Kindred Spirits: Mary’s Story

I met Kara when I was 14. She and Jason had moved to town to take a job as the youth director at my church. My home church was not the easiest to jump in to; long lines of family ties had sewn us together, and breaking into that proved to be difficult. But I didn’t realize this until Kara told me years later—it had seemed so natural to her! She had immediately jumped in, befriending and loving us angsty teens. I remember chatting with my girlfriends about Kara—how we thought she was funny and so different. She was straight-forward and fun in ways that our small southern town wasn't. We laughed when she didn't understand the rules, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of who she was.

Kara warmly welcomed me into the Tippetts’ family, and I carved my way into becoming an honorary member. I would just show up at her door after school and she would invite me in to play with their growing family. She slowly became a safe place for me to confide in and hear her speak truth, but without necessarily feeling like it was a mentor-mentee relationship. We were friends and close friends.

I have discovered how rare it is to have a friendship like I did with Kara. To have someone who has known you, your family, your friends over such a long time period. It provides a very unique way in which she could speak into my life like no one else could. Which has made the loss of her that much more difficult.

I have been thinking over and over about what stories I want to share. I feel like I have so many little stories to tell that would give you insight into who Kara was, like when I would come visit her on college breaks, and she would hand me a $10 bill and tell me to go to the store and buy the fancy beer (instead of her usual Coors Light) so we could celebrate!

But there are three stories that really stand out in my mind.

I was home from a break from my internship after college and stopped by to visit. I remember feeling very heavy and sharing parts of my life where I was struggling. Kara took the time to listen and love me well in that moment. Jason’s mom was in town, so Jason and Kara had a date planned for that night. But instead, Kara insisted I go with them! We drove to Asheville and had a wonderful dinner, chatting and laughing in a downtown brewery. Some of you may not know that Kara had a sensitive gallbladder—too much rich food upset her stomach. That night we laughed and over-indulged on the yummy food. Kara paid for it by throwing up in a McDonalds cup all the way home from dinner. This memory stands out to me because I consider dates with my husband sacred time that I protect. Kara and Jason were entitled to that even more so because of their four kids, seminary, and a demanding job at the church—dates were rare. Yet Kara so quickly sacrificed her plans in order to love a friend who was hurting; Jason was not even thrown by it but willingly and graciously accepted me as a tagalong.

When Kara was diagnosed, Wil and were a month away from our wedding. Kara was to be our Matron of Honor. One night while I was having dinner with a friend, Kara texted, asking me to call her when I got home. I remember not knowing what to expect when I called, and then when I did call, she told me the news of her diagnosis. It was up in the air whether she would be able to come to the wedding because of her chemo schedule. I was shocked, unsure how to react, and I ended up making a bad joke and not handling it well. The next day she called and said, “I have something I need to tell you because you are my friend and I love you.” She told me I had hurt her feelings in my poor reaction and that she knew none of us knew how to react. She gave me the chance to ask for her forgiveness. And then all was well! She knew herself well enough to understand that her hurt would fester in her heart if she didn't say anything, and she also knew that it was not my intention to hurt her. Getting it out in the open allowed her to admit her hurt, me to admit my fault, and both of us to restore our friendship. This is one of the biggest gifts that she gave me, especially in her sickness. To know that we were good, even in periods of little communication. Because if it weren’t okay, I knew she would pick up the phone and call me.

Wil and I had the opportunity to visit Kara and Jason in Colorado in January 2014. Kara had a break in treatment so we decided to visit. The weekend was great! We went on dates, played with the kids, and just enjoyed being with one another. One morning, Kara took Wil and me out to breakfast. She asked us great questions about our first year and a half of marriage, and she spent time digging in and investing. She knew that her sickness was hard on me. It’s hard not to feel selfish in the midst of seeing someone you love suffer, especially when that person has always been there for you. She saw me through high school, college, dating relationships, and ministry; now I wanted her to play that same role in my marriage, asking the hard questions. Cancer stole that from us. Kara understood, and, sitting across the table from us, she asked for forgiveness for not being able to be there. It was a humbling experience. Kara, who had suffered so much over the past year and a half and had dealt with difficult news over and over, was sitting there asking for forgiveness for something she had no control over. It was and is so healing to my heart.

These are still hurts that I have to deal with. She was the person that I wanted to walk through marriage, kids, and ministry with me. She only got to see the marriage aspect. I know that with each milestone there will be joy but also sorrow in her absence. And yet, I also know that her love has made an eternal impact on my heart and when we are reunited, we can share, celebrate, and laugh together once again.