Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Glimpse of Grace

The next morning I was distracted at church, wondering where Roma had spent the night. Although he was now twenty years old, he did not demonstrate the maturity of the average twenty year old. Had he eaten? Had he slept? Was he afraid? Was he safe? I had no power to change his circumstances.

As I was leaving church, I checked my phone. One text from Roma, "I saw your friend Beth this morning at church."

What? Church? Beth was a Facebook friend through adoption who I had the pleasure to meet in person in July, despite the unpleasant reason for being in Atlanta-- Roma's disorderly conduct trial.

"Roma, where are you?" I tapped out quickly.

"I'm with a family. The mother wants to talk to you. When will you be home?" I was utterly confused. I called Roma when I got home. I was eager to hear his latest story. He knew I was disappointed that he had not persevered in the treatment center. "Mom, I just couldn't stay in that group home. They all spoke Russian. They had to get a translator for me." 

"Roma, that was very nice for them to make those provisions for you. They were trying hard to help you."

"Mom, you don't know what it felt like to hear everyone speaking Russian again." 

When the weight of that revelation hit, it was like a kick in the gut. The last time Roma heard everyone speaking Russian, he was seven years old and living in a Russian orphanage. 

When he realized that Edward had really left him, he reached out to Nancy first for help, but she, like me, clearly felt she wasn't to help him. He texted and called everyone he knew in the Atlanta area. Apparently someone answered his SOS.

Before this new mother figure in Roma's life called me, I got a message from Beth. She was intrigued to see Roma again, with friends of hers, and at her church. She added that they were Godly people. I was astounded by the interconnected-ness of Roma's friends and adventures. God is always whispering to me, "Do NOT miss My involvement!" Frankly, it would be difficult not to see it!

Ella called later that afternoon to introduced herself. Her son Henry had gotten a text from Roma because they had both gone to Idaho together. At first I thought her son might be adopted too, but Ella explained that Henry had gone on the trip in July as a family friend, as "mission work." 

As I was processing Roma's latest bounce along that "Rock Bottom,"  I remembered my strong conviction to allow Roma to land without my safety net, which was confirmed by Nancy. The entry of this new family into our story was not what I was expecting.

I thanked Ella for her kind heart, but added, "Unless you feel called by God to take him in, take him to a homeless shelter."

Ella paused for only a moment and then said, almost surprised herself, "Actually, I think I do feel Called by God to take him in for now. It's what Christians are called to do."

Well. . . Okay then. How could I argue with that.

Ella explained that she did not blame me for my son's circumstances or my resistance to help him. He had explained to them, at least his side of the story, about getting kicked out of the treatment center and being left alone at Walmart. That detail really seemed to tug at her heart.

Ella said she could actually offer Roma a temporary employment as she was in need of some help for the holidays. Decorating for Christmas was her job. Ella said her husband was very structured and strict. He had already had Roma remove his earring. She said my strong-willed boy had offered no resistance.  I remembered Roma's positive experience with structure at Fork Union Military Academy (except for dipping tobacco.)

So it sounded like God had Roma right where He wanted him. Again. God met Roma around every corner.  Roma's Facebook status that night revealed that he, too, saw God's involvement in the recent turn of events:

"Truly I say my eyes have been opened to the one and only Jesus! He has blessed me and I thank God for my situation I am in to see what his love will provide. No other way I wanted it to be done. I am his humble servant. What a good end of the night. May God bless you." (Roma's Facebook post from November 1, 2014 is still posted, and his 2373 friends can see it.)

Ella occasionally emailed updates about his progress, his interactions with their family, his behavior, and willingness to help. Surprisingly, it was usually good news. 

For Thanksgiving they attended a family reunion in Key Largo, with Roma in tow. They camped out. Ella was pleased to report that Roma was very helpful putting up tents and playing with the younger kids. I saw photos of him parasailing and carrying small children on his shoulders. I even got a Christmas card from Ella, a photo of the whole family, including Roma, sitting in the group like he belonged there. His name was even included among the mother and father, two brothers, and a little sister.

