Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent week 4: Peace

We have spent the last four weeks looking for Christ. Our verse for the time has been: "Keep watch, for you do not know on what day your Lord will come." Matthew 24:42. During this particular Advent season, while feeling called to really look for Jesus, so much not-Jesus has been shoved in our faces. Tragedies of various kinds have affected our country and our congregation. Yet the word is still the same: Keep watch for Jesus. He could show up anywhere, at any time, whether for His second coming or for his visits into our daily lives. We look for Him to come.

So today, we are going to spend some time looking for Jesus's peace to come. Following is a reading of the story of God bringing peace to earth that goes from the Old Testament, through the life of Jesus, and after Jesus left us with His spirit. Through all time, God has been bringing peace on earth.
Isaiah 54:10
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Psalm 34:14
Seek peace and pursue it.
Isaiah 52:8,7
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
Luke 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And He will be called…Prince of Peace.
John 16:33
[Jesus said, “…I]n me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 20:21-22
Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
2 Thessalonians 3:16
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
To these, I would only add a couple of verses that have encouraged me this week as I have been thinking about Peace. 

Isaiah 32
16 The Lord’s justice will dwell in the desert,
    his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
    its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

That phrase, "quietness and confidence forever," is what I want to lay hold of. The righteousness of God is what ushers it in. And I can be confident in Him. Who he is replaces the turmoil in our souls with quietness. I can be confident in his unfailing love and can be sure that nothing can take that away form me.

Also over this time of Advent, I have seen those in our midst who have been affected by the darkness of this world letting Christ's light shine through them. I have seen a girl badly wronged turning to Christ for her way forward. I have seen those who mourn claiming Jesus as the center of their joy. These things are great sources of encouragement to me. They help light the way for us all. And so the next verse comes to mind. It brings me peace because I can see the truth of it coming to be right before my eyes as I look around at all us messed up people finding God right where we are.
Philippians 1:6
[I am] confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
And so we know that those of us He has begun forming into His children, He will keep forming until He is finished. That brings me quiet confidence today.

Lastly, let's observe a time of quiet today. After a time of silence, we will have a prayer.

Heavenly Father,
The same God who created peace in the beginning and who has ever since promised its return,
The same God whose gift to a power-hungry, sin-occupied world was a baby
who remained just as innocent as the day He was born,
who promised to share with us His peace.
You are the God we need.

Prince of Peace,
We have been looking for you for a long time.
We love you because you have overcome the troubles in this world.
Thank you for enduring violence to share with us your peace.
We ask you to bring peace to our hearts
and to our land.
Spirit of the Living Christ,
Helper, Comforter.
Live in us.
Help us to find your peace in our world.
Let it grow in our lives.
Give us the beautiful words that proclaim its coming
to a world that needs to hear.

We want to see you with our own eyes.
We want to shout for joy.
We want go running with the news.
Make us beautiful as we shout it from the mountains.
We want to live at peace with each other,
to be fully restored.
In you, we have peace. You yourself are our Peace.
Be with us, Jesus, both now and forever.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 2012: Joy

Reading from Psalm 30
Sing the praises of the
Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
 For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.
To you, Lord, I called;
    to the Lord I cried for mercy:
Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
    Lord, be my help.
Weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.
 For his anger lasts only a moment,

    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name!
You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
You turned my wailing into dancing;

    you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

I am here to talk to you about joy. This week, we have learned about senseless tragedies in our nation and perhaps in our own lives. I know many of us are in the nighttime of sorrow. On this very week when we are to come together to talk about the Joy that comes in the morning, talking about Joy may feel like salt in the wound.
Perhaps the timing for this Advent is off. Or perhaps this is the best time. Because this is a time when we know we need Joy. We need to know that this night won’t last forever. We come empty-handed and asking to be given something we don’t have and can’t make for ourselves. We know the only One around who can give it to us is Christ himself.
Especially during Advent, we look forward to Jesus coming, because we know He’s not the only one who has come into the world. We know we have an enemy who has shown up as well. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that our enemy “comes to steal and kill and destroy.” We can see joy stolen. We feel robbed. But John 10:10 doesn’t end with the news about our enemy. We don't have to hang on there long. Jesus goes on to say, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” And THAT is the final word on the situation. Jesus came to give us just those things we cannot get or maintain for ourselves: Hope, Love, Joy…Life.
Last week, I spoke about how we oftentimes find whatever it is we’re looking for. I don’t necessarily think we should look for truth on social media, but sometimes it is found even there. A picture was going around the internet yesterday that I had to share then and I think is fitting to share now. It’s a quote from Fred Rogers – Mr. Rogers – who was a pastor before he was a children’s television creator. He said:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world."
I’m not trying to be a humanist. It’s not that I think there are more good people in this world than bad. I just don’t know. But God has left us His spirit – in people – and so we can always expect to find helpers. So this morning, we are looking for our Helper. Those around us may be focused on the chaos and the horrible, but in the middle of it all, we are as children in the middle of a disaster, looking only for our Helper. We know for sure we will find Him here. He comes bearing the gift of Joy to people overcome with sadness. 

