talked baby-talk to him. He reserved his biggest smiles for her. His first word was Kellie, not Mama. He was her baby. When he was five, and she, ten, the ages of Diana and Liana, there was a set-in-stone, unbreakable bond that still exists at ages 25 and 30, If something had happened to adoring Taylor at five years old, it would have been a wound Kellie would have carried for life.  

As Kellie would have been, Liana was lost. Diana was gone forever. Her papa was far away, and her mother convulsed with inconsolable grief.  What would become of them? Would life every be normal again? 

Igor was still living at his aunt's home a few month later. Lia and her husband were living there too at the time while Lia's parents were visiting their son in Greece. They celebrated Lia's birthday in June with a party. After everyone was asleep, Igor went out on the porch to smoke a cigarette. 

The house across the street still alive with a graduation party. Some of the guys in the street came over and asked Igor for a light. When he spoke Russian, they became angry because of the political hostilities between Georgia and Russia. Soon the dispute turned into a fight, with one threatening Igor with a gun. Four men beat Igor severely. 

Wounded, Igor limped back into the house, and found his grandfather's hunting rifle. Back on the porch, he frantically shot into the darkness, just to scare the thugs away and to let them know he had a gun so they wouldn't come back. 

In the darkness, without street lights, a frightened young man, who had had a very bad year, pulled the trigger, without thinking clearly. The bullet struck and killed one of the teens.

I can only imagine the scene, As Lia woke with a terrifying start, the screaming from the neighboring party. Igor's dreams slipped away as blood ran from the dying boy.

Igor just couldn't seem to catch a break.

He was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

His baby son, Roman Igorevich Sudzhashvili, named for his grandfather and father, as was the Georgian and Russian tradition, was born six weeks later. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Through a Glass, Darkly

Part Six 
(Begin with Part One of the Family Connection series here)

1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."

With special thanks and love to my dear new sister, Lia Tsivtsivadze, for sharing
 her loving memory of Igor, and for her family's research
and contribution to this post. I thank God 
our lives are forever linked! 

Igor and Lia, age four

"It seemed he was doomed from the beginning." 

Lia's words describing her beloved cousin Igor, stabbed like a knife in my wounded heart. The
Lia and Igor 
revelation of Igor's unfortunate life and early death was still too fresh a tragedy. The stories and photos gradually filtered in, first from Roma's sister, Liana, then his father's cousin, Lia, and then another of Igor's cousins, Zaur. The puzzle pieces created a story of a beautiful and loved young man who just couldn't seem to catch a break.

We all know people like that, people who hardly have a fair chance in life. By no fault of their own, misfortune ambushes them at every turn.

But where did I get this notion of "fairness" as the standard, as the norm? Because my life has been relatively smooth and easy, I say I am "blessed." But I deserve this blessing no more than Igor deserved his curse, at least that is what it appears from our human viewpoint, a curse. It will remain a mystery, my human concept of fair. God is fair. I trust that truth.

For whatever reason, I wept off and on for days, mourning a man who had been dead for eight years. At first I read private messages about him translated by Lia's daughter Elene. Then Zaur reached out to me, offering what he remembered. Then Lia's mother contributed her cherished memories of a loved nephew she knew so well. Another cousin, an English teacher, also contributed to the translations of the recollections of a boy, then a man, who had endeared himself to so many, and whose tragic life had broken hearts of those who knew and loved him best. They each introduced me to Igor, all in hopes that we would know and understand him better. This knowledge will one day be a gift to his son.

                                               *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Roma's grandfather, Roman Sujashvili, (translated Sudzhashvili in our documents and Roma's legal middle name) was born in Georgia in 1937. He had three sisters and loving parents. A former republic of the Soviet Union, Georgia, (in green) is wedged between the northeastern border of Turkey to the south, and to the north, the Caucus Mountains shared by Eastern European Russian (in pale yellow). Surnames ending in -vili are as traditionally Georgian as names beginning with Mac- are Scottish.

Because jobs were scarce in Georgia, Roman's family moved to Mozdok in North Osettia, Alana, in the scenic Caucus region of Russia, in 1959 or 60.  From Northern Georgia to Mozdok is 90 miles, or 2.5 hour drive across the rugged mountains. Proud and noble nationals, Georgians traditionally chose to marry other Georgians, but Roman met and married a Ukrainian-born Russian woman, Emma. She persuaded Roman to move to Ukraine when their daughter, Eteri, was four, and Igor, two.
Roman  and Emma with Eteri and Igor, 1965

Once settled in Ukraine, Roman joined the Ukrainian Army. He often traveled, sometimes being away from home for as long as a month at a time. One day he returned home to find his family missing. He learned Emma had gone away with her lover, and left the children in the streets. Neighbors had taken the children to an orphanage.

