One day at a time

“What’s with the rocks?”

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

Rock #5 green: Miracles

There was a time in my life when I could easily think about the future: imagine possibilities, make plans, dream dreams . . .

But when I found myself in survival mode not just for days or weeks, but for months that stretch into years, I found I couldn’t do that. My husband Dave would say things on the phone or by email like, “I have these goals for the next five years,” or “Next year let’s” do such and such, and I would stare blankly, as if he was speaking a foreign language. It was all I could do to imagine getting through that day. It was hard even to imagine tomorrow.

In the middle of life and death crises, which came around all too unpredictably and too often, my world narrowed down even further, to getting through this hour, or these minutes. For these minutes, Karis is still alive. God hasn’t taken her yet.

To help you understand this, let me describe a not-unusual day. Karis wakes up smiley and perky, describing to me all that she wants to do today: the friends she wants to call or visit, that new coffee shop she’s been longing to try, the birthday gift for a child in the hospital she wants to finish making, the passage from the Qur’an she wants to study and translate and compare with Scripture before she next sees her Arabic-speaking friend, what she wants to make for dinner and the shopping list it has generated . . .

By lunchtime all we’ve accomplished is getting her through her physical therapy routine, her bath, her bandage changes, her morning pills and IVs, and moved her from her bedroom to the living room couch, where she needs to rest after all the exertion of the morning. She talks to a friend on the phone, and I hear them making plans that I can’t imagine will ever take place.

Then she falls asleep, and over the next couple of hours I see her skin change from pale to flushed and damp. A hand on her forehead confirms she’s spiking a fever, but I need to measure it with a thermometer before I call her transplant coordinator. And I know what Cindy will say: bring her in; I’ll set up the admission.

On the way to the hospital I get a call from Dr. Costa: “Take Karis directly to the ICU.” “Why?” “Just do it.”

How does this man know?? By the time we reach the hospital Karis is struggling to breathe. There is already a transporter waiting for us at the emergency room, but triage takes her blood pressure: 60 over 40. They rush her away, and I follow to the ICU waiting room more slowly, knowing I will have a long wait while they stabilize her. I sit and pray. I thank God for Dr. Costa’s intuition. I thank God for nurses and doctors who know Karis well and love her. I know she’s in the best possible hands, not just medical hands, but God’s hands.

I’m not surprised when the ICU doctor emerges to tell me Karis is sedated and on a ventilator. I can go in and “see” her for a few minutes. It seems to be pneumonia, but there is suspicion of a central line infection as well. They’ve used pressors to stabilize her blood pressure, but she does seem to be septic. They’ll cover her with broad-spectrum antibiotics until they know what they’re actually treating.

I go in to “see” Karis long enough to wipe her sweaty forehead and pray for her and thank her nurses for their care. Then they need me out of the way, so I return to the waiting room to ponder whether I should call my husband in the midst of ministry in Brazil. I settle on an email, to him and to my other children. I decide to wait on posting on Karis’s prayer blog until I have something more positive to say.

I suddenly remember the friends who planned to come see Karis at home this evening, and call them to cancel. Before long my phone starts ringing: my other kids, friends who had already heard through the grapevine . . . My son, “Mom, I’ll get there as soon as I can, but you ought to phone Dad.”

The ICU nurse calls me in to go through Karis’s current medication list, which doesn’t completely match what’s in her computer. Dr. Costa comes by and I ask him, “How did you know?” “It was just a feeling,” he says, “because she spiked such a high fever so quickly.” “What are you thinking?” I ask him. “It’s too soon to tell, but I am very concerned—there’s too much going on all at once.” “She was perfectly fine this morning.” “I know—I saw her vital signs. Why don’t you go get something to eat, and then check back in. We’ll page you if we need you.”

I can’t tell you how many times this type of scenario repeated itself: going from fine to critically ill within hours. This was life with profound immunosuppression, necessary because of the mismatch between Karis’s graft and the two other immune systems present in her body. One step forward; two steps back. Stable to scary with no warning. It happened often enough that I became hypervigilant, like a child in an unpredictably abusive family. How could I make plans, or think concretely about the future?

One day at a time. One hour at a time. Holding on to God’s presence and his promises through the scary times and the more stable times. Clinging to Scriptures like Lamentations 3:20-27, which became my anchor:

I will never forget this awful time . . . yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline.”

The discipline for me was this: to trust God for this day, this hour, and leave tomorrow with him. I thought a lot about the Israelites in the desert, dependent on God’s manna each morning. God gave them just enough for one day. If they gathered more than that, in anxiety over whether there would be provision for tomorrow, the extra would spoil.

God gave me just enough faith for one day, sometimes one hour at a time. It’s easy to understand the concept, but for me, it was hard to live into. I wanted more. I wanted to gather manna for tomorrow, to have margin, to have some sense of control over what might happen next. But that simply didn’t work. I had to walk and breathe and learn to relax into his provision for today, for now. His mercies new every morning.

After months and years of doing this, like any discipline, it becomes a habit—a habit I’ve found hard to break. It is easier now for me to think about and plan for the future, like making a plan for my book trips this fall. But I hold everything very loosely. God may have something different in mind; something I’m not able to see right now. Whether things run smoothly or there are unhappy surprises, I know I am dependent on my Father for his provision of what I need—one day at a time.

2 thoughts on “One day at a time

  1. Waiting. Huge subject. All the more so when facing chronic illness or degenerative disease.

    Waiting can be active or passive. Actively engaging so that the waiting is filled with meaningful activity. Or passive, as we sag and move into dormancy, waiting to be woken up at the end of the waiting time.

    Waiting. It can be absolute or relative. There are several ways to try to describe that. Absolute waiting could be understood as waiting on our absolute God, hopeful waiting, Is 40:31 kind of waiting. A resting and a keen eye for when and how God is going to move, knowing He will. Relative waiting could be when we tie our waiting to human or earthly unknowns. That again moves us toward dormancy or dependency, inability to live out of all God wants for us.

    Finally, waiting can be according to God or according to the world. The former draws us constantly to God and His purposes; the latter pulls us away from them as we focus on ourselves and our situation.

    Eugene Peterson did us all a great favor in understanding waiting in the way he translated Romans 8:21-29
    18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

    22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

    26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

    29-30 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.

    Liked by 1 person

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