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 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.