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Showing Up for a Friend in Need

Original Air Date 03/22/2016

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Author Jill Buteyn, who was friends with previous broadcast guest Kara Tippetts, talks about her experience of supporting Kara through her journey with terminal illness, and offers encouragement and help for those wanting to come alongside loved ones who are struggling with life's challenges.

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Episode Transcript


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Jill Buteyn: You need to let other people know that you have something going on. I think we suffer quietly and then we wonder why no one is there. And there are moments where you're gonna ask for help and people are not gonna show up. And that is a sad and crushing experience and that's what we want to get better at.

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John Fuller: That's insight from author, Jill Buteyn and she joins us today on "Focus on the Family" to talk about showing up for friends in need. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president, Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, this program is gonna, I think, challenge most of us, because it's an uncomfortable place when we have friends or family members even who are suffering, maybe from cancer or something that is depleting them. And I think it will, hopefully, inform people about how to do it well and certainly, in the name of Christ.

You know, when we see people suffering or going through t hose difficult times, walkin' a path of maybe terminal illness, it's easy for us to turn away. And we usually will just give a line like, you know, "If you need us, call us." And of course, the call doesn't come. And we want to talk today about how to practically put some thoughts and ideas into your mind to be that good friend, which I think is what God is calling us to be.

John: And Jill knows firsthand about some of those uncomfortable moments and how to work through how do I help this friend, as she was a close friend of the late Kara Tippetts. And we had Kara and her husband, Jason on this program a couple of years ago, talking about Kara's battle with cancer. And we've got that available for you today. It's a free download at


Jim: And Kara passed away March of 2015, four children still in the home and that was heart-wrenching and if you didn't hear that program, I would strongly that you get it, because it had so much heart. You're hearing from a mom who knew her life was coming to the end and she was so brave and so courageous.

What I didn't know at the time is that Jill was standing alongside her, along with many other people. But Kara and Jill worked on a book called Just Show Up, to talk about how to be a friend to a person in need. And Jill, it's great to have you at "Focus on the Family."

Jill Buteyn: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Jim: You know, for those of our listeners who remember that story and we heard from a lot of people, because it reached right down all of our throats and grabbed us, talk about that, just in the bigger picture as you see a friend. You're young; Kara was young.

Jill: Kara was young.

Jim: When you see someone that vibrant who is slipping away, as the friend, what did you feel?

Jill: It was incredibly hard to watch her suffer and a lot of pain with cancer. And of course, I had no idea; I'd never done this with anyone before. I haven't lost a parent and so, it is just hard to walk with her, yet there was nowhere else I wanted to be. It was a strange combination.

Jim: That is an odd way to say it and you didn't really know what to do. You know, you were motivated together to do this book, Just Show Up. What does that mean "to show up?"

Jill: For us, it meant choosing someone, going towards someone. I think often as Christians, we are just so, so afraid to say or do the wrong thing. And so, when we see someone who's suffering, we head in the other direction and I was that person before Kara and--

Jim: Why do we do that?

Jill: --I was so afraid to offend someone--

Jim: Say the wrong thing.

Jill: --to say the wrong thing, because you hear these stories of people who say, "I was going through this really hard thing. You would not believe what someone said to me." And I didn't want to be that person, and so, I thought it's better not to say anything at all and just kind of look the other way or go the other way. And that's not true, because we have a lot of lonely hurting people, who are going through intense suffering and we're all doing that.

Jim: You know, when you look at it at a big picture level, it seems that we in the Christian community, we're finding it more and more difficult to engage people, 'cause everything's on our devices, you know, our iPad and we put up the remote control for the garage and we go in and we shut it and we have dinner with our family. We're not really that connected and is that causing some of that anxiety? We don't know how to be connected in pain.

Jill: Absolutely, absolutely. I think Kara was so amazing at connecting with people and that's why her story was so easy to read and feel like you knew her. People who would read the blog and the book, they felt like they knew her. And she opened herself up though. She shared really, really hard pieces of what she was going through.

