This Year ~ Guest post by Justine Atkins

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.

This year has been a mix of terrible sadness and obvious grace. I miss our girl. I would guess everyone reading this does. There is a constant feeling of someone missing. When we eat dinner with the Tippetts, cheer on the kids at sports, listen to their school reports, or when one of her kid’s arms are wrapped around my neck, I choke back tears as I remember what is missing. Ann Voskamp says, Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency. And I see voids a lot this year.

But this year I have also seen grace. Grace always shows up, right? Jason is an amazing daddy. So attentive. So engaging. So fun. And not at all afraid of brokenness. He isn’t afraid of his or his kids’ feelings or tears…and he isn’t afraid of our (Kara’s girlfriends) tears either. Also, he doesn’t measure his pain against another's. His pastor-heart loves people. Anyone and everyone. He appreciates heartfelt confessions and is gracious to overlook the thoughtless comments. I have learned much from the way he is grieving. He greets his kids with such big love in his eyes, arms ready to hug or wrestle and words of encouragement...usually with a little jest thrown in. He knows his limits. He pours into his kids first but is also continuing to serve others. His heart is shattered, but his eyes are Heavenward.

And like Mickey has said, the kids choose joy. I’m reminded of it often as Harper Joy and my Shea belt out all the words to my favorite 80s Lake and my Charlie bounce each other on the trampoline, giggles soaring through the yard...and when sweet Ella lets Story and my Lucy and Craig climb all over her lap with smiles as wide as a canyon. It doesn’t mean they don’t feel sadness—that there aren’t tears and sadness and longing for Mama’s arms—but they have the love and support of their daddy, their family and friends, and many others who love them. And they have their God who loves them and who is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Jill and I have talked lately about how our hearts, minds, and bodies are already gearing us for the “grief day.” If you’ve lost a loved one you probably know what that build up looks like. You remember all you were feeling this time last year. If you have Facebook, it reminds you without prompting. The last time you saw your love…The last time she hugged me...I’ve never been hugged so tight. I suspect the buildup is what makes the anniversary of a love's death so brutally hard. I can’t answer that for Jason and the kids. For me (and I suspect for many of the girlfriends), March 22 will feel like a lot of days, only magnified. Tears are always right there at the surface. I let myself break when needed. No need to prove anything to anyone. I don’t have anyone believing that I’m tough or strong right now anyway. I am the picture of weakness. My once strong body is caving under the pressure of arthritis, and my heart, well, you already know it’s broken. But it’s amazing what God is able to do with my relationship with Him when all else seems to be revolting. My grandma texted these words to me the other day from Tim Keller's book, The Songs of Jesus ‘Weeping may stay for a night, but joy comes in the morning.’ (Psalm 30:5) Lord, do the work in me that can happen only when I trust in you as I weep. So I pray for joy and thank God for the beautiful bottom of broken weeping...because for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. ~Kara.

She believed this. Wholeheartedly. And I believe it too...sometimes with teeth clenched as hot tears stream, but I believe it.