Friday, June 30, 2017

Getting There, Day One

Part two. 

Start with Part One here

As we sat on a jet awaiting departure from Dulles International Airport on June 2, 2017, I couldn't avoid thinking of a similar evening, fifteen years, one month, eleven days, and three hours earlier. So began, a decade and a half ago, my first book, But the Greatest of These is Love. Thankfully, I am not that same terrified, self-absorbed mother who was bound for Russia that April evening in 2002 to bring home a seven-year-old boy God would not let me forget. Back then, I struggled to trust God when He promised I could love His Hand-Picked boy who waited at the other end of our journey as much as my older bio children, and as much as my own life. Roma made God visible to me. God slipped in, with infectious Roma, and changed my life. 

With over twenty four hours of total travel time, from our door to the hotel in Tblilis, I had a long time to think about this journey. I'll be honest. I have been reluctant to begin this last part of my journey with Roma. It's like "wrapping it up," like bringing it to a final conclusion. And that is hard. What can I possibly write about after this last part that will excite readers like the draw of a new Roma Story? Perhaps I continue to write about Roma in an attempt to keep that dear boy alive. How long can I accomplish the impossible?

Roma always made God visible for me. I tell his stories hoping readers see God too. The comments and private messages from readers over the past few years, some who never knew Roma, or me, confirm the strange effect Roma has had on people. 

Everyone felt like they knew Roma, they loved him, and were always on the sideline, rooting for him. Many people joined in prayers for Roma when he rebelled, and praised God when God went after him. They learned of Roma's accident and death, on this blog, and they mourned for Roma with me. And they followed along and read about the miracles of the pink roses, and had hope, as Roma continued making God visible. Roma was always God's boy, on a mission from God to all of us. As I look back and see Roma's story as a whole, it is truly an amazing story. I am humbled, and thankful, in spite of the profound grief, that God chose me to be a part of His Story. 

Over the years God has been changing me. It is a process until Roma greets me with his big smile and open arms. I no longer have a faith that is a mile wide and an inch deep. And that dreadful suffering has indeed brought growth to my soul. God used that little boy from Russia for my transformation. For that surprise Gift, I will be eternally grateful until I reach eternity. Roma has made Heaven a brighter destination.

And speaking of destinations, there is this story about the Republic of Georgia. The dreaded conclusion of Roma's story, and yet, the place of healing and redemption I knew I would find. And I know I must tell . . . 

The first leg of our journey was heading into rush hour traffic, some of the worst in all the nation, on a Friday evening. We left just our home in suburban Maryland just before 5 p.m. to accommodate traffic, parking, security, and shuttling to get to Qatar Airways inside the enormous airport complex. The first flight of more than fourteen hours to Doha, Qatar, on a Boeing 777. Our very expensive return flight, due to my careless booking, (see last post) was flight 707,  I settled in, feeling like Angels were escourting our plane. Seven is Roma's signature number.  

I was thankful the screaming toddler was in the row in front of us, in the center isle away from my window seat,  instead of directly in front or beside us. We took off at 9:30pm, and they began serving our dinner at 10:30. Qatar Airlines serves ample food. I wrote a little in my journal, and then watched one movie, Hidden Figures which I highly recommend, and by 1a.m. by my internal clock, I was asleep. 

*FYI - Here is a link to Qatar Airlines to get a look at a similar plane. They mention "delectable dining options," and while I would agree, the photo, if you scroll down, is not representative of  any of the meals we were served. 

When I awoke, many hours later, the toddler was still screaming. I had slept through our early morning snack, a large turkey and cheese sub wrapped in plastic was still on my tray, and they were now offering bags of chips before breakfast was served. Bruce was on his fourth movie. Poor Bruce doesn't sleep on planes, and I could've slept wedged in the cramped luggage compartment with a leg hanging out. 

Perhaps sleep was an escape for me. There were moments when the magnitude of this journey smacked me full in the face and my tears flowed. We were actually going to see Roma's family for the first time, for eight days. And without Roma. Those moments of loss were just too much.