Nancy, encouraged by his new attitude, took him to a David Crowder concert one evening with her family. And she also surprised him with a ticket for Passion 2015, a Christian Conference. Twenty thousand 18-25 year olds would be converging on downtown Atlanta for the three day event scheduled for January 2-4. 

Roma, so lovable, insinuated himself seamlessly into other people's families.

He came home for Christmas on a bus on December 20. He seemed peaceful and content. He was returning to Atlanta for the Passion conference and after that, he was going back to Ella's family to help her with her Christmas-decorating business, this time to reverse the process. She said she could keep him busy for about a month. I was living one day at a time, and couldn't think what might come after that.

Life for Roma seemed to be on track. I praised God for His unending mercies. It was a joy to have all our children and grandchildren home for Christmas. And the joy expanded, when right after Christmas, on December 29, we found his sister Liana. As much as he didn't like me to make a big deal about the discovery, it was evident he was profoundly moved by the discovery. Finding Liana, and then an aunt, Lia and other family members gave Roma a truer sense of "Identity," and answered questions that would no longer torment him. 

The year 2014 had been a roller coaster. Roma's many adventures had achieved a sacred mission. Roma had seen God, up close and personal, many times. We all had. Roma's mind was "all in" for God. On a intellectual level, Roma "got it." His heart, however, like all our hearts, was deceitful above all things, couldn't always be trusted. 

I remember reading about Saint Augustine who was quite the playboy in his youth--I bet Roma and young Augustine would have been friends. Augustine said he had two conversions. The first came at age nineteen. A more complete transformation happened at age thirty. About his first conversion, Augustine confessed that while his lips were praying "Lord made me chaste," his heart was adding, "But please don't do it just yet." 

Yep, that was Roma. That would also describe many of us.

I am confident Roma knew God more intimately at that time than some people many times his age. He never denied God. He freely discussed God's Love for him.

It boggles my mind how people can deny the existence of this redemptive and personal God who we have come to know. They might as well say to me, "I've never met this Roma you speak of, so I am sure he is a figment of your imagination."

Faith is not blind. But one does need to open their eyes to see! 

Continue with Loved with a Passion

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Surrendering the illusion of control

Continued from Emerging from the Fog

I'm circling back to share some stories from the end of 2014, after Roma's odyssey in Atlanta told in the Hound of Heaven Winks series, and before we discovered his family in the Family Connection series. Perhaps because of my mother's failing health and passing, and frustration with the seeming lack of spiritual growth and maturity, I haven't told these stories yet. If these posts one day become parts of chapters of another book, it will read with more continuity. In the meantime, enjoy our story. Even in the middle of my pain, I see that I have been part of something Sacred. 

Roma returned home from his Divinely orchestrated trip to Idaho on July, 5 2014. Having not been home since March 1, he struggled to reorient himself into structured, peaceful family life. We had to have rules. Roma, famous for his sweet heart and outgoing personality was not known to make wise choices. He wanted to be treated as an adult, as he would turn twenty in August. I constantly told him we would love to treat him like an adult, when he started acting like an adult!

Our older son Taylor was living at home. Five years Roma's senior and ten years more mature, Taylor was left with the responsibility of "babysitting" Roma if we went away for the weekend. My mother's health was failing rapidly by July, and we were making frequent trips to North Carolina to be with her. Taylor would try to appeal to Roma's sense of chivalry, by asking him to help out by behaving for the sake of his grandmother, "Honey."

One weekend we came home to the news that Roma had six guys over in our absence. He reasoned that they were just playing video games and watching TV, and we would rather them not leave if they were drinking. Faulty assumption. Taylor had to come up from his apartment in our lower level at 3 am because of the noise level, and tell everyone vacate the premises.

"Roma!" I fussed when we returned home and got the report, "Why would you have a party when we are not home. No one is allowed in our house when we are not here. We've made that clear!"

"Mom, it wasn't a party. It was only six people. Six guys! That is not a party."

(See what I had to contend with?)

He was undeterred by our rules.

When Bruce and I needed to go away, we stopped telling Roma, hoping it would be too late to plan by the time he figured it out. We wanted him to think we would be home at any minute, that we could be right around the corner. He usually came in late, right before his curfew, and we reasoned that if he came home after bedtime, he might assume we were in bed. Unless he looked in the garage. By the time he figured it out, the weekend would be almost over, we hoped. 