These are the words Jesus used when He told us why He had come:
Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign
Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
If God has called us to be oaks of righteousness, there is nothing that can keep us from becoming who God will make us to be. No ugliness can keep us from displaying His splendor. Our Helper and is coming with just the gift we need! We need joy. And we’re looking for Him. We’re focused on finding Him. We can praise Him right now because He is here. He is the unshakable center of our Joy and nothing and no one can ever take Him away from us. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! 

Shameka encouraged us with a dance to this song by Richard Smallwood. (This page sites the wrong artist.) I wish I had thought to have someone film it, because she has a gift of encouraging others through her dance. But here is the song for those who would want to hear it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent 2012: Love

This year, we are looking at the traditional themes of Advent: Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace. However, to prove once again my imperfection, I accidentally switched the weeks of Joy and Love. Traditionally, Love is the third week of Advent instead of the second, but I'm a rebel like that, so we're going ahead with the second week of our Advent: Love. Our verse for this entire Advent season is: 
"Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." from Matthew 24:42.
Our reading for this week is from Psalm 13:

 “1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?
                    _  _  _  _  _  _  _ 
But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.”

Because the Lord has been good to me,
I will sing His praises.

My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I trust in your unfailing love.

When I was in college, I went through a time of being really disillusioned and disappointed and angry with God. I was out from under the shelter of my parents’ faith and trying to figure out why it seemed the world was such an ugly place to live. Did God really love everyone? It didn’t seem like it. Why did so much evil happen in the world? Was God really going to hide His face forever? The enemy of my soul had triumphed over me for so long that I was trying to switch sides. I wasn’t asking God “How long?” anymore; that seemed too childish. I had moved past that to anger that He hadn’t showed up yet, that He didn’t love as well as I’d hoped, and that injustice seemed to rule the day. I wasn’t looking for Him anymore. I was done with waiting.
So often in life, we find what we’re looking for. I was looking for reasons to blame God for everything wrong. And I found them. I was looking for hate in the world. And I found it. I was looking for hypocrisy in the church. Yes. There it was. I found what I was looking for. I wasn’t really looking for love in the world, but at the same time, I was angry that I wasn’t finding it.
But, happily, Someone Else was doing some looking, too. That Person was named Love. He had always been there, even though I wasn’t really trying and couldn’t see Him. He had been a good listener to all of my angry outbursts during my times alone with Him, and just so I could see it, he put on the flesh of friends in my life to show me His heart towards me. One night, after hours of listening to me accuse God of being unloving, one of them said, “Lezlie, if love doesn’t exist, then what are we doing here?” And so Love had found me.
We can trust in God’s unfailing love. We rely on it. Even when we are fumbling around in the darkness, we can trust that God will find us. This time of year especially, we remember how he put on the flesh of a Friend so we could all see just how far Love will go to pursue us.
I’ve asked the little children of our church to share with us, because the truth of this morning is simple and we should never try to outgrow it: God is Love. We look for Jesus as little children – trusting He is there – or we don’t find Him at all. In this season of Advent, let us set aside the troubles we’ve encountered as we’ve grown older. Not that those troubles aren’t real; they just aren’t as eternal as God’s Love. Let us focus instead on the Light of the World making his Love known to us. “Keep watch, therefore, because you do not know when the Lord will come.”
Today, we can praise God even now because of his Love that never fails. We may fail, but God’s love is perfect. Praise Him, because He is love, though others are not. Praise Him, because He is love no matter whatever else may happen.

The Bible says, “Seek and you will find.” Look around you, because God is everywhere. Look around you, because even though we may live in dark times, God has us living where we do “so that [we] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’” We are swimming in Love. Look around you and take hope, because God is Love! His love will not fail.

Look around you, because God’s love is still in the business of taking on flesh. If you can’t see Love around you, pray that you will have Him in you.
For those who look – and even, perhaps, for some of us who don’t – we will see Him coming! He is coming for us! Through faith, we can even see it now. See Him coming! There He is – and there – and here. We can all look back or around or ahead and see Love’s presence showing up in our lives. He has not left us. He is here with us now. He will come and rescue us. See Him coming! God is Love!

"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."
Ephesians 3:17-19

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent 2012: Hope

I cherish Advent. I get to share this love of the season at my church each week as we observe the season together. Since I have a blog, I thought I'd also share it with you. I am late posting the first week's observance, but it's always better late than never, right? Besides, keeping you waiting was perhaps only a means of reinforcing one of the main ideas of the season. :) Enjoy this time of reflection and meditation.

