Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Grace Refined

Continued  from TheReturn of the Prodigal

Just like that, on October 19, 2015, Roma moved home. And in typical Roma fashion, he was ready to put another challenging episode of life behind all of us, never to speak of it again. Now I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I knew more of the details of his six months away. I thought there would be more time for him to eventually tell his secrets, as he usually did.

His first morning home, I had to drive him to meet his boss at a convenience store about a half hour from home. Even as I type this, I can almost hear Roma correcting me with , "twenty-five minutes." Whatever. It is so like Roma to want to argue about even a small issue. It seemed like a long drive for me, there and back home, twice a day for a total of almost two hours.

In July, before an August return to Maryland was yet on Roma's radar, we sold the car we allowed him to use since getting his license when he was eighteen and three quarters.  It had been sitting in our driveway, with matching dented front fenders, courtesy of Roma and ice (so I was told) since he left in April.  I didn't want to continue to insure the 2000 Chevy Impala. The car ran, and had low mileage, as Bruce's mother was the original owner, but it would require more to repair it than it was worth.

While Bruce and I debated the wisdom of saving it for Roma's eventual use, a man rang my doorbell one afternoon and said he was just driving in our small-town neighborhood, and noticed that the car parked in our driveway needed body repair, and he just happened to be a auto body repairman. I confessed that we were on the verge of donating the vehicle. Even if Roma returned home, he would not be able to afford to insure it on a separate policy, which we would require, to protect us. At twenty-one, his insurance would be high, even though, surprisingly, Roma had no moving violations. He was pulled over once, for speeding. He smiled through his tears, and candidly shared with the officer about a painful break up with his girlfriend earlier in the evening (true story), so he got a warning from the compassionate cop. Of course he would. Roma's counselor once told me he had an amazing ability to turn a negative into a positive.  

Anyway . . . The repairman returned to my door a couple of days later and offered me $350 for the wrecked car, $100 more than the junk yard would offer me. The gentle man, missing some front teeth, looked as if he could benefit from a bargain on a car he could easily repair, so I shook his hand and it was a deal.

(Sorry for the rabbit trail. But as I remember and type this, I suddenly think the stranger buying our car is a part of the story.)

So the consequence of this deal was that I had to drive Roma to meet his boss at a convenience store twenty-five minutes away. Sometimes Bruce would pick him up in the evening, but it was out of the way from anywhere we usually traveled.  Roma hadn't had the job long, and general handyman work, cleaning gutters, trimming bushes, etc. didn't seem to adequately use his people skills. Roma wasn't a handy man. I suggested, now that he was home, he look for something closer to home.

He agreed he would look.  He had interviews on rainy days, when they had to postpone outdoor work for the day.  Nothing seemed to suit him. That first week, I thought it was a temporary that I would be driving him. But the days grew into weeks. And there were other destinations to drive him to on some days.


Sometimes  my older son, Taylor,  would drive him, if he had to work at a similar time. But the bulk of the driving fell on me. And I was not happy about it. I was still subbing at the high school some. But I couldn't accept jobs on days he had no other transportation, unless I wanted to drop him off two and a half hours early.

Roma's transition to home wasn't easy from the start, on top of my annoyance of driving him was his eagerness to be the boss. But he tried to honor his 11:30 curfew. Later that first week home he was with a trusted neighbor watching a football game, just down the street. He asked if he could stay until the end of the game. We said yes. He came in at midnight. But then, according to Roma, his curfew was now midnight, because we had allowed it before. Roma's reasoning techniques and arguing skills were well honed. I once thought he would grow up to be a lawyer.

One of the first mornings when we started our drive to meet his boss, he was reminiscing about his old car, sad not to have the freedom of his own wheels anymore. He said the mother of his most recent roommate before he moved home had criticized us as parents for not helping him out. He said, "And I told her she didn't know what I put you through, and how much money you already spent on me."

I wanted to swerve to the right onto the shoulder and slam on brakes to see who was sitting beside me in the car. But I calmly asked, "Roma, did you really say that?"

