Metastatic breast cancer took Kara Tippetts from her pastor husband, Jason, and their four children on Sunday (March 22). She was just 38.
But in her last years of life, her saga of accepting suffering became, in a quietly powerful way, a cultural force for another way of choosing death with dignity, one that refused to hasten death.
In recent years, the movement for physician-assisted dying has seized the phrase “death with dignity” in its campaign to expand that option beyond the five states where it’s now legal. The group Compassion & Choices brought national attention to Brittany Maynard, who chose to die Nov. 1 when she was just 29, by taking a legal lethal prescription rather than lose her mind to an aggressive cancerous brain tumor.
Maynard starred in tear-inducing videos circulated by Compassion & Choices. There was no record of any mention of a religious or spiritual superstructure underlying her reasoning. She saw no spiritual gift or benefit in the meaning of suffering.
Tippetts didn’t release national videos but she wrote a book, “The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard,” and she kept a blog, “Mundane Faithfulness,” that was full of praise for God and images of a woman well-loved by friends and family. Her writing was imbued with a Christian vision that physician-assisted dying is not an act of loving life, but rather a betrayal of love, God and faith.
In calm and elegant posts, Tippetts’ evangelical Christian faith wrapped her in spiritual comfort. In a post titled “By Degrees — Living and Dying” she wrote: “My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live.”
Tippetts also wrote an open letter to Maynard last October. It began with gratitude. “I think it is good for our culture to know what is happening in Oregon. It’s a discussion that needs to be brought out of the quiet corners and brought brightly into the light. You sharing your story has done that. It matters, and it is unbelievably important.”
But, Tippetts wrote: “Dear heart, we simply disagree … hastening death was never what God intended.”
Jesus, she told Maynard, “overcame the death you and I are facing in our cancer. He longs to know you, to shepherd you in your dying, and to give you life and give you life abundant — eternal life.”
Tippetts offered the altar call of traditional Christian belief, one in which suffering has meaning, to the dying reader. On her Facebook page on Dec. 31, where she mentions she has now turned to hospice care, Tippetts writes that in God’s time … “Doors will appropriately open and close.”
Her voice was amplified in the mainstream media. Rod Dreher of The American Conservative writes: “Tonight after I put the kids to bed, I will gather myself before my icon of Christ, and pray the prayers for the departed, for Kara. How strange and wonderful that I’m rejoicing that her pain is over, and that we have all gained a phenomenal intercessor. I know. Crazy Christian stuff. That’s how we are.”
“Mundane Faithfulness” began as her chronicle of motherhood and living in kindness. The obituary that appeared the day she died says it morphed into “a blog about looking for God’s Grace to show up even in the hardest, messiest, ugliest places. It was a window into her life of chemo, church planting, spontaneous dance parties in the kitchen with her littles, her passion for Jason, her passion for those who don’t know Jesus, and her struggle to accept her growing cancer as God’s story for her life. Her self-described ‘mundane’ life appeared anything but mundane to her readers who inevitably fell in love with her inviting, joyful personality and her love for and trust in Jesus; readers were attracted to her honesty, vulnerability, sense of humor, and simple faith. She never hesitated to share the hard moments, but she always pointed her readers — and herself — back to Jesus.”
Jason Tippetts and their friends wrote the blog entries in the last 12 days. On March 10, Kara Tippetts wrote what would be her final post, beginning with the arrival of a hospital bed so her days in hospice care might be more comfortable. Then she wrote:
“There is so much about this we cannot understand. I can’t understand that I’m not sleeping in my wedding bed with my guy tonight. I hurt that I understand what this greater pain I’m experiencing means. I feel too young to be in this battle, but maybe I’m not in a battle at all. Maybe I’m on a journey, and the journey is more beautiful than any of us can comprehend. And if we did understand, we would hold very loosely to one another because I’m going to be with Jesus. There is grace that will seep into all the cracks and pained places when we don’t understand. In the places we don’t understand we get to seek. And how lovely is one seeking truth. Stunning.”
Brittany Maynard had the spotlight for autonomy and defiance. Kara Tippetts takes the spotlight now in “mundane faithfulness.”
— by Cathy Lynn Grossman | RNS