No one ever accused me of being a runner. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I believed until recently a run is a good walk wasted. So there’s a saga to why I begin the new year running a 10K—in Haiti. It’s a testament to friendship, to the remarkable dynamic of Christian community, and to the lost virtue of courage (not mine).
First, friendship. Ten years ago an acquaintance boldly asked me one Sunday at church to be her mentor. It was a risk for her, but Kara Tippetts became a fast and faithful praying friend. We met often, prayed in public or private, with her oldest daughter or my youngest playing alongside. We laughed at the big—and petty—challenges in our lives, worried when God answered as we hoped, bore one another’s burdens at very different stages of life.
But some of the answers to those prayers carried us from one another—to other callings, other cities, other urgencies. Which brings me to Christian community: Suddenly it was 2012, and while in Colorado Springs I visited Kara and her family (now of four children) in their new home.
We had weathered storms of life separately, but there she and her pastor-husband were starting a new church 1,400 miles away from our first meeting. The church being the interlaced community it is, we had mutual friends there, including one soldiering in Afghanistan. We recommitted to praying together—syncing our cellphone calendars with daily alarms to pray for one another and for shared cares, together though two time zones apart.
Renewing the relationship in prayer refreshed my prayer life. But the answers weren’t always expected. June brought the Waldo Canyon Fire to Kara’s doorstep: Evacuation, cleanup, and grieving over losses weren’t on the prayer list. Then a text on a hot July morning: Kara had breast cancer.
Our conversations turned medical, with questions about chemo, double mastectomies, and hair loss. I was the helpless faraway friend who could “only” pray, but at least the groundwork for a praying life together was laid. We sent hymns and Scripture, read favorite Spurgeon passages over and over: “They who navigate little streams and shallow creeks, know but little of the God of tempests; but they who do business in great waters, these see His wonders in the deep.”
Then I watched from afar as Christian community stepped in. Friends who’d known Kara only a few months provided unimaginable help and support. One day in her Colorado driveway she met a long-time family friend of mine, now living in Kansas. He and I began to reconnect as a result of her illness. My daughter offered a prayer request in class for Kara, only to discover three classmates knew her. I met a family in India, only to discover they also knew Kara. The circles continued to overlap and widen as mutual friends and colleagues began to follow Kara’s story via her blog, Mundane Faithfulness (mundanefaithfulness.com). There you can read a public testimony of a struggle most of us would rather keep to ourselves and our family.
And that brings me to courage, and to running. “I can become a runner,” Kara texted in the dread first months of treatment. Then I would too. Our Kansas friend works for The Global Orphan Project, and the dream of running a race sponsored by the group in support of Haitian orphans became a goal—for Kara on the other side of six months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, six weeks of radiation, and a hysterectomy.
The dream is coming due—only Kara’s cancer is back, and has spread. But her community everywhere, the body of Christ, can strive together still, if in mundane ways. My running has become a time to pray for Kara and in some feeble way battle alongside her—through middle-age aches and pains, far past my comfort zone, realizing the sad limits of my own physical and mental endurance. This, after all, is life on earth, becoming strong in the very midst of so much weakness, taking that first step in faith, knowing it will be hard, trusting for future provision. “Suffering is not the absence of God’s goodness,” Kara says. It’s a way to meet the Lord fresh in it.