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Life, Suffering, and Dignity

The Courageously Mundane Faithfulness of Kara Tippetts

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A young Oregon woman with a brain tumor recently made the choice to die. But a Colorado woman facing a terminal disease is choosing to live. What can we learn from their stories?

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John Stonestreet

When we argue about sanctity of life issues such as abortion or euthanasia, we risk becoming too theoretical. Talking in terms of percentages or trends is fine to do, and it’s important that we know that there have been 56 million legal abortions since Roe v. Wade and that the number of those euthanized in Holland has risen 151 percent in just seven years.

We sometimes need facts and statistics like these to make the case for life. But, despite our best intentions, sometimes we forget to talk as if these stats reflect actual people, who are made in the image of God. They do, and we should tell their stories.

My guess is that by now you’ve heard the story of Brittany Maynard, a “vibrant” 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon in order to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity law.

Oregon allows physician-assisted suicide; California doesn’t. Brittany chose November 1 as the day she would end her own life, with the help of a doctor. And I’m sad to say she carried through with her plans—despite the enormous outpouring of love and prayers from people across the country who urged her to change her mind.daily_commentary_11_07_14

One of those people was Kara Tippetts, a 38-year-old married mother of four who knows well the fear and pain of a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Her approach to illness has been to rest on the grace of God and to find power in living faithfully moment by moment, squeezing the goodness out of each day, and exhibiting, no matter what the prognosis, “mundane faithfulness,” which is the name of her blog.

“We thought my pastor-husband and I would help the broken,” Kara said in a World magazine article, “but Jesus planned for us to be the broken. We opened our hands to our strength and grasped the weakness handed to us. From the despair, beauty was born. We were invited to dine at the table of those who came with us and salt our every meal with our own tears.”

Kara tells a story of mundane faithfulness in her new book, “The Hardest Peace.” She’s gained a national following in recent weeks thanks to best-selling author Ann Voscamp, who gave her a platform to share her story.

Kara has used her voice to reach out to Brittany Maynard, asking her to reconsider, gently telling her that there’s more to life than good physical health and the avoidance of suffering. “Suffering is not the absence of goodness,” Kara says in an open letter to Brittany, “it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. … That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters—but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed.”

Kara has been learning that lesson on her own journey. Go to her blog and you’ll see that Kara is not throwing around a lot of cheap Christian clichés. She looks suffering and death full in the face, and in it sees glimpses of God’s love. Here’s an entry from October 18:

“How do you love when you are at the bottom of yourself? The last gulp of a drink you feel tentative to swallow? How do you swallow that last gulp of life and fight to live it well? I’m struggling today,” she writes, “and I knew it would be a hard one. Chemo brings a low that I struggle with words to describe.”

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And then on October 20: “…The hand held, the time spent reading together, the little loves that when faced with death have become the giant important moments in my life. The time praying together, laughing together, cooking together and crying together. They add up to a life well lived. [They] are simply the best of life.”

As Kara told me in our interview, which will air this weekend on BreakPoint this Week, she’s felt called by God to weigh in on Brittany’s story when it made national media attention. Her letter has already made a difference in the lives of many, and she shared some of those stories with me in our interview. We’ll link to it at BreakPoint.org.

Friends, let's pray for Kara and for all those facing terminal illness—as well as for their families. And let’s also pray for our culture, that we learn that life is always a gift, without exception.

Further Reading and Information

Life, Suffering, and Dignity: The Courageously Mundane Faithfulness of Kara Tippetts
How we face the end of life presents to a watching world evidence of the faith we profess. Kara Tippetts humbly challenges our culture's trend to avoid suffering at all costs.  Listen to John's special interview with her on BreakPoint This Week which will be available online starting Saturday.

Resources

Kara Tippetts, blog

Small wonders
Kara Tippetts | World magazine | October 17, 2014

Christian writer in Colorado Springs speaks against assisted suicide
Stephanie Earls | The Gazette | October 19, 2014

Euthanasia and the Slippery Slope: You Can’t Kill Just One
Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint.org | October 16, 2014

Joni Eareckson-Tada to Brittany Maynard: Choose Life
CBN.com | October 22, 2014

Christians praying for Brittany Maynard ahead of assisted suicide scheduled for November 1
Cath Martin | Christianity Today | October 20, 2014

A Fitting Death: True Death with Dignity
Chuck Colson | BreakPoint.org | April 8, 2005


Comments:

I have heard it said that many in the church seem to fetishize suffering and end of life issues really showcase that. While it is absolutely true that suffering is often nesicary to achieve some good, either for others or just personal growth, suffering is not a good thing in and of itself. Dragging out the suffering of the dying in cases where they just wish to be done with it benefits no one and strikes me as nothing short of sadistic. Certainly no one should be forced onto the proverbial ice flow if they wish to keep fighting, but neither should someone be forced to suffer just because moralizing busybodies are convinced it's for their own good somehow. Why not just let individuals and families handle end of life decisions and keep big brother out of it?

-The Bechtloff
-landsharkattacks.blogspot.com
Suffering
In the natural I am inclined to agree with most of what TheDude has said. I have heard it preached, "What? Are we better than Christ that He had to suffer but we don't have to?" My response is, "No. But I am not as strong as He, so that He can withstand a great deal more suffering than I can. Besides, He did that to pay the penalty for all our sins. What sins am I supposed to pay for? If I answer that question, I would be unscriptural, since it is written that nothing we do can pay for any sins (Romans 3:20)."

Anyway, my tolerance for pain and suffering is low. While I may try to be as Ms. Tippetts, if it gets bad enough I don't think I would be able to. And if I am driven to follow the path of Ms. Maynard because I am unable to resist the temptation to do so in spite of all my effort and prayers, I would throw myself upon the mercy of God, hoping against hope that He would forgive me. While some say that suicide is not the unpardonable sin, I am not so sure. To be sure without a word from God Himself on the subject is to be presumptuous. And if the only unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, who is to say that one is not committing that blasphemy by ending one's own life. After all, there are more than one way to commit the unforgivable blasphemy. During the tribulation, it is done by taking the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:11).
Assisted Suicide?
I find it very difficult to accept the description of Brittany Maynard's death as a "suicide" - assisted or otherwise. She was already well down the path of her TERMINAL ILLNESS, rapidly declining physically, and facing the added horrors of certain total mental collapse - in other words, she was ALREADY WELL INTO THE PROCESS OF DYING. Mainstream orthodox Christianity already allows for hospice care (mitigation of the suffering of the dying via massive doses of Morphine - which most doctor's would admit actually hastens death while alleviating said suffering) and I believe that "palliative aid in dying" is a much more precise description of what occurred in Brittany Maynard's case than is the word "suicide". I just cannot believe that God requires us to experience "the MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF SUFFERING POSSIBLE" when we are dying. So, the real question is "when are we CLOSE ENOUGH TO DEATH, or WHEN HAVE WE SUFFERED ENOUGH to satisfy "God's Plan for our lives" in order to justify maximum palliative care in dying? I am aware of the theory of "the redemptive value of suffering" - Jesus suffered precisely for the redemption of the world - but does that really translate into each of us being required by God to experience THE MAXIMUM POSSIBLE LEVEL OF SUFFERING IN DEATH? If not, then what level of suffering does He require? Is He the God whose thirst for human suffering is unquenchable? I think not.