Monday, July 31, 2017

Canyons and Caves and careful manuvering around living things.

Part Nine. Day Three

Start with Part One here

We were instructed to pack a overnight bag for our Tuesday and Wednesday adventure. With no further information, at least in English, we got into the white van on Tuesday morning at 9:30. We drove 175 miles, over three and a half hours, before we reached our first destination. Once out of Tbilisi, the roads weren't crowded. Misha had no problem being the front car in his lane much of the time. I spent my day-dreaming hours scanning the foreign scenery outside my window. There was no mistaking that we weren't in the U.S. anymore. The only familiar site was huge wind turbines on the horizon, but it was not a frequent site where we traveled. The ever-present mountains faded into the distant background as the valley displayed her agriculture, patches of crops, the vineyard, the hillsides dotted with cows and sheep. 

I was considering a flaw in the driving system in Georgia. Georgians drive on the right hand side of the road, as in the U.S., but some steering wheels were on the right and some, on the left in Georgia. In the white van, it was on the right, which gave Misha a clear disadvantage of seeing oncoming cars when he was tailgating, which was frequent.  

Bruce, who sat in the front on the left side was the one with a clear sight of cars coming around the curves. And the one most in harm's way when Misha darted out to the passing lane, sped up, and when his front door cleared the vehicle he was passing, he darted back into our lane, as the car behind us slowed or moved to the shoulder in order to let him back in before we were hit, head on. I thought Bruce might be safer in the back seat with me, but pretty soon, Bruce was telling Misha when it was safe, or not safe to pass. Gotta love Misha, because he listened to Bruce. They chatted away, as I relaxed enough to take some cat naps to prepare for coming attractions.

Other times, I leaned forward to listen to some of Misha's stories. He is thirteen years older than his wife, who speaks excellent English, he said, and he has a four year old son who likes to play with toy guns. In his fast and broken English, he said his father had died in a car accident. I was thinking that should have made Misha more careful. But what really caught my attention about Misha's story, he said he had a dream about a car accident, and when he woke up, he learned his father had died in a car accident. I watched Misha, his talking-with-his-hands, his belief in something much bigger than us at work in the universe. He reminded me of Roma, and the times Roma was hyper-intuitive, like the time he was a little boy and eerily knew exactly what I was thinking, shared on this blog post, You are Mine. When he was older, and he and I were cosmically connected in an astounding experience, also shared on that same  post. In life, Roma and I were on the same frequency in an other-worldly sort of way. I have been reluctant to let that connection go, and God has been merciful in filling the void with a heavenly assurance.

We arrived at Martvili Canyon, a surprising and astoundingly beautiful river gorge. We were excited that today's excursion included a raft ride on this clear blue-green  water. The Georgian government recently made capital improvements on the infrastructure, building overlook sites, bridges, walking paths and docking areas for boats. The canyon is over 1.5 miles long, and 15 to 30 feet wide. The protected area features caves, waterfalls, and jagged rock formations.

We didn't make this video, of course, but it is worth watching. 

After our raft ride and hike up for a better view of the canyon below, we were back in the van heading to the Promethean Caves, and hour drive away.

See the monk our tour guide pointed out on the top? 

This one lookeed like a manger scene to me. See Mary's halo? 

The Promethean Caves, also known as Kumistavi, were discovered in 1984.  With three quarters mile of walk way, and a boat on the underground, it was an unexpected site, very different from anything we had seen. See some better professional photos here. Kumistavi is the biggest cave in Georgia. Although only ten percent of the caves are open for tourists, it takes about an hour to explore walk the manmade paths. There are underground lakes and rivers. The humidty is high, with a constant temperature of 57 F.  Supposedly there are lots of bats, but we didn't see any. 

Misha was several people ahead of us in line. We watched him chatting happily with friends he had found. But after a while, we noticed they hadn't previously met, as he introduced himself and shook hands with his new acquaintance.  Like Roma, Misha never met a stranger anywhere he went. 
I almost had to laugh as Bruce and I watched him work the room, in this case, the cave. We took a little boat to exit the cave. 

