Member Spotlight: Courtney and Allen Tipping
Allen and Courtney moved to Columbia in 2005 to help plant Midtown Fellowship. The past decade of their lives has been marked with much suffering. The first year they were in Columbia, Courtney’s father passed away unexpectedly. Two years later, after months of battling with infertility, Courtney and Allen found out that they were pregnant with sextuplets. In March of 2009, at 22 weeks, the babies were delivered into the arms of Jesus. Eighteen months later, the Tippings joyfully delivered a baby girl: Zoe. However, in April of 2014, Zoe was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Wilms tumor. The cancer had already taken over one kidney, the lungs, and an artery running to the heart. After several months of chemo and radiation, Zoe underwent surgery at St. Jude’s to remove one kidney and as much of the tumor as the surgeon was able to reach. Currently, all MRI and CT scans are stable. A year later, the Tippings found out they were pregnant again, only to learn a few months later that their daughter had a condition called acrania. While she would be full of life in the womb, she would more than likely not survive once delivered. Baby Mia was born in November of 2015 and lived ten minutes before she too went to be with Jesus. In addition to Zoe, the Tippings have two other living children: Sadie and Toby.
Throughout your suffering, how did you deal with fear or anger towards God? What have you learned about expressing those feelings?
Allen: To find out we were pregnant with six babies after struggling with infertility is a hard feeling to describe. So then to make it to 22 weeks only to lose all six of them, I just didn’t understand. We could have avoided all of this. A lot of things hit me after discovering Mia’s diagnosis as well. We were pregnant and it was so exciting and then the news just felt crushing. Even thinking back to Zoe—she was an incredible gift after the six, but she was born with cancer. The mental stuff starts going and you start asking, “Why are you doing this to me?” It felt like a personal attack. I think the biggest question I wrestled with was, “God, do you love me?”
Courtney: I think the hardest time for me was after we learned about Mia’s diagnosis at our first trimester ultrasound. I still didn’t feel like life had gotten back to normal after everything with Zoe’s cancer. So with the news that we were going to have a daughter that would most likely never live outside the womb, I began to deeply question how we were going to sustain through all of it.
Allen: One freeing thing that Courtney said to me was, “We are not okay and that’s okay and there’s no rush to get better.” I needed that freedom. I knew I needed to get better, but I didn’t know how to pick up the pieces. For an entire year after losing the six, when I prayed, I used the phrase “God is good” because I didn’t know if I believed it. So I just said it enough until I could believe it. I just had to take little nuggets of truth and hold onto them. I realized that I could not let my current circumstances color my view of the cross. The cross had to be the lens through which I viewed my suffering.
How were you able to have hope in the midst of tragedy?
Allen: The hope happened with every tragedy when we got to see church family be present and do very tangible things to love us. Knowing that people were praying for us was the way we saw the Lord’s endurance for us.
Courtney: When we were in the hospital right in between losing the first two babies and then starting labor with the remaining four, I got to a point where, physically, I just wanted to give up. I desperately wanted to keep fighting and so I asked people to read scripture and speak truth to me as I was in labor. I knew that was the only thing that was going to get me through. And I remember praying that somehow God would be seen clearly through something as awful as losing the six babies. I had a similar feeling about a month into Zoe’s longest hospital stay. On a particularly difficult and emotional night in the hospital, I broke down, unsure how we had the endurance to get through it all. And in the middle of the emotions, I knew that the Lord was giving us the endurance and that somehow He was going to be seen and glorified through all the grossness.
Allen: I also had to come to grips with the reality that my life may be a tragedy. I just don’t know. I have no backing to say, “It will just get better.” Ultimately you just have to hope for heaven and when Jesus comes back and makes all things new. One thing that was helpful for me was the reminder in 1 Peter 5:9 that people are suffering all over the world in different ways. Some days, I needed the reminder that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. So I would remember that, and I would hope for heaven, and I would look to the cross. Those three things helped me push through. There’s certainly a desire for pain and suffering to end but the only way for that to stop is for Jesus to come back and when He does, judgment starts. So it’s God’s grace to call more people to Himself and not end things now. That was very helpful for me—to remember that what I would love to see happen (my personal suffering ending) would mean others don’t get to experience God’s grace.
How have you seen God use the suffering in your life for His glory and your good?
Courtney: One way is Toby’s adoption story. Tiffany was one of Zoe’s nurses in the hospital. We formed a relationship with her when she worked weekends at the hospital. Then, in 2016, she met Toby’s birth mother at an elementary school talent show. They got talking and Tiffany learned that she wanted to put her son up for adoption and Tiffany reached out to us. Three weeks later, we were in the hospital, experiencing the birth of our son, Toby.
Allen: I know of two Midtown members who both became believers after hearing Adam’s sermon on suffering the week after Zoe was diagnosed with cancer. One of the people is now a resident at our church and she recently told me that sermon and experience was one of the main things God used to save her. I don’t want to hurt just so God can use it, but at the same time, it does help—knowing that God can use even the worst of things for good. I don’t want my daughter to have to go through cancer for it to happen, but I’m glad that God uses it.
Courtney: One sweet way that we see the Lord use the things that are super tough is the continual favor we have with the children’s hospital and ongoing relationships we have with the staff and other patients’ families there. Because we were so deeply loved by community during our stays in the hospital, I have a desire for other families to experience a picture of that type of community as well. We do monthly dinners with the moms who have children battling cancer and it’s just a time to say, “I know a little bit of where you’re at and I’m here.” We’ve also been able to form a Serve the City partnership between Midtown and the Children’s hospital. And at Palmetto Health’s last employee rally, Allen and I were interviewed for a video and had a chance to share our story and we got to talk about Jesus and suffering to every Palmetto Health employee.
What were the most helpful things that people said or did to come alongside you in your suffering? Any advice for other people as they try to walk well with friends who are suffering?
Allen: Presence is what matters. Just try to avoid all the clichés. They are unhelpful. Give me the promises that I can hold on to if you are going to give me anything. Mostly, I just wanted people there who would cry with me and let me know they cared. Another thing that was really helpful was when a person would ask if they could do a specific thing for us, like cut our grass. Often, people throw out a more general, “let me know if there’s anything that I can do to help,” but when someone’s life is falling apart, they more than likely don’t even know what they need.
Courtney: I’d encourage people to not be scared to be present when people are hurting. That’s what I felt like the Lord really used in my life—He uses other people and He uses me when I just show up and I’m available. The other thing that has been really important to me is to have people not forget about the babies we’ve lost and the suffering we’ve gone through. It means so much to me when people want to talk about the babies or see pictures or allow me to talk about Zoe’s continuing journey with cancer. Remember to ask people questions and love them well through it all—even after the first couple of weeks of trauma.
What good news were you clinging to in the midst of your suffering that you’d like to share with others?
Allen and Courtney: Psalm 62:5-8! Our souls find rest in God alone.
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.