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My connection to the new center of the U.S. population

The new population center of the United States is a town I’m sure you’ve never heard of before, though I have. It’s Plato, Mo., a town 22 winding miles southwest of Fort Leonard Wood. The population is 109, up from 74 in 2000.

As you approach Plato from the east on Missouri 32, you pass a road on the right called Groves Drive. My great grandmother was a Groves. The next street on the right is called Kimrey Drive. My great grandfather was a Kimrey. They both lived and died in Plato. I’m probably exaggerating if I say I’m related to all 109 residents of Plato, but I’m related to a sizable percentage of the people who live there, and perhaps an even more sizable percentage of the people buried in the cemetery there.
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Visiting the house where my ancestors grew up

I went to a family reunion this past weekend. You typically need rosters at my family’s family reunions, because my grandmother had 13 brothers and sisters. I don’t know why, but before I got into genealogy, I just couldn’t keep everyone straight.

Now that I know how people are connected to one another, it’s somehow easier to keep it straight.

At the end of the day, my aunt drove me out to the house where my grandmother grew up.Along the way, she told me my great grandfather, Tom Kimrey, didn’t buy a car until after World War II, when he bought a surplus jeep. She said she didn’t know if he ever learned how to drive it, although several of his daughters did. We pulled onto Kimrey Lane and drove all the way to the end. It was cool to see a street named after one of my ancestors, even if it was on the edge of a booming metropolis of 74.

The house was a humble affair. It’s a four-room house, with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. The living room doubled as the master bedroom. There was no running water. The house had a tin roof and tarpaper on the sides. A brick pattern was etched into the tarpaper. My aunt showed me where the pot-bellied stove used to be, and where my great grandmother Sallie Groves’ pump organ used to sit.

The whole house was probably smaller than my kitchen and my study put together. And Tom and Sallie raised 13 kids in it. (One died very young.)

I guess standards of living have changed a bit over the course of four generations.

At any rate, seeing that old house gave me some idea of why my grandmother and great aunts and uncles were the way they were about some things. Sharing a bedroom with six other people changes your perspective about things, I guess.

Useful online Genealogy databases

I found some useful links today. It’s from a genealogy blog that copied verbatim one of my entries from a few months ago (but with attribution, at least), so turnabout is fair play.

For links to online passenger lists, see this entry in the Genealogy Blog. Looking through it, I see names of ships I know I’ve seen before but I can’t remember when.The genealogy software I use now lists anniversaries, so to keep my tree somewhat managable, when I don’t have a branch that I’m actively chasing down (or other stuff going on that keeps me from this stuff), I check the anniversaries. Since I have nearly 2,400 names in my tree, rarely a day goes by that isn’t the anniversary of something.

For instance, today was the anniversary of my great-great grandmother’s death. There’s a lot of controversy about her. I believe her name probably was Julianne Breeden or Julianne Breeding. My grandmother’s living brothers and sisters insist her last name was Breeden. It may very well have been, and it could be a transcription error in census records.

At any rate, researching people on anniversaries makes it much less daunting. At times I’ve found myself rushing to enter as many names as possible, which meant I didn’t record much in the way of dates or other details that I need now. If I tell myself I’m only going to check a handful of people, I’m much more likely to enter everything I can find. And if I record all the dates, then that means I will probably see that record three times a year–on the anniversaries of birth, death, and marriage.

So my records end up being a lot more complete and accurate. Sometimes I find typos and I fix them. Sometimes I just document sources. (Sources are important, but a lot of people, sadly, neglect them.)

And you know what? My tree still grows. By following a person’s branch forward and backward a couple of generations on his or her anniversary, I almost always find a couple more names I didn’t have before. I think I entered 10 names yesterday and today.

That sounds wimpy compared to those first few days when I probably entered several hundred names per day. But this is a much more sustainable rate of growth.

Does God have to heal?

Strong religious content again. I make no apologies. People who are offended by this kind of stuff are probably long gone anyway.
My friend and co-worker Charles Sebold helped inspire this one. Charlie’s page is worth a read. He writes with considerably more brevity than I do, but if you like the kind of content I produce, you’ll probably like Charlie too.

Charlie pointed out an alternative reading of Genesis 3:16 on Saturday that dovetails nicely with the interview I conducted Sunday night. Genesis 3:16 is a verse that feminists hate, mostly because they read it incorrectly. True, it’s been misapplied over the years. Here’s how it reads:

Then God said to the woman, “You will bear children with intense pain and suffering. And though your desire will be for your husband (or: And though you will desire to control your husband), he will be your master.”