Back in the van, on the country roads, we passed donkey drawn carts piled high with sticks. Men walked on the roads, sometimes three abreast taking up half the lane of the rural roads, not moving when Misha zoomed around them. I winched, afraid his big side mirror would whack someone in the back of the head. Children played at the edge of the road, and they didn't run off the road as we approached, and Misha didn't slow down. Dogs, sheep, cows, people, children, walked along and in the road, and no one was worried about texting drivers.  Soon, even I settle down. Even enough to nap occasionally. If Misha thought he could get the van through that three foot gap between moving cows or sheep crossing the road, who was I to second guess him? Sometimes it seemed as if the cows favorite meeting place was at the white center line. Sometimes, Misha was truly blocked and could not pass without a certain fatality. Then he would say kindly to the offending cows, "Ladies, ladies, move along." Sweet hearted Misha made me smile. 

It was  little surreal when we came upon a funeral procession crossing the road. Those carrying the casket and the those trailing behind didn't seem to mind when Misha slowed just a little, then found an opening in the mourners just big enough to pass on through.

Next we stopped at the Gelati Monastery, a large medieval monastic complex, another UNESCO World Heritage site.  Gelati was founded in 1106 by David IV, David the Builder 

from the internet

from the internet

These roses arrived before my visit.

The roses made God feel so present.

The intricate cuts of the stone from the 12th centuryamazed me  

Because we were three and a half hours from our hotel in Tbilsi, we spent the night in the Imereti region at a guest house, what we would call a Bed and Breakfast inn. Our room number was 7, like God was reminding us that He was there, on this sacred journey. 

Notice the roses and hearts on the bed spread?

Room number seven.

Thanks for reading!  Continue with Part Ten.

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. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Making HIMSELF Visible

It was not my idea to adopt our fourth and youngest child from Russia in 2002. As a middle-aged mother of three, ages twelve to nineteen, I was sure my family was complete. But in March of 2000, a solitary, troubling whisper of adoption came seemingly out of thin air, interrupting my comfortable life. Although I tried to ignore it, the nagging thought only intensified. God would not be ignored.
I've always wondered who dressed this uncharacteristicly solemn boy

Two years later, in April 2002, my husband and I traveled to Russia to adopt beautiful, magical Roma, age seven. His green eyes danced, his gut-laughter was contagious, and his captivating smile became his trademark. This extravagant little gift I had selfishly tried to decline was a perfect fit for our family.

Roma, the outgoing boy who needed no last name, charmed his way into the hearts of everyone in our small community. Strangers acquainted with Roma often approached us, saying, "How wonderful of you to save Roma," but we were quick to tell them that Roma was the one who saved us. We beamed with joy in being Roma's family. But harder times were coming.

As a teen, Roma rebelled and became a prodigal by age 19. My heart was broken that we couldn't reach our beloved Roma.

Florida Keys 2013
In a dream in 2014, a friend spoke four words that jarred me awake, “Write all this down.” I knew it was another command I had to obey. A few days later, a
spiritual journey with Roma and God became so visible and intense, I could hardly write fast enough. My blog was suddenly not invisible any longer, when I posted The Hound of Heaven Winks. God became the main character. Roma was running, and God was meeting him around every corner with hair-raising results.

I was grateful to God for making himself visible to all of us. But there was also a foreboding, an unshakeable feeling that suffering was coming.

After rebelling against his family and running from God for two years, Roma, at age twenty-one, finally stopped, turned around, and returned home in October 2015. He surrendered and admitted that God was a force he couldn’t escape. Like the proverbial Prodigal Son, he was contrite and repentant. He was sweet and joyful again. He talked about God as a familiar friend, and his worship was truly Spirit-filled. My heart overflowed with gratitude. Yet the sense of looming suffering continued.

Working on a roof at the Pittsburgh Project, 2014

My birthday was in late November. Sweet Roma wanted to buy me flowers. I persuaded him instead to add to his car fund. My love for pink roses is well known, but I didn’t want them enough to wreck Roma’s new attempt at saving money.

Seven weeks after his return home, on December 7, 2015, Roma fell two stories from a ladder at work after touching a live electric cable. When we got the call, we rushed to Shock Trauma in Baltimore, pleading with God for another Roma miracle. 

But I knew he was gone. The doctor confirmed my worst fear, telling us the injury was “not compatible with life.” I remembered the ominous feeling of impending doom I couldn’t shake. Had God been lovingly preparing me that Roma’s mission on earth was complete?

Idaho, 2014

My older son, age twelve when Roma first arrived in 2002, had sweetly said that until he could consider Roma a brother, he would consider him an “exchange student from God.” Those tender words forever changed the way I would look at my youngest child over the next fourteen years. In that moment when I realized Roma was gone, those words rushed back to me as a sacred reminder of release.

