About the Book
Glimpses of Grace in Georgia is an incredible true story of how Amanda and her family were taken from suburban America and brought into the heart of a former soviet, third-world country during a time of economic turmoil and political instability. In this exciting memoir, Amanda outlines the struggles of living in a foreign country and how God miraculously provided for her family during this dark time.
Chapter 1: When Darkness Prevails
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)
Vividly I recall the first few months of my life in Georgia. Never have I experienced such absolute sadness, and prayerfully I will never again. The days felt like years; as the days, though short, felt like the earth stopped spinning around the sun. One particular night a few weeks into our move to Georgia, I felt my entire world come crashing down on me. It was almost too much for a twelve year old girl to handle, yet somehow I managed to get through the night.
My soul was dying in a vast ocean of darkness. I felt the life being sucked out of me, as the tears spilled onto the pages of my journal. I blamed myself for bringing this suffering to my very being. My silent cry was only heard in the form of pencil scratches. My voiceless call for help was made known to no one but my trusty journal. My efforts were fruitless; no one was there to actually listen.
And to think I welcomed this newness. I wanted a change. I desired to leave. I wanted so desperately to get out; to leave behind the dark dragon of my sin, hopeful it would lose its grip on me. But that dragon pursued, just as a hungry lion does its prey. I thought I escaped, but those feelings of guilt haunted me and lurked in the shadows in this dismal country.
The power of the darkness is strong when you have no weapon to use against it.
My body trembled with a vigorous shiver as I pulled my journal closer to my chest, and re-adjusted the hand-made quilt over my head that had begun to slide off. I imagined I looked like an Eskimo, as I had wrapped the blanket tightly around my head to keep in what little heat my body produced. There was a draft in my room coming from the wall opposite my bed. The double doors led out to a balcony that had been converted into another room, where my sister slept. If I was this cold, I wondered how Natasha was able to survive being that much closer to the drafty windows. On cold nights like this, I would stick my feet in between the blades of our electric radiator to quickly warm up my toes. Alas, it only worked when the power was on.
I laid on my stomach, pillows propped up my chest while all the weight of my upper body leaned on my left arm as my right penned out my woes of the day in my dear journal. My only companion. The one whom I spilled all my darkest secrets.
Tears began to stream down my face as I reminisced about the happy memories of my middle school friends. Did they miss me like I missed them? Would they remember me in a year when I return? Would they treat me the same or any differently? The school I attended now wasn’t anything like back home in Ohio.
There weren’t any kids my age. Even if there were, not one spoke a lick of English. Well, except for the standard, “Hi, how are you? Vat ees your name?” That was the standard greeting of the little kids from our school. Even after telling them our names they would run away snickering only to return moments later with the same canned English questions. It grew old rather quickly. I wished I could have a best friend again, like I did in Ohio. Katie was my best friend. She lived next door to me in Ohio, and we would do everything together. I remember the first time I met her. We had just moved into a white-shingled, two-story house in Ohio, and had unpacked all of our belongings from massive cardboard boxes and threw them into the garage to be properly disposed of later. Well, of course, I thought it was a perfect game to climb to the very top of the cardboard boxes that seemed to have stacked to the very ceiling of the garage. Katie peered in and watched me around the corner of the garage door which was open as I played princess and the pea. My sisters were off doing something on their own, and I was perfectly content to play by myself.
“What are you doing?” she asked inquisitively. I looked up and saw a girl about my age, wearing a pink helmet, and one-size-too-large knee and elbow pads standing near the open garage door. She was riding her bike around the block when she saw the moving van and heard my voice inside the garage, and decided to come say hi. Her dark brown hair peeked through her helmet in all directions. She was a skinny girl and tall for her age. Her bright white smile looked back at me as she laughed at the sight of a little girl that had climbed the top of a cardboard box mountain.
She sure looked like she wanted to join in the fun so I replied, “Playing ‘princess and the pea’! Do you want to play too?” Without hesitation the girl jumped up onto the top of the stack with me, and we began to imagine it was an ocean wave and we were surfing on top of it. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship with my best friend, Katie.
