Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Flesh and Blood

Continued from Merciful Comforter

When I was looking for Roma's first family on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, in late December 2014, I made it clear that I was looking for family members separated through adoption. One person who had accepted my friend request sent me a private message, "Do you mind me asking why you got to be adopted? Families in that region are very close and rarely adopted."

Even though I hadn't "met" Liana yet, I couldn't help but remember Roma's stories he shared when he could speak English. Most of what he told us about his life in Russia were loving memories of his sister, Liana. I had cried privately after Roma told us how she had visited him and brought him candy. I could read between the lines of Roma's broken English, getting acquainted with his sister, a young woman of seventeen who did everything in her power to keep her collapsing family together.

But she really had no power. One day, on one of her visits, she discovered Roma had vanished.  He had left for America. For the next thirteen and a half long years, Roma was lost to her. (Read my favorite series, beginning with Hope for Restoration. Major tissue alert for this epic Russian tragedy. The photos are great and some are shockingly familiar.)

This new friend on who was perplexed by an adoption accepted my friend request because he was born with the same surname as Roma. I would abandon less then 24 hours later, miraculously, and ditch all my new "friends," as soon we located the needle-in-a-haystack Holy Grail: Liana. But his statement expressing his curiosity and surprise about the rarity of adoption in that region gave me insight into what I suspected from hearing the Liana stories. And as soon as I became acquainted with other family members, especially his father's first cousin, Lia, I understood this bond in this lost-and-found family: the intensity of that family-love. A bond that was blood. Roma belonged to them in a different way than he was ours. 

I tried as best as I could to share with them his childhood they had been deprived.  As much as Roma had been our blessing, his loss had been profound. They had never forgotten "Igor's disappeared son."
Beloved Igor, so much like his son

Now he was found. What a joy it had been in early 2015 to share Roma's photos from the past thirteen and a half years, showing them a happy, loved, and well adjusted little boy growing up be a handsome, respected and respectful young man who was a cherished part of a family and community they didn't know. Their story of loss was heartbreaking, but learning about Roma finally brought them peace. We talked often through Facebook messenger with online translation tools. We yearned for a meeting in the Republic of Georgia. The only thing holding us up was Roma, who was very emotional about the the recent discovery. He said he needed time. Time, it turned out, Roma didn't have. 

The news of Roma's fatal accident was devastating to share with Liana and Lia. Only three weeks shy of a year earlier, we were rejoicing in finding each other. Now we were mourning the loss of our common bond, the boy we both held so dear.  On Facebook Lia and Liana's responses to my posts were the sad emoticons with long tears. I felt their grief intensely, as if it were mine, because it was mine too. We were a mourning family, separated by almost 6000 miles. Our private messaging would go on for hours. They had lost him in 2002, then they had found him again in 2015. Now they had lost him again, this time permanently. Previously, they had been able to hope he would be restored to them. Now he was lost forever, this side of Heaven. I had the joy, and the challenges that grew my faith, of raising him. They had only unanswered questions for most of that time. Then they had extreme, but temporary, joy and hope of connecting with him again. 

Three weeks after the accident, right after Christmas, Lia finally asked some hard questions she had pondered for those three long weeks. On December 27 she finally approached the painful topic.  (She gave me permission to share, and these are her words, via Yandex Translator.)

"Debbie, I didn't ask you about the details. I didn't have the strength for that. But my mom is interested. Did he work construction? The roof was high? He worked without any special headgear? Was the injury spinal? Sorry for the details, but these question arise spontaneously."

Lia's questions were tentative and almost apologetic, but I wanted to tell her everything I knew. I wanted to grieve with this woman I had never met in person, but with whom I felt a strong bond because of her obvious love for her family, even her newly discovered nephew, son of her beloved cousin, Igor. I held nothing back from her. I want to hold young Liana,  the age of my own daughters, and weep for our joint loss. I answered Lia's questions with as much details as I knew, helping her understand the accident, as well as the last seven weeks of her precious nephew's life.

Then, without expecting to share my premonition of harm coming to Roma, I impulsively told her that too. 

"I had a horrible feeling about Roma lately, something bad was going to happen with him. I couldn't get him to understand. I almost think that it was God's timing for Roma, but it's still so heartbreaking." 