- Advent means coming.
- We set our minds on Jesus, the light of the world who came into the world to change the world forever.
- We let that change begin with us.
- During Advent, we set aside time to think about what Jesus’s coming means. We think about what it must have been like to wait for the first Advent, when Jesus came as a humble baby. We feel the anticipation ourselves as we look forward to the second advent of Christ. We think about how much our world – and we ourselves -- need Jesus to come right here, right now.
- There are many ways and traditions within the church to observe Advent. This year, we are observing the traditional themes of advent: the light of hope, of love, of joy, and of peace. Each candle around the outside of the Advent wreath represents one of these lights. The reason we are able to have any of these, of course, is Jesus, represented by the Christ candle in the center.
- Our theme verse this year comes from Mt. 24:42: “…Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Our Lord is coming; we believe and are looking for Him.
- Let’s start by letting the word wash over us as we begin celebrating the first week of Advent: HOPE.
In service, several people quoted these verses. Read them over several times so their words wash over you.
But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
Micah 7:7 
But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. -
Psalm 39: 7

Often in the Psalms and in the prophets, we read the words of people who see all kinds of darkness in the world around them. They record injustices, troubles of all kinds, their own struggles with sin, the evils of their leaders, the sicknesses of the chosen people of God themselves. I have times like that. Sometimes, I feel like all I see around me is dark. Sometimes, I feel like all I see in ME is dark. I think there’s a lot of truth there – hearts are full of darkness and the world is fallen and broken.
But I love how the writings of the prophets and the psalmists never end there. Because we are not left without hope. Both talk about how the Savior of the world is coming. Writing from a dark place, they talk about the Light that is coming. We can read passages that promise every tear will be wiped away, that the Lord himself will teach us the way of Life, that wars will end, that every sickness will be healed, that justice will be done, that mercy will win, and that all will be made new.
          When Jesus told His disciples about his second Advent, he told them it would be like the coming of a wedding party. 
(From Matthew 25)
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This image of being ready to wait for the One who is coming stuck with me this year. I want to be one who is ready to wait, however long it takes, to see my Savior’s face when he comes. Watching for the coming of the Bridegroom means we, just like the prophets and the psalmists, have to hold out the light of hope.           
Andrew, our pastor, often talks about how we’re not here to run a sprint; we’re running a marathon, here. If I’m going to make it, I need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I need to see people carrying the light around me, encouraging me on. We have these things. We even have Jesus’s own Spirit burning inside us.
              Even as we are in the middle of whatever dark circumstances are around us, we know He’s coming. Therefore, since we have hope, we don’t sit around asking, “Are you coming?” If we have hope burning within us, we ask, “How long, O Lord, until you come?” We aren’t looking for anyone else to cure the sin of the world. “How long, O Lord, until YOU come?” Our world has only one Hope. So we wait, looking everywhere to find Him. We do not know exactly when to expect Him, so we look for Him everywhere. We know He is coming; we just don’t know how long He will take. 

You can follow this link if you'd like to listen to the song we covered as a backdrop to a time of meditation.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

celebration of lines

Pat and I recently celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary. We have a tradition most years of spending the weekend in Red River Gorge in Kentucky. We love it there. I am a huge fan of tradition, so going to the same place to do the same thing each year is pretty meaningful to me. Seeing the same incredible rock formations, walking the same paths. (Okay. We tried a new one this year, but we're going to go back to the old rough trail again next time.) This year, I noticed that the enormous fallen tree that had been uprooted my first time there now looks fairly unimpressive. Some things change, I guess.

At one point, I turned the camera around and snapped a picture of myself. Glancing at the picture, I realized my face is to be counted among the "things that change." I hadn't really noticed it. Some of you will say you still don't, but it's happening. I have some places eager to wrinkle here. A couple places have made a habit of it. Part of me wants to panic; part of me wants to just say that the corners of my eyes and my forehead are just settling into the shape that suits them. It's just that I looked pretty much exactly the same for ten years and, well, now I don't.

You may have seen a video circulating that compares the marks children leave on women's bodies to various beautiful marks in nature. Maybe it's because I had seen the video. Maybe it's because I've always enjoyed noticing the lines growing and eroding in the Gorge. Maybe it's because I like taking too many pictures. But I spent a bit noticing the lines of time and change around me that weekend while realizing in a new way how time, growth, impact, friction, and movement leave their marks. Rising up and eroding away, growing and decaying, stretching and shrinking back can have a way of beautifully occupying the same space. Too bad it's a struggle to appreciate the beauty of time on a face (especially our own) in the same way we appreciate the way these forces impact the rest of the natural world. Of course we grow in wisdom and beauty on the inside, but I'm going to choose to believe what happens concurrently on the outside serves only to emphasize the goodness of that inward progression.

