Agony and ecstasy—12 months of turmoil, disaster, death, rescue, victory, and celebration
When I see my friend Kara Tippetts these days I think of a bird, delicate and vulnerable to the harshness of this life. A bird huddled against a winter storm, its feathers fluffed out in beauty and for warmth, eyes alert to the falling snow, feet clinched to that one fixed branch that itself is swaying in the wind, gathering cold.
Her body, now nearly three years battling cancer, is succumbing, losing. Her long leg bones protrude beneath the blanket, and you can watch her jawbone work over a coming sentence.
But in the bedroom where she spends most of her time now, there is no air of defeat. Kara’s smile and her eyes shine bright in magnet-like interest in just about anything that has to do with her people, hold the center of the room—actually, the house. She and her husband Jason pull friends and family in, even from far away, making conversation instant, cheerful, easy. We embrace long and she pulls at my sweater. “I love that sweater. You should give it to me because I have cancer.”
These days life happens on a quieter plane. There’s a note taped by the front door: “Please do not ring doorbell. A tap is good.” There’s a schedule, actually, for friends to come in pairs and not stay long. Time with Ella, 13, Harper, 10, Lake, 8, and Story, 5, is precious. But there’s no bar on normal life, and the kids move in and out of the bedroom easily, with noisy news of the day. Story wants to show off her mom’s new hospital bed, Lake wants to play games on a phone, Harper has plans with friends, and Ella is getting ready to start rehearsals for a school play. Kara pauses to make a firm rule with Lake, then calls him over soon after to thank him for quick obedience.
I can be a million times grateful for the almost three years of days [we] have had with her since a sober diagnosis. And at the same time I am full of a choking grief that they are coming to an end. Here.
As Kara talks, she sometimes takes the oxygen tube from her nose then forgets to put it back until her breath comes in short heaves. She drifts off, dozes, mid-conversation. But throughout the day she snatches at good moments to sit up in bed, legs crossed beneath her laptop, and write. This too is the work of her cancer. Once she began to recount with remarkable transparency that battle carried on amid family life, Kara gathered hundreds of thousands of readers to her blog, Mundane Faithfulness. It led to a best-selling book, The Hardest Peace (David C. Cook, 2014). She is working on a second book, a book about making the most of the moments, writing fast in what moments of energy come, wanting to finish. It’s hard to write, she says, as pain medicine gives her double vision, and the cancer may be again at work in her brain.
Lord, teach us to number our days, we say. And it’s a hard lesson. I can be a million times grateful for the almost three years of days Kara’s kids, her husband Jason, and the rest of us have had with her since a sober diagnosis. And at the same time I am full of a choking grief that they are coming to an end. Here. I won’t get her take on kids growing up, Ella heading off to college, or Harper’s wedding frenzy. I won’t have her wisdom on a husband’s sickness, or her prayers over the next mundane thing that’s eating at one of us. I won’t have her counsel and kindness in the days following her death. I miss these all already.
The end of the book of Acts is a strange, sad account as Paul is mobbed, chained, and shipwrecked. Time after time he gets a reprieve only to be beaten again. If Paul’s were a cancer journey, it would look something like Kara’s. He spends two years in a kind of house arrest before his execution. But as the ESV Study Bible notes: “In God’s sovereignty, Paul’s time in prison was not wasted, for it was during his Roman imprisonment that he wrote the letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.”
Kara’s “time in prison” has overflowed with productive, lasting ministry. All through it is a Heavenly Father who does not let a sparrow fall to the ground apart from His care. And at the end, she will fly like a bird in spring.