But the Son gave us the right to become children of God

John 1:6-14 [The eternal Word, life-giver, the true light] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him…But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God…the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

Ephesians 1:5; 5:1 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. …Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.

My husband Dave is a man of many talents. But he would be the first to tell you that home repairs are not on his list of skills. It took him a long time to admit this, because he thought it part of what a “real man” can do. While he was in that phase, I happily called a repairman if something went wrong when Dave was traveling. When Dave was home, though, it might take weeks before he gave up and let me call for help.

One such occasion yielded an image that still amuses me. Our washing machine broke. Dave spent several hours trying to fix it. Finally, he emerged from the basement with utter frustration on his face. “Fiddlesticks!” he exclaimed. Right behind him emerged our two-year-old son, his face exactly mirroring his father’s. “Fiddlesticks!” Danny proclaimed, in the same tone of voice, repeating with even more emphasis, “Fiddlesticks!”

From Shutterstock by altanaka

According to the NLT word study system, the word glory in John 1:14, doxa in Greek, means radiance or splendor, with a strong association of importance and display of power. It refers to eye-catching, wondrous beauty, perhaps with a focus on the object shining or reflecting light. Glory means ascribing honor or giving praise, emphasizing that the person being honored is powerful, beautiful, and important.

Danny didn’t realize he was giving glory to his father by imitating him, and of course that’s part of why we laughed. Children automatically imitate their parents and older siblings. Our heavenly Father gave us his Son and adopted us into his family. Our older brother is full of love and faithfulness. Of the dozens of descriptors John could have chosen, after living with Jesus for three years, he chose these two attributes. Some translators use the words grace and truth.

Thinking of New Year’s resolutions on this seventh day of Christmas, that’s what I want: to grow in love and faithfulness, in grace and truth. To see how Jesus did it and imitate him.

What do you want for 2021?

But God is with us

Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

The seventh “O” antiphon:

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Last Saturday night, our family gathered to enjoy a service of “Lessons and Carols” Zoomed to our church from the living room of our worship leaders. Our three-year-old grandson Caleb played with toys around the edges. Suddenly, though, he said, “Mamãe! O come, O come!” (Caleb’s first language is Portuguese.)

Valerie and Cesar have been following a devotional with their Advent wreath using this hymn. Caleb was delighted to hear Chris and Elise singing it as part of Lessons and Carols. Last week when I was at their house, Caleb met me at the door saying, “Grammy, I need to show you something: O come, O come!” He took me to their Advent wreath and explained to me—in Portuguese and English—the meaning of each of the candles. Then he showed me their creche, where all the figures—including one of his small trucks—were lying down. He told me he had put them to sleep “until Baby Jesus comes.”

We went for a walk in his neighborhood. Caleb was amused by the various holiday decorations. But what caught his attention were the homes displaying a creche. Those he stopped to examine in detail, identifying the figures and telling me about them.

From Shutterstock by Romolo Tavani

Emmanuel. God with us. God with us. Perhaps we’re so used to this concept we’ve become jaded. Perhaps we’ve forgotten what spectacular news this is: God taking on our flesh, living among us, feeling our joys, pains, and sorrows. Knowing hunger and thirst, our weariness, and finally, death.

For this last Waiting Room vignette, Scars, the setting is a grassy knoll beside Saint Mary’s Lake on Notre Dame’s campus. Karis had just received a diagnosis of avascular necrosis: her hip was collapsing, a side effect of long-time use of steroids to supplement her immunosuppressant, since she was so prone to rejection of her transplanted organs.

Karis was devastated. She took this last walk around Saint Mary’s Lake before submitting to the doctor’s “no weight bearing” order. Throwing herself down on the grass, she poured out her distress and grief to the Lord, and then lay there, waiting. And Jesus came to her, bearing on his body each one of her scars.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, NKJV).

But Jesus is the hope of all the world

Jeremiah 10:6-7, 10 Lord, there is no one like you! For you are great, and your name is full of power. Who would not fear you O King of nations? That title belongs to you alone! Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like you. . . But the Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King!

Matthew 12:18-21 (See Isaiah 12:18-21; 42:1-4) Look at my servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.

