Last week was a hard week; I’m not sure why, and by the end, I discovered it had been a hard week of mourning for lots of us. I am feeling my grief like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story with his ridiculous snowsuit on—it suffocates me and bogs me down. I move in slow motion, my body aches for no apparent reason. I can’t get to sleep at nights and when I do, I sleep either restlessly, eager for morning to rescue me from my dark dreams, or so soundly that I feel hungover when I wake up. And the wakeup—so painful some mornings. The remembrance that another day has arrived without my Kara.

I am absent minded. I forget simple things, like calling my grandmother or texting back a friend. By the time my husband comes home from work, I am so tired from just getting through the day that I can barely muster a smile and a kiss; his grace is so welcome and carries me in the evenings.

Last night I was lying in bed waiting for my husband to brush his teeth. Unexpectedly, the tears just started coming; I couldn’t control them and it was such a release of emotion that I didn’t want to. Then I had a revelation. You see, sometimes I feel guilty in my grief. I lost a friend of 3 years; I didn’t lose my spouse or my mother or my sister or my daughter or my spiritual daughter or my friend of 15 years. But the impact Kara had on me was deep—soul-affectingly deep.

Kara often talked about how pre-cancer, she struggled with people pleasing; she was concerned with what others thought about her and she wanted them to think well of her. I was the opposite—I couldn’t care less. I struggled with apathy. I struggled with not caring at all what anyone thought—I was happy doing my own thing my own way regardless of what anyone else thought. When Kara and I were new friends trying to figure out how to navigate our relationship, we sometimes clashed, but not in a bad way. In a challenging, thought-provoking way. And then through the course of her illness as she grew in grace, she invited me in, and I grew in grace, too. And somewhere along the road of people pleasing and apathy, we met in the middle. And we discovered that the middle is freedom in Christ.

I’ve never had a friend understand freedom in Christ like Kara. I’ve never had a friend so secure in her identity in Christ and His love for her. I’ve never had a friend live out of the freedom found in Christ’s love like Kara did. God was teaching me about freedom as He wooed me to Him, but Kara was always a step ahead and I had the benefit of watching and learning from her. When we struggled—me with apathy and her with people pleasing—we would text each other, sure of the encouragement that would ding on our phones minutes later. Freedom, friend, freedom. Or, Live in Christ’s freedom. Or, You have freedom in our friendship.

Kara loved me for me. She gave me the freedom to be me and she encouraged me to be who God made me to be. It was a unique gift. Early on, we had a few instances where she was afraid she had upset or displeased me, and there were a couple of times I was afraid I had hurt her with a lack of affirmation; yet what we joyfully discovered was not conflict or hurt feelings, but freedom.

Oh, I miss that. I miss that expression of freedom in Christ in our friendship.

But at the same time, I am inspired. I think about what a difference Kara’s love and acceptance of me made in such a short time—how powerful that grace was in my heart and in my life. I will never be the same woman because of her. And it gives me courage to love others, to try to reach out, to engage and smile and hug, to pursue other women and give them a safe place to be themselves.

In one of my last texts to Kara, I asked her to ask Jesus to tell her what she has meant to me, what a difference her friendship has made in my heart. She wrote back, I know, friend. She was being gracious because there was no way she could have known. But now she knows. Now she knows.

What difference has Kara made in your heart? What are you missing about her this week? Do you have a friend who loves you with boundless freedom? Can you be that kind of friend to others? Do you know that freedom in Christ? Do you live in that freedom? Why or why not? What do you think God wants you to understand about freedom in Christ?