"Sure, I told her you always had my back." I was stunned. Roma "got it"! On the planet Roma inhabited, the light bulb was coming on! Roma's dark journey had a Light at the end of the tunnel. His brain's frontal cortex was finally fusing. I was hopeful that this was an irreversible step toward the Promised Land.

But then we would have our little misunderstandings. And I was getting impatient that he wasn't getting another job closer to home. As soon as we would get home in the evening, he would head out, down the street to see friends, or a friend would pick him up. We wouldn't see him again until curfew and bedtime.

One morning, maybe the end of week two, when we got in the car, instead of listening to his excuses about some new misunderstanding, I turned up my Christian radio station and we had to listen to it way too loud. By the time we were close to our destination, I had cooled down. I couldn't stay mad at Roma long. I had been totally distracted by my anger, I didn't even listen to the teachings on the radio.  

The next morning, we got in the car, and he quickly turned the radio, claiming his station for this trip. But then he leaned in and turned the volume down very low.

I suddenly had that heightened awareness of God at this odd action. I thought, Roma either wants to talk or to listen. I waited, and he eventually began. "Mom," he started slowly and thoughtfully, "I know what you were talking about yesterday." 

My mind reeled back to yesterday, trying to remember a nugget of wisdom I had delivered, but all I could remember was the blaring radio. I waited for more clues.

 He continued, "Mom, God loves the Jews. He isn't going to let anything happen to them."

I was trying to absorb what he was saying, as I was overcome with a feeling that our time in the car together was precious. It was Sacred. It was the only time we had together.  The only thing he did at home was sleep.

When I recovered a bit, I told Roma about God convicting me that our driving time was precious, and he agreed, saying, "See Mom!" like it had been his idea. (Roma claimed all good ideas as his own!) 

Now, months after the fact, I can't help remembering the man who showed up at my door to buy a wrecked but running car so I had to drive Roma to work. The Grace I recognize now humbles me to tears. Yes, the time in the car together was sacred

When we arrived at the convenience store, he usually just got out and waited for his ride, and I headed home. Starting that day and every other day after, we waited for his boss to arrive together in the car, talking away about important matters, about God and faith. He had his ticket to go to Passion 2016 in two and a half months in Atlanta over New Years, a gift from Nancy from Georgia. He was excited to repeat his last years experience at Passion 2015. My prayers were for the coming conference to be even more enlightening and convicting for his faith. He was truly starting to flourish in that, and so many other areas.

I was happy for Bruce, when he got the sacred time in the car with Roma. They usually talked sports, but that was fine. And even Taylor had time in the car with Roma. They usually listened to music, and that was fine too. 

Sacred moments don't fit in a certain size box. I was just thankful to recognize the gift. 

Continue with Catching up.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Return of the Prodigal

continued from Roamin' Roma

Roma settled back in Maryland in mid August to live only thirty to forty minutes from home. "Putting himself out there" meant Roma was bold enough to ask for favors. From friends or complete strangers, and anyone in between. I could imagine Roma asking everyone he had ever know, even in the remotest sense, if he could come live with them until he could find a job and help with rent.

No, Roma wasn't shy about asking. And he wasn't easily offended or discouraged if they said no. His list of possible helpers was endless. Who knows how far he had gone down his check list before getting a nibble from the winner of the opportunity to be Roma's roommate. And he was sincere about his offers of one day being a contributing member of a household.

He did not want to live with his dad and me. He was 21 and , in his never humble opinion, he was an adult. We had rules, even for adult children living at home.  And our not-so-distant memory of Roma residing with us had been a strain. Most of his friends were away at college, and living independently from their parents, as far as Roma could tell.

I was surprised to learn that Roma's new roommate was living with his mother. I was comforted to learn this little detail. If Roma didn't think he needed his own mother, perhaps he would continue to get a bit of mothering elsewhere.  It has always been evident that Roma could never have too many mothers.

Roma reached out to us often while living away, yet so close. I would get a surprising text saying, "Mom, look at the sunset this evening, it's beautiful." I thought this odd and amusing because I was always saying that to him, often dragging him from the TV to come out on the deck to see God's artistry. Or when we were driving home, over the last hill, the landscape would open up and was mostly painted sky.  Sometimes I would stop the car at the top of that hill so we could marvel at the beauty.

