In October of 2007, my Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, a diagnosis that took our family by surprise and rocked my then 17-year-old world. Cancer immediately became a deeply personal part of my story, but I had no idea at that point that it was just the beginning of how far this disease would reach in to my and my family’s lives: becoming almost heart-breakingly “normal.”
We had lost my Aunt Tina to lung cancer in 2000, but hoped that the pain of that loss would be the “isolated” end of the journey. But, sadly that wasn’t/hasn’t been the case. My best friend in high school’s mom, Renaye - who was like a second mom to me during middle school and high school - was diagnosed with and passed away from stomach cancer in 2009 at the age of 49. And the rest followed almost like a tidal wave: We lost my Aunt Bonnie in December of 2010, my Grandma Oegema in December of 2011, Oma Geleynse in June 2012, my Uncle Rick in October 2012, my Dad in January 2013, my Grandpa Oegema in December 2013, and my Aunt Ellie in July 2015. 9 people.
9 incredible people.
Needless to say, cancer and loss have changed us and broken our hearts and and marked us forever.
But that's not the end of the story.
In high school, I was a competitive athlete: caught up in the world of soccer and track&field and cross-country. The world of sports was the world I knew and loved: I felt safe and alive there. Running was freedom for me - the place where I felt God most clearly and where I came most alive. My dreams and ambitions were wrapped entirely in those pursuits and as I was preparing for university, all I knew what that I wanted to “follow Jesus and run.”
And then I got hurt. And watched my dreams and plans crumble around me as I sat in doctor’s offices and spent hours at physio and in rehab and became familiar with crutches and sports medicine surgery and being told that I may never run without pain again.
But, that's not the end of the story.
My passion is "social justice" - particularly related to marginalized & displaced people in post-conflict settings. I’ve walked the dirt streets of Cambodia and India. I’ve desperately prayed my way through red light districts in Thailand and Amsterdam. I’ve stood on the streets of great cities like London and New York City and my own city of Vancouver and been overwhelmed by the paradoxical juxtaposition of urban poverty against spaces of stunning architecture and wealth. I’ve stood on a hill in the West Bank and wept over the brokenness of Palestine and the tensions in Israel. I’ve spent the majority of my education deep in the world of international affairs, human rights, refugee studies, and studying about genocide and war and initiatives of peace and transitional justice. Much of my research rooted me in reports and policies surrounding systemic and structural discrimination, exploitation, and injustice and on more occasions than I can now count, I would walk away from my work in tears, completely disheartened and frustrated because it often just felt like too much and that no effective solutions could be found.
But, that's not the end of the story either.
There’s a funny thing about loss: as familiar as it may seem to become, it never gets any easier. The pain may start to feel like your new normal, but it’s still painful. The tears still fall and the ache still persists and there are still days when you wonder if your heart will ever fully recover or if you’ll always be broken or if the sun will ever shine as brightly again or if life will ever be able to be quite as beautiful as it seemed to before you became so aware of pain.
But, throughout the past few years, I've learned that the same story can be told a hundred different ways: as an epic or a tragedy or an unresolved and meandering mess. We can focus on the darkness and the shadows and the rain or we can trace the dance of the light, the warmth in the midst of the cold, the lanterns that illuminate the darkness, and the relentless rising of the sun.
My story doesn’t look like what I thought or even hoped years ago. My family’s story has unfolded in a way that we never expected and couldn’t have prepared for if we tried. Cancer. Loss. Injury. Sickness. My eyes being opened to injustice and completely broken by its reality.
This is our story now. This is my story.
But, as much as mine is a story of loss and weakness, to me, it's far more a story of hope. A story where the exquisite faithfulness of God has been made deeply and tangibly personal. Where the mark of death isn’t the end or even the main point. Where cancer doesn’t win the day - not today and not ever. Where mourning has been and is being turned to dancing. A story of redemption unfolding in real time. A story of learning to walk - and even dance - in the rain. Of learning to savour and cherish life for all of the thousand tiny and major reasons everyday that it's so exquisitely beautiful and breathtaking.
And in the midst of my story, this is what I've come to believe about life: It's messy. It's hard. It's irrevocably broken. And yet it's so incredibly beautiful, full, and bubbling over with hope and goodness.
I believe that hope and despair are not mutually exclusive. That life is both bitter and sweet: a constant and overlapping mix of strength and weakness. I believe there is time to weep and to mourn. But there is also time to dance and to laugh and to celebrate the wonder and the whimsy and all the ways that life and love and peace sprout and grow, regardless of how hard the ground may seem or how much opposition seems to stand in the way.
Because, maybe more than anything else, I believe that the light always shines brighter. That God is making all things new. That we're still capable of doing incredible good when we work together. That beauty always wins, that love always resounds louder, and that hope is never lost.
And so, part of my story now is learning to fight back with hope.
Enter Project Hope: Running nine races (ranging from 10K-marathon). Riding 800KM (500 miles) down the California Coast as part of the Love Does Bike tour. All with the goal of celebrating how crazy beautiful life is, honouring those that we've lost to cancer & raising funds to support the absolutely incredible work of Love Does in Uganda, India, Nepal, Somalia, and Iraq.
This project is an idea that was born from the overlap of major themes in my story coming together in a shared place. This is part an anthem of "cancer hurts more than words can ever express but life is still really really beautiful." This is part injury recovery and choosing to keep celebrating what my body can do, and how it can move and live (and dance and ride and run) for the sake of others instead of primarily focusing on the where I am or have been limited and weak. And this is part a response to the passions that rage in my heart and choosing to do what can do to invest in human rights and education - an effort to chase and celebrate hope a world away, to say that even though the horizon often does look bleak, there's still so much good to champion and put our time and money and prayers and hands and feet towards.
I want to fight back with wonder and adventure and the steady, proactive, & daring kind of love that changes things. I want to remember always that life is still crazy beautiful and that’s something worth fighting for. I want our experience with loss and pain to turn our hearts towards others and to inspire our feet to run quickly to come alongside in any way that we can.
Hope is never lost. Love Resounds louder.