The Christmas Star

by Ron

Tonight, I saw the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn through my 6” Newtonian reflector telescope. This was quite a thrill for me. It has been over 20 years since I’ve looked through that telescope. On Saturday I took it from storage and began to clean it up for the event. Having had astronomy as a hobby in the past, but with too many other things pushing it aside, it took a once in an 800 year event – a Christmas Star – to have me look again to the sky for longer than what had become my typical quick glance.

On Sunday evening I pointed my “stethoscope” (as Matthew has been calling it) to a bright star above me, in a patch of sky without clouds. But I couldn’t seem to bring it into focus. Perhaps my instrument has seen too many years. I put it together when I was a young teen. And though I had rebuilt the shell decades later, the primary parts may not have it in them anymore. Was there something I was overlooking? Perhaps it was the eyepiece. I took it apart and reassembled it. I must have done something to improve it, because the stars were a bit closer to the pinpoint look that they should have, but not enough. My hope of renewing my stargazing hobby was fading fast.

And then I had a thought. Is it possible that temperature was giving the optics some trouble? My reasoning: The mirror is mostly glass. As a slow-moving liquid with the ability to expand and contract, it isn’t adapting quickly to being at 70 degrees and suddenly hit with below freezing temperature. Could that be it? I searched and found “Troubleshooting a Blurry Telescope: Top 6 Fixes.” Last on the list: “Trying to focus before temperature equilibrium.” Perhaps that is it.

How long would it take before I would know if this is the solution. “The actual time is directly related to the mass of the lens or mirror, and the difference in ambient temperature. The larger telescopes, like 6” or 8” and above, can take an hour or two to equalize.”

The “trauma” of being hit with such a sudden change results in a lack of clarity. That thought got my wheels turning. 2020. How many suggested have suggested that the name of this year would be the perfect time for greater vision or a year to bring things into focus. The year has been anything but that.

Unlike a circular piece of pyrex glass, human beings don’t find equilibrium in a few hours after being traumatized. For some of us it may be long after 2020 that we begin to see clearly again.

In our book “Joy in a Foreign Land,” we express how difficult it was to adapt to the unfamiliar and undesired land of disability in which we found ourselves. This year has been like that for us – for too many reasons for me to mention here.

But seeing a Christmas “Star” clearly was exciting to me, not only because of the joy that the old scope of nearly 50 years ago still works (and yes, I could still see the rings of Saturn and the four prominent moons of Jupiter), but also because of the reminder that things will become clearer. “We will understand it better by and by.” There is purpose. There is hope. And what better time for the reminder than the week of Christmas?

“Hang in there, Joan!”

Ah yes, my favorite line from the movie Frozen.  If your name is not Joan you may have missed it, but not me. Caught it the first time and I’ve repeated that line to myself a thousand times since! 🙂

Heard a psychologist say recently that a person who doesn’t share their prayer needs, out of fear that others are tired of hearing from them, is caught in a shame trap from being traumatized from the past. Ok, might be me, so in a step of faith I’ll proceed (knowing I need help in “hanging in there”).

I also need to update all of you who have been doing an incredible job at praying for our family – so appreciated, those prayers are being felt for sure. We are wrapped in medical needs at the moment. So many appointments, all the while trying our hardest to dodge the Covid ball with its ugly spikes!

This morning, very early, I went to get my own blood work completed. Yup that is right. I do try to keep a little up to date on my own health care. The lady checking me in asked what my occupation was. I said, “Oh just a caregiver”. She stopped her keyboarding, looked me directly in my eyes (between hair and mask, nothing else on my face on which to focus) and said, “That means you are everything! I am putting you down as an Essential Health Worker.” Woo-hoo, I finally reached that status!

