And, just like that, on October 19, 2015, Roma returned home. And in typical Roma fashion, he was ready to put another unpleasant episode of life behind him, never wishing to speak of it again.
In July, before an August return to Maryland was yet on anyone’s radar, we sold the car we allowed him to use since getting his license when he was eighteen. It had been sitting in our driveway, with matching dented front fenders, courtesy of Roma and ice, so we were told. I didn’t ask him questions that might cause him to lie, and we made no effort to repair the 15 year old Chevy Impala that his grandmother had bought brand new. We didn’t want to continue to insure the damaged vehicle that sat unused in the driveway.
While Bruce and I debated the wisdom of saving the car for Roma’s eventual use, a man rang my doorbell one afternoon and said he was just driving around 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, or, more likely, selling it for scrap. 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 traffic violations. He was pulled over once, for speeding. He proudly told me the story of how he smiled through his tears, and candidly shared with the officer about a painful break up with his girlfriend earlier in the evening, so he got a warning from the compassionate cop.
Two days after the repairman showed up at my door, he returned with cash in hand and offered me $350 for the wrecked car, $100 more than the junk yard offered us. 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 accepted $300, shook his hand, and it was a deal.
But the consequence of that hasty deal was that when Roma returned home, he had no transportation. I had to drive him to meet his boss at a convenience store about a half hour from home. It seemed like a long drive for me, there and back home, twice a day for a total of almost two hours each day.
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. Other than mission trips for work, he had no experience. I suggested, now that he was home, he look for something closer to home.
He agreed he would look. That should have been my first clue that Roma was a bit different. He agreed to my advice. But he knew as well as I did that his skills and patience were not in line with manual labor. He interviewed at some local restaurants on rainy days, when his boss had to postpone outdoor work for the day. Nothing seemed to suit him. That first week, I thought it was temporary that I would be driving him, so I was patient. But the days grew into weeks. And there were other destinations to drive him to on some days. I was regretting the decision to sell his wheels.
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. Believe me, I was tempted. But it was way out of my way. And there was that sweetness of Roma made the idea seem punitive.
Roma’s transition home life wasn’t easy. Our house had been calm for six months. We were all trying, but it was tense. And my annoyance of driving him and my insistence that he find a job closer to home didn’t help. 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 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 this stranger 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 sun was rising, the proverbial light bulb was coming on in his dense head! His brain’s frontal cortex was finally fusing. I was hopeful that this was an irreversible step toward the Promised Land. Thank you, Jesus!
But then we would have our little misunderstandings. And I was getting impatient that he wasn’t getting another job closer to home immediately. 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 at bedtime.
One morning, the end of week two, when we got in the car, instead of listening to his excuses about some new misunderstanding and broken curfew, I turned up my Christian audio book and he had to listen to it way too loud. By the time we were close to our destination, I had turned down the volume that was too loud for me. I had cooled down. I couldn’t stay mad at Roma long. I had been totally distracted by my irritation and inconvenience, I didn’t even listen to the storytelling of my audio book.
The next morning, when we got in the car, we were friends again. He quickly turned on the radio, claiming his station for this morning’s 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 wants to talk. 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 the morning trip the day before, as Bruce had picked him up, and we didn’t see him again until he arrived on time, not missing another curfew. I was trying to remember a nugget of wisdom I had delivered, but all I could remember was the blaring radio. I waited for more clues. I had said nothing.
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.
It took me a moment to recover from that sacred feeling God had just that minute revealed to me. I told Roma right then that God had just convicted me at that very moment, that our driving time together was precious. Roma got excited, obviously agreeing with me, saying, “See Mom!” like it had been his idea. Roma claimed all good ideas as his own.
My mind went back to that stranger who showed up at my door to buy a wrecked but running car so I had to drive Roma to work. The Grace that was suddenly so obvious almost humbled me to tears. Yes, the time in the car together was sacred.
When we arrived at our meeting place, a convenience store parking lot, he usually just got out and waited for his ride, and I headed home. Starting that day and every other day after, we waited together in my car. I parked and I turned the engine off, and we talked about everything, particularly God and faith. He had his ticket to go to Passion 2016 in two 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 going to have a powerful testimony one day.
I was happy for Bruce, when he got the sacred time in the car with Roma. They usually talked sports, and that was fine. And even Taylor, who had had his share of difficulties over the past almost 14 years with a challenging little brother who always got more than his fair share of attention, had time in the car with Roma. They usually listened to music, and that was fine too.
Sacred moments aren’t always obvious. Too often we miss them entirely. I was thankful God made sure I didn’t miss this extravagant Gift.
Continue with Chapter 21