And I think we're missing a little bit of that with each other, because we so want to have that Pinterest life, where it all looks pretty and good and there's no messy. Well, life is messy and Kara, she was just willing to say that out loud. And yet, still cling to her faith at the same time.

Jim: When you do that though, I guess part of it would feel like, I don't know what to say. I'm not qualified. I mean, whatever that would mean, you know. I have this friend, maybe dying of cancer, maybe it's another set of circumstances that they're struggling with, but we don't feel equipped ourselves. What should we do and did you have that moment, even with Kara that you're going—

Jill: Absolutely.

Jim: --"I don't know what to say?"

Jill: I don't know if that moment ever really goes away. I think we want it to become easy and I think it gets easier the more we do it with a friend, but I don't think that awkwardness or uncomfortableness ever really goes away. We just don't know what to do, but I think the point is to do it anyway, to step toward them--

Jim: Be courageous.

Jill: --to be courageous and choose them. And so, we could say to Kara, "I don't know what to say," when she would give us bad news, because what answer is there to, "I have another tumor" or "My cancer is spreading and growing?" There is nothing to make that better.

John: Jill, how would you describe your relationship, your friendship with Kara prior to the knowledge of the cancer? And how did that change over time?

Jill: Well, Kara and I had only just met about six months prior to her diagnosis. So, we had a very new friendship. We were not instant best friends.

Jim: Kids in school together?

Jill: Kids in school together. I go to the church that hired Jason and Kara to plant their church, so we met in church also. And we met on a playground. After school, we let the kids play and the moms talk. It's a great way to grow community. And so, that's when I first met her and I knew I liked her. I knew she was sarcastic and witty, all those things—

Jim: Yeah.

Jill: --that I like. And then it was just a slow-growing friendship and then the cancer diagnosis.

Jim: Do you remember that moment?

Jill: Oh, absolutely.

Jim: Where were you and what the circumstance?

Jill: I don't remember where I was, but I just remember knowing that it was a game changer. It became a question of, what is this friendship going to look like now? And for me, since we were new to each other, I had no clue. If you'd been friends with someone for a couple of years or a lifetime, you know, okay, I need to be in for this person. But with Kara, I just really walked that line. I even prayed about it. I remember talking to my husband about it. What is this going to look like for us? And she was scary at that moment for me, because I didn't know what to do and I didn't know what to say.

Jim: Did she know that?

Jill: We talked about it afterwards. I said, "I had to choose you. It was a decision for me." And she said, "That makes sense. I think a—

Jim: How did—

Jill: --lot of people do."

Jim: --how did you come to the decision? I mean, Kara contributes to the book obviously. You were kind of writing it together about how to be a good friend in a time of desperation.

Jill: Right.

Jim: Boy, working with her as she was slipping away had to be very difficult.

Jill: It was difficult. If you let go of your expectations, when we originally started writing this and dreamed over writing this, we though we'll be together, you know, writing it in the same room. And we were gonna go to California and Kara was gonna speak and we were gonna write this opening to the book together.

And then she went into hospice and everything changed. And so, she wrote at home when she was awake from pain. And I wrote in my home and our editor pieced us together. God pieced us together.

Jim: Yeah. Well, it's beautifully done—

Jill: Thank you.

Jim: --and it really does encourage people to think through how they can engage somebody who is suffering. And I think we need it. That's why you're here today. You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Our guest is Jill Lynn Buteyn, and she worked with Kara Tippetts, the late Kara Tippetts, who was on the program. She was a young mother, died of cancer and they are exploring in this book how to be a good friend in a time, in a dark time. And again, I so appreciate it.

When you look at those challenges with Kara, how did you approach kind of the deep stuff? Did she talk to you about her kids?

Jill: Absolutely, Kara was very open and so, in this situation she was almost the one pulling me into those conversations.

Jim: Was she hungry for that?