Anyway, Matthew update!  We survived 5 days at CHOP! He did his first phase for the potential brain surgery to control seizures. It was quite the time but all in all he did well. Enough info for the doctors to say they want to move on to next stage. But Ron and I are asking if we could put it on pause for a moment. We feel we can control Matthew’s seizure’s enough with the medication he is on. If his little spasms cause him to space out a bit, we can still get his homeschool in – just takes a little longer. Because of upcoming holidays and Covid on the rise, we really don’t want to be in the hospital right now. And there is another issue: He is being started on a drug for attention deficit and we need to do just one new thing at a time. So, new med starting today. Pray that he tolerates it and that it would help.

Kari is top priority right now.  Between her seizures and infections, we need to get to the bottom of things. We’ve dragged the poor girl to 3 appointments in the last 2 days (she hates wearing a mask, but now seems resigned to it).  At her first visit, found out she needs surgery soon to change the battery on the VNS device she has implanted to minimize her seizures. The last few months the VNS has had to work overtime, which drained it more quickly. My prayer is that it only needs a new battery and that the wires around the vagus nerve are still good (keeping the surgery minor). Regarding her kidney/urinary tract, she has three tests scheduled for one day and at one place – so sweet that she doesn’t have to be dragged all over the place. In the meantime, she is on long-term antibiotics to control infection. She is quite the fighter.

My parents too have much to struggle with daily. With the pediatric wing taking so much time and attention, we feel like we are not giving them what we used to. Fortunately, they think otherwise. We keep praying for them as well, as I juggle mom’s up and down condition and watch dad taking backward steps in his health – but he is 88 so I guess that should be expected. Thanks for your prayers!

Matthew at CHOP – part 2

This is Matthew’s third day at CHOP. Things are starting to wear a little thin for him. Prior to today we weren’t sure we were ever going to talk him into leaving. He loves the “room service” where he can pick up the phone and order food. He loves “child life” with the toys they offer. And he absolutely loved the musician who came and played and sang for him. Having mom’s full, unending attention? – all this makes CHOP the best place ever.

But today… He starting showing some anxiety. “Mommy, I don’t know how to get home. I don’t know how to get there.” “It’s okay Matthew, Mommy knows the way home. I’ll get you there.” Sounds a little like a John 14 exchange, doesn’t it?

Falling flat on his face didn’t help. Having to have an IV started didn’t help, though he was a trooper and in the end he thanked the three young women who did the deed. But mostly he was exhausted – finally fell asleep after a seventeen hour stretch. Yes, he got up at 3 o’clock this morning! (Now that Matthew is sleeping, Joan is trying to do the same!)

As to the seizure this morning? No, the EEG didn’t pick it up. They’d like more time for observation and the hope of catching one (and they are hoping to provoke it by temporarily withholding his seizure med). The plan now is for Matthew and Joan to stay until Sunday. We had other options, but it likely meant returning to CHOP later for more of the same. We figure: We’ve come this far. Let’s try to get it done now.

Thanks for your prayers.

Matthew at CHOP

Nov 13, 10:00 AM – Matthew is at CHOP to find out if there is a specific part of his brain from which his seizures are coming. He is on a round-the-clock EEG.

This is the third day and up to this point he hasn’t had any seizures strong enough to be picked up on the EEG. Therefore they’ve decreased his anti-seizure medication – in order to provoke a seizure. Well, it appears to have worked. About half an hour ago he fell flat on his face, presumably because of a seizure. He was not injured but they now are limiting him to his bed. We don’t yet know if that seizure was strong enough to show up and provide helpful info.

Joan says, “it has been a circus this morning.” Related to the fall, “Everyone ran in the room b/c of course he is being videoed.” “They want to keep him until tomorrow.” “Trying to get Matthew to sleep” (he has got to be exhausted, Joan told me earlier he has been awake since 3 AM).

Joan asked me to put out this update because of the number of texts she has been receiving. This will be a more efficient way to keep everyone informed. Thank you for your prayers.