Here are my observations on lines of growth and change in Red River Gorge. Lines marking growth, lines of imperfection and idiosyncrasy, lines from holding on, lines from letting go, lines of protection, lines of newness, lines from fading away, lines that help you see, lines marking great feats, outlines of tear-drops, lines of companionship, lines of separation, lines from miles traveled, lines going deep. 


P.S. For another of my gleanings from this time in nature, head over to my other blog: godsmountainpeople

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

link liking

This isn't any great writing post (if any of them ever are...). I'm just coming to update a bit about Lia. She is still doing well. She is still eating. (If you somehow missed my post about that initial news, scroll down.) I realize I have picked up a number of readers because I provide exclusive access to Lia online. It's not quite as much like being one of those access shows on TV as you may think, though, so I thought I would give up the title. :)

Actually, there are a lot of people in this battle with us. A whole team of friends (some I'm just meeting, virtually,) is working together to help Lia's family. As I said, some of us are giving our time, some of us are giving our money. I like writing, so I write. But, as it turns out, I'm not the only friend who is offering up some reading material. So I want to quickly connect you to a couple other places online where you can hear from other friends of the family and not just have to take my word for it. (But you know you can take my word on it if you want.)

This first one is from another of my friends from my college days who had very much the same feeling about Rhys as I did upon first meeting her. I enjoyed reading about/reliving momentarily our common experiences here.

The second is from someone whose name I know of, but who I actually don't know. But I really loved reading his writing. I think you will, too. This one is longer, but worth it.

The other place I want to send you is to the donation site. This whole thing is ridiculously expensive. And, though Rhys has found some employment during this ordeal, they lost Dave's job and the place they had been living at the same time they lost each other. It's like someone (we'll call her "This life") said, "You're going to lose the ability to live as a family. If you want it back, you're going to have to fork over a lot of money to fight for it. But I'm going to take your source of income and you can't live at home anymore, either. Best of luck to ya!" Unfair. But you've already heard my thoughts on this, so I won't ramble on about them here.

Suffice it to say that, between these updates, expenses for this battle keep mounting. More people are being brought in -- specialists and such -- and it costs money to be able to use their time, too, in addition to money already owed the lawyers. It's expensive...and necessary. So please, if you have the means or know someone with the means to help financially, be encouraged. Of course, if you are a person who prays, be encouraged as well. I don't think you can ever say you have "enough" people praying, though lots of us are. But we know we don't have "enough" money yet. So if you feel at all inclined, even just a little, we'd be grateful if you'd help a friend of a friend. Thanks!

Oct. 11 update:
Today...TODAY is a mediation hearing, where a third party works with both parties to see if an agreement can be reached before a formal hearing ensues. Pursuant to requests for as much information as possible, I am also including, with their permission, a facebook note by Mimi Barker, who is a missionary and friend of this family. The date of this letter was Sept. 23. I think I have covered the details this contains, but perhaps this puts them in an easier-to-understand-at-once format. Hope this helps!

In December 2008, D and R were awaiting the arrival of their second child. The baby came early and Lia was born fighting for her life. She was in the emergency room within hours of her birth and then weeks in NICU. When she was still too fragile to tolerate touch or noise, she was already showing enough spunk to kick blankets away from her feet. She made huge progress but was still the sickest little baby in the NICU for a long time. Her mom, R, got to hold her again for the first time on Christmas Day. Her family finally got to take her home after two months and find out what it was like to be a family of four who didn't live in a hospital.

Now Lia is 3 ½ and a delightful child with a sparkling personality and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.  Earlier this year, a new treatment was started in the ongoing quest to treat the unnamed disease that she continues to battle. The new treatment began to do its work and Lia gradually began to improve. Now she is walking and eating and getting into mischief. Is Lia cured? No. She is stronger and healthier than she has been in a long time, and the gradual success of this treatment gives hope that someday her disease will be named and eventually vanquished. But Lia will still fight it for some time to come. She will probably have more visits to the hospital. She will continue to puzzle and charm more doctors who have dubbed her “our very medically complex child.” There may be times when she loses ground, or more panicked runs to the ER when something fails that should work. But now there is hope that she will grow up to keep on fighting. Hope that someday she will see the ocean where her beloved whales and dolphins live. There is hope, but that doesn't make it easier to explain to a 3 year old why she can't be with her mama.

You see, in the midst of all this hope, there is despair, and fear that the family might lose Lia after all. A new nightmare has started just when R and D can finally begin thinking of Lia as a forever child, and start dreaming of a future with her in it. Lia was home again, beginning to respond to the new medicines when a piece of the equipment she had to help her body function slipped out of place. She wasn't desperately ill, just needed to have something put back in place. The local hospital knows Lia well, and decided it would be best to send her across the state to another hospital with specialists who had also treated Lia before. While there, some called into question the source of Lia's recent progress, which led to R and D being caught up in a major custody battle for their daughter. They have engaged two terrific attorneys, and are preparing to fight with all they have for their family.

