When my friend Kara Tippetts was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of thirty-six, we thought she would receive treatment and then life would go on. Surely it would work. Something would work. But though Kara fought so valiantly—through months of chemotherapy and radiation—she received hard diagnosis after hard diagnosis. When her cancer returned, and she was moved to a stage four diagnosis, it became about living as long as she could. Living as long as she could while finding the joy and grace in every moment of life. But despite continuing treatment, her cancer continued to grow. At the same time, Kara had been growing friendships with so many women. So many. It was hard for all of us to reconcile the gift we’d been given in a relationship with her and the fact that she would, barring a miracle, fly away to heaven. It felt as though we were losing her, and of course we were. But we’d also been promised something from our heavenly father that we needed to remember.
Relationships will be restored in heaven. When we leave this earth, it is not a goodbye. It’s an “I’ll see you when I get there.”
As we walk through hardships with our friends on this earth, it’s such a blessing to remember that one day, our relationships will be redeemed and restored to their full glory in heaven. Suffering is such a game changer. It can wreak havoc on relationships if we let it. It attempts to destroy. But many friends continue to lean toward each other during suffering, and like a beautiful wildflower sprouting from a rock, the gifts and benefits of friendship during hardship are incredibly beautiful. They are fought for and won. Relationships during suffering might require more work, but they also reap many rewards.
In Just Show Up, Kara talks about the beauty of community.
I’m not afraid of dying; it’s just that I don’t want to go. But just like I’ve tried to show up for life, I’ll show up for death. I am ready. If there is one constant in our world, it’s pain and suffering. Just look around. It might be a woman dying of cancer. It might be a neighbor dying inside of loneliness. We have to be careful not to put a grade on pain, like hers is greater than his. Pain is pain, and suffering is suffering. What this means, though, is that each and every day of our lives is filled with opportunities to just show up in someone’s life. We can set aside a little of ourselves, step into someone else’s story, and see how Jesus shows up. And, my dear friends, Jesus always shows up. Always.
Just as Kara said, he always shows up in our stories. This might be a hard story—six months ago, Kara flew away to heaven at the very young age of thirty-eight. Please, please don’t discount the tremor you cannot hear in my voice. The tears sliding silently down my cheeks as I write this. I am telling you the hard hurts. But I am also claiming that there is beauty in this story.
Being proficient at friendship and grace is part of what made Kara so unique. Of what made her story stand out. It’s part of why people read her blog and book and why they continue to crave her words now. When many would have hidden away, she continued to enter into relationships with others, to share with the world the raw places of suffering, of cancer, even of dying. She fought to share her faith, her belief that Jesus would wipe away her tears, until the very end.
When we sense that there might be pain in friendships—that we might even lose someone we love—it can be unbearable. The desire to run tugs at us. Be safe, our thoughts whisper. Don’t stay where you can get hurt. But that is one sure way to end up alone. And though this hurts, though this story didn’t end as I wanted it to, I have been incredibly blessed by this community and so many wonderful relationships. When I am not sure what to do with the pain, they are there for me.
I use the word community a lot. I do that intentionally. It is a very important word to me. But I have to tell you that you could go back through everything I’ve said or written and every time you come across the word community, you could substitute the word friend. That’s what Jill and I are talking about. Friends show up for each other. It may be some of the best work we do in our lives, being a friend. [Kara Tippetts, Just Show Up]
It may be some of the best work we do in our lives, being a friend. Some of the best and the hardest. But I’m learning the hard work of friendship brings the biggest blessings.