Real Quick

Within these walls, I find myself in a constant emotional tug-of-war. On the one hand, there is the need for speed. For those of you who do not know Matthew, he is a 24/7, on-the-move kid with one speed – fast! Because of that, he can be a danger to himself and therefore Ron and I must be diligent. Because of his actions, we are on constant alert, don’t get nearly as much sleep as we’d like, and we are constantly planning activities to keep him productive so that life doesn’t sink into chaos. If this seems rather all consuming, it is because you’re getting the picture. Throughout the day, Ron and I will say to the other, “Real quick, I am going to…” What we mean is this: “Could you be on Matthew duty for a few minutes because I really want to do this one thing and I can’t watch him at the same time?” Apparently, we say “real quick” a lot because we’re starting to hear it echoed. A few days ago, someone called. Whenever Matthew is around, he asks to be in on the conversation. This time he said, “can I say hi, ‘real quick?’”

When I walk into the side of the house where my parents live, I must remind myself to slow my brain, speech, and movements as I care for them. To connect with them I must go from 60 mph down to 10. I’ve learned to do that (outwardly at least) in a matter of seconds. It isn’t just care for my parents that slows me down, the quarantine also slows me down, preventing me from connecting and getting out as I would like. This may be God’s way of saying, “be still, look up and listen to me. Know that I am God.” I need this so that I will bear His image more instead of my own. And it is these times of reflection and focus that give me the energy for when I need to be in high gear. Psalm 62, ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence… He alone is my rock…I shall not be greatly shaken.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

Ron here…

So, the other day Joan’s break time was over and she had written down thoughts along these lines. She asked me to make some sense of them and to send them out. This evening I’ve finally had some time to do that. Hopefully, I’ve conveyed her intent.

And since I’m sending this out, can I ask something of you, “real quick?” Could you offer a prayer for Joan and Matthew? They are at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for a protracted EEG. It is step one (in a series of many) to trying to eliminate his seizures – that is, this test will tell us whether that might be possible.

Shortly after admission at CHOP this afternoon she texted, “I will have little time to think down here.” So, Joan is caring for one. I’m caring for the other three until they return. Guess who has the more consuming task? Hint: The fact that I have time to send this out to you should give you the answer.

“promising”

Tomorrow is Kari’s 34th birthday. For those of you who know her, another such milestone is amazing! We begin our celebration this evening with a small family party. And something else is happening today: Kari’s younger biological brother, Jeremy, is going to give a blood sample for genetic testing at the Clinic for Special Children (CSC) in Strasburg, PA.

Nearly two years ago the CSC began the most comprehensive testing on Kari ever. Basically, they are looking for a “needle in a haystack.” Somewhere within the 23 pairs of chromosomes, 20,000 plus genes, and 1,000,000 plus individual points on the DNA that they can “see,” there is most likely the clue to all her seizures and disabilities.

Last week we got word from the CSC that they found something “promising.” That’s the reason Jeremy is going there for genetic testing today. They’ll look to see whether he has the same needle in his haystack. The comparison will either confirm or deny their hypothesis.

We’ve had “promises” in the past. A leading neurologist in NYC found Kari to have an elevated acid in her bloodwork and he was sure he was on the path to an answer. For two years Kari was on a medical diet that stopped all her seizures (down from 100 a day, including up to five grand mals). After her diet was completed the electrical storms in her brain gradually returned. And then there was Kari’s “awakening:” She was twelve years old. For thirty days we were astounded to see new developmental abilities each day – like an infant who had unlimited potential – only to see her regress to her previous disabilities. Though we tried, we were unable to recreate the circumstances that allowed this window to the miraculous. How heartbreaking that was.

When a geneticist gets excited and uses the word “promising” it obviously gets our hopes up. We think this is the closest we’ve been to an answer for Kari. But even if a diagnosis is finally made (after 34 years), that probably doesn’t mean there is an accompanying cure. The next step might be finding a researcher with interest in that part of the DNA. But maybe knowing what it is (apart from a cure) could help provide something to control the seizures a little better, maybe even help her connect better with her world. All of this will take time of course. There are all the other previous studies on Kari (and Ryan) that need to be reviewed for comparison and confirmation. Hearing of “promise” requires patience.

