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A Review of
And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-Bye
Paperback: David C. Cook, 2016
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Reviewed by Tiffany Malloy
When I first heard about Kara Tippetts, I was sitting in a circle of moms, talking and sipping hot tea while our kids were gleefully wreaking havoc on the playroom downstairs.
“Hey! Have you all heard about that woman in Colorado who is dying of cancer and blogging through it? This woman is amazing. You have to check out her blog, it’s called Mundane Faithfulness. But I’m warning you, you’ll definitely shed some tears….”
While the rest of the moms continued talking, I turned my attention to a toddler who had found an abandoned pile of goldfish crackers on the table. As I watched him happily enjoying some other kid’s snack bounty, I tried to think about something, anything, other than that dying momma of 4 young children. Any parent knows it doesn’t take long before our imagination gets the best of us and suddenly WE’RE dying of cancer and how-in-the-world-are-our-kids-going-to-make-it-without-us and–oh no – we need to make an appointment with our lawyer to make sure our will is up-to-date.
It was too early in the morning for that kind of heartache.
Fast forward. It’s 2 years later and Kara Tippetts is no longer here on earth. And until about 2 weeks ago, I had kept my commitment to not reading more about Kara’s journey with cancer. But when I heard about Kara’s final book, And It Was Beautiful: celebrating life in the midst of the long good-bye, I felt a little nudge. It was time to read about this fellow momma’s journey.
In her book, published posthumously, Kara’s blog posts have been compiled into a collection of 4 Acts, or stages, of her last days. If you’ve followed Kara’s blog faithfully, you will find that nothing in this book is new in the way of content. Instead, it provides an easy way to read and reread about Kara’s journey.
“I was here. I saw beauty. I embraced it.”
These words of Kara describe her outlook on life perfectly. She believed it was in the mundane of the everyday that we have the opportunity to worship God and love our people. The end.
Some of us are so desperately longing and waiting for the big, the bright and the shiny, that we miss the beauty staring right into our face. Kara helps us to refocus and recognize how God is moving in our lives, which are always imperfect and often marked by suffering.
One way we see this is through the presence of sacrificial community. Her people rallied around her and her family- making meals, cleaning kitchen floors, running kids to practices. Kara recognizes the enduring service and love of her community to be a mark of beauty in their lives. Team Tippetts was, and presumably still is, incredible.
Her journey is also marked by a profound generosity. Kara provides windows into very private moments of her life. She could have chosen to write down these moments for only her kids or husband to see, but instead she decided to generously share these moments with the world. A powerful example is when one of her children first asked her if she was going to die:
I walked in from wig shopping and Harper Joy asked me if I was going to die. I looked at her and said, ‘Yes.’ Then I invited her upstairs with me as I put on comfy clothes. Big conversations require an elastic waist….This was a special moment for Harper and me. I spoke honestly that I would die, that she would die, that death is a reality for us all… We talked about cancer being very scary. I told her the doctor has a good plan, but only God knows how long I will live. I told her it was okay to be sad. Then my sweet Harper Joy cried. And so did I. (26).
Throughout the book we also see Kara trying to make sense of her suffering. And while Kara’s suffering and disappointment surrounded cancer, she gives attention to the fact that we ALL have to figure out how to make sense of the struggle.
So I’m living a life I didn’t expect, living in the unexpected tension of an unknown future. We all are, aren’t we? In our many different ways, we’re all living in the desperation of life that hasn’t turned out like we’d planned. My unexpected turn is cancer. For others it’s singleness, unemployment, a disappointing marriage, broken friendships… these desperate, raw painful turns leave us longing for more, hopefully looking to and for Jesus. (155).
One unique aspect of And It Was Beautiful is its rawness. While the blog posts have been slightly edited, for the most part, the publishing team left them as is. While it’s natural for us to want to edit our stories as we look back on them in an attempt to make sense of them, we read Kara’s story day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month. We see her heart’s struggle to stay positive. To trust. To live in the moment. To learn to die well. I can only imagine what a humbling experience it is to sense death so close at hand, but Kara wrote about it with such amazing grace, love, and faithfulness.
This sweet story is not for the faint of heart. While I was teary-eyed through most of the book, it was mostly a hopeful kind of sorrow. We are reminded that in the midst of seemingly impossibly hard times, God provides the strength and perspective to walk through it faithfully. And while Kara’s journey here on earth is over, her words continue to impact the hearts and lives of people today. Not only do they live on in her family and wider community, but they are also encouraging strangers who are walking down a similar path.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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