The first time I met Kara, she wasn’t actually there.
I had just picked my kids up from school, and we were at our favorite part of the weekday: after-school playground time! For several years now, moms and their kids have met up at the playground after school for one big, massive play date. While the children play, we moms discuss life and get to know each other. Every once in awhile, a dad joins us.
On this particular day, there was a dad. I hadn’t see him before, but I was pretty sure he was the father of my kids’ new classmates I had been hearing about. Interested in getting to know a new family, I introduced myself; he was Jason Tippetts. Kara quickly became the topic of conversation; it was very clear as we talked that Jason wasn’t trying to prove anything—he just couldn’t help but talk about his “amazing wife.” He mentioned that Kara had both taught in a school setting and had home-schooled their children (and was very good at it). He said Kara encouraged their young children to make their own lunches despite the messes they made (while I complained about how time-consuming making my kids’ lunches was but did it to prevent a messy kitchen…Ummm…where were we?). I couldn’t be mistaken: this man I had just met absolutely believed he had a pretty amazing, capable wife.
Well, I left our little meet-and-greet anxious and eager to get to know this Kara-wife. Would she really be all that her husband made her out to be?
When we did meet, I found her a little brash, a little opinionated, and she challenged my perspective on a certain issue—and we had just barely met! Had I assumed that the amazing wife Jason talked about would be a quiet, meek woman? I must have, but this was no quiet woman! I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of Kara Tippetts after that first meeting, but I was certainly drawn to her; thankfully, I would have plenty more opportunities to get to know her. After all, she looked forward to those after-school playground play dates!
Kindness. It wasn’t just on her lips as we talked about parenting and our marriages at the playground, it was how she dealt with her kids right in front of us. And let me tell you… I know plenty of moms with “easy” kids who try to teach you about mothering gently and kindly, and I just think, That’s easy for you—you have easy kids. But Kara’s kids are like mine—the good ol’ fashioned rambunctious kind. The kind who like to test, the kind who don’t always like to follow the rules, the kind who never want the party or play date to end.
I am a rule follower. Two-thirds of my kids are not. I think before meeting Kara, I judged myself by my kids’ obedience. If they obeyed me, I felt good, accomplished, successful. If they did not obey to my liking, I would feel out of control, angry, and like a failure. To be honest, I still struggle in this way, but after I watched Kara with her children, I began to realize there is a better way. When my kids would disobey, my temptation would be to yell at them and get them to obey… in front of everybody. I wanted to show everyone who was boss. I would see Kara’s kids challenge her, but she would respond by quietly seeking them out, kneeling before them, making eye contact with them, and gently discussing what it was she wanted and expected from them.
I was so drawn to her way with her children. She never judged me for how I, nor any other mother, parented our children, but she definitely encouraged us through her words and actions to think about parenting differently— more kindly.
Little by little, I was getting to know this vivacious mama and wife. The school year ended and summer fun was being planned. Corrie had invited a bunch of us moms to come over to her house one morning a week, for several weeks, to pray for our husbands. On one particular morning it was just Corrie, Kara, me, and our kiddos. I was already familiar with Corrie’s admirable love and devotion for her husband and kids, but this was the first time I had been in a more intimate setting with Kara. I remember being blown away by Kara’s prayers for her husband and how she prayed for Corrie and me. It’s not like Kara was a better pray-er than Corrie or I (for such a thing doesn’t exist). As I think about it now, it was just that it was my first time really hearing the Kara that we all came to know and love. Her prayers exposed her passion, her intentionality, her fierceness. Her “big love.” This woman really loved and respected her husband, that same husband who obviously really loved and respected his wife.
That was it! I had completely fallen for this woman. As we ended our morning together, we started to make plans for summer fun. All I knew was that all I wanted was more time with Kara. Little did I know that time would be elusive from this point on in our relationship.
It wasn’t too many days later as Jim, my husband, and I were landscaping our backyard that I noticed a pillar of smoke rising from the base of my favorite mountain, Pike’s Peak. In just a few short days, the base of that mountain would be up in flames. My heart and everything in me sank. We were due to head to California the day after the Waldo Canyon fire came over the ridge and down into our city. I hated to leave friends and family behind, but honestly, I couldn’t stand another day looking at and smelling our mountain on fire. I knew that the worst would be behind us by the time we returned from California. I kept up with how everyone was doing and handling the fire via texts and Facebook. I had seen that my new friend Kara and her family had to be evacuated; I remember thinking how hard that must have been for them to have just moved in and then be forced to leave, not knowing if they would ever see their house again. But of course, this awesome new friend seemed be handling it all beautifully.
A couple more weeks passed. We were back in the Springs and I noticed that Kara had posted beautiful new photos of her and her family on Facebook. I commented on them, clueless to the reason why these pictures were even taken. Kara lovingly thought of me. You see, we weren’t that close yet, but we knew we would be. She realized I didn’t know about her diagnosis, and she wanted me to hear about it from her before I read it online.
My immediate reaction to her text (I cringe now when I think about it) was as though it were no big deal, a kind of proclamation that she would fight this, she’d be fine, and here is a verse to back up my stance. Her reply made me realize that it was a big deal. Chemo is life altering and devastatingly tough to go through.
I remember thinking confidently that Kara would survive her cancer. There was no way she would die from this. Plenty of people fight breast cancer and then go on to live long lives. She would surely be one of them.
I think without realizing it, my attitude was that I would help out in whatever way I could with their kids, but I would leave Kara alone to go through chemo and surgeries, and then we could continue building our friendship afterward.
So I did. I gladly helped with the kids here and there, and would see Kara every once in awhile in between chemo treatments when she was feeling better. I read her blog and admired the friends by her side. I felt there was really no way I could be that kind of friend to Kara—rubbing her feet, rubbing her back while she vomited, watching her be in immense pain, talking to her as she faded in and out; this was the stuff of super heroes. I simply felt this kind of service was not in me, and I was afraid of it. I longed for Kara to be back to normal, cancer-free, and doing normal mama-life with me once again.
I remember thinking that there would be chemo treatments and the double mastectomy and then we would all move on and return to our happy lives. That is my tendency: I want to skip over the bad and get to the happy stuff of life. But we never got the happy news with Kara that we longed for. There was the news that the chemo didn’t get all of the cancer, that radiation would be needed, more surgeries would be needed, that there was a mass in her uterus, that the cancer in her uterus had metastasized, that cancer was in her brain…bad news became our new normal.
During all this bad news, my family decided that we would make the Tippetts’ church plant, Westside, our new church home. We knew we wanted to support the Tippetts, and by now I had realized that I no longer had the time to sit on the sidelines and wait for Kara to get better before we could develop our friendship. I determined to be there for Kara in whatever way she needed. I was not going to let my fears of her illness and what it would do to her, to her family, and to all of us, keep me from being by her side. I was just going to have to not let cancer keep us from each other. Cancer would not win in that arena.