By Jan McGilliard
The well-known scripture from Micah asks: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? And so I asked this question of myself as I pondered the call from Team in Training to participate in its fitness and fund-raising program to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I'd be walking humbly, all right, and I'd be doing justice and practicing kindness on behalf of those suffering from blood cancers.
I had good reason to care. My father died in 1995 at age 73 from acute multiple myeloma. I felt cheated to lose him so soon; I needed him in my life. As time passed, other friends were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and myeloma, and too often they succumbed to their diseases. On a visit home to Michigan, I spent time with a lifelong friend who had recently walked the Chicago Marathon with Team in Training. She glowed as she recounted the Team in Training experience, and said to me: "You were made for this. You need to sign up." I kept getting the literature and kept finding conflicts.
But one day I walked into a medical office and there was a sign about Team in Training - and the receptionist just happened to be the walking coach. And so, a marathon wannabe was born at the age of 52. My husband was dubious: "Why do you need to do a full marathon?" "Because I can," I answered.
My friend's words may as well have come directly from God: You were made for this. God did not make me fast, but God made me for endurance. Who knew that regular exercise over the years was laying the foundation for something more? Who knew that a back injury and breast cancer in my 40s were preparing body, mind, and spirit for the next decade of life to be far more challenging and rewarding? Who knew that 15 years of working for the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic and networking with 13 presbyteries were preparing me to raise significant funds for a cause that continually calls me to action? Who knew?
On the back of our Sunday bulletin is the following statement: Community worship ends - discipleship and service begin again. This is true, isn't it? We pause for worship and seek Sabbath to remind us of who and whose we are. The benediction serves as a holy send-off into the world to put our faith into action. The psalmist repeatedly tells us that God will strengthen, empower, uphold, encourage, sustain, shield, renew, soothe, feed, support, protect, and bless those who believe. And God does all of this and more. At one time or another some part of the body-mind-spirit equation flags. But when one is flagging, another part takes over until balance is restored. This has truly been my experience.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. The Society launched Team in Training more than 20 years ago. In that time, more than 380,000 individuals have successfully trained for and participated in marathons, half-marathons, triathlons, and 100-mile bicycle rides all over the country, raising millions of dollars for its mission (www.teamintraining.org). It is now one of the largest fitness and endurance programs in the country, and it provides much support by way of experienced coaching, mentoring, and clinics on relevant topics such as fundraising, nutrition, injury prevention, shoes, and strategies for success. Team in Training has served as a prototype for other health causes such as muscular dystrophy research and treatment, stroke prevention, and diabetes research and treatments. Passion for the mission is contagious, and the team dynamic provides moral support and inspiration, not to mention accountability over the days, weeks, and months of training.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Training time offers praying time, and the connection to God's creation is for many of us a lifeline. Over the course of four months of training, mileage and endurance levels must increase, and with that come greater physical, mental, and spiritual fitness. Every day, I give thanks for my good health and the ability to involve others in supporting LLS. I know that it could all change tomorrow.
Ephesians speaks of the gifts we are given to be used to build up the body of Christ. Fund-raising is nothing more than sharing the story of the mission of our organization and asking folks to be a part of it. Does this sound familiar? Evangelism comes to mind, whether I'm raising money or casually conversing with a teammate. Somewhere along the way, everyone gets it that my spiritual life and my training-for-a-cause life are intertwined like a Celtic cross.