As you feel our hopefulness, we’d love to have you join us in prayer. Perhaps it would be God’s will to provide an answer to this mystery. Maybe there is something that could really help Kari after all these years. Whether or not that prayer is answered in this life, we rejoice in knowing there will be a day when Kari will be fully healed. We have that confidence because God always keeps his promises!

Ron (and Joan)

Encouraging Holiness

With all her charges cared for, Joan turned in early to get in some much-desired reading time. She has become engrossed in a book about one of her favorite “mentors.” She is reading the new biography of Elisabeth Elliot. (I did good. I saw it featured through “Revive Our Hearts” and donated to secure a copy for Joan.)

I also decided to turn in early after seeing the Brewers lead over the Cardinals jump to 4-1, figured the rest of the game probably wasn’t worth watching. (I was right. At 4:59 this morning I checked the score to find they had been trounced, 18-3. Ouch.)

Back to last night: I reached into my nightstand and pulled out a copy of Christianity Today. “What Real Leaders Look Like” – that opinion piece grabbed my attention, and this is how it opened…

“Something doesn’t smell right in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Liberty University and its controversial president, Jerry Falwell Jr. According to a September report in Politico:

“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” said a current university employee who agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications…. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.

After reading several troubling revelations about the leadership of Jerry Jr, I suddenly stopped. I flipped to the front cover to see the date of publication. November 2019! This was written a full nine months before inappropriate selfie became big news, before his wife’s affair was revealed (permission for it to continue given by Jerry) – more than nine months before he resigned.

They knew – the board knew there were problems! Lots of people knew. And not just for nine months, but probably for years. No wonder Cal Thomas asserted that it isn’t just Jerry who should step down, but the whole board of Liberty University should resign.

But it is always this way, isn’t it? It was true of James MacDonald, of Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll and just about every other such leader who was eventually forced to resign. There were lots of clues and even more than clues. Others knew. It should have been dealt with years before, but it wasn’t. And why?

Take a few seconds and read this verse – God is speaking through the prophet Jeremiah.

The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jeremiah 5:31 NIV)

If you want a fuller description of what these prophets were like, read Jeremiah 23. Let me give you a taste of what is there…

And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14 NIV)

So, how is it that Falwell and guys like him aren’t confronted (unless forced to because the PR has gotten super bad)? God gives us the answer in 5:31. “My people love it this way.

As the CT editorial points out: “We want ‘movers and shakers’ who can ‘make a difference.’ We hire not for humility and service, but for boldness, innovation, and creativity. Big is beautiful.” Falwell was the kind of guy was strong in the areas of finance and construction. He made Liberty bigger and greater. He gave them what they wanted most. What else matters? Well, “It’s time to remember the qualifications of biblical leadership.”

I would suggest there is another reason beyond the desire for “movers and shakers” that makes us willing to set aside biblical qualifications. As one fellow told me: “I like the fact that my pastor is just a regular guy who has all the same weaknesses that I do.” Okay, so we’re all human – I get it. But would we like it as much if our human pastors also had a passion for holiness, if they were to be careful to watch both their “life” as well as their doctrine? Instead of messages having lots of stories that reveal that our pastors are less than perfect (as if we needed to know that), what if the focus was more on showing us Jesus?

Remember when Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Scripture has lots of examples of people being extremely uncomfortable with the “holy.” Think: the mountain that smokes, Moses’ face that glows, an ark that causes people to die when they peek inside, etc.

Chapter 5 of my book, “Have we lost out Head?”, is entitled: “My People Love It This Way.” We don’t always want Jesus to be the head of the church – at least, not really. It is more comfortable to have our churches be the kind of place that fits us better. Therefore, we keep Jesus a little disconnected from how we function. But, without connection with him the church has no real life. “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

In Chapter 7, I suggest one (of seven) remedies for this disconnect – that leaders “Be Examples Of What is Good,” subtitled, “Growing in Holiness.” In other words, the most important thing our leaders can do for us is to help point us to Jesus. They can’t do this very well if they aren’t pursuing Christlikeness themselves.

