A friend, the Reverend Dr. Karen Leigh Stroup died January 21, 2012.
I met Karen some 20 years ago while studying at Lexington Theological Seminary. After leaving Lexington, we saw each other infrequently, but through email, we continued our friendship. She was one of the first Faithful Readers, and faithful she was. ("Faithful Readers" is an affectionate name I've given to a group of people who receive my sermons each week either by email or the USPS.) She avidly read what I sent and often responded. More often than not, her responses took one of two forms. She often gave a different slant to my sermon theme or use of the text. At other times, she challenged my thinking and my position. After one such response from Karen, I wrote asking, Could I just once receive an email saying “job well-done”? Her response: “No response means you did well.” I didn’t always agree with her, but I always grew from our interaction, as I do from others of you who take time to respond to what I send.
Karen earned her doctorate from Vanderbilt University and later taught there. She pastored a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cropper, Kentucky, which is next door to Eminence, and another in Springfield, Tennessee, near Nashville. She battled breast cancer. Over the years, she suffered through multiple surgeries and chemo-therapies. The battle cost her both her teaching and preaching roles. She went from being among the employed to unemployed. She never gave up. She made and sold jewelry and she wrote. There was a marvelous book on breast cancer (Speak the Language of Healing: Living with Breast Cancer without Going to War), a devotional book (Don’t Gift-wrap the Garbage: Down to Earth Meditations for Women. They’re good for men, too.), several articles, and fiction. She was even the model for the Reverend Karen Stroup of “King of the Hill.” She was talented, insightful, and faithful—to her friends and to her faith, though the latter not without its struggles. Karen’s faith was always honest and never abandoning of the Christ in whom she trusted.
Having survived breast cancer, Karen died January 21 from an apparent heart attack. She was 54 years old. She is survived by her parents, two sisters, nephews and nieces, and friends.
I shall miss her. Yet, her influence and presence will remain with me. I will never write a sermon or prepare the Faithful Reader note without wondering how Karen would hear this. She made me a better preacher. I am thankful for her friendship and her ministry.
Karen Leigh Stroup saw who Jesus was and who she and others might be in Him. She was amazed by what she saw and convinced of the core of our faith up to and through her death.
Thanks be to God.