Revelation 15:3-4; 22:2 They were singing the song of the Lamb: . . . Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations. . . All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous deeds have been revealed. . . On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

O Rex Gentium, O King of the Nations, we long for your coming. We desperately need your justice and healing. The whole world groans. “O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Photo of a beautiful card painted by Bonnie Liefer

Has any eighth (or ninth) century prayer been so appropriate for us, today, December 2020?

The Jeremiah passage reminds me of one of my favorite books, None Like Him, by Jen Wilken. And Chris Tomlin.

God privileged Karis with a particular role to play in calling the nations to Jesus, both costly and joyful. Perhaps that work is not yet completed.

A Key to the Door Karis ages 26-30, Pittsburgh

I positioned Karis’s wheelchair so she could punch the button to open doors into the transplant clinic waiting room. I watched her smile as around the room bodies straightened and faces brightened. “Mom—”

“I know. Here, give me those bags so you can move more freely.”

“All but the blanket I crocheted for Hashim and Aida’s new baby. It’s wrapped and in the green bag. I’ll go to them first.”

I sighed as I unloaded all our stuff in a free corner. Like all clinic days, we would be here all day. First, waiting Karis’s turn for blood draw. The doctor would see patients hours later, in the order each one’s results came back.

I walked to the drink bar to prepare coffee for Karis, tea for me. She was still chattering in Arabic with Hashim’s family, gushing over the new baby whose father, like Karis, had undergone multivisceral transplant.

I knew only a couple of greetings in Arabic, which I employed awkwardly as I delivered Karis’s coffee and her collection of morning pills. Nodding to several others, I returned to my corner. I wanted some time to myself before I too engaged in catching up with those whose languages I did know.

Sipping my tea, I watched Karis move from one family group to another, chatting, laughing, hugging, weeping, listening. With her five languages, she could engage in heart-talk with anyone.

The Arabic-speaking families matter most to her, I realized. As far as I know, no Muslim family has ever refused her prayer, or her gift of an Arabic Bible. They know she loves them. Who can resist a bright-faced girl in a wheelchair, with the same TPN backpack they carry?

Images like these flashed through my mind when, after Karis’s death, I read in her journals her perplexity over whether God had fulfilled his prophecy to her at age sixteen in Brazil: “You will be a door to the nations. Many will walk through that door to find Christ. You will be given a key to that door.”

At sixteen, Karis had imagined something very different from a wheelchair and a transplant clinic waiting room. Marriage to a dynamic evangelist, sharing with him a spectacular international ministry . . .  In her journals, Karis cried out for understanding, but never found it.

“Karis, can’t you see?” my heart cried as I read her distress. “I wish you could read the letters and emails that poured in after your death, from all over the world. People telling me, in several languages, they first understood God’s love because of your love for them.”

I don’t know whether the “key” was Karis’s languages, her love, or her wheelchair. Or all three. Or something more. I can’t wait to meet in Heaven the people who walked through the Karis door to Christ.

My primary motivation in writing Karis’s story was exactly this: to keep the Karis door open. Because “Anthony” said to me, “Her ministry is just beginning.”

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus said to his followers. Little lights pointing the way to The Light.

Brighten the corner where you are.

But God lights up our darkness

Luke 1:78-79 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.

Luke 1:78 KJV … the dayspring from on high hath visited us.

The “O” antiphon for Monday: “O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

These final lines from Zechariah’s beautiful prophecy always remind me of Psalm 30:5,Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. It’s interesting that this antiphon falls on the winter solstice. After today, the night will be shorter; daylight progressively longer.

From Shutterstock by Thankapon ch

This waiting room story continues the long vigil from yesterday’s vignette.

Flickering, Karis age 21, Pittsburgh

Karis’s doctors did not expect her to survive the night. Yet the long night hours slowly passed without the call we dreaded. When Dave and Valerie called from Newark, desperate for news after their long flight from São Paulo, I was able to say, “She’s still alive.” And before they landed in Pittsburgh, our flicker of hope grew stronger. Dr. M came to our private waiting room to tell us the story.