Although it can be uncomfortable for us (holiness often is), let’s encourage leadership that cares more about becoming like Jesus above all other things.

By the way, among the wonderful people who were a model of growing in holiness and encouraging holiness was Elisabeth Elliot. She understood that this was the goal for all believers. For women, she reminded them of the truth of Titus 2 and what holiness looks like in everyday activities, of showing affection to husband and children and in the work they do at home.

Joan stops her reading from time to time to tell me how she is certain I would also really enjoy “Becoming Elisabeth Elliot.” I’m sure I will! I kind of had reading-it-myself in mind when I bought the book. We all need godly examples before us (both past and present).

Dancing

Three times a day, the plate that sits quietly on the counter in front of my kitchen sink reminds me that, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”  I have had many vicious storms in my life. I have begged God to remove them all, but because He loves me, He doesn’t always listen to the whines of my heart. His plan is always better than my own. I just don’t always want to see it that way.  I confess, I want to have an easy path in life, tough dance lessons aren’t really my thing. For one, I have no rhythm and these days if I move my body too quickly or awkwardly, I feel some muscle react that I didn’t even know I had.

Being hunkered down because of Covid for 180 days has created a cranky Joan at times. Recently my brother called me a “total goofball” in a family email. What? I am about the most boring, quiet person that Covid could create. My days are filled with major caretaking with little time left for me to do much of anything I used to enjoy. All those things that psychologists are concerned about with all this social distancing and depression seem to have landed on me. I don’t feel creative or productive. The hospitality queen I used to be is gone, because I can’t let anyone into my home. I watch my mom suffer daily with her medical condition. I feel helpless to make my daughter’s world any less complicated. She has been trapped in a body that she can’t control for 34 years and is totally dependant on me to understand her needs. I have a son who has gone to death and back through a traumatic brain injury and, at seven, he can’t comprehend why the corona bug has to take away all his fun.

But still, that irritating plate sits in front of me, nagging at me to dance! To jump for joy even when it is pouring rain outside and the thunder is rolling. I think God has a funny sense of humor, because one of the extreme anxieties that remains in my trauma-induced child is the fear of storms. Guess what is the only thing that will calm him during a storm. Yes, you got it! To dance and not just a mellow slow dance, but a crazy wild, deep belly-laughing, hilarious rip-roaring kicking up the heels dance.

This “goofball” keeps learning. Psalm 50:23 message is kind of the same as my plate. “The one who offers thanksgiving as her sacrifices glorifies me.” Thanking God instead of complaining in the midst of a personal storm – Wow! Now that is a concept most of us don’t take much heed to. Thanking is like dancing, except it is moving the brain into a joyous position instead of the body. Try it. It will seem painful at first, because all you want to do when life is hard is complain and seek for ways to get out of the situation you are in. Being thankful goes against every instinct within you. Being thankful is a gift from God – one that needs to be opened and activated. And it is in that “thankfulness mode” that God can do His best work with you.

I am going to dance with my mind. I give thanks to you Oh Lord, for an incredible husband who walks beside me through our trials. I am thankful today for a son who named a flower “Glenda” during our morning walk just because he thought it was so beautiful. I am thankful for the incredible starry-filled sky at 5 in the morning that reminds me, You still hold all things in order when my world seems so disordered.  I thank you, Lord, that you do little miracles like turning water into wine (who really needs wine??) and huge miracles like raising people from the dead!! You know we all have different kinds of felt needs, and yet you care about them all. I have food, health, home, clothes (even if most are from the thrift store), a car that runs, air to breathe, great family and friends, a church that still live-streams for me so I can stay connected to God’s people and I can pray without ceasing – these are all dance tunes in my head today. They push out the gloom and return me to a place of joy.