"Maaahm," he would scold me in his boredom, "It's just a sunset, oh my gosh, they happen every night."

I wondered if Roma's new recognition of the familiar splendor of the sunset made him a little nostalgic, tugging his heart toward home.   Once there was a serious car accident a quarter mile from our house, and Roma, after hearing of it, called to make sure we were all safe and not involved. He did love us. No one ever said that Roma didn't have a huge, sweet heart.

He asked if he could go with us to our lake house in neighboring West Virginia the next time we went. We agreed, cautiously optimistic, and agreed on Labor Day weekend.  

Once at the lake, our extreme extrovert wanted to go to the lodge earlier than we could, to see what was happening. He rode a bike the mile and a half to the lodge to start gathering friends for the evening. When we arrived, Roma came over to introduce himself to our friends, always the gentleman. By 11 pm, we were heading home, telling him to head on his bike soon. I texted him and he texted  back, "I'm just hanging home."

I read it as "I'm just heading home," an auto-correct issue, I assumed. I texted him at midnight, asking if he was okay, since we hadn't heard from him, and he was riding a bicycle without street lights.

His last text before his phone battery died read, "I'm fine." When he finally came home, an hour later, he defended himself by telling me he had told me that he was just "hanging here" for a while, since his new friends were still available. Roma didn't want to miss anything. It was a golfing weekend, and he met some people who were staying in the motel. Roma, never one to miss any activity, assumed we knew he was okay, because he had told us. And he had grown unaccustomed to checking in with us. 

Those kind of misunderstandings were common with our communications with Roma. He couldn't understand why we would worry. He had told us the truth.  And he was 21, he often reminded me. After our weekend together, the first in four months, we dropped him off near his new home at a convenience store. He said we couldn't drive beyond a gate. I suspect he didn't want us to know exactly where he was living. I was determined to allow him this freedom.

Later in the week, via a Faceboook group from our lake house, I learned that Roma had made some nice friends at the lodge that night. He had left a favorable impression on adults in our lake community who he had talked to at length that night. That shouldn't have surprised me, but it did please me. I had worried he was up to irresponsible behavior. Silly me! 

By mid October he was talking about coming home. I was reluctant to have him come home because it had been difficult to share a home with Roma in the recent past. Although he had always been easy to love, it was not easy to raise a boy who wanted his freedom more than a family.

Two weeks later, Roma began talking like a homesick boy. I was not eager to start the cycle again. Hadn't God nudged me to withdraw the safety net? Was it time to run and eagerly greet the prodigal son? I'm not sure I was ready. 

In mid October, Roma hinted that he wanted to come home. A sense of dread struck me, as  my memory was still fresh from when he was home four months earlier,  and of every episode of his home stays before that. Had he worn out his welcome with his present family?

Still, something made us know that if Roma was going to try to live at home again, we had to let him, while maintaining our high expectations of his improved behavior. He told me that he needed his family.  We knew what Roma needed most, after God, was his family, but it had to be Roma's idea. It always had to be Roma's idea.

So on Monday, October 19, Roma decided it would be a good idea to come home. He also decided that he would follow the house rules. He reminded me it was his idea, and I didn't have to remind him.

He met Bruce at the church gym for Monday night volleyball, and brought him home afterwards, with his pitiful little bag of possessions. The prodigal son had returned. He was almost contrite. And almost contrite for Roma was a shocking and welcome condition. He set down with us and reinforced to us that he needed his family. He wanted his family. He wanted us to go on a family vacation, like we used to do, before we bought the lake house. Like a little boy, he told us he wanted to rent a big house at Holden Beach in North Carolina, like before, and the whole family go. Maybe he could invite a friend. He had it figured out this time. And it was going to work this time. I told him we would start making plans for the summer of 2016. 

The prodigal son was home. Again. I was trying to be eager to 
be optimistic this time. 

Continue with A Grace Refined

Monday, March 21, 2016

Roamin' Roma

Continued from Roma's lonely journey 

The plan, according to the experts, was for Roma to move to a halfway house after his thirty days of treatment, where he would live for four to six months. He would get a job and pay his own rent. Roma had given his permission for his therapist to share all information with me. Drugs in his system when he entered detox were alcohol, marijuana, and this time he had added meth.  

