Atlantic -- About nine years ago, Sally Meyer's middle daughter, Barbara, phoned and told Meyer she could never see her or her 2-year-old grandson, Robert, again. Barbara said Meyer and her husband, Dennis, needed to repent and seek the Lord.
Meyer, who co-pastors Atlantic's St. Paul's Lutheran Church with Dennis, said it was the culmination of a frightening journey.
"She became involved in a religious cult. I later learned they forced her to make the call."
Meyer lived in the Champagne/Urbana, Ill. area at the time; Barbara lived in Bloomington/Normal, Ill. Prior to the break-up, the two had regular contact. Meyer was crazy about her grandson.
She had seen warning signs something was wrong, but a fear Barbara would keep Robert from her kept Meyer from saying anything.
No family members were allowed to participate in Barbara's wedding nor were they invited to Robert's christening. The wedding announcement itself shocked Meyer.
"She called and told me to get her a wedding dress, that she was getting married in three months," Meyer said. The high priestess of Barbara's church had a vision and told Barbara to marry Brendon, her former boyfriend.
Barbara and Brendon refused to leave Robert alone with anyone.
"One day, Kim (Meyer's oldest daughter), Barbara and I went to the mall with Robert. Kim was wheeling him in the stroller and at one point she wheeled him around the corner, out of Barbara's sight," Meyer said. "Barbara became hysterical and ran screaming down the aisle after them, 'My baby! Give me back my baby!'"
Barbara called Meyer Christmas morning 1997 and told her she would be late for Christmas dinner.
"She said she did not want to be in the house with any of the extended family members and did not want anyone touching Robert or his new toys," Meyer said.
She later learned Barbara was afraid evil spirits would escape into her baby.
Meyer said her daughter spoke about Jews living underground and said they were trying to take over the world. She expressed concern about the U.S. government placing microchips under the skin of newborn babies in order to keep track of them.
"I should have done something, but I didn't. I loved my time with Robert and didn't want Barbara to get angry with me and tell me I couldn't see him," Meyer said. But her appeasement only delayed the inevitable.
She hasn't seen her daughter, Robert, or any of Barbara and Brendon's four other children since that 1998 phone call. She learned of those children through a private investigator she hired.
Meyer has made several legal efforts to re-connect with her daughter, but all without success. Last October, an Illinois judge threw out an alienation of affection lawsuit she filed against the Real Life Ministries, Barbara's church.
She's gone to the police and to social services, trying to get them to intervene on Robert and the other grandchildren's behalf.
"You get bounced back and forth, but ultimately it's: "We can't do anything unless we see a bruise."
Meyer and her husband, who is Barbara's stepfather, decided to abandon the fight to reclaim their daughter and her family after last October's court ruling.
"They said we could appeal it, but we were just tired of fighting it. They give parents all the rights. It reminds me of when women used to be property. It's like that with children."
But Meyer is not abandoning the cause.
She recently founded the Lullaby Foundation, an Atlantic-based organization that will work to assist "as-lost children," in Meyer's words.
"We say we are a nation that protects children, but we don't," Meyer said. "Lullaby wants to wake up America and push for more funding and staffing to take care of our most vulnerable children and their families."
Meyer said the foundation will provide forums on lost children and their issues, work with agencies to coordinate services and promote communication, develop support groups for families/children and seek funding to enhance services. She defines her target group as families who have lost children through death, estrangement, drugs, alcohol, imprisonment, adoption and other kinds of separation.
The organization is planning a benefit March 31 to raise awareness and raise funds. The event will he held at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Atlantic from 8:15 a.m. to 8 p.m., and a free-will offering will be taken.
Meyer will tell her story, as will several others.
The Rev. Val Peter, former director of Girls and Boys Town, will deliver one of several keynote addresses throughout the day. Other speakers scheduled include Lisa Heddens, Access for Special Kids child advocacy organization; Tom Milone, a former prison inmate who will speak on being "Lost and Found"; Ken Christiansen on "Brothers in Blue" and ISU quarterback Brett Meyer's family on the adoption journey.
Several agencies serving lost children will also present. Entertainers will perform throughout the day and food vendors will be available.
Meyer is working hard to turn her own tragedy into triumph.
"I may not see Barbara and her family until we get to heaven, but maybe we can help some other families here on earth."