Robert Wolgemuth: Running Your Last Lap Well
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Robert WolgemuthRobert Wolgemuth has been in the media business for thirty-nine years. He is former president of Thomas Nelson Publishers and the owner of Wolgemuth & Associates, Inc., a literary agency exclusively representing the writing work of more than one hundred authors. Dr. Wolgemuth is a speaker and best-selling author of over twenty books, including She Calls Me Daddy, the notes to the Dad's Devotional Bible, The Most Important Place on Earth, and What's in the Bible: The...more
Too old to run fast? You’e not too old to run well. Author Robert Wolgemuth offers inspiration to run your last lap with purpose and strength.
Robert Wolgemuth: Running Your Last Lap Well
Robert: Life is a vapor; there is a brevity to this thing. I may have been kind of sloppy with certain years; but when you know this could be the end/this could be the last lap you’re running, you get really intentional. You should get really intentional.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So what a lot of people don’t know about Ann Wilson is: before you were Ann Wilson, you were quite the track star. [Laughter]
Ann: I am—
Dave: You’re laughing. I mean, you have records back in Ohio in high school/maybe, not records.
Ann: Maybe; no, I think they are all broken by now. It’s so funny; I’ve never thought about this.
Dave: Nobody would guess what your event was—I mean, you ran them all—but you were the hurdles.
Ann: Hurdles. But the race that was the deadliest race for me was the last event of the track meet—it was the 4 × 400—not only was it that race, but I had the last leg of that race.
Dave: —which means you are the star—you’re the closer, you’re the fastest—come on!
Ann: I felt so much pressure. Everyone knows that last lap is the most important lap because it determines if you win or lose—not only the race—but sometimes, if you’re tied, it determines if you win the entire meet.
Dave: All I know is that’s why I married you. [Laughter]
Dave: You are a “Get it done.” No matter how hard or how painful it is, you are going to finish.
The reason we are starting this program with a [crazy] track story is we have an author with us today, who is a good friend, who wrote a book. It’s sort of about track; we’ll explain that in a minute. But Robert Wolgemuth, thank you for being with us on FamilyLife Today.
Robert: Thank you, Dave. Thank you, Ann.
Ann: Robert, you’ve written a book which is called Gun Lap.
Dave: The subtitle is Staying in the Race with Purpose; we’ll get into the content of your book in a minute.
I just wanted to say for our listeners—they don’t know a lot about our connection through our son Austin—but I did not know you’ve written—what?—26 books.
Robert: Yes; I’ve killed a lot of trees, Dave. [Laughter] I’m sorry about it; yes.
Dave: I mean, that’s crazy.
I did know this: you went to college just down the road from where I went to college at Ball State. You went to Taylor University, even got a doctorate there/an honorary doctorate. You’ve had an amazing career in the publishing world as a literary agency; and that’s how we got somewhat connected through my son, Austin. Tell our listeners a little bit about how you and Austin met.
Robert: I’m in a meeting with a guy named Paul Sandhouse, who is the publisher of Moody Publishing/Moody Press. He is telling me that he teaches a class for seniors, who are in publishing/communications as a major. I said, “Man, I would love to be a guest teacher.” I had the joy of teaching a class at Moody with seniors, men and women.
I noticed this young man as I was teaching. He was paying close attention; he had a little laptop, and he was taking voracious notes. When we finished with the conversation, I said to Paul, “Tell me about Austin,” because we had gone around the room and introduced ourselves to each other. Sometimes, I do my best to remember names; I said, “Tell me about Austin.”
He said, “Well, he grew up in Detroit. His daddy was the pastor of a church, kind of a church-planting, entrepreneurial pastor guy. He grew up in a pastor’s home, and he has been a student here. He is married.” I said, “Would you just tell him that I asked about him?” I didn’t want any more; I wanted this to come as an inspiration to this young man if he was interested in talking to me.
In 20 minutes—I’m not kidding—in 20 minutes, I get a text from Austin Wilson. That began a short journey that actually ended with inviting Austin to join my company as a literary agent. He had a chance, actually, the next day, to meet my colleagues, Andrew Wolgemuth and Eric Wolgemuth, who are actually my brother’s sons; they are my nephews. That was ten years ago/eleven years ago, maybe; and Austin has been a precious addition to our team.
Because he and Kendall were in Chicago, we moved them right away to Orlando, where I lived with my late-wife Bobbie. It was a really, really sweet time; [however,] it wasn’t all sweet and wonderful. I mean, we introduced him to a new business; but then during those years, Austin and Kendall lost two babies. We were right in the middle of their lives during that time; it was a really precious time. They eventually, then, moved back to Denver; and I moved to Michigan. That was not a penalty—I did not lose a bet—I did this on purpose.
