Kristy and Karen and Mike

August 20, 2008 | Written by admin

When my son Colin was about five years old, we took him to the Rose Parade in Portland. He got one of those helium balloons that have a Mickey Mouse head inside a second, larger balloon. Colin loved it, and enjoyed bouncing it around the car and the house, but then we walked outside, he let go, and… off it sailed into the Northwest sky, lost to the winds.

We talked about it a little bit. I didn’t scold him. Accidents happen. He was sad, and crying a bit, and upset that he’d done something so silly as to let go of the string. "Papa," he said to me (for he has always called me Papa), "when I grow up, I’m going to have a job where I go around and collect all the lost balloons, and take them back to the kids who lost them."

I don’t tell many "little children" stories — too much W.C. Fields in me, believing that children and dogs should be offered in small doses. But today I’d love to be five years old again, with dreams of doing something great for people; something big and nice and sweet, without being held back by an adult explaining why you can’t do it. Here’s why…

A month ago, my friend Krisy Dykes died of a brain tumor. Kristy was a writer, and a very nice person, always opening her emails with the same words: "Greetings from sunny Florida!" Late in her career, she called me and asked if I could help her. As it turns out, I couldn’t. Not very much, anyway. But I always appreciated her positive, joyful spirit, and her willingness to be an ambassador for Christian writing.

Then last night, I got a call from someone. An author I represent, Karen Harter, is in the hospital suffering with the late stages of cancer. They don’t expect her to last more than another day or two. Karen is a fabulous writer. Her first novel, Where Mercy Flows, won the Christy Award as Christian Novel of the Year, and her second, Autumn Blue, was both a RITA finalist and an ACFW Book of the Year finalist. Karen has the gift — Readers Digest likened her work to Anne Rivers Siddons. All of us expected her to be a star in the industry someday, then this evil disease hit.

And now one of my best friends in the world, Mike Swickard, is fighting it. Mike has cancer everywhere — he’s been fighting it for years, and all they’re really doing now is helping him get a handle on the pain, and he is just trying to fight it off so that he can make his daughter’s wedding on Friday night.

Mike and I go way back. We went to the same church, sang in the same group, graduated from the same high school. We used to go backpacking, had plenty of scrapes together, nearly got arrested one time by a small-town deputy with an oversized need to be in charge. I was in Mike and Heidi’s wedding. Mike was always the strongest guy I knew, and it pains me to see him beat down by this. 

When I got the call last night, from someone at the church who needed to give me the update about Karen, I was struck by all the things that were left unsaid. I needed to tell her again how much I enjoyed her work, and what a great influence her writing was going to have on others, and how much I have enjoyed knowing her and talking about words. And now it’s too late.

So I called Mike and talked with him.  I just wanted him to know how much he meant to me, and that I had appreciated his friendship, and that after my father died, he was one of the guys I turned to in order to figure out how to be a man. And that the world will be a smaller place when he leaves.

We’re not the same, Mike and I. He’s a welder, and knows everything there is to know about cars, and can take a 1952 Plymouth and restore it to pristine condition. I can do none of those things — it was always my job to hand him the tools and nod a lot, pretending I knew what he was talking about when he’d use a word like "tappet" or "rig reamer." I didn’t know then; I still don’t. But I’m glad to know Mike’s down time has made him a huge reader, and he always had an agile mind, so we can talk books and ideas without either of us feeling self-conscious.

Look… I don’t offer that many life lessons. I guess I figure I have too many questions as it is, so the last thing I need to do is to tell somebody else how to live his or her life. But hear me on this: If I had a chance to go around and collect all the lost helium balloons so that I could return them to sad little boys, I’d do it today. I don’t. However, I have plenty of people who I know and love, and I can tell them know how much I appreciate them, so that neither of us leaves the world feeling regret over things undone. It’s my chance to do something big and nice and sweet.

My thanks to Kristy and Karen and Mike for their wonderful friendship. I have appreciated you each for your unique gifts. Be at peace.

UPDATE: Award-winning author Karen Harter passed away in the wee hours this morning. Her husband Jeff was by her side, and she was surrounded by family and friends. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

UPDATE: My friend Mike Swickard, the Strongest Man in the World, passed away while I was traveling. The world is a lesser place with his passing. Rest in peace, Mike. I will always remember you.

Posted in Religion

  • Loren Eaton

    Four-and-a-half years ago, my father was diagnosed with a malignant glioma, and it has been the most crushing thing in my life. Please know that I grieve for you and for your friends.

  • Carrie Turansky

    Kristy was a dear friend and mentor. I followed her journey on her blog. It was an amazing testimony of God’s grace even in the most difficult times. She and her husband taught me so much about life, marriage, and how to trust God in the final days of life.
    I loved Karen’s books and emailed her in July after reading Autumn Blue. She told me she was looking forward to her son’s wedding and also coming to ACFW in September. I am so sorry to hear about her battle with cancer.
    Your post is a good reminder to express our love and appreciation to friends and family. Thanks, Chip.