Once I texted Taylor to tell him we were going away for the weekend, and reminded him not to tell Roma.  Then I got a text right back that said, "Haha, this is Roma." (I ought not to be allowed to operate electronic devices.)  At least I could explain to Roma that this is how he taught us to treat him, as someone who was not worthy of our trust.

He had a short memory. Finally, after breaking so many house rules and not coming home at all a few nights, I told him he would have to find another place to live. He was out of control.

He was working at a car dealership a half hour from home as a lot attendant, washing cars, driving cars up for clients to test drive, etc. I got a text from him saying he had decided to move in with a coworker. It was his decision, he reminded me. He resisted any idea that we would have to ask him to leave. Decisions like this always had to be Roma's idea.

I took comfort in remembering that Taylor had moved out, against our wishes, when he was 18. Taylor's rebelliousness had come as a total surprise to me. Taylor  wasn't ready for college right after high school graduation, but he wanted that "going away" experience. So he moved three and a half hours away to Pittsburgh and in with his sister, Kellie, and her family. For several weeks, he enjoyed the safety of "family" before he found his own apartment. He wanted to be on his own, yet still wanted his sister, five years his senior, to be close, just in case. Then he moved to Oklahoma with a friend for a while. But by the time he was twenty two, he was back living at home, and had started the process of realizing we were not the enemy. I prayed Roma would reach the same outcome and conclusion. 

Maybe this "going away" from the family would serve Roma by easing him into adulthood and help him accept some responsibility. But Roma wasn't emotionally almost twenty. That didn't matter to Roma who wanted to live his life, his way. I was actively trying to preserve our relationship. Our struggle over who got to be the boss at our house was taking its toll on our patience with one another.

So, on good terms, and Roma thinking it was his idea, he went to live with his coworker. We stayed in close contact by texting regularly.  A peace settled over our house for a season, when we were freed from the enforcement of rules for Roma.

Then he texted me one day saying he had lost his job, for texting. He explained that he and his girlfriend had broken up and he needed to talk to her. He thought that was a valid reason to be texting on the job and his boss should be understanding. My assessment that his boss had the right to expect his attention to his job when he was being paid was foolishness to my heartbroken boy.

He didn't ask to come home. I didn't suggest it. I don't know how he paid his bills or how his roommate dealt with him during the few weeks he stuck it out, unemployed, sleeping on his couch. I knew his living arrangement couldn't last long.

Almost on cue, Roma called me to tell me that Nancy from Atlanta, had called him with a possibility of a new adventure. I welcomed any plan Nancy endorsed. Nancy loved Roma. She recognized God's activity in Roma's life. She had her eyes and ears open to God's prompting on his behalf. Nancy was thoroughly bonded with Roma, and me by virtue of being his mom, from their shared awe-inspiring God-experiences from their five weeks together earlier in the summer.

Nancy had learned from her church of a group of Christian men she thought would benefit Roma. It was a six month treatment center and group home of Russian and Ukrainian young men committed to God, who lived cooperatively, without addictions of any kind, including tobacco. They held daily Bible studies and held each other accountable.  

She was enthusiastic about the opportunity for Roma, if he could get in. She gave me contact info for the leader, Edward, who I called to learn more. Roma was excited about it too. Was he excited because he was in need of a place to stay and someone to take care of him? I feared that was the case. I had to be careful about my enthusiasm, or Roma would shut down the suggestion. It had to be his idea to apply. I told him I would take him to breakfast and he could tell me about it. Edward had told Nancy that Roma had to be ready for this program, or it was doomed to failure, and would be a waste of everyone's time and money.

When I met Roma for breakfast, my heart sank when he didn't seem any different than when he left for Florida, six months earlier, with a spirit of haughtiness and pride. I feared he was not ready for this program. Nancy confided that she didn't think so either, judging from her discussions with him. Roma wasn't trying to fool anyone. He sincerely thought he was mature and responsible. Edward required Roma to talk to him on the phone every night for a week, so he could determine if the program and Roma would mutually benefit each other. At the end of the week, to my surprise, Edward accepted Roma into the group home.

