Kara Tippetts and her husband, Jason, discuss her ongoing battle with cancer and the impact it's had on their lives, marriage, children and faith. (Part 1 of 2)
John: The other day a friend at church mentioned that she's been diagnosed with a form of cancer and her prognosis is pretty good. But it made me wonder. If I knew that I was facing cancer and that my days could end soon, what words of insight would I offer to my children? Well, our guest on today's "Focus on the Family" is facing that very thing and she shares from her heart what she wants her children to know.
Kara: This world is gonna be tough, but that nearness to Jesus will be the grace that gets you through your hard and that I desperately want to be here to see it. But I am trusting all of your days to Jesus, even if I don't get to. But I know your story's gonna be great.
End of Clip
John: Kara Tippetts joins us today and you'll hear more of her heartbreaking, yet inspiring story on today's "Focus on the Family," hosted by Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim: John, despite the soberness of today's topic, I think everyone will be challenged by how you're living and the story that God has given you. You know, I shared a bit of this story. I was the child when my mom died of cancer when I was 9-years-old. These words are invaluable and what Kara shared there, I wish I would've had more time with my mom to hear that.
But it doesn't matter if it's cancer. Sure, that puts a finer point, all of us, our days are numbered for whatever reason.
Jim: And we're going to have that last breath. And life is gonna throw us curve balls. It's gonna throw us big obstacles. It might be unemployment or challenges in your marriage. These things are the difficulties in life that we need to seek the Lord and understand a way forward.
This will be a very emotional show, as we talk about cancer, but it's important that we recognize that in the midst of our suffering, God is with us and we're reminded of that in Psalm 112, where the Psalmist wrote, "The righteous will have no fear of bad news. Their hearts will be steadfast, trusting in the Lord."
And being a Christian does not mean that you will have a pain-free life, that it will be nothing but comfortable or even that you'll live a long life. God does not promise us happy or easy, but He does promise us an eternal glory is we've accepted Jesus Christ into our lives. And we know that in the midst of our suffering, yes, He is there.
John: Well, He is, Jim and that's a great assurance and our guests will talk powerfully about how they've experienced that today. Jason and Kara Tippetts live in Colorado Springs and they're the parents of four young children. Kara is chronicling her story of battling cancer in a blog called Mundane Faithfulness and also in her book, The Hardest Peace. And because of the severity of her diagnosis, her condition changes regularly and you can get the latest updates on her treatments, her insights and such at her blog and we'll link over there from www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Jim: John, to kind of set up and give the backdrop to the story, the Tippetts moved here to Colorado Springs a few years ago to plant a church. And right after moving here, Kara experienced a terrible fall in her laundry room and then they were forced to evacuate their new home as the Waldo Canyon Fire swept through our city, which burnt down 346 homes. Their home was not destroyed but they had smoke damage and you'll hear Kara reference that in her story.
John: Yeah, this is one resilient couple and let's go ahead and hear their story on today's "Focus on the Family."
Jim: Tell us you know, as a Christian, as a believer, when you hear that, all this is going wrong. I mean, you I'm sure had black eyes and bloody nose--
Jim: --from the fall and then having to try to get everything out of your house in case that burned down and then you go to the doctor and find out you have cancer. Tell us about that.
Kara: Well, when I fell, that was in January. So, now we're in summer when the fire came. And I was cleaning walls and dealing with smoke damage and I was about to get ready to go on a date with Jason. He was up in Denver. And when I found it, I almost immediately knew it was cancer. I almost immediately knew. I just wept.
And my daughter saw me crying and I didn't want to startle her, because I was not sure. And she was following me all around the house.
Jim: How old is she?
Kara: She's 12 and she's very intuitive. In tears, she's like, "Well, mom, what's dripping on your nose?" I said, "I'm fine; I'm fine." But I could not stop the tears. So, I asked the babysitter to come early and I just ran away and had a girlfriend meet me, because he was running late.
The moment for me was a few days later, I just started hiking in Ute Valley, over by our house. I just started hiking and hiking and hiking and Jason would give me time with the Lord. And I remember one day walking and I was looking at the burn and you could see places or ridges where the fire hadn't hit and there was growth. And there was something both ugly and beautiful about it. And I looked at that and thought, that's my story. It is both ugly, but God, You're gonna do something beautiful.
And I'm the personality that I like to go to the end of the story. I don't like to panic. I like to go to the end of the story. And on that hike, I just prayed, "Lord, if You are a covenantal God and You love not only me, but you love my children, then if You take, me, then this is for my good and for the good of the story of my husband and my kids."
And I just had to wrestle through that and I still wrestle through it every day 'cause I think a lot of myself and think I'm the best answer for my kids. And that's my pride. I don't know how many days I have. I don't the number of hair[s] on my head. And I did last year when I was bald, but (Laughing) but I know His plan is good and suffering isn't the absence of His goodness.
