Two Minutes

“What’s with the rocks?”

“Do you have a few minutes? Pick a rock and I’ll tell you a story . . .”

Rock #1 red:

On a lovely spring evening in Wheaton, Illinois, Karis Joy was born full term, chubby, and perfectly healthy. A midwife handled the textbook delivery, inviting daddy Dave to cut the cord. Our obstetrician, available in case of complications, sat on the couch reading stories to our 21-month-old Danny. At 8:30 Dave settled Danny with Karis in the rocking chair and we delightedly watched his fascination as he explored the mystery of his brand new baby sister.

I cherish this winsome, joy-filled memory; the lull before a storm that was on nobody’s radar.

[However . . . Karis never passed meconium—the first stool after a baby is born.]

I put that phrase in brackets because it seemed like an “oh by the way,” hardly germane to the celebration of fingers and toes, chubbiness and baldness and bright blue eyes. [Did I really forget to mention the absence of dirty diapers when the midwife came to check up on us the next day?]

Saturday morning I felt so good that I went to a party, eager to show off our little treasure. While Karis and I reveled in the accolades of our friends, Karis started vomiting. Not just spitting up, no: this was bright yellow, with a force and trajectory unbelievable from such a small body. (There’s a reason it’s called “projectile” vomiting, a classic sign of bowel obstruction.)

On Sunday, I spiked a high fever and quickly became very ill, so ill I thought I was going to die—and hoped I would. I spent several days in the hospital.

Dave miraculously managed to track down my parents, who had just arrived in Florida from their missionary home in Guatemala. They were en route to Wheaton to attend my brother’s college graduation and his wedding a few weeks later. Mom caught the next flight to Chicago, while Dad drove north in a rental car following their planned itinerary.

IV antibiotics worked their magic. Three days in the hospital restored my life. I went home Wednesday feeling an emotional high I have not experienced before or since. I was giddy. The sky was sapphire, the grass emerald, the spring flowers and emerging leaves intoxicatingly lovely. My mother was a saint, my husband a hero, my children gorgeous, my little house a palace . . .

In my euphoria, I could not, could not, absorb the fact that something might be seriously wrong with my little daughter. She had continued “throwing up,” as Mom and Dave referred to her projectile bilious vomiting. Well, I gaily concluded, Karis must be reacting to the formula my mother had fed her while I was in the hospital. Surely once she got that out of her system her stomach would settle. At Karis’s one-week checkup the next day, I downplayed the situation, quickly agreeing with the doctor that “all babies spit up.” Mom failed to comment on the complete absence of dirty diapers. Karis had lost weight, of course, but all babies lose weight their first week of life. She still looked great, at least to me, and the doctor did not seem concerned.

[I know, I totally agree with you: it makes no sense that I was in such denial. I am a nurse, after all. Graduated with honors and all that.]

The weekend was surreal. Since I was home and well again, Mom rejoined my dad at their scheduled missionary meetings, leaving just Dave and me to clean up after Karis. She could hit objects several feet away. We kept our washing machine humming with the bedding, clothing, and even curtains Karis targeted with her “throwing up.” We scrubbed walls, floors, and furniture while we waited for her system to “settle down.”

Karis and I developed a rhythm. I figured out that if I let Karis nurse for two minutes, she promptly threw up. But if I stopped her after just one minute, she didn’t—at least, not immediately.

It is simply unbelievable that we plowed bull-headedly through that exhausting weekend without seeking medical help.

Mom and Dad arrived in Wheaton Sunday evening. Monday morning, May 16th, Dave went off to work and Dad came by take eleven-day-old Karis and me to attend my brother’s graduation from Wheaton College. Dad took one look at Karis, his first time meeting her, and said, in that Daddy-voice one daren’t disobey, “You are not going to the graduation. You are getting in your car and taking Karis straight to the nearest doctor.”