Anyway, that’s Austin. We talk every day on the phone and collaborate on the clients that we are working with and publishing projects. He is an amazing gift to me; I love him.
Ann: It was really sweet, Robert, because I remember when you decided—you and Bobbie interviewed both Austin and Kendall—had them come to Florida. I remember Austin calling us, saying, “You guys, this is such a gift from God. This is my dream job.”
Ann: So just right out of college; that’s pretty unusual. He has loved working with you, Robert. You have an incredible reputation; and Bobbie, your late wife, really poured into and mentored Kendall.
With your book—as you’re talking about, Gun Lap—explain that. What is gun lap?
Robert: Sure; my introduction to Gun Lap, Ann, happened my senior year at Taylor/Taylor University. The athletic director, actually, asked my roommate, who was a Phys Ed Major, if he could get some buddies together; we were hosting the conference track meet. My roommate Steve said, “Would you be interested?” I said, “Are you kidding? That sounds fantastic!” I got to rake the pit for the high jump, or the pole vault, or whatever. I didn’t do like timing stuff; that was for the professionals.
The last race was the two-mile, and we climbed up to the tower. They gave me permission to climb the tower; so I was up there, watching this race. It’s eight laps around a quarter-mile track. At the beginning of the race, you’ve got all these runners—right?—and the starter raises his arm and pulls the trigger, and the gun goes off, and the race begins. So then you watch it: round and round eight times.
At the start of the final lap, the starter steps back out and puts his arm in the air and fires the gun again. I said to one of the guys there, who knows track, I said, “What was that?” He said, “That is the gun lap; that signals that the lead runner has started his last lap.” That’s the gun lap.
A year and a half ago, I started dreaming about writing a book. There were things—we’ll talk about in a few minutes—things that led to my wondering about the rest of my life and the idea/the metaphor of the gun lap came back. I thought, “That is a perfect metaphor for this book.” It’s not a book about dying; it is a book about running and running well that last lap in our lives. That’s why the book is called Gun Lap.
Dave: Yes, it’s interesting. You sent the book to me a month or so ago—maybe a couple of months when it came out—and I couldn’t put it down. In some ways, I don’t think I’m in the gun lap—but you never know—do you? You could be in the final lap, because we don’t know.
Robert: You are very kind. Actually, even though you are in Florida, and I’m in Michigan, just you saying you couldn’t put it down—if I could, I would get up and kiss you right on the face—[Laughter]—because that is the ultimate for an author to hear,—
Robert: —because it’s so easy to lay a book down; right? That means a lot; I appreciate it.
Dave: Well, you know, the first thing I did, obviously, when I picked it up, was I looked at the chapter titles. Then I read your dedication, which I read again last night, which is so interesting. You dedicated it to a young man, who died when he was 20. You even say at the beginning, “It’s interesting to dedicate a book about living fully to the end of your life—hopefully, a long life—to dedicate to a young man, who was in his 20s.”
But I want to read—and I want you to comment—as you wrote at the beginning what his dad said about his son, Nick, at the memorial service. I won’t read the whole thing; but his dad said this:
Each one of us is given a race to run. Some are called to run a long race; some are called to run just a short race. What matters is not how long the race is but how well we run it. It’s God’s business to determine how long that race will be. It’s our business to determine how well we will run it. Let me tell you. It is so much better to run a short race well than a long race poorly.
Talk about that. It’s a great way to start a book about finishing strong.
Robert: Well, actually, Nick’s parents, Aileen and Tim Challies, are good friends of ours. When the news that Nick had died—just as a student at Boyce College in Louisville—he just dropped dead. He was with his buddies/his friends; he just dropped dead.
We went through a lot of the grief of all of that. And then, I had a chance to watch, live, the memorial service. When his daddy said that, I thought, “You know what? I want to dedicate a book about running your last lap to a man in his 20s because we never know. We never know when we are running the last lap, which is another good reason to run well.” If you kind of knew, you’d say, “Okay; well, I’ll hang out; I’ll be lazy,”—whatever—“Now, it’s the last lap; now, I’m going to pick up the pace”; we don’t know that.
I couldn’t help myself, Dave; I wanted to dedicate the book to Nick, whom I never met. I’ll meet him in heaven; but because I love his parents so much, and realized just the incredible pain of losing him so early—but when his dad said that at the service—I thought, “I’ve got to put that in the dedication.”
Dave: Well, as you think about finishing well, I’ve often said to younger men in my life: “I can’t see the finish line.” I would say that in my 30s; I’d say that in my 40s. I’m starting to say now, “I think I can see the finish line,”—and I’m sort of joking, because I don’t know/we don’t know—but when you enter your 60s; and you’re around that age/maybe a little older—you start to realize and feel the brevity.