Jim: Kara, let's talk about this because it's so important; tell us what the diagnosis is right now. What did the doctor tell you, so we can understand it better?
Kara: When I was first diagnosed, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. And Stage 2 meant, it was in my breast and it was also in my lymph nodes. At the time, they could only one lump node. So then I went through a series of chemo, then mastectomy, then radiation. And in the mastectomy, they were hoping that the chemo had taken all the cancer. Visibly, all the lumps were going away.
But when they did the mastectomy, there was still cancer present. And that's why I had to do so much radiation. I did 40 treatments of radiation--
Kara: -- on my upper quarter. My cancer in particular is hormone driven, so this fall, Jason and I decided to be proactive and get a consult about getting my ovaries taken out, just as a precautionary measure. And as he did an exam, he found tumors. And so, my breast cancer had taken over my whole reproductive system.
So, one of my ovaries was size of a tennis ball and it was cancerous. And so, now after that surgery, my new diagnosis is Stage 4, metastatic cancer, which "metastatic cancer" means that your cancer has moved from one place to another and that it moved so quickly it is an indication that it's in my blood.
And so, now I am on medicine to suppress my hormones and basically, my oncologist says, we just wait to see where it shows up next. And then we fight it from there.
Jim: I mean, how do you begin to process this? How do you as a believer in God, I mean, so many people when very insignificant things happen, panic. How are you processing this? How is Jason helping you as your husband? You have four children, 4 to 12, is that right?
Jim: I mean, tell us what's goin' on in your heart.
Kara: You know, the other morning I got up with my daughter and we were reading through Proverbs. And I don't know the exact reference, but it basically says those who listen to the Lord, God will grant you a freedom from the dread of disaster.
Kara: And I can find that specific verse later, but what stuck out to me and I said to my daughter, I said, "Do you see this, Ella? Do you see it? It's not that He spares us the disaster; He spares us the dread of the disaster, if we listen to God." And it was this beautiful moment and I could look at my daughter and say, "Ella, I cannot promise you that I am not gonna die. I cannot promise you that cancer is not gonna return to my body. But I can look at this and say, if we live near to God and we know that the nearness of Him is our good and our only good, then He will spare us the dread of disaster."
And honestly, Jim, the debilitating part of this is the dread. And when I start dreading, I realize I'm not listening to God. It's that litmus test to say, you're not in the Word. You're not listening. Or you're believing lies. And the lies come and they overwhelm us both at different times. My writing for Mundane Faithfulness, it became a journey of naming God's small graces in my day.
Jim and John: Hm.
Kara: You know, I've know the big G grace, that Jesus died for me and has set me free to be truly free. But the small graces that showed up every day in meals, in kindness, in friends sitting by my bed and women flying from all over the country to take care of us. I started to write to be reminded and to name those graces.
Jim: Jason, the husband, I mean, we want to step in and fix it. You can't fix this, can you?
Jason: Right. Yeah. Yeah, I think walking through this for the past year and a half, that's one of the big lessons I've learned, is I can't fix it. So, how I live in faithfulness, how to live in support of Kara, love for my kids. You know, there's also another part that changes your view, knowing that your wife has cancer that's metastasized and proven it's moved around her body, that you know, there's also an intensity in your life that you think, we need to make the most of this minute, which really can just wear you out.
Jason: And so, we've gone through that phase and I know that phase will come again. We've gone through that phase of … we just have to do everything we can, 'cause Kara's up and around today. And then it's spending time with our kids and answering their questions and really just, there's a lot of times they just cry. And even driving to pick my kids up, many days I had to stop and park and stop crying, so I could get my kids and feel like there was some normal in their life.
Jason: But I cried with my kids many times.
Jim: Yeah. Let me ask you this, Kara, you know, my mom died of cancer when I was 9.
Jim: And you know, she accepted the Lord the day before she died, which I understood much later in my life what that meant. I didn't know it at the time. In that context and it could be generational, you know, it was, "Let's not tell the kids anything." And so literally, I came into her room. That's even hard to talk about, when my brother, Mike who was 19, said, "I've got bad news; mom's dead." (Weeping) That's how I learned of it. And what would you say to those parents? What are you living for your kids right now, for your little ones who are gonna potentially hear those words, what do you say to them?
Kara: We have such an age range that some understand more than others, kind of like your brother at 19 and you at 5. We have a 12-year-old, who knows that cancer is deadly. And I have a 4-year-old, who knows that her mommy was bald last year. And my son, he prays against chemo. He doesn't realize that the prayer's really against cancer.