Startled into sudden, desperate clarity, I drove quickly to the nearest pediatric clinic and walked in clutching Karis and fighting tears. “My baby needs to see a doctor,” I told the receptionist, who informed me they didn’t take walk-ins. I stood there and looked at her, my voice flatly emphatic: “My baby must see a doctor now; she’s throwing up a lot.” (Almost I added, “My daddy said so.”)

Irritated, she responded, “All babies throw up. Maybe you’re not burping her properly.” I just stood there and looked at her. Finally she threw up her hands and walked to the back.

“All right, the doctor will see you. But just for a couple of minutes, because you’re interfering with the schedule of our patients.”

“Thank you. Two minutes is all we need.”

She glared at me as if I was nuts and walked us not to an examination room, but to the doctor’s office.

“So, what do you think is wrong with your baby?” he asked me sharply from the other side of his big desk.

“Doctor, in two minutes, I will show you.”

I nursed Karis while he sat drumming his fingers on the desk, his eyes fixed on the wall clock above my head. “Time’s up,” he announced.

I disengaged Karis and turned her around to face him. Right on cue, she projectile-vomited all over him, several feet away behind that big desk.

Instantly he was all action, dialing the hospital and yelling for the nurse while he swiped at the bright yellow milk dripping down his face.

I suspect Dr. White never forgot those two minutes that transformed him into our first medical ally.

Remember . . . and Tell!

Deuteronomy 32:7, 46-47 Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you . . .  Take to heart the words I have given you. Pass them on to your children . . . These instructions are not empty words–they are your life!

stones of remembrance

I’m making a temporary change to what I post on this blog. Last fall I traveled to various places in the US to share “Stones of Remembrance,” stories that are not part of the Karis book. Many people asked for the stories they didn’t hear at their particular event. So I’m going to post them here, one at a time, starting with the number 1s and going through in order to the 7s. There’s no particular logic to the order of the stories other than that they happened to get labeled with these numbers.

At the book parties, participants chose stones to select which stories would be told at that event. The red numbers indicate fun, lighthearted, family stories. The gold are miracle stories, and the green are lessons in trust that I learned (and continue learning!) through walking with Karis.

The idea came from Joshua 4. God performed a miracle similar to what he had done at the Red Sea. After Israel had crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land on dry ground, God told Joshua to choose twelve stones, one for each tribe, as “stones of remembrance.” Joshua told the people, “In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us of what God did for us.'” (Joshua 4:6-7).

Similarly, each of my stones reminds me of what God did for us. This is something you can do too! You can collect some stones, and number them, and for each one write down what God has done for you and your family. God wants us to remember and to tell–tell others how God has been involved in your life.

I would love it if, by the time I’ve posted my 21 stories, some of you have stories you would like to share about what God has done in your life and/or for your family. You’ll have a few weeks to start writing these things down, God’s wonderful works that should not be forgotten.

Later this week I’ll post the first story, red stone #1. Each of the red stones represents God’s grace in giving our family fun and joy, in the midst of and through and surrounding the challenges we faced. One suggestion: these stories were written to be read out loud, so you might want to try that.

I’m going to be using this time to write more stories of what God has done for me and for our family. I hope you will join me in remembering . . . and telling, to the glory of God and the encouragement of his people, while we still can. Our parents, and most of that generation, are gone now. We can no longer ask them, and so much has been lost to us. Let’s pass on to our children and grandchildren the strength of knowing that God cares and is involved in our lives!

 

 

But God knows all your needs

Matthew 6:26-27, 30b-32 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? . . . He will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? Don’t worry . . . these things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.

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Yesterday was a potentially historic and pivotal day for Venezuela, as across the country people poured into the streets in protest of the existing government and a 35-year-old declared himself interim president, with support of the abolished national congress, the U.S., and many other countries and organizations.

We don’t know yet what will happen next. I tend to get very anxious and worried about Venezuela and the well-being of our friends there. Why do you have so little faith? Your heavenly Father already knows all their needs.