Like an exchange student, Roma had come with a mighty flourish. Everyone welcomed and embraced him. He, and everyone he encountered, had a meaningful, life-changing visit. Now he had returned. But as I pondered Roma's short life, I realized that Roma had not come as a student at all. No, Roma had been a most effective teacher. He had taught a whole community, and beyond, how to love and know God better.

First rose spotted
That week in Maryland as we planned Roma’s Celebration of Life ceremony, the cold weather suddenly turned into springtime, my favorite season. One afternoon as I walked back from the mailbox, arms overflowing with sympathy cards, my eyes were directed to the opposite side of the yard. It looked like a scrap of tissue was stuck on a thorn in an almost bare bush. I walked over to investigate further, and discovered a pink rose! It wasn’t a perfect rose. It looked as if it had bloomed quickly, with only a few malformed petals. Nevertheless, I carefully cut it and tenderly put it in a bud vase alongside the other florist flowers displayed on the dining room table. The next day, I eagerly checked the bush again, and two more pink buds had appeared. In December. In Maryland.

Over the next days
I couldn’t help thinking of Roma’s childlike wish to buy his mom flowers for her birthday two weeks earlier. Now I had pink roses blooming in December, in Maryland. For a week, I checked daily, joyfully finding new and more perfect pink buds blooming daily.
Until they were perfect

Sure, it had suddenly become unseasonably warm that week, so I guess skeptics could argue that roses blooming in Maryland in December is possible. But skeptics would be hard pressed to explain how my precious pink rosebuds were blooming on a bush that in summer grows RED roses. 

Rose on same bush in June, pink rhododendron in background

                          *        *        *        *        * 

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

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! 

Dont miss the exciting and heart breaking stories about finding Roma's extended birth family. Begin with Hope for Restoration. 

Follow our journey of visiting Roma's birth family in June of this year, the posts are still under contructioin. A Sacred Pilgrimage 

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

Day Two

Part Eight. Really? Part eight and only day two? We packed our days full. 

Start with Part One here. 

With so much history learned and shared in earlier posts, I managed to get all of day two in this post. 

Bruce and I were on our own with Misha in the white Toyota van on Monday morning, again, not knowing where the day's adventures would lead us. As I reflected on our many and varied activities so far, it was hard to believe we had spent only one day.

I mentioned Misha's driving in an earlier post, Part Three . Again, I will repeat, don't drive yourself around Georgia. 

Bruce chatted away with Misha. I listened from the back seat, tightly buckled in, mostly lost in my day dreams, as usual. I wrote occasionally in my journal, although my writing was almost unreadable, with Misha's quick passing techniques and swerving on windy and bumping roads, or swerving to miss cows in the road, or people, or sheep. The radio played music that was often sung in English, a version of Michael Jackson's Billy Jean, and some other older Amercian songs redone by Russian artists that Misha liked. One often repeated was sung by a sultry woman, and by the end of the week, I could sing along at parts. "Bang, bang, my baby shot me down." I wonder if Russians and Georgias singing along know what the words mean? 

Misha chatted happily with Bruce in the passenger seat. His English wasn't great. He was "self taught." But we could almost understand him, when he wasn't excited and talked too fast. When Bruce asked him a question, he would look over at him, really appearing interested in what Bruce had to say. 

Misha could've been 25 or he could've been 40. Bruce had guessed 28 earlier. I thought he could be older, maybe 35. He surprised us when he said he was 38.

I didn't  talk much to Misha from the backseat. I didn't want him to turn to make eye contact with me like he did with Bruce,  and take his eyes off the road. Even while watching the road,  and his quick responses, Misha made driving decisions that made me close my eyes and hold my breath. 

How ironic that I might die on this trip. But I could almost hear Roma say, "Not today, Mom." 

Misha's hands reminded me of Roma's. His fingers didn't taper, but were the same width all the way to their blunt ends. Misha was not a relative, but a friend of the family.  And he gripped the steering wheel like Roma did. And I bet, if Roma drove with Misha, he would have wanted to drive like Misha. And Misha and Roma would be buddies in no time. 

I decided I was best off not watching his passing techniques around hairpin turns with oncoming traffic. Instead I would look out at the astounding beauty of the countryside.  