Big brother Z, at seven, is struggling with the situation as well. He adores his sister and wants nothing more than for all of the family to be home together. He recently saw the movie “The Avengers”, his first big kid movie. He loved it but after it was over, he asked about the guy who died. About how he gave everything. His mom ended up explaining that when you believe to your very heart that something is just, true, right, you fight with all you have.

He said, “We need super heroes.”

His mom said, “Daddy and I are fighting like the Avengers for our family. and the super heroes are coming.” Pray for these two little ones in the midst of this storm.

While they wait for the super heroes to arrive, the parents are continuing to fight the battle that has landed in their laps. There have been a couple of preliminary custody hearings already. The first one resulted in R's parental rights being restricted to limited supervised visits with Lia. Fortunately, D's parental rights were protected, and he has full custody of Lia. The next significant date on the calendar was September 11, when a mediation session was scheduled. That has been postponed. [As it has turned out, that hearing is TODAY. PLEASE PRAY!] It is possible that an agreement could be reached then which would allow D and R to return to Idaho with both their kids, and the nightmare would be over. However, based on their experience with the system so far, this does not look likely.

What is more likely is that the other side will continue to fight the family for custody of Lia, and the situation will move toward a trial, months down the road from now. Please be praying for the parents and their lawyers. No one has been charged or accused of anything. There are broad and nebulous allegations, but they have not been formalized, and have not been backed up with any evidence. R has not had an opportunity yet to defend herself. Note the legal distinction between an unfounded allegation and an accusation. Sadly, even an unfounded allegation is enough in today's world for the officials to intervene and try to remove a child from the custody of a parent. Once this switch gets flipped, there is no other way out except to follow the established procedures in the legal system. This takes months and is very expensive regardless of guilt or innocence. Many friends have a lot of questions and concerns, but some information must stay confidential due to the legal proceedings. Please understand that not getting an answer to your question is NOT an indication of lack of trust in you personally. The family has been advised to be very careful in sharing any details during this time.

The situation has created a huge financial need. The bill for legal expenses is $17,000 already and climbs at about $2000 -2500 per week. Over $16,000 has been raised toward that amount, most of which has already been paid to the attorneys. If the case moves towards a trial, an additional sum of $25,000 will be needed to prepare a defense. This could mount to $75,000 before this is all over. The family are grateful for their competent lawyers, but have already exhausted their own financial resources.

A new fundraising goal has been set: to raise $20,000 in the next two weeks, that is by October 8, 2012. The team supporting the family is now looking at getting some experts on board to be prepared to testify on the medical facts behind Lia's condition. The best experts cost money. Lia is worth it! This additional $20,000 will cover the cost of their retainers, and allow the lawyers to start working with them directly.

A lot of volunteer hours have been given in addition to the billable hours, so the bill is lower than it might otherwise be. There is a fund set up to help with the legal expense. All of the funds raised so far are going to the lawyers and nothing else.
Here is the link to that fund. This is a donation page run by Lia's Nana.

The legal bill is the biggest financial hurdle, but the family is stuck in Seattle until this is resolved. D is not working because he had to leave his job in Idaho to go to Seattle, and he is now Lia's full time primary care giver. There is no question of looking for other employment until this is over. R has found work she can do online, but she also needs to invest her time and energy into fighting for custody of Lia.

There are other needs, and opportunities to bless this family, and more will arise, but these are the immediate and urgent ones.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

miracle monarch

One day, about three weeks ago, I was pulling all the tangled vines out from among the flowers I'm trying to grow in my yard. In one fist-full of vine, I found a little black and yellow caterpillar. I found a second one just a few feet away. Since I had destroyed their home, I brought the caterpillars with some of the leaves they were on to look at them and see if I could figure out how to raise them. When Pat saw them, he said, "Monarch caterpillars!" That was the first thing to know. But since then, I have learned a great deal about these tiny creations that astounds me. I'm sharing with you my list of...