Fortunately his use of meth had immediately scared him into urgently seeking help and checking himself into rehab. His counselor said he was a model patient, truly eager to get clean.  She felt he had a great chance of succeeding.  

He confessed to me that the meth had been a bad mistake, "I don't know why I tried meth, mom."

"Roma, did you NOT watch the films in health class? Meth rots your teeth!" I tried to appeal to his considerable vanity.

Even though I had resolved to let Roma have his way (as if I had a choice) and not interject my will into his prodigal experience, I intervened when Fred recommended a Christian-run halfway house after Roma's thirty day treatment. Even though I have never met Fred, I trusted him completely, as I had trusted Nancy long before I met her. There could be no doubt that God had brought both of them into our story for a reason. 

Fred was totally bonded with Roma after God connected him twice by astounding "chance meetings” on a sidewalk in Delray Beach and at a Celebrate Recovery meeting a year later. Roma asked him to be his sponsor in CR. Fred told me that these God experiences with Roma had changed his life. I understood, because God had transformed my own life by this precious, yet frustrating boy. Fred wasn't the first, or last, person to acknowledge that they had seen God work powerfully in Roma's life.  Fred took his God-given ministry of Roma's spiritual protection very seriously, inviting him for dinner with his family, spending time with him,  and in the process, falling under Roma's spell.

Fred was fascinated by this young man who God had Called him to love. He would call me occasionally to update me on progress. "I just love this kid," he would tell me, surprised by the development.  "He's so interesting and smart. He can talk about anything. He seems very educated. Did he go to college?" When I didn't answer right away, he asked, "Is he well educated?"

"Well. . . he did spend five years in high school," I couldn't resist. 

Roma's extra year of high school had nothing to do with him being a slow learner. He emphatically was not. It was a strategy to give him more time to get ready for life, whether college was the next step, or training for a job. It was a holding tank to keep him busy and safe, and not foster boredom. Early trauma in children's lives can stunt their emotional growth. And Roma didn't have the maturity of most kids his age. Three years of public high school revealed that a fourth would not be sufficient for him.  Two more years at a military academy with the structure, the camaraderie of the boys and men, and the sports program Fork Union offered was a perfect fit for Roma. He thrived there and enjoyed his experience immensely. One of his teachers, a retired Army officer, as most teachers were, sent me a note saying, "Roma is a diamond in the rough." I was thankful he was getting the polishing done where his value was appreciated

The same way Roma had ingratiated himself into life at Fork Union, and life at our house and community, for that matter, he embraced all the halfway house had to offer. He befriended and endeared himself to all members of his new (group) home, from the directors and counselors to the other residents.

In fact, Roma's ability to endear himself to people was in his hard-wiring. I couldn't miss it at first sight when I picked him up in a church basement for our hosting experience in Novermber of 2001, when he was seven. That personality was an enviable asset.  He always put himself out there, with everyone he met, whether he was inviting his new elementary teachers to his little league baseball games, to knocking on his new neighbors' doors, just to say hi, to inviting a neighborhood bully to be his friend. He was always cultivating relationships. He held nothing back. I had two nicknames for him when he was little, Roamin' Roma, and, when he was playing sports, the Rushin' Russian. (Wasn't I clever?)  

I am far more reserved than Mr. Personality. I don't want to bother people. I often thought over the years that Roma shouldn't bother people either, and that he didn't read social cues, that he might not recognize when to pull back, and give a needed respite from that intense personality.  

"Don't always be in your friend's house, or they will hate you," I would only half tease, paraphrasing Proverb 25:17. I tried to give him gentle warnings.
Roamin' Roma, off to embrace the world

"Oh, mom, they love me," was always his perspective and answer. I wasn't so sure. I have come to discover in the past fifteen weeks that he was mostly right. Roma was Roma, unapologetically. He often got a pass that other kids were denied. One of his early principals wrote during this hard time of grief, "Roma was so special, we didn't mind any of his mischief." There was no denying, the boy had "gifts"!