Dave: You feel the criticalness of every day mattering. I remember Dennis Rainey saying to me, when I turned 60—and I’m not going to tell our listeners how old I am—but it was a couple years ago. He said to me when I turned 60, “This will be the best decade of your life”; I laughed.
Dave: I thought he was joking—right?—“Those decades are behind me”; he meant it, like the 60s and 70s, or the 70s to 80s can be the best years of your life if you finish well. Talk about that.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Robert Wolgemuth on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Robert’s response in just a minute; but first, did you know FamilyLife Today is listener-supported? That means we rely on generous gifts from listeners like you; and all this week, when you give any amount to FamilyLife Today, as our thanks, we’ll send you a copy of Sam Allberry’s book, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies. You can give securely online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call with your donation at 1-800-358-6329. Again, the number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright, now, let’s get back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Robert Wolgemuth.
Robert: Dennis is right, and I’m actually into the next decade—I’m in my 70s—I’m 73. Really, the book is not about dying.
Robert: It’s about running that last lap. Actually, just to kind of lift the veil, I am working on the next book, and it is about dying; it’s called Finish Line.
But this is about living; so: “What are you going to do with these years?” As Dennis said, they can be your best years; but they also can be very hard years because—and we talk about this in the book—your body doesn’t do what it used to be able to do.
I mean, just for starters, you can get really frustrated. You may have high expectations for yourself—you may have been an athlete—and you can’t do that anymore. It’s just simple things—climbing stairs—or you get sick, and you realize, “Life is a vapor; there is a brevity to this thing.” I may have been kind of sloppy with certain years; but when you know, “This could be the end; this could be the last lap you are running,” you get really intentional. You should get really intentional, and that’s really what I want to say in this book.
In fact, I would say, Dave, you are just about wheelhouse for this book. People ask me that question: I would say 55 to 65 is wheelhouse, because you are going to be getting to go through some transitions—you may retire from your job—those kinds of things. The lights go on, in many cases, with guys, saying, “You know what? My life is about to change. I’m going to maybe no longer go to the office every day.”
One of the things I talk about is, when you are working, you’ve got colleagues: you’re in constant contact with them; your inbox is filled; your texts fill up every day; your phone rings. Then you cross that line, and that stuff gets quiet; and you’re going, “I realize those weren’t necessarily my friends; they were my colleagues. So who loves me now? What am I supposed to do with these years of my life?”
I totally embrace what Dennis Rainey is saying about the best years. What I would say is you can’t coast into them; you have to be intentional. That’s a big deal.
Ann: Well, as I hear you talk about that, I’m thinking of your late wife, Bobbie. She passed away: how many years ago was that?
Robert: She passed away in 2014; October 28, 2014.
Ann: This is significant for Dave and I; because Austin, our son, and his wife Kendall were very involved. Kendall would say that Bobbie was her mentor. As I think about her—she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer—I think it would be easy to have a pity party, at that point, when you know: “I’m, not only on my last lap; I’m on my last quarter of the lap.”
Ann: It would be really easy to just kind of check out—you know?—like, “Wow! This is really hard. This is before I thought I would be ending my race.” Yet, she continually poured into women—poured into your daughters, poured into your grandchildren—to the very point where Austin and Kendall went to the hospital to have their first daughter after having—it was actually three miscarriages—so they had had Olive. You guys had prayed for them to have a baby for those several years, because they had gone through so much pain.
But I remember Austin and Kendall saying after Olive was born, on October 22, “We’re not going to go home right away. We’re going to stop and see Robert and Bobbie, because they have been praying for us. They have been praying for our daughter/our baby. And we want Bobbie to hold Olive, and we want them to pray over her before she goes to see Jesus.” That was significant because—when Austin and Kendall told us they cried to have Bobbie’s hands on Olive, praying over her—was one of the most meaningful things. You talk about gun lap and finishing well. I know, for our family, that was an incredible blessing; and I know she was that for so many more.
Talk about that a little bit, Robert. How did she keep that perspective of finishing so well?
Robert: Well, thanks to the wonders of technology—I knew that Austin and Kendall and Olive were coming to our house—I actually videotaped the whole thing/I videoed the whole thing. I’ve got Kendall and Austin and Olive, in the little carrier, coming in our door/our back door; and then coming over and hearing Bobbie, from her hospital bed in the living room, just exclaiming, just delightful, giggling about this chance. I have video of them walking over to her hospital bed, pulling Olive carefully out of the carrier, handing her to Bobbie; Bobbie reaching out her, at that point, bony, feeble arms, and just squealing with delight, holding this child.