Jill: Yes, she wanted to discuss the future. She prayed over her kids' futures, over Jason's future and was willing to talk about pretty much anything. She worked to plan her own funeral with a friend, wanted to take that off of their plate, having to deal with that. So, she was unique in that. I think we don't want to talk about death and dying in our culture at all.

Jim: That's so true.

Jill: And she was willing to do that.

Jim: Well, in fact, I want to read something from the book. It was on page 55. You said, "There's something about terminal illness that steals our tongues and strikes fear in our hearts. We're paralyzed." And you know, for Christians, we've gotta figure out a better way to talk about this, because you know, so often, not in front of the family typically, but amongst those that knew the person who passed away, will say something like, "Well, they're in a better place." But you don't really say that to the family necessarily, some might. But talk about those things that Kara gave you some insight on, good things to say and not-so-good things to say.

Jill: Yeah, that's one of those tough things where we think we're being kind saying that, because the person is in a better place. But that isn't what that person wants to hear in that moment.

Jim: They're grieving.

Jill: They're grieving, so I think we want to go with comfort phrases at that point. "I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say. I love you. I'm here for you" and sometimes [give] a hug. We don't have that perfect word, but we can hug someone and just say, "I'm here for you and I love you." And for me, walking with Kara, those were the things I appreciated from people, because sometimes people would say to me, "But look what God is doing through Kara.

And He was doing amazing things through Kara, but my friend was sick and she was in so much pain and that was hard. And so, in that moment, I didn't really want to hear that, even though it was the truth. And so, maybe we need to not say all of those truths or quote Romans 8:28 to someone, because they might be true, but what they want is a hug and what they want is some comfort.

Jim: And it is a hard reality. Romans 8:28, I have done that, I mean, in some very difficult circumstances. And when somebody is at the end of their rope, you know, they're feeling the bottom emotionally. They just lost a loved one, hearing that God will work all things for good, may be a few weeks or months later that would be a good thing to say, but that's a hard one to hear in that moment. Did Kara give you some insights on other phrases that we tend to use that aren't that helpful?

Jill: I think that we want people to have this great faith and we think that's going to heal them. And I think a bit of that was thrown at her. And Kara had an amazing faith and Kara was healed. Kara is healed. She is alive in heaven and so, yeah, when we want someone to have this better faith and you'll be healed, that is a very, very hard one for people to accept when they're going through something hard and painful.

Jim: Yeah.

Jill: It's hard.

Jim: It's so difficult.

Jill: Yeah.

Jim: When you look at it, what about the children looking on? You talked about the kids playing on the playground together. All of a sudden, now that becomes a slightly different equation, although Kara may have still showed up from time to time with a blanket, sitting in a chair, watching the kids play and—

Jill: Yeah.

Jim: --you together. Did the kids pick up on that? Did they sense a change in what was happening?

Jill: Yeah and the Tippets were very open with their kids about what was going on and talked to them very openly. And Kara opened the door for us as mothers, to surround her children and to love her children, even early on. When she first had that first year of cancer, we did not know that they would become a terminal illness. We thought it was one year of treatment and we're done.

And even in that year, I remember her letting us surround the children and just feeling like, wow; she really lets me love on them and we haven't even known each other that long. And I think she was prepping all of us.

Jim: Yeah. I would think in that case, she was really yearning for that. She wanted that connection, knew it with a mother's heart—

Jill: Exactly.

Jim: --but you know, maybe wasn't saying it as straightforwardly. There's so many people though, Jill that can't connect that way. You know, maybe they don't go to a church. They're a little more isolated. What would you say to that person that may be going through difficulty, because "just show up" kinda worked both directions, doesn't it?

Jill: Absolutely.

Jim: So, the person that's received a difficult diagnosis, a terminal diagnosis, think of that mom. What can she do to let others know around her that, "I need you? Don't run away from me."