That open, inviting personality continued to be an asset for him in his halfway house. He had made friends, and everyone was working with him to find a job, to maybe go to college when they recognized his intellectual abilities. His counselor called be about helping him apply for financial aid. He wanted to be an EMT, that week, and they had training in the area he was where he was living. I told him to start saving his money to make it happen. We would help him, if he first helped himself. I was still trying to not be a safety net for him, and to allow him to make good decisions so his success could breed more success. To let it be his decision. Or at least let him to think it was his decision.

The middle of August, 2015, just days after he announced on Facebook that he "never thought he would be sober on his twenty-first birthday," he texted me to tell me he was leaving Florida and coming back to Maryland. He wasn't planning to come home, he had plans, and told me not to worry.

Then the director of the halfway house called me to explain that Roma's leaving wasn't their wish, he was doing exceptionally well with their program, and they loved him. He said Roma was discouraged because his job wasn't working out. He was a telemarketer for reducing interest rates on student loans, and they had a quota to fill. The job was not a good match for Roma's outgoing and connecting personality. He wasn't used to annoyed people's reaction to him.

I called Roma back and tried to talk to him, against my determination to let him fail.  He said determinedly that he had a plan that was all worked out. When I tried to learn more, Roma shut me down when he said, "Don't worry about it."

I sent Fred a text to see if he knew about Roma's impulsive plan. He called immediately, sickened by the unexpected news. I felt like the rug had been yanked out from under me. 

As usual, I had no power to change Roma's stubborn recklessness. 

Continue with Return of the Prodigal

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Roma's Lonely Journey

Continued A Reucurring Theme of Surrender.

I am humbled by God's activity in my life. I am also humbled and thankful for every reader who has joined the story by way of these disorganized posts. It reads very disjointed right now, but please be patient, as I continue to lay out this story that, in spite of the seemingly heartbreaking end, is not over. One day these post might read as congruent chapters, pointing to a loving God whose ways are not our ways, but are, I trust, much higher.

Do I believe what I say I believe? I'm walking this difficult, unavoidable journey to figure it out. Or more accurately put, I'm being carried on this present journey.

It's interesting that I chose for my blog title almost four years ago "Consider it all Joy" from the first chapter of James. "Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." I'm certainly not perfect, and I am lacking more than ever. My faith has indeed been tested, but my story isn't over. It's a lifelong journey. . .

After  Roma hugged me and disappeared into a tunnel at the metro station on that evening in late April, 2015, he seemed lost to me. He was evasive about his plan. When friends would ask about him, I told them I had turned him over to God, and would not worry about him, because he was in capable hands. Did I really trust God? Did I  believe what I claimed to believe?

 One friend asked me why I didn't just make him come home and go to the community college. I would have gladly handed the reins to her, if I thought she could have made it happen. One didn't just make twenty-year-old Roma do things. I could preserve my sanity only by allowing him his opportunity to succeed or fail. I didn't want to see him fail, but I could not prevent it.

What happened on this trip to Georgia, as opposed to the one a year earlier, as documented in The Hound of Heaven Winks,  was hidden from me. Other than scattered texts and phone calls, I had no idea what he was doing.  He wanted to do this, whatever this was, on his own, as though he had something to prove to himself. I felt God was telling me to pull out the safety net we, his family, had provided, and let him go. Like the father in the story of the ProdigalSon, we were powerless to save Roma from his poor choices. The only way he would learn anything was to endure consequences of his actions. "Consequences" that might ruin Roma's life scared the daylights out of me, and I wanted to protect him from himself. But just like the father in the story Jesus told in Luke 15, I would let him go, and eagerly watch the horizon for his repentant return. 

This time I didn't have a friend like Nancy to provide updates, to take Roma to church,  include him in their family events, to fill in the "mother" role in Roma's life. Nancy is the friend God brought to Roma and me in 2014 who is introduced into our story in the scenes of the Hound of Heaven Winks series. Nancy and I were still very much in communication. Although we had only met once in real life, at Roma's disorderly conduct county ordinance case in July, 2014, we were thoroughly bonded from our hundreds of private messages, texts, phone calls, etc., as we marveled at God's activity in Roma's life. She confirmed  the decision to let Roma go by her own conviction to do the same. She had also been a safety net for Roma in Atlanta the previous year. She shared that God had also moved her to remove any protection she had provided for our sweet and clueless boy. Roma had no malice. The malady he most suffered was an immature blindness that he knew what was best for him, and we were holding him back. He was now on a dark and lonely road.