A doctor who rotated between labs at various hospitals happened to be on duty at our hospital that morning. This man, who had done his PhD research on Legionella, was probably the only person in Pittsburgh capable of recognizing this early that Legionella was the bacteria growing in Karis’s cultures. There had not been a case of Legionnaire’s disease in this hospital for twelve years. The head of infectious diseases had seen only one case in his entire life.  

“What this means,” Dr. M said, “is that each hour Karis stays alive strengthens our tiny flicker of hope a tiny bit—our tiny hope that there will be time for the correct antibiotics to do their work against the Legionella.”

Why did he have to keep emphasizing the word “tiny”?! Hope was hope. My heart latched on and held it tight.

From Shutterstock by Romolo Tavani

As we absorbed this information about Karis’s lungs, Dr. M explained the other big challenge. Karis’s transplanted intestine was disintegrating because they had stopped all immunosuppressant medication to treat the pneumonia. They had to get the graft out before Karis went into septic shock. But Karis was still dependent on the oscillator. Operating on a shaking body was simply impossible.

We needed a magic window in the next two or three days, when Karis’s lungs were well enough to transfer to a normal ventilator but before she died from sepsis. That is, if she stayed alive long enough for antibiotics to work against the Legionella.

Hour by hour with many others around the world, we kept vigil. Hour by hour word came that Karis was still alive. But getting her off the oscillator was just not happening. On 100% oxygen her blood gases began gradually to improve, but the nurses still could not alter her position in bed even a little without immediate decompensation. Her lungs were too compromised by the invasive Legionella. Every system of her body was impacted by the double threat of virulent pneumonia and runaway rejection. As her kidneys and liver began to fail, our tiny flame of hope flickered.

Two days passed, then three—the outer limit the surgeons had postulated for finding the “magic moment” to attempt surgery to remove Karis’s disintegrating intestine. This surgery would be more difficult than the original transplant surgery, but they would have to do it as fast as possible to limit her time under anesthesia.

Finally, on Tuesday evening Karis was successfully transferred from the oscillator to a regular ventilator! Surgery was scheduled for 7:45 the next morning. Our family lined up in the hallway that connected the ICU to the surgical suite. The ICU double doors suddenly popped open and the medical team came through the doors RUNNING with Karis down the hall to the OR, one of them kneeling precariously on her bed pumping oxygen into her lungs as they ran. We barely had time to wave and yell “We love you, Karis!” before they disappeared.  

And then it was waiting time again. We just moved from the ICU waiting room down the hall and around the corner to the surgery waiting room. The surgeons had given us no hope that Karis could survive such an invasive surgery, with her lungs, kidneys, liver, and intestine all in terrible shape. As the minutes ticked by, though, our hope increased, and seven hours later we were called to line up in the hallway again to watch Karis being rushed from the OR back to the ICU. Miraculously, she was still ALIVE!

Karis herself, deeply sedated, had no idea what was happening to her, or of the miracles that had preserved her life. For 74 days in the ICU, most of that time in induced coma, she battled one complication after another. When she was finally released from the coma, from the ventilator, and from the ICU, we were told she was the sickest patient ever to leave that ICU alive. Her reaction? “Mom, why were you so worried? Of course I didn’t die. God still has plans for me here!”

But God blesses his people with peace

Psalm 29:10-11 The Lord rules over the floodwaters. The Lord reigns as king forever. The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.

Revelation 3:7 This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David. What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open.

The “O” antiphon for Sunday: “O come, thou Key of David, come and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Peace, our fourth candle of Advent. Safety, the cry of the church from the eighth (or ninth) century when these antiphons were written. How our need for peace and safety still resonates.

How do you, personally, experience peace and safety when your whole world goes topsy-turvy? The Waiting Room story for today reflects one such experience in my life.

Touch, Karis age 21, Pittsburgh

“See you in about an hour, Sweetheart.” I waved as Karis was wheeled to the OR, then settled into the endoscopy waiting room. The doctors needed to know why she kept bleeding from her transplanted intestine.

Shortly, a doctor I didn’t know appeared, asking me to sign consent for a bronchoscopy while Karis was under anesthesia. “This should only delay her procedure by a few minutes,” he told me.

