Last week, I finished Kathy Van Riper’s autobiography called, A Race Worth Running. A friend had given me the book as a birthday present last year and I put off reading it for obviously a good year. I am not sure if that was God timing, but I think I got more out of it now–being a year later–as I have been through a bit more experiences in my physical body, such as the blood clot. I was so emotional reading the book that after I finished I was talking with my mom and just started crying (a variety of things), but I pointed to the book on the couch and said, “I don’t know why this book has made me so emotional.” Mom looked at me and said, “Probably because you can relate to what she went through.”
I thought about this. It is probably true. If you compared my life to Kathy’s life, there are some extreme differences: she was married, had two kids, battled an extreme case of breast cancer for ten years, and lived in CA her whole life–and yet we also had similarities: We both loved running (I can’t physically anymore, but love walking!); we both had treatments on the same chemo called Avastin (although she went through ten other different chemo treatments; I have only been through two.) We both had a blood clot with all the blood thinner shots and pills that follow; we both lost our hair; we both had radiation; we both were (and I still am) supported by an amazing circumference of family and friends who love endlessly and share support during the good and bad times; we both had to switch hospitals and doctors after years of care offered by another one; and we both have faith. Kathy’s faith is now complete. I am still on the journey.
Kathy’s “life verse” was Hebrews 12:1-2,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
I put in bold the phrase that she quoted most often in her journal entries that were at the end of the book. Kathy was a runner. Unlike myself who ran cross-country in high school but hated the races, Kathy thrived in races–anything from 5k, 10k to marathons. Whether you run or not, running as if in a race is almost the strength and perseverance mind-set for life: “[Forgetting] what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13b-14.
When I ran cross-country in high school, training was what got me through the races. For training, we would run on a variety of things during the week: grass, sidewalks through town, and other times, run up the mountain. I remember this one place…not quite sure where exactly in the mountains…but all of a sudden after you “warmed up” running the road, it just turned into a straight shot up the mountain. Rocks everywhere, so steep. It was literally a “breath-taking” view! 🙂 Coach always encouraged us to never stop. Never. So even though I was bringing up the rear end of the team while running slower than most people’s walking speed, I never stopped. After you got over that huge steep hill, things leveled out. Sure, it was still a mountain, but it was more like the hiking paths and less gruesome. Even after all this training, sometimes during the races I would want to give up. But then I would remember and say to myself, “Pull yourself together. You trained harder than this.” And I would not stop. Mental determination. The finish line was my goal. And that was the best part, because as you near the end you start to hear the cheers from everyone at the finish line. You pick up the pace, knowing that the finish line was just ahead. You forgot about the rest of the race…how much pain or how many people passed you. You strived to the end with all strength left in you. The verse that was so special to Kathy fit her life–her personality, her faith, and her race against cancer. The common phrase for people who have died from cancer is, “They lost the fight.” Indeed, our lives are worth fighting for but after reading Kathy’s book…I would not say that she lost the fight. Rather, she finished her race.
“Pressing on towards the goal”–I have shared Kathy’s favorite verse. I would like to share with you now my favorite verse. It is from II Corinthians 12:9-10,
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I had started running in the 7th grade…slacked off here and there, and in college, I started going to the gym every night. Not much kept me from the gym each night in college. I think it was my own way of “pressing on” during those times. I loved it. Something happened after I graduated, I stopped exercising every night and lost a little determination for a bit. I lived close to some different parks in my neighborhood and started walking there. I loved seeing the season changes and talked to God while I walked a few miles. My old job was also connected to a mall which had an indoor mile lap and I would often walk during my lunch breaks. Please understand me when I say this…as this pertains to my life and mental determination: When I either give up exercising, or can’t exercise from health reasons, I see a change. Like my attitude changes about how I see things in life…big struggles seem even harder, and even little things seem so hard. I told my mom about Kathy’s life during our conversation that night I finished the book–how she would go on mile runs a few days after chemo treatments. I said, “I don’t think I could do that,” as if it made me feel guilty for not getting out for walks lately or getting a few other things done that were stacking up in my room (which it sort of did). Mom said I didn’t have to. We were all made different.
Then I thought back to times in Denver. I worked Thursday-Saturday eight hour shifts. The weeks of chemo I worked Thursday, chemo Friday and then back to work Saturday-Sunday. Regardless of how much I tried to talk to work about changing this schedule, it never did. For months this happened. I think that is where my favorite verses really set in…”When I am weak, then I am strong,” because it was almost my reminder of my semester in college when I was on chemo pills. I don’t know how I got out of bed then, or on the weekends of work after chemo. Definitely not on my own…but on God’s strength.
The thing is, most people look at me and say the exact thing of what I said about Kathy’s life, “I don’t think I could do that.” And I would tell you, “You don’t have to. We are all made different.” God gives me strength to endure, just like he gave his strength to Kathy. He gives it according to our need. I think that is what makes life so special. We all have our own race–our own life worth running…enduring through pain, encouraging others and in return receiving it, rejoicing with those who have crossed the finish line, and striving for what lies ahead.