I recall with heartbreaking clarity peeling my own screaming children's limbs from my neck and legs in their desperate attempt to prevent me from leaving them. I only left them for hours at a time. They were pretty confident I would return for them. I have also known first hand the agony of homesickness, even when I knew I had a home to return to. The image of those abandoned children haunted me, knowing that trauma never goes away for so many institutionalized children.

It was no simple task for Roman to regain custody of his own children. He had to prove he was capable of taking care of two small children while he worked. The court case lasted six months, while the young siblings clung to each other, their bond deepened, as they tried not to lose hope. Roman was finally allowed to take his children from the orphanage in Ukraine back to Mozdok where his parents could help him care for them.

About that time, Emma returned and wanted to take Eteri with her. When Roman refused to allow it, Emma claimed the girl was not Roman's. Before an age of paternity testing, Emma's wishes prevailed. So the children, ages six and four at the time, were separated, and another bonding thread was broken for young Igor.

For two years, Roman's loving parents looked after their grandson while Roman worked. Before long Roman married a Russian woman named Raisa. Igor returned to live with his father and his new wife. With Raisa, Roman had another daughter and son.

Roman, Igor, and Raisa
Having a new mother and another change in his life was difficult for Igor. Perhaps he missed his grandparents' stability.

Lia, who has been so gracious in telling me the story of her family, was always very close to Igor. Born the same year in 1965, Lia and Igor spent a lot of their childhood together. Lia's parents brought Igor to spend summers with their family who lived in neighboring Chechnya. Lia described Igor  as "naughty and stubborn, but at the same time, very clever, kind and understanding." Although Igor loved his new step mother in his own way, he struggled to get used to his new life and he resisted following her rules. Problems escalated, and at times, Igor returned to live with his grandparents.

Igor, high school.3rd from right. 
When Igor was seventeen, he fell in love with Marina. When Marina became pregnant, Igor wanted to do the right thing, so the teens married. Roman was against the marriage, for he did not want his son to repeat the mistakes he himself had made.

At age eighteen, Igor was required to serve in the army. In May, 1984, while he was in the military, Liana was born. The young couple named her after Igor's beloved cousin Lia. Marrying young presented challenges to the young family. Employment after his service in the army was difficult. Marina and Igor struggled financially and in their marriage relationship.
Igor, 18, uncanny resemblance to his son

In 1987, Roman became ill with cancer. Shortly after his fiftieth birthday, he died, and was buried in Tbilisi, Georgia. Roman's house in Mozdok became his wife's property, and she was not willing to allow the struggling family to live there any longer, as she remarried eleven months after her husband's death.

In 1989, a second daughter, Diana, was born. Igor could not afford to support his family, as the early marriage had prevented him for getting a higher education and training for a better job.  At that time, the political strain between Georgia and Russia worsened, and the borders were closed.

As the Soviet Union weakened in early 1991, Soviet Georgia declared independence from the USSR to become the new state of Georgia.

In the spring of 1994, unrest in Mozdok on the border escalated, and, to avoid getting involved in the hostilities, Igor, with a new plan, managed to cross the southern border into Georgia. When he arrived in Tbilisi, his aunt, Lia's mother, was waiting for him. She was determined to help her beloved nephew with his plan to move his pregnant wife and two daughters to Georgia. While living with his aunt and looking for a job, his aunt remarked that he was always willing to help around the house with any needed chore. He finally secured a job with a small company to paint decorations on ceramic vases and ornaments. The opportunity and responsibilities seemed a perfect fit for the eager young man who had always been a talented artist.

(Anyone who knows my family knows that many of us identify ourselves as artists!)

Renewed with hope and ambition, Igor finally looked to a brighter future. In the midst of that hope, Igor got devastating news from home. His second daughter, Diana, had been killed in a car accident traveling to the corner store.

I have wept like Igor was my family member. The tragedies I read seem like they happened today instead of many years ago. I pray for his family members who have dug up old wounds so I might know Igor better. I feel as if I have become part of this story. I pray that Roma will one day feel a part of this story too.

Oh the tears! I didn't cry as much when my dear mother died.

And there is so much more . . .

Continue here