Two hours later, not the gastroenterologist nor the pulmonologist, but the chief transplant surgeon walked in. “Let’s sit down in the conference room,” he said. Only a person who has been there can imagine the fear elicited by those few words.

“We didn’t wake Karis up. She’s been taken to the ICU on a respirator. We don’t know why, but her lungs are in crisis. And her intestine looks much worse. All our efforts to reverse rejection have failed. There are many open, bleeding, ulcerated patches.”

Dr. M paused to look at me, and then continued. “I want you to do two things: call your family together and call your pastor. It will be easier for you to make funeral plans now than when she dies.”

My casual wave might be my very last communication with Karis?!

“Go to the ICU waiting room. There may be a moment when we can let you see her. Right now, she’s surrounded by people fighting for her life.”

My pastor came. I know we put together a plan, but later I could remember none of it. Dr. M came to tell us they had moved Karis from a ventilator to an oscillator, a machine that literally shakes oxygen into a patient’s lungs. “Make your hands into fists and put them at the top of your chest,” Dr. M said, showing us. “That’s how much of Karis’s lungs is still functioning. Come with me and you can see her from a distance.”

Karis’s whole bed shook. We could see that much through the crowd of white coats, nurses’ uniforms, and machinery.

The hospital designated a private waiting room for our family. They began to arrive, first Dan driving from DC, then Rachel flying from Chicago, and the next day Dave and Valerie from Brazil. They didn’t know when they boarded for the ten-hour flight to Newark whether Karis would still be alive when they landed.

Before Dan arrived, though, as I sat alone in our private waiting room, two women from our church knocked on the door. I rose to greet them, and one of them hugged me.

It wasn’t a “nice to see you” hug. She held me. She anchored me. For the first time I was able to weep. I felt seen. I felt care for me too, not just for Karis. I don’t know whether words were spoken or how long the women stayed. I can’t for the life of me remember who those two women were.

But I’ve never forgotten that hug.

But God promised a Savior through the line of Jesse

Acts 13:21-23 Saul reigned for forty years. But God replaced him with David, a man about whom God said, “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart . . . And it is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel.

Matthew 12:48-50 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? . . . Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Ephesians 1:5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

1 Peter 5:9 Stand firm against your great enemy, the devil. And be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.

O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), the third “O” Antiphon: “O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree, free them from Satan’s tyranny that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Both Dave and I grew up thousands of miles away from our extended families, he in Bolivia and I in Guatemala. The same became true of our children, growing up in Brazil. Our family of six would not have survived the pressures we faced had it not been for the care and support and prayers of our family by God’s adoption, our Christian brothers and sisters. The following Waiting Room story illustrates that reality, Emmanuel coming to us in the generosity and self-sacrifice of the Body of Christ.

Provision, Karis’s first transplant, age 21, Pittsburgh

Débora and I settled into the waiting room prepared for a long night. Karis’s first intestinal transplant surgery would take at least fourteen hours.

I played with little Ricardo while Débora improvised a bed for him in the corner. My fellow Brazilian transplant mom Eudiscélia was exhausted. My friend Débora and I had a brilliant idea: Eudiscélia could get a full night’s sleep if we cared for her two-year-old overnight in the waiting room. We would be awake anyway; why not let Eudiscélia rest? I was a pro at everything medical Ricardo would need: antibiotics through his central line, ostomy care, feedings via g-tube with a kangaroo pump . . .

Ricardo knew me well enough to accept this unusual situation with aplomb, and soon slumbered peacefully in his corner. Débora and I talked a while, then decided to put together a jigsaw puzzle a friend had loaned us: a luminous angel watching over a sleeping child.

By Angelfriends. This is not the puzzle we made that night, but the closest I could find.

From time to time, the phone rang with a report from the OR: She’s intubated; arterial, central, and peripheral lines in place. . . We’ve successfully removed her intestine—it looks horrible. We can’t imagine how she endured the pain . . . The donor intestine has arrived from St. Louis and looks good; a twelve-year-old boy in a car accident, the perfect size for Karis . . .

Finally, around 5:00 a.m.: Everything is in place. Karis has done well. Only a couple more hours to finish everything up. Even while I grieved for the family of the twelve year old boy, with Débora, I cheered and praised God for his mercy to Karis. Quietly, so we wouldn’t wake Ricardo.