So after a good night's sleep and plenty to eat, I exited the plane rested and, remarkably, not even stiff from my sedentary hours, with only one trip down the aisle to the bathroom. The aisles were so narrow and often blocked, mostly from the attendants in their never-ending attempts to feed us.

Fourteen hours after they corralled us in to the giant crowded double-wide air bus, they corralled us out. The plane windows had been closed soon after takeoff, at 9:30 p.m., and again, upon landing, it was getting dark. 

After a three hour layover in Qatar where we tried to walk a lot for exercise, we boarded a smaller plane for a three hour flight, to Tbilisi. 

I spent the three hour flight allowing myself to ponder the possibilities. What if we didn't "hit it off." What if the language barrier turned out to truly be too much. My friends from North Carolina say I sounded like a Yankee, but my Maryland friends assure me this simply isn't true. I would have to remember to talk. Slowly. And. Deliberately. And. An-nun-ci-ate. Each. Word. (Out of habit, I continued that practice for several days upon returning home.)

I decided I couldn't worry about any of the what-ifs. God had led us to this journey. It would all be worth it. I knew I would have stories to tell.

At 12:20 a.m, on Sunday morning,our plane landed in Tbilisi, eight time zones from home. We completely missed Saturday. As I gathered my carry on, my heart doubled its pulse rate. I knew Lia, at least, would be waiting beyond the luggage claim for us.

When we went out, I could see her hands wildly waving beyond the barrier, and others with her, and hear them calling our names. When we got our luggage, which was, of course, the last to appear, we went out, tears streaming down our faces, as Lia, her twenty-year old daughter, Elene, and her husband hugged and kissed us. We chatted happily as Elene translated. They delivered us to our Tblisis hotel and left us around 1:45 a.m., with plans to pick us up at 10 in the morning.

And I felt God smiling about His itinerary for the week. It was easy to imagine Roma was right there beside God, because now, God makes Roma visible, and because Roma certainly wasn't going to miss a moment of the excitment! 

Continue with Part Three, A Caution partly in jest. 

                                     *        *        *        *        *        *

Readers can start at the beginning of our story by reading But the Greatest of These is Love.

Blog post series while finding Roma's family members begin with Hope for Restoration. 

Many Roma and God Stories begin with The Hound of Heaven Winks. 

Writing through my grief begins here with The Agony. But don't stop there, or you'll miss the miracles! 

Be blessed. Even in the pain, I feel like I have lived something Sacred. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Sacred Pilgrimage

Part One

I don't know what I was anticipating when Bruce and I left for the Republic of Georgia on the evening of June 2, 2017. We were finally going to meet Roma's birth family, two and a half tumultuous years after finding them. 

I had high expectations about this trip, but I can't define what they were. I can't explain. If Roma had approached me with his big Roma grin, arms wide open, on the steps of an ancient monastery on a snow capped mountain top, I doubt it would have shocked me. I went with an expectation, maybe not of seeing Roma, but of seeing God. 

One thing I was sure of, we were embarking on a Sacred Pilgrimage. One we had to take for redemption and healing. And for love, love for a family who shared the common bond of a boy who, aside from his sister, they would now never know on earth. A boy whose deceased father had been as dear to them as his son was to me. At least close. 
First photo faxed from orphanage

We found Roma's birth sister in the closing hours of 2014. We had known about Liana from court records, and Roma told us more. But an "aunt," his father's first cousin, Lia, began messaging me in early January, 2015, ecstatic of the discovery of her beloved cousin's lost son. She opened a door to a mystery of Roma's larger, close-knit, extended family in a country I couldn't have, at the time, found on a map. We rejoiced together, almost 6,000 miles apart. I knew finding this family was a missing puzzle piece of Roma's wholeness and identity. 

Then, less than a year later, we grieved the unthinkable, as a fatal work accident took the life of beautiful, vivacious Roma, the young man who represented so much love and hope to two families who reached across a vast, impossible chasm for comfort. A strange thing happened during that year of highest highs imaginable and lowest lows possible. We became family. 

At Christmas, 2016, as we rounded that first year of grieving Roma, Bruce printed out photos of landmarks in Georgia, put them in a gift box with  note. For Christmas, he was giving me my heart's desire-- to go to Roma's ancestral home and finally meet Roma's birth family in person. 