1.) They start out as eggs that can only be laid on milkweed. (Good thing I had let the weeds in my garden go for a little while!)
2.) When the caterpillars hatch out of the eggs, they eat the milkweed, which is what makes them poisonous. (And I thought milkweed only killed out my vegetable plants!)
3.) The caterpillars grow to be pretty big. They have yellow and black stripes and antennae-things coming out both ends.
4.) When you see them hanging upside-down, they're just about to make their chrysalis. They hang and hang and hang and then, suddenly, in the span of half an hour (I know because I missed it happening...) they're encapsuled! Just like that! 
5.) This chrysalis looks a good deal smaller than the caterpillar that went into it. I was perplexed about this and then I saw body parts in the bottom of the container. Turns out, the head or the tail (can't tell which) falls off when they go into hiding. Crazy! It all looked so necessary half an hour before!
6.) The chrysalis starts out jade green with gold (like, metallic-looking) dots on it. How and why do they make these gold dots? I don't know! They're perfectly arranged just-so. Decoration? Maybe. They don't seem to have much to do with the entrance or exit, which was my first guess.
7.) Those dots start out white and yellow, actually. I know because I saw it. I have no idea how they change to gold.
8.) And then...nothing. Mine took 15 days of nothing. Both of them. 15 days.
9.) Then you start to see wing patterns -- swaths of orange, black, and white dots. I held it in my hand, then. It struck me as one of those capsules that turns into a foam animal when put in water. It was a butterfly-capsule! I could tell!
10.) Overnight, the whole thing turned black, minus the orange swaths. It got a bit of a bulge on one side. Even the gold dots turned black on the bottom. How was this happening? Nothing was going into or out of the chrysalis, and yet crazy magic was happening inside.
11.) It explodes. It must be a silent explosion, or at least a very quiet one, because I didn't hear it from the next room. But it's so fast and so much comes out that it has to be an explosion.
12.) And then, there's this monarch. It's got a polka-dotted body. Imagine that!
13.) Most monarchs live 2-6 weeks, laying their eggs and dying. There are three generations like that every spring-fall where we live. This is a lot of extravagance for such brief glory.
14.) Not all monarchs die off that quickly. For some reason, the fourth generation, born in September-October, (i.e. MY monarchs...) live 6-8 months. Why? What process knows to make these bodies sturdier? I'm amazed.
15.) These built-to-last monarchs make a trip all the way to Mexico to winter. This little creature sitting on my table, when I let it go, will fly all the way to Mexico. I am hundreds of times its size and am built to last a hundred times longer, and still I could not do it. How does it know where Mexico is? How does it not just end up lost over the Gulf? How does so much wind pass over its wings without breaking them? How can it weather storms on its way? I don't know.

I am amazed by this creation. So much work gone into this beautiful thing I've watched be born into the cage I have for it. I have nearly seen the entire process (though I admit to missing the precise beginning of the most pivotal moments) and I am left with more questions than I had before that day weeding my garden. Learning often leaves me this way.

one of the little caterpillars I found
getting ready to build its chrysalis
finishing up its chrysalis
from the back side, making its chrysalis
the yellow and white turned into the gold in the picture below
 just beginning to see the wings through the chrysalis (yesterday)
 it looked like this, minus seeing the wings, for 14 days
 butterfly capsule an hour before it emerged
 only now I realize this is part of its face looking through the chrysalis
 just coming out, unfolding wings
 curled wings and other things, floppy antennae
black and white underside before the wings unfurled to cover it
 first butterfly taking flight

I can see this second butterfly in front of me, hanging and drying its wings beside its empty chrysalis now. I have no idea how this birth just happened. I see it. It looks impossible. There's no way this creature just emerged from something 1/2 its size. I know it's true, but it's kind of unbelievable. It's one of the every-day miracles on this planet. Maybe it's ridiculous to go on this way about a butterfly. This happens all the time, after all. It's not like I've seen something never-before-seen. I could say, "Yes, I've known since The Very Hungry Caterpillar that this is what happens." Or I could watch, mouth gaping, scratching my head and praising whatever Being understands this and made it so. Maybe it's even more amazing that this is so common-place. How in this broken world can miracles like this happen every day? I stand amazed and believing.

Maybe we can all emerge from these cramped conditions stronger, more beautiful beings, taking flight.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Though this whole process with Lia's family being united under one roof is far from a done deal, I have to say at least I am greatly encouraged by the progress I know of. Since this is a case currently being heard in the courts, details of who is saying what are just not available, so I wait with just as many unknowns as the rest of you and likely just slightly different set of unknowns than the Frank family is experiencing themselves. I often break off trying to imagine what they must be going through. I can't imagine.

Someone asked, and I don't know the exact timeline, but sometime this summer, God healed Lia. I don't know how it happened. I don't know if the medical community has a way of explaining this or if the healing was just as enigmatic as the entire rest of her life until then. But I know that where there was once hurt, brokenness, and a kind of hopelessness, there is now wholeness and the promise of a much-less-painful future. And I know that it doesn't matter to me whether the medical community has a way of explaining it or not -- this sort of a break-through after so many years searching for one is a great miracle. I am in awe of it. It's the sort of miraculous healing that I doubt I could comprehend, even if it were explained to me by the best medical professional or even an angel.