"It happened to us too." Her response startled me. I had a strange dream. I dreamed that the roof of my apartment was leaking and drops of water fell on my head. And it was so real that I woke up. Falling asleep again, I dreamed the same dream, only the ceiling of the apartment was already wet even more and began to fail and it really scared me. Several times I called my mom and asked about the health of my father, because he is very sick and waiting for the bad news. And my mother has often asked about Liana because it had been a long time since we had communicated with her, and we were worried if she was okay. And here a week later, we receive this terrible news." She ended with the familiar cry emoticon, which always broke my heart. 

Her words stunned me. So she had felt it too, that sense of impending doom. Then a ding announced her next message. "Probably the blood and the flesh feels in advance." 

Yes, the blood. The love. The bond. The sacredness of family. I felt an honor had been bestowed on me to be drawn into this noble family with their rich heritage. Their beloved cousin, their nephew,  brother, and son, who was also my son as a Gift from God.

I'm sure they have questions. We all have our questions. Why would God take Roma away from their family when they were trying hard to keep that family intact? Why would God call me from thousands of miles away to go get him? I don't know the answers. If I did I might understand why God, after calling us to go get Roma from an orphanage across the northern border in Russia, would then call him home to Heaven, too soon to suit me. 

The questions go into my "Too Hard" stack. They are God-size questions that I cannot comprehend with my little ant-brain. But I know this with solid confidence: God transformed me and others with the gift of Roma in our lives. And for that miracle, I am forever grateful! 

Roma's first family members have expressed their gratitude that we loved Roma so dearly and gave him a happy childhood.  Only Liana, in all of the family I've had contact, knew Roma, and she must understand that loving Roma came without effort. It came with joy, faith-building challenges, and eventual suffering. 

Perhaps Eternity in Heaven will be spent, at least in part, of having questions answered so we get a glipse of how God used these messes of our lives to redeem us. I suspect there will be some great stories on what has been going on in the Heavenly Realm on our behalf. I can already feel Roma's overflowing eagerness to show and tell. 

But first things first. I hope I can visit my new family in the Republic of Georgia and Russia before God calls me home. We may not be related by blood, but our common bond by the Spirit runs deep. 

We are blessed. 

Continue with Preparing for "Deployment" 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Merciful Comforter

Continued from It is Finished

My last post, It is finished, was not the end of my blog, but it was a hard one to write. "It is finished" were Jesus' words on the cross, and when I discovered Roma's final actions and God's persistent warnings, it seemed clear to me that Roma's work on earth was finished too. I hope the post gave some of the 2050 (a new record, by far) page-viewers HOPE, as it did me to write it.

Many readers who shared their thoughts after reading were also heartbroken for Bobby, Roma's boss who witnessed the terrible accident. He was, rightfully so, profoundly shaken up.

I first met Bobby while welcoming visitors in a long line that crept toward us at Roma's visitation at the funeral home on the evening of December 13. Long before he reached us in that extended line of co-mourners and well-wishers, I recognized Bobby. As the unfamiliar man with swollen eyes and blotchy red face neared us, he occasionally sobbed, pulling out his tissues to mop his wet face. He was flanked by other people supporting him.  

When he finally reached us, he was unable to speak for a moment. Then all he could manage was "I'm Bobby." Bruce and I both hugged him as Bobby all but collapsed into his sobs. "Bobby, it wasn't you fault," Bruce and I both tried to console him as he apologized for our loss.

He introduced his wife, brother, and sister-in-law who had come with him for support. We couldn't talk long because the line extended behind him, and we were mentally exhausted. 

Bobby called us mid week, a couple of days after Roma's Celebration of Life to proudly report he had had a star named in memory of Roma. How appropriate that Roma would get to be a star. I had already thought of the comparison. Roma was like a shooting star. So bright and intense, but so fleeting. Bobby asked if he could visit with his wife and son. Bruce and I welcomed Bobby and his family, as Bobby, a kind and gentle man,  came bearing the star registry certificate and a vase filled with twenty-one pink roses. His wife came bearing a tin box with "Roma" on it.

Someone had brought it to her office Christmas party, full of cookies, and she had asked to bring it to us. Their son, 14, came and shared that Roma had played basketball with him and he would really miss him.

