Some of you may know the name Kara Tippetts. She was a young pastor’s wife and mom of four who blogged at Mundane Faithfulness, first as a mom blogger, but then sharing God’s grace in her diagnosis and battle against cancer. She passed away about a year ago and her blog now runs archives of her past posts. She came to national attention when, in the midst of her own battle, she wrote an open letter to Brittany Maynard, who was planning to employ physician-assisted suicide to avoid the downward spiral and suffering of a brain tumor, to beg her not to take that route, to promise that God would meet her in her suffering.
I didn’t read Kara’s blog regularly. I would look at the occasional post that someone linked to on Facebook or their blog. But it was too raw, too intense, too much (for me) to read every post.
But I got her book, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard when it was on sale. And just recently someone asked me if I knew of anything to help a woman she knows who is struggling to face her own cancer diagnosis, so I thought I’d read this and see if it would.
Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Nothing wrong with feasting (God planned some into Israel’s calendar, Jesus attended a wedding feast), parties, joy. But someone’s death or dying turns the heart and mind turn to the eternal like perhaps no other situation. We’re reminded that eternity is real, that life really is but a vapor, that Jesus provided a way for heaven, and not this world, to be our final home. That heaven isn’t a cheery add-on to a nice life, but it’s our real home, and this world is just one we’re “strangers and pilgrims” in.
And in Kara’s situation, it was not “just” illness, suffering, and death that she had to wrestle with. It was leaving her husband and children, and finding the peace to trust God that He would work this for good in their lives, and struggling to believe that this was His best for them, even praying for the woman who might some day take her place.
Kara gives us a brief biography of the kind of home she grew up in, of coming to know Christ as Savior, of going to work at a camp as a very raw, green, and unconventional recruit but experiencing life-changing growth in that place. Of meeting her husband and having to learn to put away the anger she grew up with. Of her four children, her husband’s ministry, a difficult church situation, moving to plant a church only to find their new home in a fire zone from which they had to be evacuated. And then receiving her diagnosis, fighting it with surgery and treatments, having it spread, and finally accepting that God was calling her home. She says in this trailer to a documentary made about her that she felt like a little girl at a party whose dad was telling her she had to leave early, and she was “throwing a fit” about it.
“Jason recently said in a sermon, ‘We want suffering to be like pregnancy—we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.’ I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good?”
“It would be easier to shake my fist at the test results and scream that this isn’t the right story, but to receive—humbly receive—the story no one would ever want, and know there is goodness in the midst of its horror, is not something I could ever do in my own strength. I simply cannot. That receiving comes from the One who received His own suffering for a much greater purpose than my own.”
“That though the hard might come and our hearts be broken, that brokenness isn’t bad. The tears are evidence of our love for one another. They did not stop that day, and they will not stop in the days to come. But tears are a gift, not something to withhold or bottle up—they are the essence of the best of life.”
“Trusting God when the miracle does not come, when the urgent prayer gets no answer, when there is only darkness—this is the kind of faith God values perhaps most of all. This is the kind of faith that can be developed and displayed only in the midst of difficult circumstances. This is the kind of faith that cannot be shaken because it is the result of having been shaken. Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope.”
“Sometimes the hardest peace to find is the peace in saying good-bye and leaving the work of justice and reconciliation to Jesus.”
“Hard is often the vehicle Jesus uses to meet us, point us to that peace, and teach us grace.”
“If the hardest is asked of us, we believe grace will be there.”
“Dear heart, the purpose of life is not longevity.”
“But because I believe God’s plans for me are better than what I could plan for myself, rather than run away from the path he has set before me, I want to run toward it. I don’t want to try to change God’s mind—his thoughts are perfect. I want to think his thoughts. I don’t want to change God’s timing—his timing is perfect. I want the grace to accept his timing. I don’t want to change God’s plan—his plan is perfect. I want to embrace his plan and see how he is glorified through it. I want to submit. Nancy Guthrie, Holding on to Hope.”
“Seeking grace has been a theme since I met Jesus, but it wasn’t the very air I breathed to get through each moment—each scary, hard moment. The looking has now become my practice. The names of the graces, the gifts I don’t deserve, is new to me. But I do not believe you need to face cancer to see the value of looking for and naming the graces in your own moments, days, weeks, lifetime. To capture this beauty in this weariness, even if your story doesn’t look like mine, will enrich your moments, give you a new perspective, and help you lift your head in the impossibility and pain in living. Hard is hard.”
So, yes, this was a raw, wrenching read in many parts. But it was still a good and necessary one, because we all have to face our own mortality, and there is no guarantee we won’t have to do so for 60-80 years. We need to be ready.
And whatever our “hard” is, as she said in the last quote, when we know Jesus, we can trust Him for the grace to meet it.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)