Rev. Julie Harley deals with ALS

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

Rev. Julie Harley was forced to retire as the lead pastor of First United Church in Oak Park yesterday, because she struggling with the devastating effects of ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. Diagnosed in November she already needs a power wheelchair to get around. The disease's progression has been that rapid.

I want to share with you how she has attempted to integrate her biblical faith with the cruel fate she is enduring. Following are excerpts from her Christmas Eve sermon. What follows are all her words.

God chooses to be born as an innocent, powerless, vulnerable child. be, and Herod led a plot to kill Jesus when he was only a toddler.

What are we to make of this God who comes to us, swaddled and helpless, lying in a manger? Isn't this the last place we would expect to find God?

I've thought about God in a new way during the last several weeks, since I learned I have ALS, Why does God choose vulnerability rather than strength? Why does God choose dependence rather than autonomy?

Why does God choose to come as a child who cannot walk or talk?

And I have come to the conclusion that the Word becomes flesh even in a body like mine, which is so weak it must be rolled to this church in a wheelchair. I thought I was glorifying God when I was at the height of my physical powers – competing in a triathlon or hiking up a mountain.

But perhaps the message of Christmas is that God is glorified just as fully when I allow others to take care of me. It is union with other people that brings us closest to God.

I am convinced that God is glorified when we surrender our selfish pride and our screaming egos and instead embrace our interdependence and naked neediness. It is our deepest desire to be surrounded by a community of people who will care for us, no matter what.

The Word becomes flesh, even in bodies like mine, with little physical strength or value in the eyes of the world. Our value is not self-generated. God bestows us with divine value, and Jesus is born in each of us on Christmas Eve. Believe the amazing good news of this holy night: God is with us.

Life is hard, but God is good, all the time.

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Julie O'Shea from Oak Park  

Posted: January 10th, 2013 9:17 AM

I'm glad a community member wrote about Julie. Yes, she has amazing spiritual strength and she had done amazing things in her 4+ years as Lead pastor at First United. She has furthered 1st United as an open armed community serving space. The Food Pantry has been allowed to grow. Clients are able to come in from the outside when the weather is relentless. Saying yes nearly every time PADS needs to stay here an extra night. Girl and Boy Scout troops meet here. Kids Kloset opened. AA groups etc.

Bob Berry from Villa Park  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 11:40 PM

Julie Ruth is an amazing person. She was instrumental in leading me back to a faith community after a 10 year absence. She will forever be my Shepherd.

Violet Aura  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 6:50 PM

Rev. Julie, do you/did you drink diet soda with aspartame? It's been implicated in ALS. I am wondering if it can be turned around with a raw food vegan eating style and no toxins...Check it out! Please do your own research and God bless!:)

Dan Sack from Washington, DC  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 6:49 PM

Julie has been a friend for thirty years and was my pastor for two. She continues to be a gift.

Kathy Russell. from River Forest  

Posted: January 9th, 2013 5:38 PM

Julie, if only the strength of your faith could move your muscles, you would run another triathlon.

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