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.”

But God gives us hope

Romans 8:18-21, 23-25 What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later… With eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay… We too wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us… If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.

The second candle on our Advent wreath represents hope. What are you looking forward to today?

In the Waiting Room: Zebras Karis age 3 ½, Detroit

The room was crowded; it would be a long wait. Karis greeted the other children and played with a few toys but soon, exhausted, she settled in the chair beside me. Her small body looked like one of those photos of starving children in Africa, enormous belly, spindly arms and legs.

“What are you reading, Mama? Can you read it to me?” It was Psalm 96.

Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!

Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord,

For he—

“You forgot the zebras, Mama,” Karis interrupted, gazing at the border of wild animals brightening the walls. “The zebras are praising God too. See how they’re dancing? Read it again. I’m sure the zebras are in there.”

I read it again. No zebras.

“Mama, it’s OK. I know you’re tired. You’ll read it better another day.”

Dr. P’s nurse entertained Karis while he talked with me. “The only thing I can think of is another surgery, but frankly, I don’t know how it will help.”

I said no. My husband said, “We have to do something.” Our church agreed with him. Karis was hospitalized for several weeks in the hope of making her stronger so she could tolerate major surgery.When the OR attendant came to fetch her from the holding area, Karis pulled my head down and whispered, “Mama, don’t be afraid. The zebras are still dancing.”

From Shutterstock by Katerina Kreker

But God calls us to wait with faith

Galatians 5:5 But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us.

I used this Scripture on April 11 of this year, commenting on one of our waiting room experiences, and find myself drawn to it again as we enter Advent, the season when we practice active waiting. Waiting to celebrate the mystery of Jesus’ Incarnation. And waiting for the glory of his return as King, to rule in justice and love.

This year there’s an added edge to our waiting as we grieve over the impact of raging coronavirus and political, social, and economic distress. In light of this, Elise Massa, leader of Arts and Worship in our church, invited artists to create meditation pieces with the them of “The Waiting Room.” You can see this beautiful collection of original visual art, poetry, and music here:

As a part of this project, Elise invited me to reflect on my waiting room experiences with Karis. The result is a set of vignettes, which I will publish here weekly in connection with themes associated with the candles in our Advent wreath. I hope they will encourage you to look for Jesus in your own circumstances, for Immanuel, God with us, never leaves us, no matter how lonely, frustrated, anxious, or sad we feel. As we wait for him, he waits with us. I pray you will be able to see him with you, as he showed himself to be with me in some of the toughest times of my life with Karis.

The first Advent theme is Faith. Karis age three weeks, Chicago

The phone jarred me awake. Dr. R spoke without preamble. “I don’t like the way Karis looks this morning. I don’t think she’ll make it unless I operate right away. I need your verbal consent, and hospital policy requires you be in the surgical waiting room.”

Frozen by fear, I stared at the phone until my almost-two-year-old son stirred and whimpered in the crib across the room. Hastily, I packed a bag with his clothes and breakfast and carried him in his pajamas down the block and across the street from the Ronald McDonald House to the children’s hospital. My husband was in Bolivia, friends and nearest family over an hour away.

The waiting room was empty, but soon other parents trickled in. Caring for Danny’s needs kept me focused until he fell asleep again in my lap. Then worry swamped me.

A man approached. “Debbie? My name is Harold. I’m a friend of your husband’s, here from Florida for a pastors’ conference.”

How did Harold find me? I have no idea. His concern triggered a flood of tears. I told him what the doctor had said. Then, hesitantly, I admitted, “I don’t know where God has gone. I can’t find him. I think I’m losing my faith.” He looked at me without censure, without judgment. Just these gentle words:

“Then, it’s time for the Body of Christ to have faith for you.”

Danny and Karis six months later

But Jesus calls us to build on rock

Luke 6:46-48 Jesus said, “Why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.

Psalm 18:31 Who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock?

I love the way Luke tells this story. Digging through the emotional, experiential, societal and cultural muck and debris to find solid rock takes hard work; blood, sweat and tears. The blood of Jesus. Our own part of the sweat (remember Matthew 11:28-30). The tears he shares with us (Psalm 56:8, Acts 20:19, Luke 19:41-44, Romans 12:15).

I’ve written about three of eight bedrock beliefs, a solid foundation to stand on in this post-election. Yesterday I listened (twice!) to a powerful sermon that sums up my other five. I’m excited to share this with you. Whatever else you do this strange Covid Thanksgiving, take an hour to listen, take notes, sit before God with John Mark Comer’s challenge from Bridgetown Church in Portland.

From “Vision Series 2020.” Following the 2020 election, with its disputed result and our divided nation, we offer a pastoral word on how to follow Jesus through the coming season.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bridgetown-audio-podcast/id84246334?i=1000497698479

I’m going to listen again while I make pies!

From Shutterstock by Elena Veselova

But God watches over those who fear him

Psalm 33:17-18, 22 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love . . . Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in you alone.

Agoraphobia. That’s what Adrian Monk’s brother Ambrose suffers from in Season 2, Episode 11 of the quirky old detective series that Dave and I watched last night. Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help might not be available if things go wrong.

It’s just one of many words that migrated to English from the Greek phobos, all of them with fearful (haha) connotations.

I fully expected, when I started researching the Greek words used for fear in the Bible, that fear of the Lord would be a different word. But it’s not. Karis used to say, “pain is pain.” Apparently, from the perspective of the biblical writers, “fear is fear.” It’s a recognition of something stronger than we are, that can impact our lives.

So what’s the difference between Ambrose being afraid to leave his house, and fearing God? The psalmist says it’s God’s unfailing love. It’s his character, his trustworthiness. Agoraphobia, like all other phobias, imprisons, limits, narrows, destroys. Fear of God leads to hope and freedom. Here are just a few of the many other fruits of reverential fear of the Lord in our lives:

Respect and honor

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:14

“Stand up in the presence of the elderly and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:32

“Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 25:17

Compassion

“Do not charge interest or make a profit at the expense of one who falls into poverty”. Lev. 25:36

Blessing

“You and your children and grandchildren must fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his decrees and commands, you will enjoy a long life.” Deut 6:2, 24

Justice

“Fear the Lord and judge with integrity, for the Lord our God does not tolerate perverted justice, partiality, or the taking of bribes.” 2 Chronicles 19:7

Provision

“Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need.” Ps 34:9

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God.” Isaiah 50:10

Release from other fears

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zeph 3:17

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father . . . together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” Rom 8:15-17

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Tim 1:7

Integrity

Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God. 2 Cor 7:1

Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. Phil 2:12

Thankfulness and worship

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. Heb 12:28

“’Fear God,’ he shouted. ‘Give glory to him. For the time has come when he will sit as judge. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the springs of water.’” Rev 14:7

And from the throne came a voice that said, “Praise our God, all his servants, all who fear him, from the least to the greatest.” Rev 19:5

From Shutterstock by tomertu

We’re barely scratching the surface of all the benefits Scripture shows us about fearing God!

This leads me to my bedrock belief #3: GOD is my Lord, my “audience of one.” Not politics, not patriotism, not what other people may think of me or whether I’ll be ostracized if I say things outside a certain political box. All of that is temporary, but God’s rule over my life is eternal.

And the benefits of fearing him, the Lord of lords and King of kings, Creator of the universe, Lover of his creation, both human and all else, faithful keeper of all his promises, are immeasurable.