Now, Katie is just a memory and my journal is my only friend. Perhaps a better friend than I had ever had. I could tell my journal things that I wouldn’t share with anyone else, and never had to worry if it would spill my secrets as gossip to my best friends. Although, there was no preventing anyone else from reading it, which is why I always hid it away when I left my room. I didn’t want to give my older sister, Jill, any more ammunition to make fun of me. Or worse yet, my parents would know that I kissed a boy the last day of school before we moved.
Chris was my first “boyfriend” although if my dad ever found out he probably would kill us both. The most we had ever done was hold hands in the halls to and from our classes. He would meet me at my locker and escort me, like a pure gentleman, to my next class. I would daydream about him in class instead of listening to the teacher, taking mental note of his messy long bleached-blonde hair, his nerdy black-framed glasses. Then I would secretly write long notes with my gel pens. Some classes you had to be extra careful or the teacher would eye you from the corner of the room and see that you weren’t doing assignments. Up until that day I had only heard that Mr. Smith was mean and read notes out loud to the entire class to publicly shame the girls for not paying attention. Some were really bad, some downright naughty which in turn would get the author sent straight to the principal’s office. It was my last day of school; we would be on an airplane about this time tomorrow. I wasn’t planning on kissing him, that was until my friend Maddy leaned over to me and whispered, “Chris is really looking forward to this afternoon.”
With a puzzled look on my face, I wondered what he could be excited for. Was he excited for me to leave? It was my last day after all. We had been going steady for a few weeks now, I would think he would be sad for this afternoon. “Because it’s my last day?” I whispered back with a furrowed brow, confused why she would say he was excited.
“No!” she said almost too loudly, and instead went to a piece of paper and began to pen out something in secret to me. Obviously, it was too sensitive to say out loud where others could hear. After she was done writing, she put down her pencil quietly and looked around the room to make sure the teacher or others couldn’t see, then she flipped it upside down and slid the note across the table to me.
I gingerly lifted a portion of the note off the table like it was a card in a poker game. Underneath was written in golden gel pen the words, “Chris says he wants you to kiss him!” My heart fluttered at the sight. A kiss? I’m not sure I was ready for that. Suddenly, a classmate jumped to his feet and snatched the note from my hands. “Mr. Smith!” he yelled, “Maddy and Amanda are passing notes in class!” He raised the note high above his head, and shook it vigorously back and forth as if it was a flag waving in the wind.
“Give it back!” I screamed at him as I stood to my feet trying to jump up to reach the note in his hand. Mr. Smith, who had previously had his feet up on his desk, and reclined back in his chair stood up and declared, “Ahh, this should be interesting.” He got up and walked over to the boy and took it from his hands. To the entire class, he read out loud the note which Maddy penned, “Chris says he wants you to kiss him”. With that, the entire class erupted in a chorus of oohs, the way the audience would when watching a couple kiss on an episode of Saved by the Bell. I had never been more humiliated in my life. My face got red and I slunk further down into my seat. I wanted to disappear into the background but I became the center of attention instead. Now everyone in the first period knew that Chris wanted me to kiss him. Half of them probably didn’t even know who Chris was.
The kids at school must have thought it was pretty funny because the story kept getting repeated until lunchtime. Someone I didn’t know in the 8th grade came up to me to give me “tips” on how to kiss someone properly. Other kids made fun of me as I passed the halls, where they would turn around and face the wall, and with their own hands would wrap themselves with a big hug and rub their backs all around while making kissing sounds. Others gave me pats on the back and exclaimed, “Good luck today!” Some even heard that we were going to make out in front of the school for everyone to see. Others heard worse. I was utterly embarrassed. This was not at all what I imagined my last day of school would look like. Most of these kids didn’t know it would be the last day I set foot in this school. Some may even believe I was run out, never to come back again due to a severe case of embarrassment-itis. I wasn’t sure I was ready to kiss Chris, but I guess, I didn’t want to let him and everyone else down. It’s such a silly thing to say and think about really, that I was more concerned with what others thought about me and said about me, than I did about my own feelings.
