Meet Kevin and Maggie Karner, a couple who faithfully defended life even in death.
“Maggie and I first met in grade school — St. James Lutheran School in Lafayette, Ind.,” the Rev. Kevin Karner recalls. “We started dating in high school and college for approximately five years, married in the summer of 1985 and were blessed with 30 years of wedded life together.” Together he and Dr. Margaret (Maggie) Ann Karner had three daughters — Mary (26), Heidi (22) and Annie (17).
To Pastor Karner and to his girls, Maggie was wife and mom, a musician and a comedian, a woman with a ready smile and quick wit.
To the church and to the world, she was a relentless voice for life.
Maggie, former executive director of LCMS Life and Health Ministry, passed away Sept. 25, 2015, from a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. But cancer and treatments, exhaustion and pain didn’t silence her or change her stance. And it hasn’t quieted her husband and daughters either.
The Karners are speaking up. By sharing Maggie’s story through the #eyesoflife campaign, they are giving voice to what millions of others believe as well: that all life, from conception to natural death, is sacred, valued and a gift from God.
“From early in our relationship, it became apparent to me that Maggie’s passion was for those without a voice,” Pastor Karner explains. “That passion was evident later on in life as she cared for her invalid father in the last few months of his earthly life.”
“But perhaps the greatest life influence was her first pregnancy and the eventual birth of our oldest daughter,” he remembers. “She was overwhelmed with God’s handiwork — how He was fearfully and wonderfully creating that life inside her. Those memories motivated her to reach out to scared, pregnant teenagers, and to bear the burden of those women who were now suffering (silently) after choosing to abort their babies.”
It also kickstarted something big. For 12 years, first in LCMS World Relief and Human Care and then in the LCMS Office of National Mission, Maggie was an unrelenting voice for life issues — boldly in the public square and quietly one-on-one with those in need. She led mercy medical teams to remote areas of Africa. She taught about chastity to youth in classrooms. She lectured on the value of the life to parish nurses. She snuggled babies whose mothers had chosen to keep them.
Later, when her cancer diagnosis was made clear, Maggie stepped back from her work. But even in the midst of tests and treatments, the Lord had still more opportunity for her to defend life.
Suffering from the same form of cancer as Brittany Maynard — the young woman made famous by her decision to end her life prematurely by way of assisted suicide — Maggie wrote to Brittany, and even recorded a video, begging her to live. The pair exhibited a marked contrast — not unnoticed by news outlets and social media users: one woman choosing to end her suffering and the other choosing to allow her suffering to be diminished by the love and care of the people God placed around her.
“Maggie wrote to [Brittany] about ‘squeezing out every ounce of life’ until our time on earth is ended,” Pastor Karner says. “And then less than a year later, I saw her do that very thing herself. She valued every moment she had with her family and friends, and she knew how important it was for others, especially our daughters, that they would be given the opportunity to show the love of Christ to her.”
In life and in death, Maggie Karner, wife and mom and executive director, defended what matters: all life — from its beginning to its natural end. And the impact she made upon so many hasn’t stopped. “Maggie’s life is a constant reminder to me of what’s truly important — and what isn’t — as I minister to God’s people,” Pastor Karner reflects. “I now have eyes that are much more empathetic towards those who are dying, as well as their caregivers, and I have a greater appreciation for the supportive role that the Body of Christ has in caring for our brothers and sisters in the faith.”
Maggie believed — and confessed through her actions — that “Every life, and every day of that life, is a precious gift of God,” her husband says. “She was always seeing, and hearing, the needs of the vulnerable and the voiceless around her. That vision is what led her … to bring God’s message of life and love to those in desperate need of Christ’s healing in their lives.”
She did. And may we do so too.
+ Margaret Ann Karner, Sept. 25, 2015 +