I'm currently writing this letter from beautiful Arizona. Every time I step outside, I'm absolutely intrigued by the land. The sandy desert, jagged, brown mountains, and dollops of green. Cacti, palm trees, succulents that have always been around even before the trend, orange trees, lemons, grapefruits. Maybe it's because of all the beige and brown around them that makes them that much more beautiful. An oasis of life and beauty.
But to me, what's more beautiful than the land is the people. It's the people who God graciously placed in my family's life when they first arrived in America. Now they're retired in sunny Arizona.
Grandma Pat and Uncle Gene, as I've always known them, was the American couple who brought my dad and older brother under their wing when they first arrived in the USA. They all went to the same church in Lake Forest, Illinois. They were grandparents to us kids, except you know Uncle Gene did not feel that old, so he was always adamant to be called Uncle.
I asked my Grandma last night, "How clueless was my dad when he first came to America?"
It was so hard for him. There he was, a 36-year-old pediatrician from Romania, communist Romania, seeking medical care for his seven-year-old son who was losing his vision in his left eye. A man whom the communist regime intentionally granted him and his son a visa (but not his wife and daughter) so they could get rid of him and most especially this gospel he kept spreading.
So they arrived in America, a country that felt like a whole other world. "I'll never forget the day I took him to Dominick's (grocery store). He was so overwhelmed that he had to step back outside."
I call myself a freedom baby. I was born shortly after the fall of communism in Romania, I was born in America. All I can do is piece together the stories I've been told about what it was like living in communist Romania. The ones where people would wait in line for hours at a time to get the bare essentials, like flour, sugar, oil, milk and meat. The ones where my older siblings would get a banana or an orange for Christmas and it would be the most exciting and exotic gift. So I can only imagine that the first time my dad stepped foot in an American grocery store, the automatic doors opening up to the produce section, all the shiny fruit stacked neatly in rows, he had to step back out.
It wasn't just the extreme culture shock or language barrier that he had to juggle. He was a single parent, which was why having American grandparents was an answered prayer for both my dad, my brother and my mom. Some mothers are frazzled just leaving the kids with their spouse by themselves for 24 hours. Make sure you feed them dinner not just snacks and ice cream, their pajamas are in the top drawer on the left. Nearly two years later, my mom and sister arrived at O'Hare airport in Chicago.
There's this picture of my dad holding my sister in his arms at the airport, and Grandma Pat and Uncle Gene were there too. We just recently looked at this picture as a family, with Grandma Pat and Uncle Gene right there with us. Uncle Gene has Alzheimers, and so before we visited him in the nursing home, Grandma Pat prepared us a bit, he looks different, he's lost a lot of weight, and he might not remember who you are. I tried to mentally prepare myself as much as possible for this. I'm not sure how much you can prepare yourself for someone you know so well in your heart not knowing much about you anymore. But it turned out he knew us, he knew us so well that he asked, where's the little guy (meaning my younger brother, A.J.) when he saw the Lucacius trailing behind Grandma. And we took out the pictures from the days when we all started becoming a family and he remembered it all just like I remembered it all and I got so choked up talking about the little things with him like how he used to drink Dr. Pepper in a blue cup and ice all the time or call me tootsie or bonk the top of my head with a flat hand and a fist following it. He still cleared his throat the same way and when the caretaker handed him some ice cream he ate that the same way and just like that, some things never change. Being a family stays in your heart, no matter the distance, no matter the disease.
Gordon Meling was another oasis of a person. When I asked him how he knew my dad, their first interaction was about coffee. Actually, coffee beans. My dad needed to ship out some coffee beans to my mom so she could sell the coffee beans to survive in Romania. So he helped my dad find a coffee company that shipped to your doorstep, even in communist Romania. It was this unusual request of help, with coffee beans, that prompted Gordon to listen to my dad's story which really in a sense became their story. Much later, Gordon was praying in a room upstairs in his house, a room that was only his for his quiet time with God. He felt God told him to call Peter. That man who needed coffee beans to help his family in Romania. So Gordon called my dad and asked, "Peter, do you need help?" And they met in a restaurant called Full Moon Diner on highway 41 and my dad told him how he longed to go back to Romania to help his country but he also knew that he had a family to take care of, and maybe the most practical thing was to pass the medical board here in the US. But what they realized there in that restaurant was that God's way is not usually the most practical way of living life. And Gordon told him, if this is where God is leading you, I will help you. The REMM story, my dad as founder and Gordon as co-founder began right there, over what I imagine to be some sunny-side up eggs and bacon. And so the time came where my dad was able to go back to Romania, shortly after the fall of communism, and seconds after I was born. Yes, my dad nearly missed his flight because I was born, Andrea Patricia Lucaciu. Patricia like Grandma Pat.
The house I remember, the house that still feels most like home in my heart despite moving out 8 years ago along with everyone else in that house, was in Gurnee, Illinois. We lived in a subdivision called Providence Village. Every time a friend would ask where I lived, or a friend's parent would ask for directions to drop me off after volley ball practice, I'd say Providence Village. I never really understood what the word providence meant back then, but I was proud to live there. It really was a beautiful subdivision, the landscaping was pretty with colonial style homes, and the street names were interesting too. The main street in our subdivision was Kings Way North. I always had a hunch it had something to do with Jesus, though. My dad was constantly making sure us kids realized how blessed we were to live where we did and we knew Gordon helped us move there. What I didn't understand until later was that Gordon was the developer, it was his subdivision, and he prayed for 6 months straight that God would reveal to him what he should name the subdivision. He had a list of about 50 names, all of them he scribbled out except for Providence Village. So every time I told someone where I lived, maybe it was a reminder for me to understand that this whole entire time, God had been taking care of my family. Under His Providence.
There are so many things you miss as a kid because the adults around you want you to be just that: a kid. But this past visit in Arizona reminded me of the people whose love went far beyond family, who loved us not because they had to, but because they wanted to, and how that completely changed my family's life and that of the ministry's.
If it weren't for Grandma Pat and Uncle Gene, Gordon Meling, and many other people that God so obviously placed in our lives, well I'm not even sure what would have happened. But I know there is no way it could have been lovelier and purer than it feels to this day. There's this quote by Timothy Keller that "God will only give you what you would have asked for it you knew everything he knows."
The older I get, the more I believe that's true.