  • Lochlanina

    We all come to a point when we are helpless to ease pain, to erase death, to heal grief – but as you remind us, we can still offer Love. We can still wrap each momnet in words that need to be said.
    Thank you.

  • Beth K. Vogt

    I have several precious friends battling cancer. Scripture says we are to bear one another’s burdens. Your post today did that for me. Thanks. And I’m praying for you.

  • Carla

    Thanks, Chip, for letting your sensitive side surface. In our break-neck world, it’s often the small things (a phone call, an unexpected note) we take time for that matter most.
    My prayers are with you and your friends during this time

  • Alton Gansky

    Very meaningful post, Chip. Well said and moving.

  • Dana

    We lost two little children at our school this year, the youngest, a six year old with cancer. It hurts so much when God says no to our prayers. Our pastor says that God sees the whole puzzle and we can only see a piece. I just know the whole puzzle is a dazzling picture, colored by of all these wonderful people who were here all too briefly. Praying for you, Mike, Kit and Karen.

  • Nicole

    Death robs us. It was never meant to be this way . . . Thanks for the moments from your heart.

  • Beth White

    Thanks for this, Chip. I love your heart. Praying for you today.

  • Cheryl

    What a beautiful tribute to your friends, Chip. So sorry for this time of loss that you are all going through. May God’s tender comfort be with you all.

  • Sheri Boeyink

    God Bless you, Chip. Praying for you today also!

  • Jim Rubart

    Dusty in my office today. Must have gotten some of it my eye as I read this post.

  • Tanya Dennis

    May the Lord come quickly! I want to tell you what a great post this is and how tears are still streaming down my face; how I feel the same helplessness and anger toward my limits, yet all of these words seem hollow. True, but not enough. Know your words have hit their target and that I’m praying for you, your friends and their families today.

  • Heather

    I didn’t know about Karen. I recently read Autumn Blue and immediately fell in love with it and her as an author. In fact, my book club is reading Autumn Blue this fall.
    I don’t consider death a friend at all as some do. It’s the enemy, and I look forward to the day when we will fully know our victory over it. I look forward to spending time with all these saints in the Resurrection.

  • David Meigs

    Thanks Chip. Today’s post gave me reason to pause and consider those relationships I take for granted. I think I’ll knock off early for a change.
    God bless!

  • Rob Sargeant

    Chip, Thanks for your honesty. It reminds me again that we should live each day as if it could be our last – not being so hurried – but taking the time to truly listen and care. I’ll be praying.

  • chip

    Thanks, everyone, for your prayers and for your kind words. I’ve had hundreds of responses to this. You’re wonderful. Appreciate this. -chip

  • Lisa DeLay

    on our hearts.
    There is not one replaceable friend. The hurt is real and raw to lose them. The blessing of the short time together is a treasure, but my, it seems so ridiculously terse, and tragic for them to go. Without fond memories and hope of glory, it would be hard to go on, indeed.
    May God’s presence embracing you at this time, that you may feel the weight and fulfillment of his love, in you, as it resides there.

  • Ashley

    Beautiful post, Chip. I’ll keep Mike’s family in my prayers. Sincerely. I’d say more but my hands are tied right now. Georgie Jr. finally arrived last Wednesday, and well, life is crazy! Still reading your posts, just don’t have much time to comment!

  • Tracy

    My heart breaks. I’m so sorry.
    I hate cancer.
    May all these precious people feel God’s loving care and comfort.
    Thank you for sharing with us, Chip. You’re all in my prayers.

  • John Robinson

    Thanks, Chip, for your transparency.
    May the circle be unbroken, in the sky, Lord, in the sky.

  • Keri Wyatt Kent

    This was beautiful, Chip. I’m so glad you called Mike, and I do hope you’ll send him a letter, since you’re obviously pretty good at putting your thoughts and even your feelings into writing. I’m praying for him, and for you. As I’ve said before, long-term friendships are rare, and that’s part of what makes this so hard. You guys have history–something few people have anymore.

  • Cindy Thomson

    Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins has an autobiography called, “The Game Is Easy, Life is Hard.” He suffered a lot of loss in his life. I don’t know if he has the same hope that we do, but he does say that life is precious, and relationships are important.
    I’m sorry for the pain and loss that you are experiencing now, Chip. Thanks for the reminder to tell someone we love them, to let someone know we appreciate his/her work, to reach out.

  • Eva Marie Everson

    Thx for this life-lesson, Chip.
    Eva Marie

  • Susan Meissner

    At my grandpa’s memorial service six years ago, we wrote messages on white helium balloons, gathered in a circle, raised our hands and released them to the sky. We knew the messages weren’t really traveling to heaven. But it sure looked like they were. I loved how those balloons took to the sky like they couldn’t wait to get to the next place. Writing those messages was therapeutic – as I am sure this post was to you, Chip, and all of us reading it – and releasing what was meant to fly was also the happiest moment I have ever experienced at a funeral.
    p.s. I am praying for Friday, for Mike, for 48 more hours of grace . . .