So that afternoon, when school let out. Chris met me at my locker, which I had cleared out of all my belongings. He helped me carry out some of my books to the front of the school, where the busses were. His canter was fast, I suppose he also heard what everyone was saying in the school. I’m not sure if he wanted to get to the “good part” or if he was wanting to be rid of me already.
In front of the school, there wasn’t a crowd like I was expecting. I suppose if there was, I wouldn’t chalk up the courage to kiss him. There was such a hustle and bustle of kids running to their busses, getting into their parent’s cars; everyone was distracted and wanting to get home. So, I took a step off to the side of the building, just outside the front doors where not many people were. We plopped our bags and books on the ground and I reached up and gave Chris a big hug. He was much taller than I was, so I had to stand on my tip-toes while he hunkered down to wrap me in his arms. I remember then our faces met, and he gave me a very sloppy wet kiss on the mouth. His black-framed glasses fell down his nose and bonked me in the face as it happened. It may have only lasted a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity.
It’s not exactly something I did (run around school kissing boys). I felt like I owed it to him, being my last day and all. Everyone else pressured me into it. I suppose that should not have affected me one bit but it did. Strange how other people can impact your own decisions and thought processes; that’s something I would struggle with even years later. Even though it lasted only a few brief moments, I knew one thing for certain; it felt so good to feel loved. I felt like I was wanted by someone else; but that now was only a distant memory.
As I laid in that cold bed, I felt quite the polar opposite. No one in the world wanted me. The light from my kerosene lantern dimmed and flickered as it slowly died. The darkness was overcoming it too. My cold fingers slowly turned the knob on the side and the wick raised enough for the fire to consume it and grow into a large flame. It instantly brightened the room and spilled dark shadows on the furniture and walls by my bed. I held my hands briefly by the glass covering of the lantern to warm them up. It took a moment for them to dethaw, but I felt the surge of my blood flow through them. I was reassured there still was some sort of life flowing through my veins.
The shape of the library where I slept was made visible. The room’s walls had books stacked upon floor-to-ceiling shelves. Books that I was never able to read. They were all in either Georgian or Russian. Two languages that at that point I hadn’t quite figured out the differences. This was the Beast’s library, and I was Belle, held captive against my will.
The pages before me were clearer now. The warm, orange glow from the lantern was enough for me to see my chicken-scratch writing on the pages below. Most nights I spent in bed like that. I wrote silently for hours by the light of that lantern, I recalled my friends back home and thought of all the activities I was missing. I didn’t have a nightstand to place a lamp, not that it mattered anyway. Most nights we didn’t have power in the house – nor in the surrounding neighborhood. It was an eerie feeling to look off the balcony of our eighth story apartment building, and look out to the neighboring buildings for miles and see pure darkness. Only the light of the moon gave off a brief outline of each building as they stood there in silence. Back in Ohio, we would have these massive and fierce thunderstorms. One moment it would be calm and peaceful outside within a matter of minutes you could look out your window and see chaos. Dark clouds would roll in and the world would be veiled in an expanse of darkness. Lightning would crash above and brighten the ground only for a moment as far as you could see. Thunder would boom the way a bowling ball does as it hits the wooden floors of an alley. The whole house would shake and vibrate with the crash. Then the power would go out. My family would huddle together with flashlights, in awe of the powerful storm. We thought it was exciting and fun to have the power go out.
There was no awe here. We lived almost daily without electricity. The exhilaration of the storm in Ohio only lasted a moment, and in due time our power was restored. But not here. Here we lived in darkness. I guess I never really understood what it meant to live in darkness until the light was taken from us. The constant pleasantries of life in the United States seemed like a fundamental right to most who lived there. It was inhumane to take away a person’s electricity or water when they paid for a service. In the Republic of Georgia though, our electricity was sold to a neighboring country. Prize of the highest bidder. Through the rolling blackouts, hospitals and the metro system oftentimes stayed on. This was to support the necessary infrastructure which kept the country moving in somewhat of a better direction. Then there were those who were cunning and hooked up their own power lines and tapped into the grid that was online for essential services and stole it away from those who needed it most. Others learned to steal their neighbor’s power as they fired up their personal home generators.