Bobby and I have texted and talked on the phone numerous times. We met for lunch once, where we both cried at our table. But Bobby was eager to share a story with me. He and his father went to South Carolina for a fishing trip. One night Bobby awoke because his father had gotten up and sat on the corner of Bobby's bed. Bobby felt him there and swung around to ask if everything was okay. But no one was there. Bobby quickly turned over to check on his dad, who was sleeping peacefully in the other bed.  I asked Bobby if the otherwise creepy experience had comforted him. He agreed it absolutely had. He felt it was Roma.

Another friend shared a eerily similar story before I heard Bobby's version.  A neighbor who knew Roma better than she knew me visited and brought food a couple of days after Roma died. She was trying to be upbeat, but suddenly her face crumpled and she broke into tears. She apologized, saying she was determined not to cry.  But she missed our sweet boy who had been a friend of her son for a decade.

A week later I was returning her dishes. We stood and talked as I told her about the pink roses blooming on my red rose bush.

She looked at me sheepishly, and began hesitantly, "You're going to think I'm crazy." I assured her nothing would surprise me anymore. She shared that shortly after her grandmother died years ago, she felt her grandmother sit on the bed with her. She "knew" it was her. She never had that experience again when other loved ones passed away. Until Roma died. She explained that Roma had come by to visit her son days before the accident. While a group of boys were downstairs watching a football game, Roma came up, just to talk to her and her husband. Roma could talk to anyone, with his easy manner and eye-contact, he endeared himself to many parents. One parent said that Roma made them all feel like they were his favorite. 

Just days later, Roma was dead. She said when they looked at the bar stool where Roma had sat days earlier, she and her husband both wept. The next morning, while she was still in bed, she felt her husband sit on the corner of their bed. She sat up to ask him a question, but no one was there.  Convinced he had been there, and still close, she called his name. He answered from another room.

She was looking at me to see if I could believe it might have been Roma visiting and comforting this family whose home he frequented since he was ten years old.

I confirmed that I believed anything was possible. Roma was still spreading himself around, making himself known. Comforting his heartbroken friends and family. Pointing to God.

A few months later, Bobby called me again to tell me he had another experience where he felt Roma sit beside him. He was sure it was Roma.

Almost identical  stories from people who likely will never meet, comforted by a little visit that God could allow. Always pointing to Himself. Their stories give me comfort too. I hope they do the same for the readers.

I'm not trying to tell spooky ghost stories. But I won't put God in a box either. He will not fit in my limited understanding of Him. I'm simply recording a phenomenon I can't explain. I know the  experience had the power to comfort. In His Almighty Power and Mercy and Grace, God has the freedom to do that. 

Continue with Flesh and Blood

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tell His Story, blog interview

I "met" Anna Smit when she commented in early 2015 on my blog post about finding Roma's birth family. She has an adopted brother. God joins people who He will, by whatever means He chooses. Since then she and Wendy Simpson have followed a Call to tell stories of God's great Love, in the midst our darkest grief. Join their blogs and read other stories of people around the world who have experienced their worst losses, and yet found God right beside them. I am honored to be a part of their mission, to point people to God by telling His Stories.

Breaking Light: Finding Life in Death

This is the seventh post in Wendy’s and Anna’s joint blog series Breaking Light, a series in which people from around the world share of their deep valleys and God’s powerful Presence in them, of how He is using what was meant to harm us to bring abundant life.
Today, Debbie joins us with her story of surrender, grace, deep loss and the pursuit of Love. Read below for how you can go into the draw to win a copy of her beautiful book But the Greatest of these is Love.
Anna: Thank you for joining us today, Debbie. Wendy and I are excited to share your (and God’s!) story here.
Of all the characters in the Bible, who do you most relate to and why?
Debbie: I think Moses’ protest sounds familiar. “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) I’ve said that too.
But lately I feel like Paul. Before his ministry, he thought he knew God. As a Pharisee, Paul arrogantly thought he was doing the work of God, getting rid of those pesky Christians. Then, in a sudden revelation, he KNEW Jesus. My journey into deeper faith felt that sudden. That could only have been achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t go looking for it. My “Damascus Road” experience changed forever my intimacy with God. It was like the scales fell off my eyes.
And for all the efforts Paul made for the Kingdom, writing Letters to encourage the new Church, trying to make God known to others, his confessions sound a lot like mine.
“I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out, I don’t do the good I want, but the evil I hate is what I keep on doing.”
Romans 7
Paul mourns of a “thorn” in his flesh that he cannot be free of. God’s response? His Grace is sufficient. There will always be thorns, and God keeps reminding Paul, and me, how very much we need a Savior.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It is Finished

Continued from Ten Thousand Reasons and More.