One day Roma called to tell me he had run into Mark again. Mark had taken Roma to Idaho the previous year, after meeting him less than a week earlier by Divine intervention. Those were such exciting days. Read about Mark's entry into our story at Angel and Demon's part one.

Later I got a call from Mark. He wanted to mentor Roma. He had worked in Russia and God had called him to work with Russian kids. His story was similar to mine, as he too questioned God with a "God, you've got to be kidding" reaction to his Call. He shared his opinion that only one in ten Russian adopted kids he had encountered in his "mission work" would be a functioning members of society. And only one in twenty would have a successful, fulfilling life. He thought Roma was in the enviable "one in twenty" category. Mark was going to soon be returning to Idaho, and said, if Roma could pass a drug test, he would be happy to take him back to Idaho on his next trip.

Roma's drug of choice? Pot. "Mom," he would defend himself. "Pot will be legal soon." It continues to make me sick that he was right.Roma was excited to go with Mark on another adventure, and I was even more excited at the prospect of wise Mark mentoring Roma. When I asked him if he could pass the drug test, he feigned shock and hurt that I would even ask the question. But I never heard any more about the trip with Mark to Idaho, so I suspect Roma knew he wouldn't pass the test or took it and failed. I didn't ask many questions, because I was trying to distance myself and let him suffer the blows that real life on his terms would cost him. Not being able to place Roma under Mark's care was a blow for me.  It was hard to let him fail. I reminded myself daily, moment by moment, that I had no power to fix Roma. He didn't want my help. He wouldn't accept my help. He only dug his heels in deeper if I made suggestions. Turn him over, God kept reminding me.

Roma would occasionally send me a text or call when I wasn't readily available. I do not have my phone in hand constantly like kids today do. I even turn mine off it I'm at a meeting or when I think it would be rude to answer.  If much time passed for an unanswered call or text from Roma, he would send me a sad-face emoji, as if he was sad I wasn't interested in his message,  like I was neglecting him. Such a little boy in need of his mother,  pretending to be a man.

Then he started sending us frantic texts that indicated that he needed help. By the time we got back to him for more details, he was not answering his phone. Or returning our calls. Then we got a call from the addiction treatment center he had attended in Florida the year before. The caller said he had checked himself back into treatment. By the third day I could talk to him.

 I had heard of "treatment addiction."  Where kids get addicted to treatment and go back when life gets challenging. Over and over. I asked his counselor about her thoughts on this. I was honest and shared my sincere opinion that  when Roma hits a proverbial wall, he wants someone else to take care of him. Then he could appear as if he is taking charge, making a good decision. If he couldn't count on his family to take care of him, even if it was his choice to refuse our help, he would take charge of the situation, and find someone who would take care of him. I never got many answers from him on why he went back. He expressed disdain for his roommate. Had he gotten kicked out? Was he afraid of legal trouble? Was he eager to run away from mounting trouble?

I will never know. He resisted my questions. I didn't press him for answers, or force him into a corner where he would lie to me.  He had signed permission to allow his counselor to be share his information with me. All she ever told me was he was a model client whose updates indicated that he sailed through his thirty day treatment, was eager to share in group sessions, was a "delight" and "charming."  And "very sweet."  Yes,  yes, I had noticed.

 Suddenly one Saturday morning in early June, I had a peek into Roma's hidden-from-me world. I got a text from Fred, a man I have only known in cyberspace when he had contacted me thirteen months earlier, when Roma had approached him on a sidewalk in Delray Beach asking for money. That encounter awakened me to many other God Stories I would share in the following weeks and months. Don't miss that story, The Hound of Heaven Winks from May of 2014, and then The Gift of Desperation when Fred contacted me again to tell me that God had surprisingly connected him to Roma in another God Story. God was so close. God is still so close.  

   Please stay tuned. 

Continued with Roamin' Roma