Nancy, always the angel, lined everything up, as I prepared to leave a day after Roma, as I got word that my mother was dying. For the first weeks of October, I was involved with my mother's last days in Hospice and then her funeral. 

Roma, who had restricted phone privileges at first was allowed to call me because of the death in the family. He said he really loved his grandmother, and was sorry he couldn't join us for her service. Did I imagine that he sounded more mature already, after only a couple weeks?

When I finally returned to Maryland, cautious warnings came from Nancy and Edward. Roma wasn't engaging in the program. He would put his head down and didn't seem interested at Bible study. He knew before he agreed to go, that the program was Christ centered and deep study was expected. It had been his idea to go, I made sure of that, but I had tried to be clear about what was expected of him. 

My fear was that when life got tough when he lost his job and faced losing his friend's couch, Roma saw this as a chance to retreat into himself while someone else took care of him, someone other than me, because I was resolved to back away and remove the safety net.

I got the dreaded, but not so surprising, call on the night of November 1, four weeks after his arrival. Nancy's discouraged voice greeted my anxious "Hello."

"Debbie, I hate to tell you this, but Roma got kicked out of the group home. I just got a call from Edward." 

After my moan, she continued, "Roma got caught using tobacco. Then he became hostile and threatening, wanting to know who ratted him out. Edward took him to Wal-Mart to let him pick up some needed items, then he was taking him to the bus station to come home. But Roma blew up and started cussing, so Edward just left him there." My heart plummeted. It was a Saturday night, about 9 pm.

I thanked Nancy for all she'd done for my self-sabotaging boy.  Nancy ended with, "Debbie, I love you, and I love Roma, and I know you will understand, but I can't help Roma if he reaches out to me. Edward suggested we let Roma hit bottom."

Of course I understood. I felt the same way. The image of the Prodigal Son that had been an echo for me for a while revealed that I had to let him fail. I could not help Roma. My attempts to help him only continued the downward spiral.

As I was trying to remember to breathe, Roma began texting me his side of the story. "I didn't do anything to deserve getting kicked out. This guy just left me at Walmart." I just texted back. "You'll have to work it out. There's nothing I can do."

God had been nudging me to pull out the safety net. It seemed a little easier with him six hundred miles away. I could hardly help him if I wanted to. But I didn't want to.

I went to sleep wondering if the Walmart in Atlanta was open all night. If not, where would he go? Roma was about to hit the proverbial "Rock Bottom." God had been foreshadowing some kind of suffering. Was this finally it? 

God had had been foreshadowing suffering to me for a year a half. Right after I first had that ominous feeling of suffering, I got a call one morning in April 2013, six weeks before graduation,  from Fork Union Military Academy where Roma had achieved much success for almost two years. Academic, social, and athletic success. He had gotten dismissed from school for blatant disregard of rules with his sixth offense of dipping tobacco. He would have been okay had he not panicked because his fifth offense had been only days earlier, as his lacrosse team was preparing to leave for a game. Roma was left behind as punishment. He knew this latest offense was the nail in his sports' coffin, he come back verbally swinging with offensive insubordination and foul language to the officer of discovery. 

I thanked God for that premonition of suffering because I was not completely caught of guard. "Thank you Lord, for this warning," I prayed during the three hour drive to pick Roma up for the final time at FUMA. As bad as this seemed, it could have been so much worse. I hope that this was what God was warning me about, because it wasn't too horrible.

After his expulsion, a downward spiral for Roma began in earnest. Every challenge we encountered, I would repeat the conversation with God. "Thank you Lord for the warning. I hope this is it, because this trial isn't too horrible. It could be so much worse. 

That feeling of impending doom continued to linger. So now, left at a Walmart in Atlanta on a Saturday night in November,  Roma was about to face his biggest challenge yet. He was going to be homeless with no safety net. 

Was this the beginning of the real trouble God had warned me about? Where would Roma turn? He couldn't save himself. 

If God had been warning me, none of this could be a surprise to Him. Right? I would put my faith in God. If I surrendered all to Him, I couldn't worry. All I could do was pray for my sweet, lost boy. And as I prayed, I discovered a deeper faith and a closer God. 

Continue with A Glimpse of Grace