Around 6:00, friends arrived with breakfast for us. Our son Dan, driving from New York City, had car trouble. Other friends went to rescue him. They all arrived just in time for another call from the OR: “We’re finished. She’s in recovery. You’ll be able to see her soon.”

Débora slipped away for her full day of work, after staying up with me all night. Eudiscélia, refreshed, reclaimed her little boy. Our friends cleaned up breakfast and left for their own jobs.

In the recovery room, for a few minutes before she was whisked away to the ICU, Dan and I gazed at unconscious Karis. Lines sprung from her body like quills on a porcupine, attached to a battalion of whirring machines.

A thrill of Hope. Joy. That’s what Dan and I felt as we walked to yet another waiting room. “The faithful love of the Lord never ends!” I whispered. “His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

We didn’t yet know everything would go wrong with this transplant. But when that time came, God’s provision through his Body, his daily love and mercy, like manna, would be just as rich, just as complete.

Just as perplexing.

But God will show us his goodness

Psalm 27:13-14 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am still here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

For Karis, her “waiting room” was often her pillow. Her journals details countless times when she waited on her Lord in that sacred space.

I thought of this while contemplating the second “O” Antiphon, assigned for today, O Adonai (O Lord): O come, O come thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe.

Karis’s life was all about grace. Yet as she lived it, she often longed for and depended on God’s definitive word to her, his guidance for how to think, how to live, how to honor him within the challenges she faced. Here are a few samples, excerpted from Karis, All I See Is Grace:

Aug 2002 The life I live now is an extra life. Someday, I will learn to sing. Someday I will learn to dance. Until then, I sing. Until then, I dance. I am still that little girl in Europe, disappearing, needing to wander alone. I miss You, Kyrios [Lord]. Revive my heart, wash clean my mind with Your truth. Come to me and speak Your secrets, Your plans. Draw me in. I will lay my head on my pillow now and wait.

Mar 6, 2003 Hospital [After Karis was again found passed out in the dorm at Notre Dame] Strange coming back to the world. I did what I never thought possible with Anthony: I cried. He said “We cannot despair.” And gently brought me back, on this small buoy in the ocean. . . Later I will thank You. Yes. Worship and wait. For hundreds of loving arms, offers to help—I thank You. (And in thanking must accept the gift, yes?) I try. Accepting is hard. Facing myself is difficult. Rest and psalms. Prayer. Sleep. Love. Restoration. Rest-oration. Only because He is Emmanuel.

Jun 2004 [During the long wait from March until August for her first transplant] How long the wait, Father? To what extent can I ally myself with the here and now? Pittsburgh, city of bridges. If I build here will I lose myself? Will I become tied to this place?

Jul 20, 2004

I awake not only to a lofty God but to an

Unfathomed freedom.

Remember this to me.

Remember me in moving

By Your grace through rather than

Beside. Make my life Sacrament.

Turn my gaze toward the subject

Of Your eye.

Forgive me that I do not love; forgive

And rush into the lack in me

Teach me to pray

Teach me to wait

Teach me to believe You love me.

Apr 18, 2009 [Hospital after almost dying from severe rejection] Thank You for the apparent miracle at work in my body. Yes, miracle. What else can I call it? Thank You for my friends and the pain medicine that allowed me to enjoy their shenanigans. Thank You for tea, hot and cold. For soy milk and lemon drops and jelly bellies.

Lord, help me rediscover myself intact, somewhere. Help me still be capable, or become so again; and recover not just capacity but also content: memories, self, motivation, personality. I am so much less able to truly laugh. I beg of You, make this temporary! Thank You, Jehovah-Rapha, God who heals. I worship You by waiting and eating and sleeping and walking. By sobbing, purging my soul, laying it before You. And I see Your hand, so gentle always. In the middle of the night I wake and see it.

December, 2005, a few weeks before her second transplant

Even our sleepless nights can become sacred moments of waiting on Adonai, our Lord, to show us his goodness.

But God’s plans stand firm

Psalm 33: 3-5, 10-11 Sing a new song of praise to the Lord; play skillfully on the harp and sing with joy. For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. He loves whatever is just and good . . . The Lord frustrates the plans of the nations and thwarts all their schemes. But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken.

