... Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)
As a child, I occasionally sang on my father’s national radio broadcast or in his evangelistic meetings. My “debut” live performance was in 1954 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where one of my favorite television heroines, Dale Evans, was going to be my dad’s special guest.
The purpose of the evening was to educate the capacity crowd about the desperate need of Korea’s homeless widows and orphans after the war and encourage them to sponsor children through the new organization my father had begun called World Vision. (Dale and her husband, Roy Rogers, would later adopt one of those precious orphans, a little girl they named Debbie. My dad personally delivered her into their arms.)
Being a precocious 4-year-old, it didn’t occur to me to be nervous until the moment my father walked me to the microphone and the music began to play. The spotlight was blinding, but I could sense that the huge auditorium was packed! Taking a deep breath, I opened my mouth and was relieved to hear the song come out in a strong, clear voice.
When I finished the first verse, the audience burst into applause, obviously pleased that I hadn’t forgotten any of the words. But what they meant as kind encouragement took me by surprise and confused me. After all, if the audience was clapping, the song must be over, right?
So even though there was a second verse to sing, I curtseyed and exited the stage, leaving my father standing there with a proud but confused look on his face.
I rushed into my mother’s waiting arms, overwhelmed with an unfamiliar feeling that can best be described as exhilarated disappointment. I knew I had done the first verse well, but I had another verse to sing and it was stuck in my throat, just aching to get out!
Later, after telling me how well I had done, my father asked me a question that I have never forgotten.
“Why didn’t you finish?”
God has often reminded me of that night when I have been tempted to leave other “songs” unfinished. A book I am writing, a teaching, a new friendship I should nurture. And I have come to appreciate the guiding truth that my father understood so well. It doesn’t really matter how well you begin. It is how you finish that counts.
It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 60 years since that memorable evening. My parents are now with the Lord. So are Dale and Roy and the precious daughter they adopted. Many of the generous people who sponsored children that night have gone on to their reward, and the little ones they gave hope to are now grandparents.
And I am here, finishing my song by speaking and writing about the countless men, women, and children who have been blessed by the work they began. My prayer for my life, my children, and World Vision is that we will all press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus and finish well!