An attractive, charismatic blonde powerhouse, Kara Tippetts and her husband Jason had just moved to Colorado Springs on a mission to build a church. Kara and Jason, with four kids under 12 in tow, got right to it—which is how Kara met Jill Buteyn. Jill was a shy, young mother attending their new church with a talent for writing who loved Kara’s enthusiasm. And, since they both had children around the same age, Jill figured they had plenty of time to grow a friendship.
Enter Kara’s cancer diagnosis and imminent death sentence at age 38.
Six months into the Tippetts’ new Colorado adventure, cancer stole Kara’s blonde locks and much of her energy, but not her faith.
Jill, on the other hand, was faced with a dilemma: Should she offer herself and her help? Or let those closer to Kara take the lead?
“Despite not knowing where I fit or what was to come, I distinctly remember the process of choosing to enter in with her,” said Jill. “Now I see that the Holy Spirit was nudging me to just show up.”
“Just Show Up”
Kara Tippetts and Jill Buteyn alternate chapters in their book “Just Show Up.” They share both the insecurity and helplessness of friends and family on the sideline, and the vulnerability of going from the role of nurturer to the needy.
“Nurturing friendships is hard enough when everyone is healthy. But when you show up and do the work of being a friend to someone who is suffering, it will cost you something … your comfort, your schedule, and maybe even aspects of your faith,” wrote Kara.
While Kara’s diagnosis and journey were very public—alongside Brittany Maynard’s sad life-ending choice—and the reality of its probable end, Jill admits holding on to improbable hope. Hope for a miracle.
“I still talked about God and prayed. But something in me was quiet. I knew Him, but I didn’t believe Him. I believe in His promises even when I don’t understand them. I believe. I believe. I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Kara and Jill, through the weeks and months of treatments, share what grows out of practicing what Kara called “Big Love.”
“If you can stay soft and open to God during that time,” wrote Kara, “you can begin to realize a bigger faith than you’ve had up to that point.”
Jill Buteyn is a living confirmation of faith growing through suffering: “On tough days, I would wonder if grace was going to appear. I would question God, ‘where are you in this? Show us, please.’ And He did. Over and over again.”
“And It Was Beautiful”
Jill knows first hand insecurity and discomfort can keep us away from those we long to help. But her advice is to just show up. If you can cook, leave a casserole without insisting on a visit; offer to take the kids to school or your home for a play date; do the shopping or the laundry, do it. Just show up.
In a book compiled from Kara’s writings called “And It Was Beautiful” Kara gives some simple tips on how showing up can be simple and so complex at the same time. Kara shares it took her family some time to understand exactly what they needed, and sometimes people just brought things—just showed up—as they felt prompted. But when Jason and Kara did decide what kind of help they needed, Jill Buteyn and others were at the ready.
In the absence of me, our kids have been loved and mothered by so many. I remember a Moms & Muffins event scheduled for Lake’s class. It was to take place two days after my chemo. I couldn’t do it, and I cried that I couldn’t do it. I cry now thinking of it. My seester had come to town and so Lake invited her to go in my place. That was such a gift to Lake, and to me. I’ll never be able to repay her for that. I simply said, “Thank you.”
Kara, Jill, Jayna and Me, the Other Jill
I just finished watching the trailer for a documentary due to release March 27 honoring the life of Kara Tippetts. I’ve been following Kara’s story through her blog Mundane Faithfulness for almost two years now, as her family still publishes Kara’s blog after her death. But I’m choked up because I’ve never heard her voice. I’ve read her blog, her books, and even talked with Jill Buteyn, but I had not, until today, actually heard Kara’s voice.
It hits me hard because it reminds me of another voice—the voice of my sister, Jayna May Gillespie. Jayna also fought hard for her breath and every beat of her heart from age 21 to 39, when it finally gave out. She left a husband, an eleven-year-old daughter, and family and friends devastated by her loss. Jayna, too, communed with God daily and constantly advised others to be grateful for every birthday, gray hair and wrinkle. Jayna, like Kara, did not fear death, but wasn’t ready to go.
Jill Buteyn’s loving response resonated with me because as Jayna’s voice became a whisper (as a result of five open-heart surgeries her vocal cords were damaged), she counted on me to be her voice. I was able to help get my niece May Merrill’s attention for Jayna sometimes, but I failed to be Jayna’s voice in other important ways.
Jayna wanted her story told (on Oprah, preferably—she loved Oprah) or at least written before her time ran out, but I was too busy. I had three children, a husband, a job, etcetera. The real reason was because I did not believe Jayna would actually die. But she did.
So if there’s one thing I know Jayna and Kara would say to us left here without them, it would be to just show up. Be their help; be their voice. Practice big love. Just Show Up.