We woke to a winter wonderland today. Perhaps you did too. So beautiful.

The little tree behind the table is Karis’s cocktail tree, planted by her in October, 2013.

The waiting room story I’m posting today is not included in the collection for Ascension, because I just wrote it. This story is longer than my usual posts.

I’ll call it Postcard. Karis turned 18 while we were at Riley.

“Why doesn’t she attend university here in São Paulo?” our Brazilian friends asked.

“There’s no way to keep her safe,” I had realized, as we brainstormed options. USP—the world class University of São Paulo which would be her first choice was, depending on traffic, forty minutes to twice that from our house. Longer, of course, by city bus. Mackenzie, her second choice, was even farther.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Except that Karis’s health was precarious. She could go into crisis and pass out from dehydration within a couple of hours. And these were not residential campuses. How could she manage to cross the city on her own twice a day, using a significant portion of her limited energy just to do that?

“Well, she could live in a cooperativo near campus,” our friends thought. These were houses or apartments rented by groups of students from out of town.

“We’ve considered that. But university students aren’t known for order and cleanliness. Karis has a central line; she’s on TPN,” we tried to explain. “She’s fed through a catheter directly into her bloodstream. An infection could kill her, like, really fast. How could she get emergency medical treatment quickly enough if she needed it? The home health agency would absolutely not approve her living in a cooperativo.

“But we don’t understand how you think she would be safer in the United States, a continent away from you.”

“I know. That may not be possible either. But Karis wants it enough that we have to try.”

Thus, fall semester of her senior year of high school, Karis and I flew from São Paulo to New York to tour the universities that interested her: Yale, of course—her brother’s school. Brown. Swarthmore. Princeton.  Columbia. Surely these uber-endowed universities would have a workable solution for her.

But no. In the waiting room for her interview at each university, after the campus tour, Karis and I discussed what we thought could be workable for her there. But the admissions officer in each case told her essentially the same thing: Academically, she qualified. But she would have to live off-campus. They would assume no responsibility for her health care. If she could figure out that part of her life, and thought she could keep up with classes, she was welcome to apply. But perhaps she should wait on college until her health was better.

“But maybe this is as good as my health will ever be,” she said to me each time, deflated. “If these universities aren’t willing to flex for me, how can I expect any other to do so?”

What I said is not quite true: we didn’t make it to the end of our five-campus itinerary. By the time we reached Princeton, Karis was so sick she dragged herself through the tour. In the waiting room, she started telling me—just as she was called to her interview—she wasn’t up to doing it. The admissions officer, looking at Karis’s pale face, her head supported on her hand, emphasized Princeton’s desire for students with high energy. Karis rose, mumbled her thanks, and stumbled toward the parking lot. In the car, she cancelled our visit to Columbia.

So. Should she give up on residential college and take courses online? Her body said yes. Her brilliant, curious mind said no. Her extrovert, adventurous personality balked at being stuck in our house, imprisoned by a plastic tube in her body. “I’m already missing half my school days at PACA [her high school]. And I hate that. A big part of the joy of school for me is being with my friends. It’s all the non-academic stuff.”

“Right. That’s why you insist on going to school even when you’re too sick to make it through the day,” I teased her. “That’s why I’m on call to pick you up and bring you home. Or take you to the hospital when you stay too long and pass out. For sure your habits will have to change if you go to college on your own.”

The idea of us moving to the U.S. to support Karis at college received an emphatic NO from both Dave and Karis. Our work in Brazil was flourishing. Karis adamantly refused to be the cause of interrupting it.

In December, Karis labored through applications to all five universities, telling me God could still do a miracle and make her well. Well enough to get off TPN and pull her catheter; well enough to eat. If her going to college mattered to him.

And on a whim, she added Notre Dame, knowing nothing about it, simply because a friend was applying there. To make Dad happy, she added his alma mater, Wheaton College.

In April, Karis and I traveled to the U.S. again, this time for surgery. Long-distance, without examining her in person, a doctor at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis believed this could help her. Karis wanted to take the chance. And she wanted to visit Wheaton and Notre Dame on the way to Indianapolis, “just in case.” Wheaton gave her the same response as the east coast universities.