And this second healing -- of Lia's family -- that we're asking for involves its own hurt, brokenness, and kind of hopelessness. If healing is going to take place for this, it's going to take a miracle. Much will need to happen to bind up this family and Rhys in particular, I'd imagine. It's the sort of thing that calls into question the very core of who a person is. I wince at the thought of anyone calling me into question, much less a person with the authority to tear my loving family apart. Healing from that will take a miracle. It will take God stepping in.

The hope that presents itself is that He is stepping in. When Lia's body was broken, I found hope in the love I could see within her family and in the persistent faith and constant assertion of God's goodness in the middle of it all. Now, I find hope in how I see the Body of Christ sweeping in to protect and support this part that is broken. Somehow, word is getting out and people are being prompted to support. Some have opened their homes. Some have taken to fasting and prayer. Some have given money. Some have given of their time. Others have offered up their skills. It will take all these things -- serious commitment from friends and kindness of strangers and the favor of God over it all. This is the sort of healing we feel we can comprehend, since we understand talk of relationships and money and generosity. One person has this or that and gives it to someone else. But for all of these people and resources and unseen agents being at the right place at the right time to hear and is and will be a miracle.

That said, the most easily quantifiable sign of hope we have is the money. The money is not what will solve this problem or heal this family, but as it is going to pay for legal representation, it opens up the road ahead of the Frank family. It's an expensive key. They have to pay $12k to their lawyers by Sept. 11. And this without having a source of income (that was lost when Dave had to stop working to be the adult staying with their kids). Many of us have dealt with losing income. I've never had to deal with it at a time when bills like this were mounting. But yesterday I read from Rhys's mom....

Great news! We are now at approximately $11,276 and are within striking distance of our first goal of $12,000!. Thanks to everyone for their generosity. The Lord is good.

and I am reassured that nothing is impossible for God. This is the first goal. I would imagine some of what is to come depends on how hearings go and how long this is expected to be in the courts. But we're almost to the first goal...maybe EARLY! (Wouldn't that be great?!)

I didn't set up the account to raise the funds, so I have no idea who gives and when, but thank you because I'm sure some of you did. Thanks to all who have been praying and praying and doing whatever it is within your power to do. I'm sure it encourages Rhys; I know it encourages me. We serve a God who is limitless and whose love for us remains unbroken. We know and hope and rely on it being so.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Enriching roots

the family tree that hangs in my grandma's house
I mean the title of this blog in many ways. I like trees and the various parts of them. I like the idea of always stretching higher and never ceasing to grow; I also like being anchored and growing deep in a place. I had the pleasure of sitting down with my Grandma a couple weeks ago to look at old pictures. I had come only hoping for pictures of my Grandma as a young girl. I would never have expected such an exploration of my roots as I got. Since so many generations of my family spent at least some of their lives in the same fold of Black Mountain as I did, I was able not only to look at pictures, but to drive to the places where my relatives lived and worked. I came away feeling even more anchored to the people and the place they called home for a time. It is a wonderful place to grow from.

Last year I started watching and listening to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explore the family line of various famous people. I've never considered myself much of a history buff, but learning about how individuals came to be who and where they are is fascinating to me. I'm not very impressed by genealogies as a list of names without faces or stories. There is very little for me to connect to in just a name. But back to Henry Louis Gates. I first became interested in watching a documentary on him tracing the roots of famous African Americans, trying to trace them back to Africa. Because that task is so difficult in the case of African Americans, what with the splitting of families and the taking of masters' last names in the era of slavery, I saw what a treasure finding those people (even their names) and their stories truly is.
Alfred and Martha Peters,
my great-great-great grandparents

Right: Ira Peters, my great-great grandfather
Of course, not long afterwards, I reflected that I had never bothered to gather this information about my own family. But there I was, sitting with my Grandma, when it landed in my lap. "This is your great-great Grandpa." (He's the one on the bottom right, with the darker eyes.) His name was Ira Peters. He wasn't originally a Peters, though. We don't know what he was. He was left on the Peters's doorstep as a baby and they raised him. I never knew there was an adoption in my family! I happen to think adoption is pretty cool. Of course, this means I can't trace any medical history back further than Ira Peters, but it's a small price to pay, really. :) This is the family his birth mom knew would take good care of him. Their names were Alfred (1830-1910) and Martha Peters (1830-1900). I don't know any other stories about them, but it looks like great-great-great Grandpa Peters might easily crack a smile.
Lucy (Martin) Peters,
my Mamaw's mom

Lucy (Martin) Peters,
my great-great grandma
So Ira was born in 1861. That means the Peters were 31 when they became his parents. In 1891, when Ira was 30, he married Lucy Martin, who my Grandma calls Grandma Peters. He died in 1908, around age 47.  Lucy, though, lived to be 90. My Grandma knew her and she actually died in the house where we were talking. She was my great-great-grandma. But I knew my great-grandma, Mamaw, so to me this lady doesn't feel far removed; she's Mamaw's mom. I loved seeing pictures of her. She must've been some kind of tough lady. Grandma said that since Ira had died young, she was left to raise (I think it was 6?) kids by herself. So she ran a farm and raised the kids herself. She made sure they all (including the girls) got an education, which was not common back then. I admire this lady. Just look at her. In every picture (and there are several), she looks so spunky and no-nonsense.

