A Race Worth Running

It was on a Sunday evening, November 30, 1975, just a few months after the last Americans left Vietnam. Gerald Ford was President. We were jammin' to K. C. and the Sunshine Band's "That's the Way I Like It," and Elton John's "Island Girl." Truman Corners Cinema in Grandview was showing "Jaws" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Gas was 44 cents a gallon. A brand new Mustang costs just $4100, but I was learning to drive in Dad's red Pinto wagon.

I was fifteen years old, a sophomore at Grandview High School. Our youth minister, Carl Hobbs, had asked Dad for one Sunday night each month for a youth night, a service either aimed at the teenagers or presented by them, giving all of us a chance to get involved. Some youth night services were concerts by gospel groups and I think we showed a Billy Graham film or two. But this time, Carl wanted us to lead the whole worship service. My friend, Doug, could sing and lead the music. Others read scripture or gave testimonies. We had a youth choir that a sang an mildly upbeat anthem.

And, you guessed it, I was recruited to bring the sermon. This was way before I had any sense of calling to ministry, so getting up to speak was more of a dare or a novelty to me. But I wasn't going to blow it off. I knew I should take it seriously and prepare a real talk. I didn't want to disappoint or disrespect Dad who I had already embarrassed a time or two. And beyond my feelings for Dad, I knew even as a dumb kid that it is no small thing to stand at a pulpit, open the Book, and speak into people's hearts and lives.

I prepared for weeks. I chose two verses from Hebrews 12 about running a race, an image I could easily grasp and explain. I borrowed some commentaries from Dad, but couldn't make sense of them. I typed up my sermon on my Smith Corona and retyped it more than once. I practiced in my room and timed myself, certain that my sermon would take a full twenty-five minutes to present.

When the big night came, I put on my only suit, a snazzy gray pinstripe, and gave it my best shot. Being pretty nervous, I stuck close to my manuscript, reading at an ever accelerating pace, and finished the whole thing in eleven minutes. Then I sat down. No sense dragging it out, trying to fill the time. I said what I had to say and stopped, thus fulfilling, even as a novice, the first rule of preaching.

"Nice job, Drew. You did it!" Lots of encouragement from my friends and all the church folks. "There you go, just like your dad!" Scary words to a teenager with other plans.  

That was a long time ago. Seems like about a century. I confess that when I talked about running the race on that Sunday night I had no idea just how long the race would be. I was thinking dash, not marathon. And I never dreamed that I would see such staggering beauty and stark tragedy along the way. I couldn't know then what the long run would take from me and give to me, calluses on my soles and on my soul. I do know that in many ways I am not the same person that stood in Dad's pulpit on that Sunday night long ago.

But even in that first sermon, I was right about one thing, right on the money - there is a race worth running. No matter how long, how hard, how lonely it may be at times. We take heart, find faith, and keep going, knowing that we are closer to the finish line than we have ever been before. Forty-two years closer in my case. I want to finish well.


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