And you know, I've gotten lots of letters from people like you, Jim, who are thankful for the open conversation we're having with our kids at the appropriate ages that they can handle it. And it's hard. We feel like pilgrims walking in a land that we don't know where we're going. And the path is very dimly lit right in front of us. And I feel like … my 4-year-old will draw pictures and in her pictures of me are my scars that she's seen me get, scars on my tummy, scars on my breasts. And that's what she understands. And so, I'll talk to her about them, but I'm her beautiful mother that she loves very much. And she knows these scars mean something very big, but her age doesn't lend it to understanding. And so, Jason and I understand for the little ones, as age comes, the conversation will mature.
Jim: Practically speaking, what have you said or what would you say to your children at their different ages, 4 to 12, which is perfect. What do you say to the 12-year-old daughter? And what do you say to your 4-year-old? How would you go about doing that?
Kara: Initially, when we got the diagnosis, we went to our pastor and prayed and spent a lot of time quiet before we came home. And we decided to be very frank with the older two—our 9-year-old and our now 12-year-old. and let their questions lead us.
And with the two little ones, I remember coming home and putting them in the bath and they had been playing all morning and I put them in the bath and I said, "Lake, Tory, your mommy's gonna be bald. I'm gonna lose all my hair. In about three weeks, it's gonna be all gone." And they giggled. They giggled hysterically. "Oh, mommy, you are going to look like a man." And we just laughed and I said, "You know, it's gonna be hard and mommy's gonna be sick, but I'm always your mommy and you can always come and be next to me."
And so, I think for them, they are fiercely attached to me. My son is very protective of me. And my daughter is just attached. So, in their unknowing, they needed to be very close to me. And so, the people who cared for us, we were very careful to have people who understood to not, you know, not shame our kids, to let them come near to both of us, even if I was very tired.
And for the older two, we told them I had cancer and the process and we let their questions lead them. And the questions came over months. And they still slowly come.
Kara: It's those moments where you have to spend a quantity of time to get the few quality questions. Our very oldest is one who is very private and keeps her feelings in and is kind of a pressure cooker. And so, we have to be very sensitive to her and Jason and I are question askers. So, we are constantly asking them questions of their heart. How is your heart today? How are you feeling lonely? How are you feeling loved? What are your worries over mommy today?
So, there was an intentionality in question asking. And we had to show up for that, because that part of it was hard, because we were tired.
Jim: Was there a question that kinda caught you off guard? Or was it all something that you anticipated pretty well?
Kara: One day my oldest daughter was struggling in a relationship and I was hurting for her over just a typical junior high relationship. And I just turned to her and I said, "How much time of your day do you spend worrying that your mom's gonna die?" She broke down and she said, "All day long, mom, all day long." And I just wept with her and we just cried together and said, "I don't know; I cannot give you the answer for why this is happening. I can't answer it. But I know that we are in God's love. We are not on the outside fighting for my health to get back into it.
And I just cried with her and said, "It's a huge bummer that your mom has cancer. You're in middle school and you want to be cool and you have a bald mom. I'm sorry." And you know, in the beginning, I would ask her, "What do you want me to wear on my head, 'cause I'm gonna see your friends today." And I let her navigate that. "Mom, will you wear your wig?" Which I hated, but she was in middle school and wanted to fit in. And then one point, Ella said, "Mom, I can tell you're more comfortable bald. You don't have to wear your wigs anymore for me." And I never wore it again."
Kara: But I let her dictate that for me.--
Kara: --because I remember being in middle school and you want to be the same as everybody, not different.
Kara: So, I tried to be sensitive.
Jim: Oh, I mean, that's a beautiful way to engage your children--
Jim: --in the process--
Jim: --of what's happening. Let me ask you this, when you think of God and you've said it so beautifully to this point, you obviously, you strike me as a person who is mature in Christ. We all are dying of something.
Jim: That's the irony.
Jim: We all are gonna have our last breath, but it brings an acuteness when you're in your mid-30's. I mean, you're feeling something and going through something that, you know, should happen in your 70's, 80's or 90's. But it does bring this finiteness to our life. It does bring a crystal-clearness to every hour being precious, doesn't it?
Kara: It does; it does.
Jim: And for you, too as a couple, Jason, does that spill over into you as the husband? Do you look at each day as a[n] extra-special gift from God?
Jason: Yes, but then being very honest, sometimes no. You know, sometimes I see my days as I dread this day, because it's another day that's passing. And you can't freeze the present, so it is a hard … I think it's a balance. It's a tension and Kara and I have talked a lot about wanting to see our kids grow up. I mean, we all want to see our kids grow. In one way, we want that to happen really fast--
Jason: --because we want them to have great memories of their mom and fun and we want them to see and know Kara. On the other side of it is, yeah, you fight that. You want your kids to grow up slowly.
