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Finishing Well!

A courageous marathon swimmer offers a metaphor for the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Five years ago I read the story of a rather remarkable Canadian teenager in a local newspaper. Ashley Cowan was just 15 in 2001. At the age of two, she contracted meningitis and doctors had amputated all four of her limbs (just below the knee and elbow joints) to save her life. She uses prosthetic limbs, except when she swims. And what a swimmer she became!

Ashley Cowan

For many years, her dream was to swim across Lake Erie, a distance of approximately 20 kilometers. The article reported her success at doing just that. Ashley became the youngest woman and the only disabled swimmer to complete the swim. It took her 14 hours to swim from Sturgeon Point, New York to Crystal Beach, Ontario.

For many of us, just the thought of swimming 20 kilometers is overwhelming. I still remember the anxiety I experienced in high school when required to swim one length of a small pool. Few of us would consider attempting a long-distance swim if we had Ashley's handicap, yet for her it was a cherished dream.

The more I thought about Ashley's story, the more I came to see it as a metaphor for the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Compare the lake crossing to the odyssey a Christian embarks on after he or she becomes a child of God. As a quadruple amputee, Ashley might have been forgiven if she had decided to stay home and feel sorry for herself. As believers, many of us, if not all, begin our pilgrimage disabled in some ways. Whether because of our own sin or the sin of another, we are often wounded spiritually, emotionally or psychologically. This does not disqualify us from fully participating in the life ahead of us (see Hebrews 12:1). Nor is it an excuse to sit on the sidelines and become a spiritual couch potato. We are not destined to enjoy a leisurely stroll through life. The Bible says we are to run a race and fight the good fight (see 1 Corinthians 9:24; 1 Timothy 6:12).

Ashley dreamed of swimming across one of the Great Lakes. As Christians, we dream of standing in front of Jesus one day and hearing Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." A dream will remain unrealized if we do not act to make it a reality. Ashley was willing to put in many, many hours of hard work to train for her big swim. Believers must train as well. In 2 Timothy 3:16, we read that all Scripture is useful for "training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The Bible is our training manual. Reading and studying it should be a priority. There were probably times both before and during the swim when Ashley was tempted to give up, but she persevered. The book of Hebrews tells us to "persevere so that when [we] have done the will of God, [we] will receive what He has promised." Reading the manual is only the beginning.

Like other marathon swimmers, Ashley had a support team. Boats of supporters went alongside her, as well as rescue boats and members of a fire department. We, too, have a support team. Hebrews 12 talks about a cloud of witnesses. These people with great faith are cheering us on and encouraging us not to give up. We also need cheerleaders within the community of believers of our local church.

Ashley's special coach was a woman named Vicki Keith Munro. As a former successful marathon swimmer herself, Vicki was particularly well qualified to take Ashley through this challenge. In this role, Vicki was similar to Jesus. Scripture tells us that Jesus is "not unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but … has been tempted in every way, just as we are … " In the vernacular, Jesus has been there, done that. But Jesus is more than this. He is the one who sustains us through every moment of our lives. Isaiah tells us that He "carries [us] close to His heart" (Isaiah 40:11). He also "takes great delight" in us and "rejoices over [us] with singing" (Zephaniah 3:17). His "joy is our strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). He is a true coach and cheerleader.

There is a promise of a prize for a race well run: a crown of eternal value (see 1 Corinthians 9:24,25). I don't know what God called you to do, but I believe He called you to do something. Like Ashley, are you training to finish well?

Sandra Grant and her husband Jim are retired and live in Port Hope, Ontario. She is an contributing editor of the Fellowship LINK magazine, a publication of the The Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada.

Originally published in Evangelical Baptist, Summer 2006.




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