Notre Dame, though, blew us away. “If you decide to come here,” she was told, “we’ll do everything possible to help you be successful.”

“Everything,” it turned out, included a mini-hospital on campus, where Karis would be given her own room to use for her TPN and other medical supplies, where she could stay whenever she needed an IV for dehydration or other interventions, to keep her out of the city hospitals. Of course she could live in a dorm. She would go to the health center twice a day to hook up and take down her TPN, thus avoiding possible contamination of her catheter. During periods when she could eat a little bit, the dining hall would provide whatever could work for her. “We’ll just put your food on the line, available to anyone,” the compassionate dining hall director told her. “That way no one needs to know you have a special diet.” Campus police could drive her around campus when she was too weak to walk—just give them a call.

Eventually, when her hip collapsed and she was confined to a wheelchair, ND provided an on-campus, user-friendly apartment. They gave her the use of an electric scooter (top speed 5 mph) to take herself into buildings, up elevators and into her classes. And so much more.

We didn’t know all that, of course, on our first ND visit. We didn’t know everything would go wrong at Riley a couple of weeks after surgery, that she would come within a hair’s breadth of losing her life from a post-surgical bowel obstruction requiring an emergency second surgery and a difficult three-month convalescence.

And we didn’t know that against all odds, Karis would be well enough by August to begin fall semester at Notre Dame. Temporarily, free of her central line and TPN.

Without knowing any of that, just before her first surgery at Riley, Karis handed me a postcard confirming her decision to enroll at Notre Dame in the fall. I detoured on the way to the surgical waiting room to mail her postcard, asking God how this made any sense. “Trust me. Isaiah 65” came clearly to my mind. I looked it up:

…For my people will live as long as trees,
    and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains.
23 They will not work in vain,
    and their children will not be doomed to misfortune.
For they are people blessed by the Lord,
    and their children, too, will be blessed.
24 I will answer them before they even call to me.
    While they are still talking about their needs,
    I will go ahead and answer their prayers!

This is our God, who delights in transforming impossibilities into unimaginable realities.

Fall joy at Notre Dame

But God surrounds us with his shield of love

Psalm 5:11-12 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.

Joy. A feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Delight. Jubilation. Triumph. Exultation. Elation.

These are just a few of the synonyms we use to express this wonderful feeling. Scripture has a whole lot to say about this quality, the one we celebrate in Advent with the pink candle, indicating a shift from repentance toward celebration of the soon-coming King. It’s also called the Shepherd candle, Jesus as shepherd and the welcome of the shepherds:

“Don’t be afraid!” the angel said [to the shepherds]. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all peoples.” . . . The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. (Read the whole story in Luke 2:8-20.)

The waiting room story I’m posting today illustrates God’s shield of love around us through a time of great anxiety for me, shifting me finally to relief and joy. I hope it will encourage you.

Have you been enjoying In the Waiting Room, Elise Massa’s collage of music, poetry, and art created especially for this Advent? Here’s the link again.

Also, Chris Massa created a marvelous Advent playlist of 45 titles in a variety of genres. It’s called Ascension Pittsburgh on Spotify. A great way to bring joy into our homes these cold days!

Spanish Poets, Karis age 15, São Paulo, Brazil

This new doctor, Dr. G, wanted first to see Karis alone. I sat rigid in the waiting room, my fingers crossed. “Please, Lord. Please, please, please” was the only prayer I could articulate.

A long search had brought us to yet one more waiting room in yet one more tangled, tiring trajectory across our city of 22 million. Dr. P, her Detroit doctor, had retired. “How could you do this to us, Dr. P?” was my anxious, irrational thought. After eight years guided by Dr. P through phone and email, we had to find a doctor for Karis in São Paulo. She had been seriously ill for months and growing steadily worse.

Responses of other doctors we had tried, both in the US and Brazil, rang in my mind: “I have no idea how to help her.” “You should just be grateful she’s still alive.” “There’s nothing to be done. You’ll have to make the best of it.” “Pseudo-obstruction? There’s no such thing. We could try dilating her intestine.” I shuddered, remembering that horribly painful procedure, with no apparent benefit.