I have completed my scheduled “book parties,” and my next goal in regard to the Karis book is to find a way to publish it in Portuguese and Spanish for our friends who speak those languages. I tend to worry about whether I’ll be able to find a publisher interested in translating and distributing Karis. Will I have enough money from sales in English if I have to pay for translating and publishing it myself? Again, I hear Why do you have so little faith? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.

When I let these and other worries dominate my thoughts, I am behaving as an unbeliever. But my heavenly Father already knows all your needs, both my own and the needs of each person I am concerned about. He will certainly care for you.

But the Holy Spirit produces fruit

Galatians 5:19-23 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear . . .  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

With this post in mind,  I tried to capture the bright red berries on this holly bush, flourishing in the middle of icy cold winter. I’m not sure you can see them very well, but they cheered my heart as I thought about Christina and her family.

With no warning, our friend Christina a few days ago suffered a ruptured aneurysm in her brain. She was beginning to show signs of recovery when she had a second stroke. She’s in the neuro ICU now in a coma as doctors work to stabilize her.

In the midst of all this, Christina’s husband has requested—and received—support from the church for another family doing vigil in the ICU waiting room. When I learned about it, this Scripture came to mind. I praise God for the Holy Spirit’s fruit so evident in Christina’s loving family.

Will you join us in prayer for our dynamic friend Christina, who works with the Sunday School and with a special needs ministry at our church? And for the family her husband has befriended?

Thank you!

But God chose me

Galatians 1:13-15 You know what I was like . . . how I violently persecuted God’s church. . . . But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace.

Karis didn’t believe in accidents. She had such confidence in God’s sovereignty, power, and personal involvement in her life that that she thought there was a reason, a purpose, for everything that happened to her. She was always asking, “What does God want to do with this . . . “ hospitalization, crisis, pain, disappointment, loss, opportunity—you can fill in the blank.

Of course, Karis recognized that she sometimes caused her own suffering, by a choice to eat something she knew would make her sick, for example, and that the “purpose” of her pain in that case was to teach her better discipline. Sometimes she thought her “rebellion” was worth the pain, just to be able to savor a bit of what the rest of the world experienced without consequences. Often, though, it backfired. She wrote near the beginning of her first semester at Notre Dame:

Aug 30, 2001 After dinner I walked over and picked up a cone, filled it with frozen yogurt, and walked home. On the way to Welsh Fam [her dorm] I was asking myself why I had done that. I’m sick, going to be sicker. Why?

Oh, I was just angry, that’s all, angry at my elusive limits, terrified of this life I’ve gotten myself into. They keep on saying you can miss only three classes or you’ll flunk; if you get behind on the homework you’ll never catch up again.

Oh Lord, help me! I’ll never make it—how could I possibly? I have never in my entire life missed less than three classes a semester or gone without dropping behind. I’m in so much pain. But my body is not where the real pain is . . . You know that.

If Karis put herself into this passage from Galatians, she might say, “You know what I was like—how I sometimes did violence to my body, the temple of the Lord. It just shows even more clearly how amazing God’s grace is, that he chose me, even before I was born, to fulfill his purpose of showing his love to the people around me. It’s all about his grace.”

I have to admit I struggle with Karis’s perspective of God’s sovereignty. I know he can bring good out of any given situation. “But God . . . !” Humans can so hurt themselves and each other, though, and the consequences can be so awful, that I sometimes have trouble hanging on to the optimism and trust that seemed natural to Karis. I understand in my gut the temptation to end the suffering by one’s own hand. God’s “marvelous grace” sometimes gets hidden beneath the weight of trouble and sorrow. Karis encourages me to believe that grace does exist, and that it’s worth seeking, like hidden treasure.

“I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the one who calls you by name.” Isaiah 45:3

But God welcomes us, by David Schlafer

Matthew 2:1-15  . . . Some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this . . . The wise men went their way . . . When they saw the star they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts . . .

Can you think of a time when you felt clearly out of place? That’s not the same as being away from home. A needed vacation, a change in vocation—either can take us to new and strange, even scary places. But coping with a different place is not the same as feeling out of place. It is, in fact, quite possible to find yourself out of place without ever leaving home:

  • Older kids come over to play with your big sister, and suddenly you don’t have a playmate anymore.
  • You come into a room in your house to find people huddled in animated conversation. Everyone suddenly stops talking. They look up at you with “No Trespassing” signs on their faces.
  • You go back to your alma mater for a class reunion. All your old classmates have made a success of interesting careers. You are stuck in a job that’s going nowhere.

The circumstances can vary widely, but wherever you are, the feeling is the same: I really don’t belong here.  I am out of place.    

What is it that makes the difference between strange territory and alien territory? It’s not so much the place itself as the people that you find there. A fascinating new world can go suddenly flat if you are greeted with uninviting stares. On the other hand, the icy inscrutability of unfamiliar surroundings can melt in a heartbeat if you are met with a warm word of welcome. Part of what often encourages us to venture away from home, in fact, is the belief—or at least the hope—that we will find a word of welcome when we come at last to journey’s end.

Today we hear a story about some folks who do leave home and venture into a far country. A star that they follow seems to convey the impression that they will find a welcome in the land toward which they’re heading.

Wrong!  So much for putting your trust in stars! The wise men stand around in Herod’s palace feeling decidedly out of place. The formal courtesies—they create a chasm. The interest in their mission—it is feigned, forced—palpably hostile.

This is not what the wise men left home to find.

But—cut the King some slack—will you? His Excellency himself is doubtless feeling out of place as well. This unexpected visit can only underscore the anxiety Herod surely feels already. Being a king is not all it’s cracked up to be. “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown,” and Herod’s is uneasier than most. Is Herod selfish? Yes, indeed! Cruel and vicious? Absolutely! Is he powerful? That all depends on what you mean by “power.” Does he have cause to be uneasy? Oh, yes he does! Rome is not an easy-going overlord. Judea is not an easily ruled underling. Herod’s home is a throne on which he does not fit.

Herod is a man who is utterly out of place. Small wonder he makes everyone around him feel the same. Small wonder, too, that, in the presence of these strange visitors, the whole royal court feels every bit as out of place as it makes the wise men feel.

Well!  Nothing for them to do but pack it up, and head on out. This is obviously a dead end—a mission totally misdirected. They might as well go back to the familiar territory from which they’ve come. They probably should never have left home in the first place.

But NO! the star says. NO! And it proceeds to shine them through the final short leg of the journey toward the Welcome they’ve come a long hard way to worship.

When they arrive at last, do the travelers receive the welcome that they came for? Of course, they do!  I should hope they would! Who in their right minds would turn away visitors bearing gifts? Why shouldn’t the Holy Family welcome the wise men with open arms? Gold, frankincense, myrrh—these are very expensive presents!

Yes, the gifts are expensive, all right—and perhaps not only in the way that immediately comes to mind. The gifts these visitors bring come with a high cost to those who receive them—a cost of which those who bring the gifts can hardly have an inkling. But it is a cost, I suspect, that the family to whom they are given has already begun to sense. I can’t think the urgent call to leave for Egypt—a warning call that comes to Joseph in a dream right after the wise men leave—I can’t think that this call descends on him as a total surprise. After all, Joseph and Mary already know by hard experience what it is to be displaced.

Yet here is the irony of it all: it is these Displaced Persons who give the wise men welcome. To all external observations, if anyone should feel at home, Herod should. If anyone should feel out of place, the Holy Family should. And yet things are exactly the opposite of what it seems they should be.

Matthew’s Story of the Visit of the Magi vividly prefigures the life and teaching of the One whom the wise men come to worship. Matthew’s Gospel begins with a standard genealogy—fathers and sons, fathers and sons. But it contains four names that are clearly out of place—women’s names—women, who, through no fault of their own, would have been subjected to shaming and ostracism in their patriarchal cultures. Mary, whom Joseph takes to wife under analogously eyebrow raising circumstances, is in Good Company—the Company of God’s own Commonwealth Kingdom. Mary’s Baby Boy grows up, in Matthew’s telling, to teach in parable after parable, that the Commonwealth of God makes its home precisely where conventional wisdom would decree it totally “out of place.”

