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.