It's funny how when you're younger - like in college - you don't really look too far into the future to imagine all the trials and tribulations that are surely coming your way. Back in those days, you're so full of LIFE - ready to charge into the world and make your own way; no one really stops to think about the downside of 'growing up'.

When I was in college,  I didn't contemplate life's frailties. I didn't really think ahead to the fact that some couples would get divorced, some careers would fail, some friendships wouldn't last, or someone's daughter would get cancer... and die.  Nope, I never thought about that one.   Until it happened.

Star Nuckolls was the first child born to my college friends, Kari and Steve. I never met Star as I had moved away and had lost touch with so many people after graduation. I didn't know about this young, vibrant child moving about in the world shining her LIGHT wherever she went.  But that's how people describe Star -- as a shining light of energy. A child who never sat still. A child who lit up a room when she entered.

My husband and I had moved over 1000 miles away and keeping track of all my friends' accomplishments and successes usually came in the form of a phone call with a few close friends who'd quickly give me the recap of what's going on with everyone else back home.  Jenny moved to Dallas and is working as an engineer; Rob and Sherri just bought a new house - it's really big;  Karen and Joe just had their third child, she's still working full-time- can you believe it?

These are all great conversations until you get to this: Steve and Kari's daughter has Stage 4 cancer and it's not looking good. What?? I myself didn't have children yet so I could not fully grasp this scenario. My friend told me about a "blog"  Kari had started where she posted updates daily to keep everyone informed (mind you, this was waaaay before Blogs were even a thing). I went to the site to find out more and I didn't come out of my office for 3 hours.  I read every post.  Star's story did that to you -- she captivated you.

Star was diagnosed with a type of childhood kidney cancer in 2004. Of all the childhood cancers to get, Star's kind was the most favorable -- the one with the highest survival rate. 90% of children with this type of cancer survive. Star did not.

I won't bog you down with details of Star's cancer treatment because no matter how you write it - it sucks. Of course there are beautiful stories of beautiful people who emerge all along the way (doctors, nurses, fellow patients, community) and all of that was certainly true in Star's case ... but in the end, a child dies and that's never a beautiful experience. But what did happen throughout Star's journey was a LIGHT that shined bright and brought people together. Star had an unusual way about her. She would go to anyone; she had no fear; she had no sense of prejudice. She simply loved everybody, and everybody loved her.  As a result, entire communities came out of nowhere to lend their support. 

During Star's illness, friends and family sold purple stars for $15 to raise money for Star's medical fund. Before long, there were purple stars in flowerbeds, in lawns, in windows of businesses -- there were purple stars everywhere as a sign of solidarity and prayer. Within Steve and Kari's network of friends, people came together to learn about their needs, raise money, hold prayer vigils, and give support to the family. People -- strangers -- donated money to help offset the enormous costs of fighting cancer. Much of that money was never spent as Star's time expired before the funds could all be used. Today that money is in a  foundation in Star's name, which in turn helps  people in Star's community who are fighting their own cancer battles.  Kari also used some of the money to establish a Scholarship fund at our college for Greek students. The Greek community was another group that stepped up with donations, support, and prayer during Star's illness, and Kari's never forgotten their generosity.  Star's LIGHT even reached the politicians. The State Capitol in Texas delivered a proclamation in Star's name, and a flag was flown in Washington D.C.  in her honor.  Throughout it all, Kari continued with her daily posts about Star's routine, her attitude, her chemo regimen, Kari's own fears and concerns. Before it was all over, Kari's "blog-that-was-before-it's-time" had over 1-million hits, reaching every continent in the world. When I asked Kari why does she think this happened? how did this happen? She replied, "I do not know -- so many kids have cancer". 
This is just what Star did. She was full of life -- even in the midst of dying -- and that just transmitted somehow.   You can't explain how something like this happens. It just happens. You can't explain why children get cancer. They just do.

On the day of Star's funeral, it was cold, cloudy, and rainy outside. Following the service, the family had a graveside burial. Just as Star was being laid into the ground, a double rainbow appeared. It was such an unusual sight -- a rainbow in that weather!  Later, they learned the rainbows were caused by a phenomenon called a "Sun Pillar".  By definition, Sun Pillars are shafts of light extending from the sun or other bright light sources. They’re caused by ice crystals drifting in the Earth’s air.  Yes, Star's LIGHT was so bright it blazed through the sky as her spirit traveled upward. For Kari, this was a sign -- from Star -- from God -- that she was where she belonged. She was home.