We drove about an hour and a half to the region of Kakheti before we parked. Misha explained that this was the burial place of St. Nino, and a destination of pilgrims over the centuries. Read more about St. Nino, the fourth century female evangelist credited for converting the ancient Kingdom of Iberia to Orthodox Christianity. In her later life, she withdrew to the area of  the Bodbe Gorge, in Kakheti, where she died 338 - 340 AD. To memorialize her, King Mirian III had a small monastery built where she was buried.

The lovely and revered site gained prominence during the Middle Ages when the kings of Kakhet chose it was the location of coronations. The monastery was pillaged in 1615 by the troops of Shah Abbas I of Persia. It was restored soon after by the Kakhet king who reigned until 1648. The monastery was then operated as an important religious book depository.

There are three churches on this property. as well as dwellings for the busy nuns.

In the 1800s the chapel housing St. Nino's relics was refurbished. Nine years later, Tsar Alexander III of Russia visited and reopened a nunnery on the premises. Once again a convent, Bodbe operated a school where painting and needlework was taught. But, in 1924, the newly empowered Soviet government closed the convent and opened a hospital. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, no time was wasted in returning  Bodbe to a convent. For the next decade, restoration efforts were ongoing. 

Dwellings of the busy nuns

Today, once again, the monastery, nestled in tall cypress trees, functions as a nunnery, Bodbe Monastery is a destination for thousands of visitors and pilgrims each year. The nuns tend the vast and beautiful gardens, orchards, and vineyards.

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Next we drove a short distance into the town of Sighnaghi. Unfortunately the museum is closed on Mondays. But we walked around the lovely little town, running into a cousin from the night before who took us to the market where her mother sold churchkhela, or homemade Georgian Snickers. She cut several strings of the hand dipped candy for a gift for us. We walked to the crest of the hill where the ruins of an old fortress stood. Our time there was short because it was just a stop along our way to wine country, and beyond.

Our third stop was as a winery. Georgia is widely recognized as the motherland of wine, dating back to about 6000 BC. For the most part, winemaking technology has changed little since the first successful techniques. Grapes are still harvested by hand, and still pressed by foot. The juice ferments without additives, with not water or sugar. Many Georgians make their own wine according to the ancient tradition. 

We ate our late lunch high about the winery, overlookiing for vineyards.

We made one more stop at the Church of the Archangels, Michael and Gabriel in Gremi, about a hundred miles from Tbilisi. Gremi was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Kakheti in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was a flourishing trading town on the Silk Road and a royal residence, with the church and a palace on the nearby mountain top. The town below was razed to the ground by the armies of Persia in 1615. The town never regained its former prosperity and importance. 

The oft repeated history lesson from our proud tour guides during our visit was "We (Georgians) built these magnificent structures, and the Persians and the Mongols destroyed them, and we built them back. The survival of the Geogians is a testament to their fortitude. And their faith, as set forth in this excellent video, To the Last Drop of Blood. 

When we returned to our hotel, old people might have been ready to call it a night. But not us. Lia, Elene, and a cousin a cousin we met the night before, Tamara, picked up us around 9 p.m. Tamara, or "Tako," 28, is a funny and brave young woman, who owns her own car and drives in Tbilisi. And she drove quite responsibly. I asked Elene if she drove, and her eyes got big and she shook her head emphatically no. So, it wasn't my imagination that most drivers in Georgia drove like maniacs? Elene concurred with my observation.

We went into downtown Tbilisi on this Monday evening where the night life was just revving up. We took the cable car to the top of Mtatsminda. It was evident that Lia had many fond memories of this place, with its amusement park and gardens. How nice it would have been if Lia, a walking arm in arm, could just chat with one another about our thoughts of this monumental coming together of two families, and our experiences together. But I was thankful for the two young and gracious and patient English speakers, Elene and Tako. After walking around and looking at the sparkling city far below of central Tbilisi at night, we ate at the popular Funicular restaurant, a favorite attraction in the city since 1905. We had to rush to get on the last cable car down at midnight. Otherwise, we would have been required to take a taxi. No big deal. But it was exciting, rushing to the cable car with minutes left and boarding the last car of the night. 

photo from internet. We had a night view

Me, Elene, Tako, Lia

Me, Bruce, and Lia

LOVE her! 

nightime view of Tbilisi

Our dinner at 11 pm. 

Another full day. A full stomach. And very full heart. I am so grateful. 

Continue with Part Nine here.

                                       *        *        *        *        *                  

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.