If life is really the race the Bible tells us it in fact is, then there lies ahead for each one of us a finish line. This we tend to forget or ignore or even deny until someone we love crosses it for themselves and we are forced to see that our own feet are placed in the middle of the track. Unlike a real life race where often the runners do not last as far as the tape, we must all, of necessity, cross the finish line of the race of life, which is of course death.

The question John Eaves poses, as he finds the finish line within sight in his own experience, is how do we finish well? How do we cross the line as champions and not as hopeless and disheartened losers? How is it that death can be transformed into the victory our faith tells us it is?

We were together at Western Kentucky University, studying under William Lane. At first, I knew him only by reputation, by the repeated references that Dr. Lane would make concerning him. John, I learned, had been the first white member of the African American church that later became my home, Cecelia Memorial Presbyterian Church. John had already established a presence in the community as a person who personified the gospel loved out. He had sacrificed a promising career in the oil business in Kentucky in order to be obedient to the call of Jesus on his life. Later he would leave for the mission field to serve in the Philippines. Later he would return home and discover a new and more effective way to reach out to the world though working with international students at places like Harvard, Boston College and finally Vanderbilt University.

All along in the race, John was always way out ahead of me and for this I was glad. I was happy to cheer him on, out of breath, from the back of the pack for he had become for me a sort of "faith-hero," a friend, though for most of those years a distant one.
When he and his wife Kay finally moved back to Tennessee, we would be able to spend more time together, usually in the context of ministering together with his beloved international students. In time, when our mentor William Lane moved to Franklin, John and I spent every spare moment we could find at Bill's side until he crossed the finish line on March 7, 1999. Bill had come, in his own words, to "show us how a Christian man dies." On the night of his death, John and I were there together at his bedside.

I had thought that during our last eighteen months together with Dr. Lane that I had learned all I needed to know about crossing that final finish line, that I was ready now to finish well. After all, Bill had crossed the line a champion. But I would come to understand that John was looking more closely and listening more intently to the final poem of Bill's life than I could imagine.

When, several months ago, John and Kay received the abrupt news that, without chemo-therapy, he had only four months to live, my response seemed to reveal that I had learned virtually nothing from my time with Bill. All of the same angry questions resurfaced. "Why John?" I fumed at God, who I knew had the power to heal him in an instant.

John's response couldn't have been more different, as different as night to day. In his illness he discovered a new boldness. I am in the "Cancer Club," he says with a smile. People who would never listen to me before are open to hearing the gospel. And so he "cruises" the Oncology ward where he receives chemo, talking to anyone who will listen about his faith and his God, the same God with whom I  still struggle in frustration and anger; an anger through which I believe He has invited me into the ring to wrestle Him in and through. Believe me, I know, after all, Who is going to win! Nevertheless I sense His loving invitation to the ring. I am beginning to wonder if this struggle is not a part of what He knows I need to experience before I can finish well. Perhaps you too need to take off the gloves and get into this same arena. Perhaps some of us need to wrestle before we can run!