In March 2015 Kara Tippetts, 38-year-old mother of four and wife of PCA pastor Jason Tippetts, died of cancer. Her story has been documented on her blog and in her book “The Hardest Peace: Finding Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard.” Before she died, Tippetts and friend Jill Buteyn collaborated on “Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together,” in which they discuss how to walk with a loved on through suffering.

Tippetts had just entered hospice when she co-wrote the book, so Buteyn’s thoughts and experiences fill most of the pages. She writes candidly about her fears, mistakes, and grief as she tries to love the Tippetts family well. Each chapter ends with reflections from Tippetts who, even as she was fading, encouraged her friends and readers to gaze upon her beautiful Savior.  

Buteyn talked with byFaith about what she learned in showing up for the Tippetts family.

In “Just Show Up” you describe caring for someone who is suffering as a “dance.” Why?

For me it really was a dance, and I think it is for so many people because we just don’t know what to do. It feels like if I take a step this way, I might step on someone’s toes; if I do something else, it’s the perfect thing. That’s why it’s a dance — because one time something may work, and the next time it might not. That’s why it’s scary. People want the perfect direction, and this can’t be nailed down in that way. That’s why it is so hard to be there for someone who is suffering. But when you show up in love and you try to have grace, that is so much of how to do it.

You write about how part of showing up is not worrying about trying to say the right thing. Can you elaborate?

I think we want so badly to say the right thing or the profound thing that maybe we say too much instead of letting our presence speak for us. And I get it: Silence is awkward. We want to say something. But I think we can err on the side of just showing someone that you love them, just saying, “I love you. I want to be here for you, but I don’t know what to say.”

Many times I said to Kara, “I don’t know what to say.” And she accepted that, and I think that was better than trying to fix it. It’s horrible to watch someone suffer, and you want to make it better. But when we say [the expected], like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” those are hard things to hear. It’s OK to say, “I don’t understand why you have to suffer and why you have to go through this.”

You have a very practical chapter on the “art” of giving help and receiving help. Why are these arts?

I saw Kara receive help, and it clicked. The community around her would not have been what it was — her story would not have been what it was — if she had not accepted help. She would have liked to be the one showing up for us. But she was willing to humble herself and accept help from other people, and amazing things happened.

I would watch people show up for Kara and do these amazing things, and I would think, I never would have thought of that, but look at how that person knew that that was something only they could do.

It is a gifting thing. We all have certain gifts, and we’re all afraid of using them. But God made us that way for a reason. Everyone had their area where they were good at serving. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t ever stretch beyond that strength, but I think it’s a good place to start. It was beautiful to see those two things work together, people reaching out and giving and then Kara not turning those things down.

What are some practical aspects of showing up that you hope readers will consider?

Offer a specific help when you want to be there for someone. I know that feeling of “I want to do something, but I don’t know where to start.” If you can offer a specific to someone, it makes it much easier for them to accept that help. Be specific and say, “Can I bring your kids home from school?” or “Can I pack lunches for your kids?” Some of those things sound simple, but they are so important when a family is in crisis mode.

How do you hope that others might be encouraged by reading about your struggles?

It was definitely hard. I am very private. But I have yet to hear a story of someone who has not struggled with insecurity when they were walking with someone through suffering because [suffering] just changes everything. The friendship you had is not the same. Your person isn’t able to respond in the same way, and you struggle through those things. Is this about me? No. It’s about the fact that she is suffering, and she’s in crisis. My job right now is to be here and to love on her and to trust in that friendship.

I just want to encourage people that your friend still loves you. This isn’t really by their choice. They are suffering outside of their control, and they are just doing their best to get through it.

What are some ways your community helped you care for Kara? What are some ways your community has helped you now that Kara is gone?

The amazing thing about community is the ripple effect. There was the core group that was caring for Kara, and each of us had friends outside of Kara through different circles, and they would care for us. And a lot of it was really simple: friends saying, “How’s it going? Do you want to talk about it?” And most of the time I did because I had to process all that I was going through. So if you’re willing to listen, that’s a great way to be there for someone, even if they’re the one walking with someone else. You can show up for them anyway.

How did loving the Tippetts family change your faith?

Kara was so grace-filled and faith-filled. She gave me permission to believe that God is good, even in the midst of hurting. I think that was a lie I had begun to believe from the world, that God isn’t good because there’s suffering in the world. But Kara really clung to the fact that God was her good. She would say, “The nearness of God is my good.” She really changed my thinking and gave me permission to believe that God is still good, even when we don’t understand what’s going on or why someone has to suffer.

How are you different for having showed up for Kara?

I’m not as afraid. Even when I am fearful of seeing someone’s suffering and not knowing what to say, I try to do it anyway. I try to go up to them and give them a hug and listen in a way that I would not have done in the past. I don’t know if that uncomfortableness ever goes away. I think it gets a little bit easier the more we do it, but I now make the choice to step into hard things with people in a way that I did not before Kara.

You write in your final chapter about how God has been redeeming your hard. How did you get to the place of seeing that?

It was almost impossible not to see His presence. That is why Kara and her testimony changed so many people. He was visible throughout everything that we did. It didn’t make it less painful, but He was palpable in this story. When we would walk in Kara’s home, it was like something you could touch or feel. How can that be when my friend is suffering? How can it be that it is peaceful to walk into her home? I think that was the presence of God showing us: You might not understand what I am doing here, but I am in control, and I love her, and she’s precious to Me.

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