The beginning of Roma's adventures start with The Hound of Heaven Winks

We knew nothing of Bobby until the hospital gave us a piece of paper with a name and phone number handwritten on it. I didn't recognize the name. I suppose my questioning look prompted the nurse to add, "He said he was your son's boss."

Bobby had called the hospital so many times to ask for Roma's condition, they had to ask him not to call anymore. They promised to give us his number and we   could contact him. The last time Bobby had seen him, Roma was unconscious but breathing on his own.

When we called the number of the stranger on the morning of December 7, we introduced ourselves. I could hear hope in Bobby's strained voice, "How's Roma?"

Bruce paused just a moment, as though he needed to shield this man we had yet to meet from the devastating truth. "Roma didn't make it."

"Oh my God, Oh God" Bobby's voice trailed off into broken sobs. He continued, though periodic primal groans, "We were finished with that job. . . I was already down my ladder. Roma was getting ready to come down. We were done. . . Oh my God . . . I don't know what made him lift his pole so high and hit those wires. They were ten or fifteen feet above the roof. . .  I was on the ground waiting and I heard a loud pop. I looked up and Roma was coming down. Oh my God. Oh my God." Sobs overtook him again.

I was processing his words. Roma had lifted his extension painting pole high and hit a live wire. It made no sense to Bobby. It did to me.

Roma had many wonderful qualities, but patience was not on the list. How often I had seen the dramatic display from the exasperated boy: Roma's head would drop back and his eyes close in a theatrical display of relief, emphatically uttering the words, "Thank the Lord, that's over,"  regarding some tedious task he was relieved to have completed. The emphasis was NOT on thanking the Lord! No, it was on the completion part. Roma grew up in church and with me, so thanking-the-Lord language was part of Roma's language. He learned it as he learned English. By hearing.

This job had lasted weeks. I had driven him to this work site in downtown Frederick, Maryland,  as had Bruce. Originally Roma had said they were going to make a lot of money on this job he predicted would last only a few days.  Bobby's words reminded me of Roma's eagerness to be done with it. And he finally was that Sunday afternoon.

Now I had a clear picture of what happened. At the long awaited and overdue moment of completion of that painted metal roof,  that job that had annoyed him for two weeks too long, Roma lifted his extension pole in a final flourish of "Thank the Lord" triumph. "It is finished!"

Roma on a roof at the Pittsburgh Project, 2014
And, just like that, it was over. Roma's beautiful life was done. The live wire knocked him out, and he fell, unconscious, to the sidewalk below. It was finished. He had no fear. No pain. The lights just went out.

I believe it happened this way. It gave me peace to know he didn't know he was falling away from the second floor roof, so he felt no fear, and no pain when he hit the sidewalk, head first. God had pulled the vital, real Roma away from the scene, as a lifeless body fell. 

Bobby called two more times that afternoon, crying. I tried to comfort him. He apologized, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I really loved that kid." I tried the best I could to sooth this man I'd never met. This man who had the memory of my son's last moments of life and the horror of the graphic accident forever burned into his memory.

The next afternoon, Bobby called again. "I've been seeing wires and ladders all day. I'm really shaken up." I wanted to remind Bobby I was really shaken up too, but he added, "When I turned onto Wisconsin Avenue, right in front of me, a wire sparked with a big ball of light and a loud pop, almost like an explosion. It scared the hell out of me. Right in front of me." Then he continued to tell me how sorry he was, and he didn't know if he could continue to work.  And he really loved my kid. I was still thinking of the wire lighting up in front of him.

"Bobby, did the explosion of light comfort you at all?"

"No! It scared the hell out of me."

"Did you ever think it might have been Roma saying, 'Hey Buddy, I'm okay. Don't beat yourself up. It wasn't your fault."