Olive’s birthday is five days before Bobbie’s death day; but it’s—those two—they will forever be connected to each other. That was such a God-thing, you guys: just the sweetness that the Lord allowed Bobbie to live long enough to hold this little baby. The visual that I’m seeing—not because I looked at that video just two days ago—of Bobbie reaching out her arms from her hospital bed, and Austin carefully laying this child in Bobbie’s arms.
You know, it’s Anna and Simeon—that’s what I think of when I see that—holding Jesus in the Temple and exclaiming what delight it was to hold this child. That was really, very much—it was a Simeon/Anna moment—when Bobbie got to hold this little baby.
Dave: You know, as well as anybody, Robert—you know, as parents, you pray your whole life that, when your son or daughter becomes a man or a woman, husband/wife, they will have mentors/community in their life that will point them to Jesus—you and Bobbie have been that for our son and daughter-in-law/for Austin and Kendall. Hearing you talk about that moment: what an answer to prayer.
And you said earlier, your book is written for men in their 40s/50s; but it’s actually for 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds because the way Bobbie finished her gun lap has been an inspiration and a model for my son and daughter-in-law, and many others: how to do life/how to live for Jesus from the birth of Olive—from, you know, the starting lap—to the very end. I don’t even know if you’ll ever know what a blessing you two have been to our family, because you lived so well and modeled that for our own son and daughter-in-law.
Robert: Well, thank you for saying that, Dave. One of the really important points of Gun Lap is what you are describing now. I’m overwhelmed/really, humbled with the kind things that you are saying. This isn’t just about my life. It’s about what I’m doing with my life as it relates to younger men; so the chance to have somebody in my life, like your son Austin, and to be able to pour into him.
You talk about a man with a teachable spirit, a man who is—I mean, you can set your watch by his attitude—it’s the same: it’s upbeat, teachable, kind, happy, pleasant, smart—all those things; this is Austin Wilson. The Lord gave me this young man, who actually set up his office in my home in Orlando. We had several years—in fact, I rarely took a trip after that that I didn’t have Austin be my colleague, my traveling companion, be my GPS in my rental car—or whatever—so that’s the great joy.
You guys know this so well. The stewardship of your life poured into younger people brings you more joy than it did when you first experienced it yourself. That’s/that’s the chapter called “ROI: A Nice ROI”—Return on Investment—so that—the truth is I will, in my lifetime, I won’t really know the impact that Bobbie had in Olive’s life or, really, in Kendall and Austin’s life. That’s kind of just paying it forward.
You do what you can: you fail transparently, and you confess when it is time for that; and you also aren’t afraid to say, “This is the way you do this.” You’ve got an apprentice, who is watching what you do—which, by the way, you know this so well—when that video camera is running, and this younger person is watching you, recording you, that impacts/that transforms, actually, how you act/how you live. It’s a two-way gift—it’s a gift to the younger person, but it’s also a gift to you—that the things that you may think of doing, or be tempted to do, when you’ve got a travelling companion, that fixes all of that.
This is Titus 2—this is passing onto younger people: men to men/women to women—life-on-life mentoring. And the joy that you have when you get a little bit older—you aren’t smarter—but you are more experienced, which means you’ve made more mistakes and learned from them. [Laughter] That’s a big part of this whole gun lap: looking for people to mentor.
Sometimes, mentoring is kind of an intimidating word, like, “I’ve got to go through some program, multiple weeks in a row, where…”—no; not necessarily. It’s stuff that is caught; not necessarily taught. That’s the great joy of being this age. The Lord has taught me things, and I’ve failed. I’ve confessed sin; and now, I have something to say/something that a younger person can learn from. What a joy!
In this case, I got to do this with your kid—sorry, Austin—you’re a man. [Laughter] Now, he is doing it with younger people. We talk every single day in our business; and often, they are over with friends, with little kids, playing—whatever—but I know young men, who are watching your son and saying, “When I grow up, I want to be like that,” which helps Austin be more of a man of God. All of that stuff is so sweet.
Dave: Yes, and it’s a beautiful visual of whether you are on the first lap or the last lap—and again, we don’t know if it’s our first, middle, or last—someone is watching.
Dave: And your life matters right here, right now—not just for yourself—but for that person watching, whether it’s your son or daughter, a neighbor, a stranger; it doesn’t matter. Live each day like it’s your gun lap—
Robert: That’s right.
Dave: —in such a way that you will live a legacy that honors Christ.
Robert: Amen; that’s exactly right.
Shelby: You have been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Robert Wolgemuth on FamilyLife Today. You can get a copy of Robert’s book, Gun Lap: Finishing Your Race with Grace, at FamilyLifeToday.com. The thought that maybe the best years of our marriage are behind us can be a really discouraging thought; but what if your marriage could get better and better as you get older and older? Robert Wolgemuth will be back, again, tomorrow with Dave and Ann Wilson to continue that conversation. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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