March 22, 2016 marks the one-year anniversary of Kara’s Homecoming. For the week leading up to that day, we are publishing a series of reflections that some of Kara’s nearest and dearest have written as they’ve processed what this anniversary means to their hearts. This article is a part of that series.
So it turns out that a year is not long enough to put a neat ribbon around our grief, or what life is like without Kara in our daily mix, or how Jesus has made us different because she was our friend. Random is kind of my modus operandi, though. So I appreciate the chance to share some random—like, really random—thoughts.
The first is ironic, actually. When Kara was first diagnosed with breast cancer and there was high confidence that all would be well within the year, she said she was going to resurrect her old blog. She wanted to write about her journey, of course, but also make it a place where she could invite others to share the struggles and joys of their own stories. She asked me if I would participate. Since I was incapable of directly saying no to Kara, my inner Texan diplomat responded, Put me at the bottom of your list. When she asked why, I made a face and said, I don’t want people knowin’ my bizniss! And here I am now, writing my bizniss for anyone to read, yet reminded of the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do. This exposing of my bizniss is a way in which I’m different largely due to knowing Kara. I’ve always wanted to be a good listener, but I am becoming increasingly aware that people give me more to listen to if I stop presenting myself as someone who has it all together.
Then there is the progression of my view and experience of grief over several years, which accelerated significantly after entering Kara’s story. My first pregnancy ended in miscarriage. It rocked my world and my understanding of God. I protected Him from my accusations of not being good by assuming that our little family had somehow slipped through the cracks; He cared but had just missed our loss. Then a second pregnancy, and a blessedly beautiful baby arrived. Then another miscarriage, to which I more stoically responded, These things happen. And then a fourth pregnancy and another blessedly beautiful baby in our arms.
Fast forward 4 years, and that second blessed beauty was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She was five when I met Kara, and I assumed that was the hard Kara was thinking of when she wanted me to write a guest blog post. It was hard, so hard. We had prayed this would never be part of our story. Had asked our church elders to lay hands on our children and request their good health. But seeing that little girl return to her own happy self almost immediately after receiving insulin, we had so much for which to be thankful—not the least of which was medical professionals and supplies to help her have a full and normal life. Grief for the loss of our expectations for her? For prayers not answered as we had hoped? For having to find a new normal? Oh, yes! But with the God-given grace to see His hand on us and His patience with us. We came to recognize ways He had been involved all along and that, even though we did not understand it all, He was worthy of our trust and thanksgiving—largely because we didn’t understand.
Then 2 years later, the oldest beauty developed Type 1 Diabetes, too! Lands! (That’s a Texan expletive.) And she seemed to be almost excited—like she was joining the team or something. I was the one who kept wanting to say, Can’t we all just sit in the corner and have a good cry?!? Kara was in our daily mix for that, and she didn’t mind if I cried. Still, she and Jason had set the example for us in their very, very hard hard to ask and allow Jesus to help us be sad, not angry, and to trust His nearness as our good.
So we have asked Jesus to help us stay near to Him… through learning insulin pumps and allowing our little (now bigger!) beauties more independence. And, darn it all, if the youngest didn’t break her leg skiing in January and become the captive of a thigh-to-toe cast! Lands! Lands! LANDS! (It’s biblical to repeat three time for emphasis.) And you know my answer when she asked more than once with despair and tears, Why did this happen?? I didn’t say, Maybe we slipped through the cracks and God forgot us for a few minutes. I didn’t even say, These things happen. I said, I don’t know exactly. But is Jesus with us? And she said, Yes. And even though there are hard and frustrating things about this part of our journey, we have often found ourselves speaking our thanks for so many things—Ski Patrol, competent medical staff, crutches, no concussion, family, sister’s breakfast skills, Dad’s entertainment skills, home, so many good friends, teamwork, communication. Because Jesus, who is with us, would never have said to give thanks in everything if there were truly nothing for which to be thankful.
As contradictory as it sounds, even to my own heart, grief is becoming an opportunity to seek gratitude. Please don’t quote this statement to me or anyone else when we are in the thick of it. That would be a recipe for losing friends. But at this point in these griefs, it is my retrospective view that grief can be a path to thanksgiving. I’m probably coming to the gratitude part late, but I’m thankful God has me here today. There is far to go, I’m sure.
So that’s the gist of my progression with grief. From not knowing why and making excuses for God to still not knowing why yet knowing He is near. I can’t mention grief without acknowledging the proverbial elephant in the room: Kara’s absence. (OK, she would laugh that I just now kind of called her an elephant!) I miss her. And when I miss her, I feel like I want to give that missing to her precious family because I imagine their ability to miss is beyond depleted and if they had more of it they could have a moment of relief and I want to give them something, for Pete’s sake. Clearly, this is one of the more random parts of my processing. I think my personal experience of grief for Kara can be summed up in my reaction to the song our elementary kids—hers and mine and Jill’s and many others—sing every week at chapel, 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman. At the beginning of this school year, I wept every Wednesday morning, especially at this verse:
Lands! Who wouldn’t weep? Then I skipped chapel several weeks, trying to avoid the tears. Then I began attending again and I kept it together if I prepared myself for the song. Sometimes it would catch me off guard and I’d get a little teary or a lot teary. I would look around and see others of Kara’s friends crying and looking for our own kids and hers in the assembly, to somehow beam a benediction to them from the back of the room. Other times I was distracted and missed the song altogether, or I would get to the end of it and realize I hadn’t cried. But today at chapel, almost a year after Kara went to Jesus, I wept again.
My tears were partly for Kara and partly because of this: the speaker (who is a mom of older students and has diabetes herself—I didn’t know till I heard her story!) talked to the students about the individual story God has given each of them. I realized as I sat by my cast-propped, crutch-slinging girl in the back row, that it’s true. My little-big beauties have stories! They are eight and eleven years old, and they have stories. They know that Jesus is with them, there is reason to be thankful, and they have stories God is giving them. I trust they won’t feel too exposed by their mama’s telling of their stories here as part of my own bizniss, though I’m even feeling a bit vulnerable myself. Maybe we won’t start our own daily blogs, but we have learned from Kara and others to be more comfortable with allowing others into our stories so we can have the privilege of entering theirs. No two stories are the same, no story can stand alone, and every story is given to us by our near and good God to help us learn that He is with us and that there is always reason for gratitude.
In closing, I’ll include one more random thought. Yesterday at the store, I happened upon a pair of my friends, one whose father recently passed away. I felt later that I had not been properly sensitive in light of her deep loss (even though my name appears in a book titled Just Show Up— sheesh!). This type of infraction is not new for me; it is my tendency to not say the right thing; it just is. Thankfully, God gave me the opportunity and grace to apologize in the afternoon when those same two friends showed up at my house with flowers and a loaf of the fresh bakery bread we had droolingly discussed around our grocery carts that morning. Yes, they blessed me with those things and graciously dismissed my earlier insensitivity. Wow! This bizniss of grief and showing up and intersecting stories is not for the faint of heart. Actually, it is for the faint of heart, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Nor is it for those who have it all together—praise be! I have so much for which to be thankful and so many areas in which I need Jesus to help me grow.
Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to random-ramble. It does me good. Is there someone near you whose rambles can help you grow as a listener? Or does he/she need to hear your story? Let’s all get down to bizniss and allow Jesus show us how we can be grateful together!