Karley is Thea’s best friend. They are two peas of the very same pod. They giggle about things no one else understands. They talk at each other for hours, hardly pausing to take a breath and seeming to understand each other, even though they talk at the same time. Their goodbyes last for about ten minutes and involve lots of dramatic sighing and hugs that make their older siblings go crazy.
About two weeks ago, Karley was airlifted out of our children’s hospital to Iowa City, where a team of specialists greeted her to help her fight for her life. Karley is infected with E. coli, which caused her kidneys to fail, her lungs to fill with fluid, and her pancreas to become infected.
We have no idea where she ingested the bacteria. No one else has gotten sick.
You know the kinds of prayers that are mostly tears? The ones that come not from your brain, all prettily packaged and well formed, but that come from the tender undersides of your heart, the spots that make it hurt to breathe, that wince at the touch? Those are the prayers we have prayed for Karley. All of us, an army of us, hundreds of us, scattered across the world. And also just two of us, Thea and I, on the couch in the early morning hours, crying together, watching the light change in the backyard trees. Throughout the day, when we can’t concentrate, can think of nothing else. At night before bed, asking God to give Karley rest, to heal every broken spot, to do what no one expects and to do it fast.
To have mercy.
Maybe you’ve been to this place. Maybe you’ve prayed these kinds of prayers in the last few weeks or months. The emotional whiplash is so startling, isn’t it? My thoughts loop on how Karley looked the days before she got sick, how our kids were all laughing and getting crazy together after swim lessons, how she was full of spunk and joy and seven-year-old-ness. The swift tumble down that hill is just too fast for me to digest. My legs and arms and face are all scraped up from the speed of the fall.
Yesterday we got the chance to visit Karley.
We posed with stuffed kidneys.
The two little girls colored and watched Tangled.
The big kids went swimming and burned off some restlessness while the moms talked about things like hemoglobin and insulin but also the Fourth of July and meal planning and life outside the hospital. It was so, so good.
The hug goodbye wasn’t nearly as raucous as it usually is but somehow it was sweeter.
Karley’s mom and dad, the intrepid Kim and Scott, and her beautiful sisters, Holly and Paige, thanked us for coming. It was all I could do not to break into the ugly cry. Didn’t they know that we were the ones who got the gift? That an afternoon with them was the one thing we all wanted and they gave it to us?
Karley is getting better. She is on her way back to the Karley we knew for the years before these long days. And we are learning things around here. We are learning again about the mystery and power of prayer, that God is serious when He calls us to it and that He hears every broken, sob-choked one. We are learning again that He is faithful and good and utterly trustworthy. We are learning that life is full of all sorts of tension, that it is broken and devastating, that it can bring us to our knees and make us forget how to sleep, how to eat. But life is also beautiful enough to make our chests hurt with joy, to lift our heads out of the mundane and to feel deeply, achingly the presence of a God who loves us.
We are learning things around here. If you are too, please hear me: You are not alone. This life gig is hard and complicated and relentless in its movement forward. You aren’t alone. Take courage. Know you are loved with a relentless, unflinching love. Take courage. The last page is yet to be written.
Love to you all, dear ones.