“Please, Lord. Please, please, please.”

Dr. G’s nurse finally called me in. My daughter’s face was radiant. His counsel was solid, wise, informed. Something coiled tight inside me began to relax.

“What did you talk about that whole long time while I waited?” I asked her later.

“Hmm, we started with Alfonso Vallejo, I think. Or was it Ángel González Muñoz? Or Federico García Lorca? I can’t wait to read all the Spanish poets he recommended!”

From Shutterstock by DanielCz, Federico García Lorca, Plaza de Santa Ana, Madrid

“Wasn’t he examining you?”

“Oh yeah, that too. But the conversation was so fascinating I hardly noticed. When will we see him again? Next week?”

Years later, I read in Karis’s journal, “Dr. G practices medicine as art, not just science. I want to become a doctor like him.”

Thank you, Lord. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Karis two years later, Piazza San Marco, Vienna

But God is always with us

Acts 2:25-26 I see that the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope.

This is Peter quoting David in Psalm 16. Peter, who betrayed Jesus, who just a few weeks before this event wept bitterly and wanted to give up. Peter, whom the Lord personally and gently set back on the path of service and care of others.

“I see that the Lord is always with me.” That’s the heart of our hope, isn’t it? David said it again in the “Shepherd psalm,” Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me (Psalm 23:4). And one psalm back, For the Lord has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help (Psalm 22:24). And in the lament of Psalm 25, Feel my pain and see my trouble . . . for I put my hope in you (v. 18 and 21). And Psalm 33:18-22, We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield . . . Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

Photo of a picture in our home, artist unknown

A friend asked, what happened next, after the waiting room story I posted yesterday? If you’ve read Karis, All I See Is Grace, you know that God worked in a stunning way through that surgery I didn’t want my little girl to have to endure if even the doctor didn’t know how it would help her. I’ll quote from p. 11, but it went deeper than this, to fulfillment of a vision given to a friend when Karis was an infant as well as freeing us to move to Brazil.

Watching Karis over the next few months was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. She bounced back from surgery so fast we were able to take her home from the hospital in time for Christmas. She started eating all kinds of real food, and growing so quickly I could hardly keep her in clothes that fit. Within four months she grew four inches and gained ten pounds! She was back on the growth chart.

Karis’s energy returned. Soon she was running around and playing with Danny and Rachel, conquering developmental milestones in which she had lagged. It was like watching a wilted little flower blossom in a spring rain. Almost every day, Karis ran to find me and exclaimed, “Mommy, nothing hurts!”

What I want to say through this is that when we’re in the middle of really tough times and are tempted to despair, the one thing we can absolutely count on is that our Shepherd is with us, feeling our pain, but from the perspective of one who already knows the end of the story.

So I decided to go ahead with posting the next vignette, which I called “The Shepherd.” I hope it will encourage you. It’s another surgery waiting room, when I didn’t yet know the end of that particular story. Yet God sent someone to encourage me. Karis was eleven; this waiting room was in Detroit.

Dave stayed with our other three children in São Paulo, Brazil while Karis and I traveled to Detroit for surgery. Visitors came from several nearby supporting churches, including Lolly the Clown, AKA Ruth, a second-grade teacher from the town of Oregon near Toledo, who later went to Brazil to teach in our children’s school.

Rita, a new believer in a Detroit church, decided to sit with me for a while in the surgical waiting room. From a rough background, she wanted to know the secret behind Karis’s friendly cheerfulness and apparent lack of anxiety about facing major surgery. “I would be freakin’ terrified.”

Like I am, I thought but didn’t say.

“What’s that verse she was telling me before they took her away?” Rita asked.

I had missed their conversation but knew Karis had been reading Isaiah. I hazarded a guess. “Was it Isaiah 26:3? You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you . . .”

“No. Something about a shepherd.”

“Oh. Maybe 40:11? He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.”

“That’s it! Karis told me three things about that verse. First, this surgery might allow her to eat, her Shepherd’s way of feeding her. Second, she’s safe in his arms. The third, she said, was the most important.”

“What was the third?”

“Her Shepherd gently cares for you, too.”