Jill: Exactly what you just said. You need to let other people know that you have something going on. I think we suffer quietly and then we wonder why no one is there. And there are moments where you're gonna ask for help and people are not gonna show up. And that is a sad and crushing experience and that's what we want to get better at.

I also think we can ask God, "Hey, I need some people and I don't even know where to begin. Will You help me?" And He's gonna meet us in those moments. He wants us in community with each other, but yes, it is heartbreaking when you want people in your life and they're not there for you.

I have heard a number of people mention when they go through that, they seek to serve someone else. And that's sort of how they begin to grow community. But there are moments, too, where you're just down and out and you cannot get out of bed and that isn't where you can start.

John: I can hear and appreciate that a lot, Jill, but I can hear some particularly moms saying, "I want to help my friend who's struggling. I'm not even keepin' up here. I mean, my kids are totally burying me in errands and schoolwork and this. I don't have any capacity." So, I suspect there's a lot of guilt for those who see a need, but they want to meet it, but they can't.

Jill: Yes, there are moments that you can't meet it. You're absolutely right and I think there are things you have to say no to. I also think that the Holy Spirit, when He gives you that tug or that pull towards someone, it's there for a reason.

And sometimes we do have to put aside whatever it is that we think we cannot put aside and you go and you serve someone else. There are so many blessings in that that I did not expect, [that] I just—

Jim: Did you—

Jill: --hadn't witnessed before.

Jim: --did you battle that in the—

Jill: Oh, absolutely.

Jim: --beginning of your relationship though, saying, "Ah, I don't know if I can pour in that way. I gotta pull—

Jill: All throughout—

Jim: --back."

Jill: --you go through those phases where you've got homework and kid stuff and family stuff. And yeah, you have to make that decision. And there were moments I did put aside something and think, "I don't know that I have time to go do this," but when your friend is dying, it all becomes, you know, nothing else really matters and you go to them.

Jim: Do you think, are there certain circumstances when that's happening and you know, my wife is a Golden Retriever and I could hear a conversation in our home and this makes me sound really bad (Laughing), but I could be saying, "Hon, you're spending so much time in that direction right now. The kids are needing you."

Jill: Right.

Jim: "'Cause you're in a sense, you're abandoning home for this" and that sounds hard, but—

John: Difficult choices, yeah.

Jim: -- were those some of the conversation you—

Jill: We had those—

Jim: --may have had or—

Jill: --conversations.

Jim: --yeah.

Jill: Absolutely and a lot of us would talk to our husbands and try to balance things out. What do you think about this? I'm thinkin' I want to serve in this way. And there was one girlfriend who did that. She said, "I want to go to Kara's one day a week." This was in the very beginning.

Jim: So, these are girlfriends talking.

Jill: Yeah and so, she talked to her husband and he said, "Okay. I think maybe we need to give up this other thing going on in our life in order for you to do that so we have some balance."

Jim: So, it was talked through.

Jill: Absolutely and the nice thing about having a community where there's more than just you is, that responsibility to be there can kind of ebb and flow, back and forth between the community.

Jim: Some of the practical things again, I mentioned it at the top of the program, but people, when they really do sincerely want to help, we say things and this is almost, to me it feels almost like a cultural thing that we say, when we say, "If you need me, just call." That's not such a wise thing to say, 'cause nobody really does call, do they?

Jill: Right, I used to say, "Let me know if you need anything."

Jim: Yeah, it's a nice way to say [that].

Jill: Yeah, no one would ever answer that for me and I didn't really understand why, because I meant it. But when I started going through this with Kara, I could see that the family in crisis, they don't have the time to even figure out what they need or what's going on.

Jim: Right.

Jill: They're in crisis mode. And so, when we can go to them with a specific, "Can I drive your kids home from school today or this week or every Tuesday?" Whatever it is, it makes it so much easier for them to say, "Yeah."

Jim: Can I make you a meal every Wednesday?

Jill: That'd be great, exactly.

Jim: That kind of thing.