Some people ask why we are traveling to Georgia instead of Russia, where Roma was born and lived. He never crossed the mountains into Georgia. It is political, as so many issues in the world are today. Georgians cannot freely travel across the Russian border to the north, over the formidable Caucasus Mountain range. But Russians can travel unimpeded into the Republic of Georgia. Liana, Roma's sister, and her family, still residing in Russia, can travel to Georgia to meet us. 

I bought our plane tickets two months ahead, the time suggested for optimum pricing. A week before we traveled, Bruce was looking over our itinerary. 

He calmly said (because Bruce is always calm), "You have us booked us to return in July instead of June." 

Hoping he was kidding, I swung around and checked his face. A panic rush had me on my feet and looking over his shoulder to read from his computer in disbelief. Sure enough, our return flight was on the second Monday in July instead of June. I scanned the email for an emergency number for Qatar Airways.

I dialed and explained my error. On speaker phone, we listened while I prayed there would be two seats available for June 12. There was a pause, and my contact eased my fears. Yes, no problem, the same flight number, 707, had seats available for June 12.

"There is a change fee," the polite, accented gentleman continued. "Let me calculate that for you."

"Oh don't bother yourself with that little unpleasant detail," I wanted to say, but instead "Oh Lord, please don't let it be a lot" was all I had time to pray before the gentleman continued, "That will be an additional $485 per ticket," I gasped as he calculated, "for a total of $970. Can I book that flight for you now?" 

I couldn't make eye contact with my husband who had just heard the whole conversation. 

"Yes." I answered quietly. Lord help me make up that money that I so carelessly wasted.

"Well, the gentleman returned, "This flight is actually a cheaper flight. You will save $110 per ticket for a total of $220 discount." 

Oh Joy, only $750 to recoup. "Great. Thank you." I'm not sure Bruce understands my accounting system, but he didn't get mad at me, because Bruce never gets mad. We have learned that a problem that can be solved by money alone, even money we can't afford to waste, isn't a real problem.

On May 29, four days before we left, I got a message from Lia saying they had another option for our driver/tour guide. The one they had recommended originally, and we had accepted, was charging $1300 for five days. Two of the nights, not consecutive, would be spent at guest houses hours from Tbilisi. So we accepted the fee. Lia was apologetic about the high price, but we assured her we wanted to see all we could of Georgia, and we had been saving our money. (I didn't  mention that I had carelessly lost much of it by my careless mistake in booking.) Now, four days before our departure, they had an alternate driver, another friend of the family, and his fee was $700. Seven hundred, which should have alerted me to God's involvement right away. I tacked  that saved $600 in my "recouped money" column, with a remaining balance of $150, which I was willing to write off, as a fair penalty for my mistake.  

Then the countdown began in earnest. We left our house in suburban Maryland, an hour drive to Dulles International Airport, just before 5 pm, heading into some of the nation's worst traffic. We allowed plenty of time for our 9:30 flight. It seemed like such an ordinary beginning for a Sacred Pilgrimage. 

The many calls and messages I received revealed that others also had mysterious expectations about this trip. "Post pictures when you can," and "I can't wait to hear more," and "I'll be praying for you." dinged my phone all day. Friends who had joined the Story and wanted more of it, more of God. It was as if they were expecting the same thing I was--for God to accomplish only what He could in Georgia. 

So I went with expectations of the miraculous. Nothing less. I have grown accustomed to miracles. I have become acquainted with a Loving God who is always present and active. And often He has a sense of humor. 

God heard the prayers of my many prayer warriors, and He was not going to disappoint any of us. 

Continue with Part Two, Getting There. 

                                                  *        *        *        *        *        *

Dont miss the exciting and heart breaking stories about finding this lovely family. Begin with Hope for Restoration. 

Many Roma and God Stories begin with The Hound of Heaven Winks. 

Writing through my grief begins here with The Agony. But don't stop there, or you'll miss the miracles! 

Readers can start at the beginning of our story by reading But the Greatest of These is Love.

Be blessed. Even in the pain, I feel like I have lived something Sacred.