Some men wrongly use this verse to lord over women. Charlie raised an interesting question. Keep in mind that when Jesus spoke, He used parables that people would understand. Doesn’t it stand to reason that He learned the technique from God the Father? Also keep in mind that we, God’s people, are referred to as the Bride of Christ. And keep in mind that Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted to be like God. Pure power trip.

So let’s paraphrase it in light of that:

Then God said to the woman, “You will bear children with intense pain and suffering. And though humanity will desire to control Me, I will be your master.”

Eve undoubtedly already knew the desire to control Adam. Undoubtedly if she desired to control God, she also desired to control Him. I’m sure she got the metaphor instantly. I’m sure Adam got it too–he understood control.

We still have control issues today. It tends to fall into one of two extremes. One extreme denies that God is in control, whether it’s by choice or ineptitude, and believes that God won’t reach down and help us. An awful lot of mainline denominations fall into that trap, wittingly or unwittingly. Many fundamentalists hit the other extreme, teaching that if we say or believe the right things, God is obligated to perform a miracle. St. Louis Rams superstar Isaac Bruce falls into that category. During the Rams’ Super Bowl season, Bruce totaled his car. He threw his hands off the wheel, cried out, “God, save me!” and believed God was obligated to save him. Bruce walked away from the accident. When asked why the same thing didn’t happen to Payne Stewart when his plane went down, Bruce said Stewart didn’t say the words. Now, while it’s very admirable that Bruce’s gut reaction was to say “God, save me!” instead of one or a series of four-letter words your mama didn’t teach you, it’s wrong for Bruce to believe that God is obligated to do anything, and it’s wrong for Bruce to judge people whose lives God chooses not to preserve.

What Isaac Bruce forgets is that God’s priority is to get as many people into heaven as possible. Yes, God loves us and cares about us and cares about what happens to us. He cares when I lose my keys and how many stoplights I have to sit through on my way home late on Friday nights. But if for some bizarre reason me sitting through 10 lights for five minutes apiece could help someone else get to heaven, it’s gonna take me an hour to get home. Every time.

So, when my work is done, I’m finished, no matter what age I am or what condition I’m in. The reason for that is really simple. Those of you who are married will understand this. Being alive and on this Earth is like being engaged. When you’re engaged, you can spend a fair bit of time together, but not as much as when you’re married. Your desire to spend more time with one another, and to do things you can’t do when you’re not married, are what drive you to get married. And whether you’re willing to admit it or not, you long for that day. Some people lie to themselves and try to tell themselves there’s something better than that day, and their lifestyle reflects it, but in reality by living that way, they’re in their own way longing for that day.

God has that same longing for us. He longs for us to cross over and be in Heaven, where He can spend more time with us, and higher-quality time with us. God looks forward to our deathbed like we look forward to a wedding day.

So, yes, God wants to heal us, because He doesn’t like watching us suffer. But that’s secondary. God wants us to want Him to heal the people we love. Somewhere I read a very interesting study titled, “Why God Needs a Human.” Interestingly, Jesus’ hands were tied when He went back to His hometown, because in His hometown, the people had no faith in Him. He tried to perform miracles there, but they weren’t as spectacular nor as numerous as anywhere else. So our unbelief in what God can or will do does seem to hinder His work.

So yes, we are supposed to want God to perform miracles on the people we love. Intensely. And when He does, the results are often spectacular. My friend Emily totaled her car a few months ago. She didn’t walk away from the accident like Isaac Bruce did. So some might say Emily didn’t have as much faith as Isaac Bruce did. To that I say, well, you don’t know Emily, and I don’t know Isaac Bruce, and it’s not my place to say anything about anyone else’s faith. But Emily should not be alive today. She says the only thing she remembers about her accident is an angel coming and getting her. And Emily was found laying in the road, where there was danger of her being run over. I would argue she was there for good reason–the dangerous place is also the place you’re most likely to be found quickly. And the same angel who could take her out of the car can just as easily be there to protect her. Potentially there was more than one.

When Emily tells that story, people get goosebumps. When Emily talks about her comeback, people get inspired. I didn’t know Emily very well before her accident–we met about a month before it happened–but at the very least, this incident in her life gave her another tool in her arsenal. And thanks to that, God may get another engagement or three He wouldn’t have had otherwise.

God knows–and only God knows–when it makes sense to heal. Our job is to be concerned on behalf of our brothers and sisters. But in those cases when God decides it’s time to call someone home, it’s not up to us to question the timing.