It has been 10 years since Star Knuckolls died, but her legacy and LIGHT continues to shine. Star's younger sister, Saylor, was just 2-years old when Star died. Now she is 12 and has written and illustrated a children's book honoring her sister's story.  Star loved a lot of people, but she didn't love anyone more than she loved her sister, Saylor.  Her book is titled, My Shining Star.  Kari's own memoir will be released later this year. Kari will tell you she has come from the depths of hell and back. She's endured unimaginable heartbreak, divorce, depression, and fear.  The books were not something Kari ever planned on doing, but as the journey unfolded, it became clear Star's LIGHT was guiding her,  pushing her to move forward to share her story. 

10 years later, Kari says the puzzle pieces that were so distorted before are starting to come together. Time has given her perspective and clarity... and peace.  Kari says you have to have your eyes open to see the blessings in it all. God/Star speaks to her, but she says, "only if I'm quiet and listen for it" .  Kari's journey and Star's story have gone on to help so many others who are walking that same path. Mothers who are deep in despair; families who are torn apart by death; younger siblings who don't yet have the words to express their pain. Kari's words are weapons of healing for so many.  Kari says she wants other parents who've lost a child to have a story they can relate to, so they too can find their way out. "It's easy to check out, to succumb to the depression. It's painful to keep going. Living is a choice you have to make. They have to take it day by day; sometimes minute by minute. I'm hoping my book will help those parents who are grieving. I want them to know there are people who love them and who need them here! There is hope. Keep going. God will speak to you; He will do it in all sorts of ways. Listen for Him."

Looking back, Kari is so thankful that God trusted her to be Star's mom -- even if it was only for 4 years, 2 months and 25 days. Kari says she'd rather have had those 4 years than none at all.

Today  - February 7 -  marks the 10 year anniversary of Star's death. Kari says this is the first time since Star died that she will actually be able to 'breathe' on this day.  "I am grateful for the children's book, and for my book...  good things are happening! I feel like Star is looking down and is proud of me... proud that I was able to hear the message. I heard her and I heard God.... and now I can give others encouragement and hope. Everything is temporary and I know I'll see her again one day. Until then, Star gives me strength. I will draw upon that strength and give it to others".

Tonight, when you gaze out at the stars that shine so bright, I'm certain you will see a shining LIGHT.
Her name is Star.

The Kari Smith's memoir is titled "Stars That Can Laugh" which comes from "The Little Prince":
"In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing. When you look at the sky at night...you -only you- will have stars that can laugh."


Diane Zilliken
02/07/2015 8:43am

Great story, and reminder to us all, you never know what life has in store for you enjoy each day and the people in it. IT can be hard.Kari has done a phenomenal job honoring Star and all those struggling with losses of this magnitude.

02/08/2015 9:09am

Thank you so much! I agree - Kari is a real LIGHTbeamer for others!!

such a great story!
02/07/2015 9:21am

02/07/2015 11:59am

Thank you for sharing Star's light! It means more to me than you will ever know. Love you, sister!

02/08/2015 9:10am

It was my pleasure and honor. Truly!!

02/07/2015 2:56pm

April thank you so much! Words could not be expressed any better!

02/07/2015 7:39pm

Such a wonderful tribute!

Tonya Ross stars aunt
02/07/2015 9:37pm

beautiful words

Denise Castillo
02/08/2015 9:20am

Amazing tribute to Star! Beautiful, just beautiful.

Phyllis Rogers
02/08/2015 9:41am

What a beautiful tribute.

Lee Ann Sparks
02/08/2015 1:31pm

What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing. Only bt the Grace of my Heavenly Father do I get to have Ernie. I know this day had to be the hardest day of your life. Where can I buy the books? Every grandparent should share your story. May God Bless You All.

Betty Casselberry
02/08/2015 7:38pm

April, What a beautiful story! We remember the anguish of reality as you girls loved Kari through this Hell. So proud for Kari!

02/11/2015 9:54pm

April, you are so amazing. I cried at Star's story and know why you have the passion you do. Keep smilin' and keep writing.xo

Becky Adams
02/07/2016 1:44pm

April, beautifully written.........love and miss my Chi O girls!! :-)

Jill Randolph
02/07/2016 10:16pm

Thank you April for taking us back. This is the first truly tragic event I experienced in my adult life, and as a mother myself. I never have gotten over her, even tho I too never met her. I loved her and Kari both in a way I couldn't explain, but God allowed. Kari, my prayers have never stopped for you, and I have never let your baby girl slip far from my mind. There are so many reminders of her 4 years, 2 mos and 25 days...more than these 10 years have given. There will be a lifetime of more. Love you and lifting you up to The One who gave and took away. The One who sustains and comforts. Hugs...

03/17/2016 12:01pm

The landscaping is the great idea to decorate your home backyard. The children like to play in their backyard garden. The little flower are really cool and give the amazing look.

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