Mary’s Jesus Child offers wisdom, food, care, and healing with deliberately discriminating indiscriminacy. He shares His gifts without regard to gender, race, social status, religious affiliation, or political allegiance, even though (as Matthew quotes Him) He Himself has nowhere to lay his head.

Interesting, is it not, how those who know what it’s like to be displaced are frequently the ones who are most adept at making others welcome? Interesting, is it not, that those who cling for dear life to places they cannot hope to hold—these are the very ones who inflict on others their own sense of profound dis-ease? The moves folks make in the power games they play are almost always ploys to seize and secure a place that is forever slipping through their fingers.

Today we celebrate a very different kind of power move—a move in which the Lord of life does not cling to the prerogatives of His position, but gives them up, so that all who have been displaced, or made to feel out of place, are freed to find, in Him, a welcome. And if this welcome is as deep and wide and clear and strong as it claims to be, then even the Herods in our own hearts will no longer need to clutch their shaky thrones, because those thrones are not only insecure but utterly unnecessary.

On our horizons, out of nowhere, unexpected stars can sometimes blaze, calling us from the comfort zones and familiar surroundings of “Home, Sweet Home.” In a curious mixture of trust and trepidation, we follow the light these stars shed on a step-by-step journey toward the Lord of Life. We carry with us whatever gifts we may have to offer. And the One who has no place to lay His head spares no expense to bid us welcome.

That is a Welcome worth leaving home to find. That is a Welcome worth leaving home to share. And doing so, we may just find that, like the magi, we end up returning home “by another way.”

But God had a plan

2 Timothy 1:9 For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.

How are you at planning? This question makes me smile when I think of Karis. She made extensive plans, many of which she wasn’t able to follow through on.  But that didn’t keep her from planning her next adventure, outing, meal (though she could seldom eat, she LOVED planning crazy menus!), or project. Here’s an example from her journal:

Oct 13, 2008 I got out of the hospital yesterday [from a bowel obstruction] and was just walking down beautiful South Pacific Avenue  thinking of making cookies for each of the neighbors as a way of thanking them for their gardens and getting to know them. I’ll also go on Craigslist and E-bay to look for a better stationary bike. I want to participate in the Friday night group at Jay’s, as well as the women’s group and the Bible study on Wednesday at Alan’s. I’ll have to check out Refugee Services and RAND Corps and UPMC and the Post Gazette for jobs and work on my translation and my thesis and my novel that starts at the corner of Liberty and Gross and ends at the corner of Friendship and Gross Streets.

How many of these things was she able to accomplish? Virtually none of them. But she continued in ensuing entries to brainstorm how best to help slum children in Brazil, creation of a system of children’s libraries there, what was needed in order to revolutionize the Brazilian medical system, and her desire to comb old folks’ homes to capture people’s stories before they were lost.

Karis loved making things for people’s birthdays or Christmas, with all good intentions for completing them on time. Since so often she didn’t manage to do so, she celebrated birthday “weeks.” Sometimes she was able to complete her gift within the week. But eventually, birthday weeks turned into birthday months. Our family has birthdays in January, February, March, April, May, July, August, November, and December. That’s a lot of celebrating! Exactly the way Karis loved to live her life–celebrating each other all the time.

When I woke up this morning, thinking “Today is the tenth day of Christmas” (lords a leaping, anyone?) I realized I could pull a Karis: I could still say Merry Christmas to you, despite my plan to have said it much sooner. And Happy New Year! I hope you (and I) find time to celebrate God’s grace through Jesus every day of 2019! And I’m so glad that when God makes plans, he fulfills them! Even for Karis’s life . . .