  • Jeff Jacobson

    thanks for sharing this Chip.. truly appreciate the words of wisdom.

  • Mary E. DeMuth

    Prayed for your friend two days ago on my run. I’ll continue to pray.

  • Milton Dykes

    My heart breaks for Mike and Karen and their families. There is a cloud of peace and a chair of strength for them too.
    Milton, here for Kristy

  • Bonnie Grove

    I want Mike to make his kiddo’s wedding too! (don’t know Mike, but it seems a small thing, and God is big).
    I’ll be asking God to make Friday the best day of Mike’s life!
    Thanks for the reminder to kiss my kids, love my husband, and speak gently.

  • LaShaunda

    The C word has touched many lives and continues to reach wonderful people. Your words made me sad because I have an aunt who is also fighting. Its hard to stand by and not be able to help.
    I’m glad you talked with your friend. If we let our love ones know how much we care it makes us feel a little better.
    Prayers go up for you and your friend and for all us who know someone in this battle.
    God is still in control.

  • Danica

    Thanks for sharing your heart Chip. And one of those rare kid stories. :) You and your friends will be in my prayers.

  • Dayle

    All of Kristy’s colleagues were deeply saddened to lose her. I’m sorry for your losses, as well. I have several friends who are battling cancer right now. It all seems unfair, but it’s certainly opened my eyes to the beauty of today, for there’s no promise of tomorrow.
    Thanks for this moving post.

  • Judy

    Chip, thank you for your beautiful post and tribute to a dear friend of mine, Karen Harter. I’ve lost a friend and publishing has lost a tremendously gifted author. Thank you for reminding me that Karen’s influence lives on through her writing.
    Karen and I were looking forward to flying to ACFW together. Now the conference will be a bit bittersweet for me.
    Praying for Mike and his family. Blessings, Judy

  • Gina C

    Your friends have been on my heart along with my own friends and family battling cancer. It definitely makes me think more about my life and what/who is important. Thanks for sharing your heart and reminding us the importance of telling those we love how much them mean to us!

  • Cheryl Russell

    I’m sorry for the pain and loss, Chip. Praying for you and Mike.

  • Rachel Hauck

    What a great post, Chip. Brought tears to my eyes. I went to Kristy’s memorial and wow, what at a glorious celebration in the midst of pain. For a few moments, I was actually jealous. “She’s with Jesus!”
    And now, so is Karen. The good news is this life is merely an internship to the Millennium Kingdom, where Karen and Kristy will be writers in the King’s personal service. And for Mike, who’ll be the chief mechanic. :)
    Grace and peace to all.

  • Lynette Sowell

    Chip, this really parallels what I’ve gone through this summer and this past yaer through several losses. I’ve determined not to leave things unsaid anymore. While on deadline in June, I set my deadline aside and wrote probably several thousand words to a dear friend. We’d learned that his wife died suddenly, violently, too young. I hadn’t seen him in several years because our families lost touch, and I told him there were so many things I’d wanted to say to his wife and never did, how they’d blessed me and how much their friendship meant, and how we missed them (gotta love the military town we live in). Writing to him was more true ministry and infinitely more valuable than all the thousands of words I’ve written for “pay” the past few years. God bridged the gap between us. And I met my deadline.
    Praying for you, and your friend, also, for grace and strength. My husband and I know what you’re going through. The most ordinary things quickly become the most precious.

  • Jess

    A beautiful post, Chip. Brought tears to my eyes and put a lump in my throat. I’ve lost way too many friends to cancer.
    My prayers are with you and your friends. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  • Robert Treskillard

    Thanks for sharing this.
    My oldest brother died suddenly last year and I never got that chance. Your post is a good reminder to all of us.

  • Pam Halter

    I’m just getting back from vacation and saw this … so sorry for the loss of your friends, but happy you had them, even for a short while.

  • JC

    Sorry to hear about your friend. You and her family are in my prayers.

  • Karen

    Spent the weekend in Tennessee with a friend who has brain cancer. It’s a hard, hard thing. I kept thinking how thankful I was that when we both had the time, we had said those things to one another that so often go unsaid. We told each other how much we meant to one another. And now that he can’t say those things, I have the memory of that. I am sorry about Mike, about Karen,and for all those who love them yet.

  • JPeabody

    you do have a way with words.
    love you and yours,

  • Kayleen

    Life can be painful. I’ve lost a mother in law and brother in law to cancer. This summer I helped organize a crochet group that makes caps for people who lose hair, due to cancer. It’s our way of making a difference. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kayleen

    I forgot to mention our group on the previous blog post — Stitches of Hope.