That’s much easier said than done. I wrote that bit about 4 pm on Sunday, in preparation for an interview for my documentary. Well, it’s not my documentary. I deliberately separated myself from the story, so I’d go in knowing just the very basics–a young couple from our church, named John and Karin, had twins in early September. Tommy, the boy, is completely healthy. Katie, the girl, has a heart condition. You can instantly tell when you see Katie that all’s not well with her. Don’t get me wrong–she looks fine. But when Katie and Tommy are in the room, you can’t hear Tommy breathing unless you listen for it. You can hear Katie. They’re short, desperate breaths. Tommy breathes about 60 times a minute, Karin said. Katie breathes 100 times.

I had John and Karin tell me the story, more or less from the beginning. Twins, a boy and a girl. Wonderful. Then Karin notices a yellow sticky-note where they were keeping Katie. The nurse wouldn’t give a straight answer. Heart murmur. That’s OK though. A lot of babies have what looks like a heart murmur and it goes away. Katie’s didn’t go away. Enlarged heart. OK, so you wait for the baby to reach 11 pounds, then you do surgery. Katie wasn’t growing.

I saw Katie and Tommy’s baptism, through the camera eye. I filmed the entire service. One of the church members wanted John and Karin to tell their story on video. John and Karin were very open to the idea. I agreed to the project, assuming certain resources would be available to me. It took about 45 minutes one Tuesday afternoon for all those resources to come together. OK, God’s pretty clearly behind this one–all the doors are wide open and the sun’s shining in and I do believe I left my sunglasses in the car. Alright alright, Dave can take a hint or twelve.

Pastor broke down while he was baptizing Katie. I caught the whole episode on tape. You can tell a lot about a Pastor from the way he handles infant baptisms. I’ve seen Pastor baptize dozens and dozens of babies. One has cried. Exactly one. Pastor has cried once, and that was with Katie. He loves her like his own daughter. So do a lot of people in the congregation.

Well, come late November, Katie had a growth spurt. Here she is now, the end of December, 10 pounds. That’s not much for four months, I know–I was born 10 pounds. But 10 pounds is close enough. Her surgery is Wednesday. It’s going to be a 10-hour ordeal. There’s little question that the surgery will make her a normal baby. The question mark is whether she’ll survive the surgery. Many don’t.

John and Karin sat down and talked with me for about 30 minutes, telling me their story. Everyone involved in the project knew what they wanted John and Karin to say–they knew John and Karin and they’d heard them talk. What they didn’t know was how to coax them into saying the good stuff. After a couple of conversations with people who knew them, I knew, mostly instinctively, what questions to ask to bring the story out. Four years of journalism school proved useful after all.

So I rolled the camera, played with the lights to get John and Karin to look good, and started asking questions. They answered the questions I meant to ask, rather than the questions I actually asked. Easiest interview I’ve ever done, far and away. After 20 minutes, Karin had to leave with Katie–she was uncomfortable in the lights. Karin apologized. I told her not to. At that point, John said there were three things he wanted to say. I told him I had plenty of tape. So he poured his heart out. Some of it I can’t use. But some of it was among the best stuff to come out of the interview.

The gist of it: They know God has a plan. They don’t know what it is, they don’t understand everything. But they trust Him. They trust Him more than I do.

By that time, Pastor was there, along with some of John and Karin’s friends. They wanted to pray for the whole family and annoint Katie with oil, as James 5:16 says to do. I caught that on tape too, along with some of the chemistry of the group. Pastor wanted me to emphasize the importance of small groups with the video, so I wanted to capture the essence of the group. The group was an awful lot like mine. That’s good. John and Karin said without the small group’s support and concern, they wouldn’t be what they are right now. I know. Without my small group, I wouldn’t be either. And I thought I had the coolest small group in the world, but this group is just as good. Same love, different people, that’s all.

There must have been 15 people in that room who’d have given their hearts to Katie if it would help. Katie didn’t understand what was going on. She looked over at her dad and her brother, then up at her mom and stopped crying. A room full of people confessed their sins to one another, as James 5:16 says to do. That’s awkward, but none of that stuff will leave the room. I’ll destroy the audio portion of the tape if it turned out–I was having problems with the microphones at that point. A room full of people prayed with intensity. And pastor pulled out a vial of oil, annointed Katie, and prayed for strength for her. John and Karin were holding their twins, sitting in front of an altar, Pastor standing right behind them. It was a beautiful picture–John and Karin sitting there. Pastor’s got their back. And God’s right behind all of them. Meanwhile, they were all surrounded by a tight circle of friends, hands outstretched.

By the time it was over, I think everyone except Tommy and Katie was crying.

I took tape home last night, but I didn’t take any equipment. Right now I don’t need to be editing video. I need to be praying that Katie makes it through Wednesday and sees Thursday. And the next Thursday. And let’s see… There are 52 Thursdays in a year, so about 4,000 Thursdays after that.

The tape can wait.