We are starting a new series here at Mundane Faithfulness—Kindred Spirits—in which friends of Kara’s tell their stories. I love the term kindred spirits, which was introduced to me in the Anne of Green Gables books as a child. Because of Kara’s friendship with Autumn, which they always likened to Anne and Diane, I now always think of them when I hear the term. But I especially think of Kara because, as one speaker put it at her memorial service, so many of us considered her our best friend. She made each of her friends feel valued and loved and known. And we each have our own story of how our friendship came to be and the impact it has had on us; in fact, those of us who never met Kara in person have your own story, too. So let’s enjoy the stories together…
My Kara story begins just 3 weeks after my son, Von, was born. Close friends invited us out to dinner, and when we arrived, we learned Jason and Kara had been invited, too. Kara ooohhhed and aaahhhed over Von, asking to hold him so I could eat. I liked this couple just fine, but during dessert when Kara turned to me and revisited a conversation topic from an hour before, I was taken aback.
A lot of people tell me that they felt an instant connection with Kara when they met her. We had a connection, too, but I wasn’t sure I liked it; you see, the topic she wanted to revisit was one that was close and painful to my heart. At the time, my husband and I brushed over it and changed the subject; Kara picked up that something was amiss and waited to ask me about it when everyone else at the table was otherwise engaged. I appreciated her intuition, but I was uncomfortable with her question. I answered her the best I could, and the kindness of her gaze began melting my heart toward her.
She and Jason came over for dessert afterward, and by the time they had driven home, she had already texted me several times: Your husband loves you so much—I’m crying about the beautiful way he looks at you. And, I love your wedding pictures. And, That cake was delicious! I laughed about how easily she went from tears to cake. By this point, I couldn’t help but adore her.
Kara always joked that we had a textual relationship. We met just before her initial diagnosis when my son was a baby. And then as she endured the busyness of treatment and surgeries, I became pregnant again, busy with a toddler and planning for the birth of my daughter. In between brief coffee dates and catching up at baby showers and church, we would text. Text like crazy. The first time I saw her bald was at a party in my home. We stood in the kitchen, and I examined her new look. She looked like a rock star. Seriously. Somehow she made chemo look good. I asked if she was angry, and she surprised me by saying no. She gently explained that Grace had met her and she knew that Grace would continue to meet her in this journey.
Our husbands love each other, too. Jason wooed Aaron unabashedly until we agreed to leave our church home and join Westside where Aaron would become the worship leader. Kara and I would text and pray for our men during their weekly meetings. We were jealous that they got that time together, but we were thankful for their friendship.
When we joined the church plant, I was very convicted that after supporting Aaron, my priority would be to support Kara. So when she asked me to co-lead a women’s Bible study with her, I agreed, excited to partner with her. She ended up leading only a handful of those studies; that was around the time we found out her cancer was terminal. I remember going to the hospital to give birth to my daughter. Kara was in the hospital, too, having surgery that would reveal the extent of her cancer and how aggressive it was. While doing my in-processing, the nurse asked for the contact information of my clergyman in case something went direly wrong. I looked at Aaron and burst into tears. How could I explain that my pastor was my best friend’s husband, and that he was with her in the hospital waiting to find out how much more life she had on this earth?
I cried during that labor. I sobbed and sobbed. I’m sure the nurses thought it was the pain, but I cried for Kara. I cried for the unfair paradox of my bringing life into this world as her life was quietly fading.
Life continued after that news, although sometimes it felt like it was standing still. Kara would text me late in the night hours, asking for prayer, telling me how she found Grace that day, asking about Heaven. She asked me hard questions, just like the night we met, and I in turn asked her hard questions. It was our thing. And we talked a lot about Heaven. We talked about what it would mean for her to leave her babies. There were times I would put my phone down to cry; it felt impossible to be having these conversations about life without her. But God would always give me the strength to pick up my phone and humbly, clumsily try to encourage Kara with truth.
One thing a lot of people don’t know about Kara that maybe didn’t really get expressed through her writing is that she was funny and terribly, wonderfully irreverent. She was not necessarily what you’d expect from a pastor’s wife. We had a running list of words we disliked. Any time of day I could expect to get a one-word text from her: DISCHARGE. SECRETE. SLACKS. PUTRID. It always made me cringe/laugh wherever I was. And she was adamant about making sure everyone who walked into Westside felt welcome. One way she accomplished this was through her extroversion and pursuit of newcomers, but another way was through simply living normal life and allowing the rest of us to live life without expectation of perfect behavior. Her kids are a great example—she never expected them to be anything but children. Sitting behind them in church every week, I could always expect someone to spill their drink, whisper too loudly, burst out laughing, or drop a pencil that rolled and rolled, spurring giggles from their family pew. Can you imagine the pressure that relieved for the rest of us?
One Sunday during prayer, I heard a tap-tap-tappity-tap on the linoleum. I peeked and there was Story Jane doing a tap dance down the aisle. In tap shoes. Kara told me later SJ had found them at a thrift store and Kara didn’t have the heart to prohibit her from wearing them to church. It was delightful.
Kara was always herself; she never pretended or put on a mask. Her only expectation of others is that they would be themselves, too. It was freeing, comforting, inspiring, loving.
One of my favorite seasons of our friendship was when Kara was writing The Hardest Peace. She would ask my opinion about her manuscript and she would send her first drafts to me to review and give feedback on. It was so fun, and I loved the creative side of her that seemed to bloom before my very eyes. She was always so certain about the message she wanted to convey—the message of God’s love and Grace and that hardship isn’t the absence of either. She feared that she would die before the book came out—what a joy it was to celebrate the release with her! To see her reading from the pages to a huge crowd, to attend a retreat where she spoke and the women were lavished with grace.
Sundays were my favorite day with her. Either she felt well enough to come to church and I got to worship with her or she would have to stay home. I often got a text asking me to come sit with her. We would talk about practical stuff first, to get it out of the way. Then I would inevitably end up on the bed next to her and we would talk about the hard stuff, look for Grace together, crying. When she didn’t need me to sit with her, I went to church and texted her all during the service about everything happening so she wouldn’t feel left out. The day she died, I had texted a picture of her family in front of me, heads bowed, while Jason led a prayer with the church for her.
And you all know the love that existed between Kara and Von. She adored my daughter, too, and was an aunt to them in the absence of my sisters. She was a sister to me.
During one of our last conversations, we were talking about her dying. She knew the time was near. I texted, When you get to Heaven, please ask Jesus to explain what your love has meant to me. I want you to know. And she answered, I know that. Without question.
I love to picture her in Heaven, full head of hair, her gorgeous green eyes bright with redemption. And she is laughing. She is always laughing in my dreams. Laughing with joy, laughing with hope, laughing with finally meeting Grace face to face.