"No," he paused, "but maybe it was Roma," he said without emotion.  But the thought sent Bobby into another round of sobs. "God, I really loved that kid. I'm so sorry."

I pushed the point I was desparate to believe. "Maybe it was Roma. Maybe he was saying 'Hey man, don't torture yourself. I'm okay. I'm better than okay.'" I felt such compassion for this man who seen my boy die. "Bobby, it wasn't your fault."

Roma, high and lifted up, on a roof at the Pittsburgh Project in July 2014

Bobby's eyewitness account of the events of the afternoon reinforced what I had come to believe. That God had taken Roma because it was Roma's time to go. His work here was complete. God had warned me. He had lovingly and mercifully prepared me to let His boy go Home.

I kept thinking of Taylor's wise words. Taylor was about to turn 13 when Roma burst into Taylor's quiet, calm world. (And "burst" pretty well describes Roma's activities!) Just days after Roma came, Taylor recognized that Roma was not the little brother he was expecting to live at our house. Brave Taylor said, that until he could think of Roma as a brother, he would consider him an exchange student from God. That image changed forever the way I would look at my new son.

Taylor's description comforted me. An exchange student comes from afar. Then he returns. He does not stay. Roma had been Called Home. His time with us was complete.

After more contemplation, I understand that Roma hadn't really come as an exchange student. No, his role had not been as a student at all. Roma had come as a teacher. Oh, what that boy taught me. And in the six months since he returned to God, I look around and see he taught so many more people than I could have imagined. Even people who never knew him. And Roma continues to teach us. One of his friends just told me the other day that Roma was a "once-in-a-life-time kid." So he was. Oh, how God loves Roma. And how He loves me, to have picked me to "host" him for fourteen years!

Roma came to us as a smiley, exuberant, beautiful seven year old, ready to take on anything. The child feared nothing. And surprisingly, he knew everything! He visited for a joy-filled and exciting, and sometimes challenging fourteen years. He returned to God at twenty-one, after we were all better people for knowing him.

He had been home for seven weeks to the day.

When we arrived at Shock Trauma, Roma was in room seven.

When we returned the next morning, Roma had been moved to another floor. He was, again, in room seven.

He used number seven in his email address and in his passwords.

He wore number seven on more than one sports jersey. 

Roma in a familiar stance, wearing number seven, 2011

He was pronouced dead the morning after the accident, on December 7, at 7:16. 

And seven is the  Biblical number of completion and perfection.  

Thank the Lord. It is finished. 

Continue with Merciful Comfort                                                                                                                   

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Shared Blogs: Jesus Wept

More from Anna's blog

Breaking Light: Jesus Wept

This is the third post in the series Breaking Light: God’s Treasure in Vessels of Clay. Wendy and Anna are hosting Breaking Light throughout June and July, every Tuesday and Friday. The winner of last week’s book prize for commenting on last week’s posts (here and at Wendy‘s) is Heather who blogs at: Congratulations, Heather! Wendy will be in touch to arrange postage to you.
Today, Anna and Wendy have invited Jennifer Moye to tell her story of seeking God through fear, heartache and the absence of Christian community. But she also shares of God’s loving pursuit of and grace for His people and a beautiful ministry being birthed through the hardship and suffering she has faced.
Anna: Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us today. To help our readers get to know you better, it would be great if you could share what one of your favorite Scriptures is and why it means so much to you?
Jennifer: One of my very favorite Scriptures is John 11:35 “Jesus wept”. This verse reminds me that Jesus was human just as I am. Somewhere along the lines society has told us we need to be strong, and by being strong that means we shouldn’t cry. But Jesus did. It was part of Him. It was a natural response to something that broke His heart. It is a reminder to me that it is not just okay, but it is in the nature God instilled in me to respond to my brokenness with tears. If Jesus did it, then I should never be ashamed of doing the same.
Anna: What a beautiful gift our Heavenly Father has given us with tears. Such profound two words, aren’t they? I love how God has used and is using just two words to bless you so deeply.
Jennifer, I know from a little you have shared with me before that you have gone through some very hard times in your life. What events, circumstances or struggles in your life have been and/or continue to be your deepest valleys?
Jennifer: There have been several times in my life I would consider to be deep valleys. Two times jump out at me.