Mamaw Sherman in front of her house
up Gap Branch in Lynch, KY

Clifford and Gertrude Sherman,
my Papaw and Mamaw Sherman,
my great-grandparents

So "Grandma Peters" lived to be 90 and had a lot of kids. One of them was my Mamaw, Gertrude (Peters) Sherman. Mamaw was born in 1899, I believe. She lived to be 100, which means our lives overlapped until I started college. She married my great-grandpa, Clifford, and they had 6 kids. I knew each of them to a great or lesser extent. Here are a couple shots of them that I like. (I knew my "Papaw Sherman" too...but I'm just following the women here, for brevity's sake.)
She and Papaw Sherman raised their family up Gap Branch in one of the little houses built by the coal company for its employees. Grandma once called it Shack 11, but immediately made sure to let me know how nice they had made the place. Later, they moved a few miles up the valley to Cumberland, to the house where I was sitting with my Grandma. I remember celebrating her birthday every year in that house with family and a few family friends. We crammed 50-70 people in their house and all tried to come close enough to see the cake when we sang "Happy Birthday."

Mamaw Sherman raised her own six children, who are or were fine people to know and I knew/know them each, since everyone who was ever related to my Mamaw has never stopped getting together for family reunions twice a year. (We usually only make one of them, though.) Mamaw also took in her aging mother for the last five years of her life. When she was 60, she started raising one of her grandsons and did a very fine job.
Juanita Sherman around age 14
my grandma
my Papaw and Grandma when they were dating
One of the children she raised was my Grandma, who was born in 1930. She was a cute little girl from all the pictures. I'm not sharing them all here, but I plan to make good use of them. :) She grew up in Lynch during the Depression. When she was 19, she married my Papaw, Jim Slusher, who was one of the orneriest men I've ever known. We all loved him for it. They got married in 1949 and were married over 50 years before he died when I was in college. They lived in Lynch, too, mostly downhill from where Grandma grew up on Gap Branch. Grandma told me how glad she was to move into their little (but "bigger" to them) house that had two bedrooms plus one that was converted from a little porch. They raised their four kids there -- a fact which amazes us all when we think about it. I think it was around 1992 or so that they moved in with Mamaw and Papaw Sherman to take care of them as they were getting older. (Grandma would talk about when the older generation stopped "keeping house," a phrase I like a lot. It's a good job description.) She has always quietly taken care of whatever needed done, making it seem effortless. She is still very good at keeping house, and we were well-fed during our stay with food she had grown just down the hill.
My dad and his cousins in Mamaw's yard. That's him on
the left in the loud pants. He says I don't understand.
My mom and dad when they were younger than I am now

Grandma's second child and first son was my Dad, James. Unfortunately, I didn't scan many pictures of him on this trip, though this one stood out! My mom thought he looked cute, I guess. They got married 35 years ago and lived in the town between Lynch (where my dad grew up) and Cumberland (where my mom grew up): Benham. I grew up there until 1990. Like his dad, my dad was a coal miner and worked in Lynch. (My great-grandpa, Papaw Sherman, had a job working the trains at the mine in Lynch.) In 1990, my dad was one of many coal miners laid off and we moved to central Kentucky, where I spent the second half of my childhood. My parents still live in the house I grew up in there. We visited the mountains often, since it is where both sides of my family are from.

In 1981, James and Libby Slusher had a daugher: me! Four years later, they also had a son, but he'd be mad if I re-posted the picture I scanned of him here! :) I wonder what parts of all these people ended up in this little face and how much of my personality was handed directly to me from some of the people in these pictures.
little me
I feel so rich! I have all these pictures on my computer to share. I felt rich hearing personal accounts of years and people I never knew. I feel rich being able to talk to and spend time with my Grandma, who still works as hard as women half her age! I feel rich because I knew and remember four of my great-grandparents. I feel rich hearing of the hardship that had to be overcome in order for things to work out for me to even exist! My family is made of people who were born in and who took in. My family was a group of hard-working people from the mountains of Kentucky, largely coal miners and teachers. They lived long lives and each generation cared for their parents in their old age. We raised our own food (still do to an extent!) and loved sharing food together. We weren't rich in money, but each generation did very well with what they had. It is a proud legacy I hope to carry on. Thanks for letting me share some of it with you!

me and my Grandma after looking through all these pictures
(same place as the picture of my dad in those pants!)