Dexter pulled into the lot, parked his mini-van close to the Park’s running track, killed the engine, and sat silent, behind the wheel. Looking out over the vast expanse of asphalt paved track winding into wide angled turns, he was suddenly aware of just how out of shape he was. The track, not your typical oval, started at the edge of the parking lot, took a gentle curve northbound where it suddenly disappeared into the lush greens of manicured grass and healthy pine trees. Dexter glanced to the west, where the track remerged from the trees, winding around the park’s summer hockey rink, almost out of Dexter’s frame of vision.
“Man, that’s a long way out, coach. I don’t know if I can make this run,” Dexter whispered still staring out to the west, tracing the track around the playground and groves, back into the main parking lot.
In his right ear, coach’s voice rang out, “C’mon Dex. Don’t sell yourself short just yet. Remember, I’ll be right with you, the whole way.”
Dexter sighed. This seemed like such a good plan yesterday, while he stood in line at the shoe store. He stepped out of the van and looked down at the expensive running sneakers.
“Okay coach, I guess I’m committed to this. I’ve invested in equipment, so I might as well put them to use, right?”
“Right, Dex. You can do this. The key is to keep moving forward, one step at a time. Fix your eyesight on the road ahead.”
Dexter slowly walked toward the black-top asphalt track, breathing in deep breaths and hanging on every word coach spoke into his head.
“Eyes forward; one step at a time; no looking back.”
“That’s right; no looking back. We’re gonna keep it moving forward, no matter what.”
“Right, coach. Okay I’m ready. I trust you, so if you say I’ve got this, then I believe you.”
“Dex, you’ve got this. I believe in you. Let’s start running, son.”
Dexter took another glance at the new running sneakers on his feet. He wiggled his toes in the leather-clad shoes, feeling the soft cushion of the insoles and the cool morning air flowing through the nylon mesh across the nose of the shoes. Smiling at his decision to buy the sneakers, he stepped off the broken and cracked asphalt of the parking lot, onto the smooth, shiny black asphalt of the newly paved running track.
“The first step’s always the hardest step to make, Dex,” coach said. His voice rang through Dex’s ears loud and clear, despite the morning chatter of birds, the barking of squirrels and a distant lawnmower.
“It’s a big track coach. Gonna be a long run.”
“Don’t focus on the end of the track yet, Dex. Let’s set a nice and slow pace; easy enough to be a brisk run, but not too heavy. You want to push yourself to keep the momentum going forward, but don’t hurt yourself.”
“Right, coach. A nice easy jog.”
Dexter found a smooth rhythm, just fast enough above a walk; quick enough to lift each foot between steps. As he jogged, he watched the morning sun reflect off the shiny new pavement, lighting his pathway like a pillar of fire across the track. The trees on either side, were a bevy of activity: Birds singing; squirrels stirring; insects buzzing. Despite the sun’s reflection on the path, the trees cast dreadful shadows around him. Dexter’s eyes floated from left to right, as his mind began to intimidate him with thoughts of exotic wildlife pouncing from the trees, effectively ending his run.
“Eyes forward, Dex. Keep your eyes set on the path in front of you. Don’t get distracted by the sights and sounds off the path before you.”
“Right, coach. Eyes forward. Whew! I’m starting to feel the burn already.”
“That’s good. Your adrenaline’s beginning to dump into your bloodstream. I know your bad knee is aching, but don’t worry. Once that adrenaline numbs you up, you’re gonna take off.”
Half a mile up the path, Dexter noticed the pain in his left knee began to dull. His calf and thigh muscles throbbed with an unfamiliar strength. Dexter picked up his pace just as the path broke into a wide turn and a slight incline.
“You’re doing great, Dex! Nice and easy up the slope. You have to resist the urge to floor it. Save some gas for the end of the race.”
Dexter nodded, knowing coach could see his response. The path broke into splendid sunshine at the top of the small hill, and Dexter smiled despite the burning in his lungs and the sweat dripping into his eyes. As he peaked the incline, gravity and momentum kicked the jog into a brisk run down the gentle decline, back through the trees. The wind whipped past, goose-bumping his flesh. The run was exhilarating.
“No worries, Dex. I’ll still be with you.”
Dexter wondered what that meant but let the thought drift from his mind, as he focused on the intense pace of his run, and the euphoric feel of the speed. His heart pounded in his chest; his lungs were a ball of fire; his eyes were blinded by perspiration. The sprint was fantastic! Up ahead, was a gentle left curve. Dexter flew through the turn, taking a look back at his progress. He glanced forward just in time to find himself leaving the asphalt path for the wooded sharp slope, leading down to a small pond.
“Holy cow!” Dexter yelped as he corrected his momentum, jumped back onto the path and slowed his pace.
Suddenly, he found his strength beginning to wane, but he continued to press forward, through the curve. At the one-mile marker, both knees began to throb, and a dull ache settled into the small of his back. Dexter panted as he slowed the run into a gentle jog.
“Coach, I think I’m done. I’ve got nothing left coach. Where are you?”
Dexter continued jogging slowly, despite no response from coach. Up ahead was the hockey rink. He’d made the run all the way to the rink!
I’m just gonna stop right here for a minute; catch my breath, then pick it up again he thought.
“Do not stop moving forward, Dexter! Keep going,” coach yelled so loud, it startled Dexter.
“I’ve got nothing left,” Dexter whimpered. “Coach, help me finish, please.”
Dexter slowed to a steady walk. His legs were ablaze and wobbly. His chest heaved, trying desperately to grab a breath of cool air for his inferno lungs.
“Dex, when we are at our lowest, we have to keep moving forward. To stop, is death. Eyes forward, and look to me. I’m with you.”
As his feet dragged along the path eastward, Dexter wiped the sweat from his eyes, and saw the pillar of sunlight so bright, it seemed to stand straight up off the asphalt.
“Now, let’s pick up the pace, Dex. Half a mile left to go.”
Dexter fought through exhaustion; powered through the rage in his muscles; he picked the pace up to a gentle jog again, while keeping his eyes focused on the reflecting sun across the path.
One step at a time, Dex
“One step at a time, Dex.”
I’ve got this. I’ve got this.
“You’ve got this. You’ve got this, Dex!”
Dexter panted, breathing in deep, blowing out hard. His legs began to pump harder as he rounded the grove of Acacia bushes. A domesticated squirrel jumped onto the path, looking to Dexter, for a handout. Dexter flinched but kept pressing forward, pushing harder.
I’ve got this. No distractions can stop me.
“That’s right, Dex! No stopping now. Quarter mile left. Give me everything you’ve got left, son!”
Dexter kicked his slow run into 6thgear, and took off with a boost surprising himself. Coach was with him, alright. He sprinted past the playground, straight for the parking lot. His lungs seemed to spit fire with every exhale, and his vision blurred, but he pressed on. As the two mile marker came into view, he kicked his run into overdrive, leaning forward like a runner claiming the finish line.
“Ah! Thank you God! Thank you Jesus!” He yelled as he walked through the lot. “I did it coach. I did it Lord. Thank you!”
In his mind, Dexter heard the Lord reply, “You’re welcome, son. Well done. You finished strong.”
[Such is the life of the Christian, running the race of life. Eyes forward; never stop moving; finish the race strong.]