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. 

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