Jason: So, I don't know. A lot of days, it's just confusing. And I think some people watch people in suffering and think they have it figured out or their life must look this … some way at home where they just weep all the time. But our life is fairly normal. The only thing that's not normal is Kara has cancer. And that's in the back of our minds most of the time. I know it's in our kids' minds. And we see how it affects them. And uh …
Kara: We still have to pack lunches and deal with fights and carpool and you know, you have a "dailyness" that you have to show up for. And there are days that we show up for it. And then there's days, especially when we're waiting for test results--
Kara: --where we say, a normal person wakes up and then makes coffee. Okay, that's what I'll do.
Kara: And then, you have to tell yourself how to do your day, because you're paralyzed--
Kara: --with fear. And you know, I think through the year, most of our prayers were, "Help! God, help us."
Jim: Kara, the obvious point, too, when we talk about God in this--
Jim: -- you know, some people may question the healing aspect of this.
Jim: I mean, when you are living it, so often we pray for the Lord to heal us. We seek the Lord to help us out of our tough spot. I'm sure you and Jason have prayed these prayers.
Jim: What is that like to feel like He's not answering the way you would hope He would?
Kara: I don't think I feel that way. I think I feel like if I look at how my salvation was made on a cross, on a really ugly cross, who am I I to question the path He has for me? But I can expect Him to show up in the hard and He does. And that has grown my faith and my trust. So, I feel like there are moments I would love not to be suffering. And I think especially for my kids. I wish my kids' story wasn't gonna be hard.
I see the verse, seek first His kingdom and then I asked my mentor, is it wrong to pray for more days? Is it wrong for me to petition the Lord to see my children graduate? Is it wrong to specifically ask of Him these things? And she answered me, seek first His kingdom, Kara and then ask. See, in all of this, I'm seeking to glorify God in all that I do.
Kara: And my heart is to be here. And I think part of it is, because we have a weak imagination for heaven. I think if I really knew what heaven was, I would say "Take me tomorrow." But I look at my little faces and I want to be the one that gets to shepherd them. I want to be the one to tell them about the glory of God and explain dating and how to shave your legs and I mean, I … the big things and the little things I want to be here for. And yet, first I seek His kingdom. And then we'll see what He does, you know.
John: Well, that is a powerful way to end this portion of the conversation with our guests, Kara and Jason Tippetts. And Jim, they're so faithfully walking this journey. It's a journey that none of us would like to face.
Jim: Well, John, it feels like they have a good grasp on the Scripture and particularly, James 1:2 through 4, which says, "Consider pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produced perseverance. And let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
And as believers, John, when we go through trials, we still have hope. We might not get relief or get the answer we're looking for this side of heaven, but we have to trust that God has a plan and purpose for all of our days. And they may not work out the way we hope for.
And if you're hurting, call us. We have caring Christian counselors, who want to walk with you through this area or this moment of pain in your life. And perspective always is helpful, I believe, John. And maybe you're in a good spot in your life and you want to help others by providing that counseling or some of the resources that will help lift a person out of that pit of despair. If so, let me invite you to join our team by making a donation to Focus on the Family.
Jim: You are delivering that cold cup of water in that moment. New research shows that in the last 12 months--I love this-- our efforts to help couples in crisis have contributed to over 130,000 marriages being saved just in the past 12 months. That means that we've helped save an average of 356 marriages a day, which works out to helping save a marriage about every four minutes. And that ...
John: That's a great way to put it.
Jim: It just puts it into some context.
Jim: And you know what, folks? You're helping us do this. And those numbers are your numbers. Because of you, those marriages were changed and saved in the name of Christ. And I simply want to say thank you. Thank you for your support.
John: Yeah, we're really grateful for all who come alongside us and you can make a donation right now at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. And when you get in touch, ask about a copy of Kara's book, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard. It's powerful, as you can tell from what she's shared here. It's very honest. It chronicles her story, the story that she and Jason have shared a bit of here today and captures how she's worked through the tough questions for God in the midst of a cancer diagnosis. And it'll also give insights about trusting God in times of great suffering and also in those mundane moments. And today when you make a donation of any amount to Focus on the Family, we'll send a copy of the book, The Hardest Peace, as our way of saying thank you for standing with us.
Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time. We'll hear more from Jason and Kara and once again, have encouragement to help you thrive in Christ.
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Kara TippettsView Bio
Kara Tippetts was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36. She continues to battle that cancer two years later as it has crossed the blood/brain barrier and has metastasized into her entire body. Kara has authored a book based on her experiences, The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard. She and her husband, Jason, have four children and reside in Colorado. Learn more about Kara by visiting her blog, www.MundaneFaithfulness.com.
Jason TippettsView Bio
Jason Tippetts and his wife, Kara, are currently planting a church in Colorado Springs, Colo. Jason is fighting alongside Kara as she battles cancer that has metastasized into her entire body. The couple has four children.