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 VK.com 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.