John: And put a date on that.

Jim and Jill: Yeah.

Jim: And put a timeline for it, yeah.

Jill: Or I would love to come and grab your laundry. I'll take it home and do it at my house. Kara might've said, "Do it at my house. I want to hang out with you." It gives them the ability to kinda tweak what you're offering and maybe they are the introvert that says, "Great, take it home and do it there."

Jim: It is interesting, 'cause I think people are sincere when they say, "Call me if you need me."

Jill: Yeah.

Jim: But nobody does. It's very rare. They say, "Hey, you said that; can you do my laundry?" (Laughing)

Jill: I think they're—

Jim: 'Cause it's uneasy.

Jill: --I think they're afraid to ask for something that we don't want to do.

Jim: Right.

Jill: What if they ask us to watch the kids and we would rather paint the guest room?

Jim: Right.

Jill: So, when we offer something specific, it gives them that ability to know, we really mean this. This is something we're willing to do and would even bring us joy.

Jim: Jill, what if I offer, you know, that specific help that you're coaching me on, but the recipient is saying, "Yeah, I really don't need you to do that." So, often we can walk away miffed, you know. Well, this was what I could offer and the person said no and we kinda let our human response to that take over. I guess, in a honest way, did you ever have that happen? And how did you deal with that rejection or emotion? And how did you overcome it to say, "Okay, Lord, straighten me out. Help me on the right path here."

Jill: I don't remember that moment with Kara, but I know I've had it at other times in my life. And it comes down to somebody not accepting community is what I think. Kara used to say, "You cannot force someone to be in community. They have to make that choice."

And maybe that person just didn't need that specific thing, but maybe they were unwilling to let people into their messy hard parts of life.

Jim: Well, and that's pride and that's understandable. I mean, this is uncomfortable and so, you react in that way. That's interesting you answered it from the recipient's standpoint. I was almost asking it from the giver's standpoint, as they walk away with a bad attitude, feeling like, "I offered and they didn't accept it."

Jill: Yeah.

Jim: You know, that person's attitude needs a little adjustment, to have a little flexibility.

Jill: Right.

Jim: Would you agree?

Jill: I agree, that this is all about flexibility and grace. So, you have to have grace for that person that says, "No, that's not exactly what I need right now." Okay, God, where do You want me to go next?

Jim: And just leave it there--

Jill: Absolutely.

Jim: --and keep going, yeah.

Jill: We bring our selfishness into this journey and boy, that's a hard thing to have when you're doing this with a friend. And it will come back again and again and haunt you, but you have to try to pray about that and push it back.

Jim: And selfishness is pretty much being human, isn't it?

Jill: Exactly, yeah. (Laughing)

Jim: Yeah. In Just Show Up, you share a story that I thought was really touching, where you went to the hospital and you had what you described as a beautiful moment with Kara, but it really didn't involve that many words.

Jill: Right.

Jim: What happened?

Jill: Well, we had sleepover. Kara had a lot of hospital sleepovers.

Jim: What does that mean?

John: Yeah, I'm curious.

Jill: Well, Jason would go home to be with the kids at night and so, Kara would have a different girlfriend sleep over at the hospital with her. And there isn't a lot you can do in that situation. She would be in a lot of pain. She would get sick a lot. So, we were together and that was beautiful for me. It was such a gift for me to get to be there for her. And I know that it was probably hard for her to accept that from all of us over and over and over again, people coming to be with her and stay with her and love on her, but it was beautiful for me to be there for her.

Jim: You know, I would assume that when you're doing that for your friend, you're there, you don't anticipate that you're gonna be the one being blessed.

Jill: Exactly.

Jim: You think, you're here to do the blessing. How do you look for those quiet moments with the Lord to keep your spiritual ears open, to receive that kind of blessing with someone who is struggling?

Jill: Yeah, I think you go when you don't know what to do and you're willing to sit and God does bless you in those moments. Just being present with someone is something I really learned during this journey.