It was a game of the survival of the fittest. If you didn’t get electrocuted in the process of stealing another man’s electricity, you’d be able to pass on your fraudulent methods to your kids and the vicious cycle continues. The old Soviet infrastructure wasn’t prepared to host that many customers at once. The power that was online for essential services was regularly taken down, overloaded with the number of users that had maliciously tapped in.
It never dawned on me how extremely blessed we were to live in the United States. We never had to wonder if we would have power to do some of the simple tasks of a first-world country. We didn’t have to worry about lead or Giardia viruses in our kitchen sink. We didn’t have to plan our showers ahead of time because of the limited supply of hot water. How quickly we forget how truly blessed we are when we have rows upon rows of food options that line our supermarkets. We quickly forget how blessed we are when we have everything at our fingertips.
I lifted my hands from the page and rubbed my eyes. I opened my mouth wide and yawned, tears formed in my eyes and I felt them drop down my cheeks. Sleep, akin to the darkness in my life, started to overcome me. I looked up and I saw more dark shadows from messing with my eyes. I blinked a few times to clear my view and looked around my room. The silence of the apartment was eerie. All I heard was the wind which howled every few minutes as it moved through the apartment buildings. I thought to myself that everyone had already gone to sleep. I thought I was the only one in the apartment awake when suddenly someone knocked at my door, and I almost jumped out of my skin.
“Yeah?” I called with an uncertain shake in my voice.
My mom opened the door and peered inside. Her soft face poked through the small crack which was wide enough to reveal herself standing in the doorway. She had heavy and tired-looking eyes. The warm light from the lantern draped unflattering shadows on her face, making her look older than she actually was. She gently smiled and whispered, “It’s getting late, Amanda. You should get some sleep.” She shuffled in and sat at the head of my bed. I quickly slammed my journal shut. I didn’t want her to see something not meant for her to read. She was always trying to look out for my well-being; at the time, I felt it was annoying how much she cared.
She pulled the quilt from off of my head, and let it rest on the top of my back. She leaned against the wall and played with my kerosene smelling hair.
“I can’t sleep,” I lied. I knew we had school in the morning, but it was hard to care. School seemed pointless, just like living in this country.
“Have you tried?” She tilted her head and looked down at me. Her thin eyebrows raised and her eyes widened. She pursed her lips together resembling that of a pouting fish.
I shook my head. I knew I would lose my battle against sleep. My eyes got heavy, as she stroked my hair. I felt like a cat and purred with delight at the pleasant feeling.
She sang a song I’ve known well since I was a little girl. Her voice was soothing and caused my eyes to close as I focused on the lyrics.
“I love you, Lord, And I lift my voice,
To worship you, oh my soul, rejoice.
Take joy my King, In what you hear,
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound to Your ears.”
She lightly and tenderly kissed my forehead and whispered, “I love you, Amanda. Goodnight.”
I was left alone to my feelings of despair as what little light was swallowed up by the shadows as mom picked up the lantern and made her way to the door. Light lost its battle against the darkness as she blew out the lantern and departed my room.
Now nothing in my room was visible except for dark shadows. My brain played tricks on me as I saw shapes of monsters from the furniture in the corners; perhaps it was a dragon in the corner of the room waiting to pounce on me when I least expected it. I quickly brushed off the thought as my eyes slowly adjusted to the sudden darkness. A pale blue light from the moon shone in through my younger sister Natasha’s window. At least I had some source of light left, albeit very dim.
My mind drifted away into the thoughts of my head. Just like light lost its battle with darkness, I lost mine against sleep.
About the Author
Amanda Gray is a web developer in Virginia with an exceptional story about her experience living in Georgia from the years 2000 to 2003. Early in her adolescent life, Amanda faced a number of unique challenges, yet found an abundance of God’s grace through it all.
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