There was another time that Kara was in the hospital. I offered to Jason, "Would you like me to go sit with her? I'll have my computer. I don't want her to feel like she has to entertain me and she can just sleep, but I just want to be there." And he said, "That'd be great," and so, that's what I did and she slept most of that day.

And there was a moment where she was sort of facing me on the pillow and she opened her eyes. She said, "It gives me so much comfort to open my eyes and see you here." And all I could think was, "I'm not even doing anything. I am sitting here." It brings tears to my eyes now thinking about it. It was a very special moment. So, I encourage people to let people in; let people in.

Jim: Don't you think if we in the Christian community could do that, not only with our friends, but you know, those quick acquaintances we might know and have that kind of attitude of blessing them, this would be a different world?

Jill: Absolutely.

Jim: Yeah. I feel it's so true, not to be so full of angst and anger towards somebody who behaves differently. Let me ask you about that, because in this context, people have modalities that may be different from yours, whether it's the laundry or whatever it might be. How do you manage that very practical thing of, this is how I would do it; are you comfortable with me doing it that way?"

Jill: Like when someone's showing up for you and—

Jim: Yeah.

Jill: --you mean, when they do it differently? We have to let go of some of that. If we want those people in our lives and we're willing to let them in. I saw Kara let go of so much.

Jim: Give us an example of what you saw.

Jill: I remember, it was a blog post. She actually wrote a blog post about watching other mothers with her children and realizing that she was depending on herself and thinking she was the only answer and that God could have a bigger answer than that for her children.

Jim: And that's her friends.

Jill: Yeah.

Jim: Yeah. That's humbling--

Jill: It was very humbling.

Jim: --'cause I'm sure at some point, it was hard to hug her kids. It was impossible to take care of them the way a mom would want to do that. And she had to look at her friends doing her mommy work.

Jill: Yeah and how hard would that be? And she was so gracious about it and welcoming to us and thankful that we were there.

Jim: Yeah, that's somethin'.

Jim: Yeah. You know, that Scripture in Hebrews, in 13, it's 13:16; it just fits right here and a good place to end actually, for us to, as a community of believers, to contemplate what you have done with Kara and what this book represents as a, you know, a picture of that—how to be a good friend. But in Hebrews it says, "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." There couldn't be a better Scripture to capture your heart for your friend and I think you have modeled that so very well. Thanks for doin' it.

Jill: Thank you. Thanks for havin' me.


John: Well, what a look at the power of community and I do hope that you've embraceda stronger sense ofhow you can be there for someone in need. Now Jill [Buteyn] and Kara Tippetts wrote the book, Just Show Up and it certainly is a reflection of personal stories, of a relationship that worked through so many difficulties. And the practical advice in there will help you reach out to those around you. Look for Just Show Up at or call us and we can tell you more, 800, the letter A and the word, FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

And when you make a generous donation to the work of Focus on the Family today, a gift of any amount, we'll send Jill's book to you, Just Show Up, so you can read and benefit from it or pass it on to someone who can use some encourage in a tough spot.

Our program 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, as we hear a woman's journey through a variety of worldviews as she sought to find God.


Nancy Pearcey: But at any rate, since I wasn't getting answers, I rejected Christianity. I very consciously set aside my religious upbringing and decided I guess it was up to me to find truth on my own and so, I started looking at different philosophies and religions and trying to system through and decide which one was really true.

End of Excerpt

John: You'll hear from Nancy Pearcey tomorrow on "Focus on the Family," as weonce again, help you and your family thrive.

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Jill Lynn Buteyn

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Jill Lynn Buteyn is the co-author (with Kara Tippetts) of Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking Through Suffering Together. Jill has also authored an inspirational romance novel titled Falling for Texas, under the name Jill Lynn. A recipient of the ACFW Genesis award for her fiction work, she has a bachelor's degree in communication from Bethel University. Jill lives near the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children. Learn more about Jill by visiting her website,