Forty five. Forty Five is kind of record. Forty five is a malt liquor. Forty five is the number Michael Jordan wore when he returned from playing baseball. Forty five is not an age that we should say “they would have been today.” Today, I am doing just that and I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with it.

I woke up this morning to see that my good friend Stef would have been 45 years old today. Sadly, a dreadful disease not worth even mentioning took him after he fought like a warrior. There is not a single time I hear his name that I am not reminded of my struggle to come to grips with how this can happen. How can this be ALLOWED to happen? This morning I reflected on Stef’s life and the short time I was blessed to share with him as my friend. That’s when it hit me….

He set the pace.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to run or attend a race, you might have seen them. There are people walking around with little sticks with a number at the top. Some even have balloons attached so you can’t miss seeing them. They are pace setters. They position themselves at the beginning of the race so that those who have set a goal for a finish time know who to stay with. There’s tremendous pressure on them. They can’t have a “bad race” because they’ve got a group of people counting on them to make their goals.

And that is exactly what Stef did.

Stef wasn’t a marathon runner and didn’t carry a stick with balloons and a pace number. Stef’s life was his pace sign. When you were with him, you wanted to set your goals to finish this race with him and like him. He accepted the pressure of knowing if you were going to be in his circle of influence, you could feel safe knowing he was leading and leading well.

His pace was loving Jesus without apology.

His pace was loving his family.

His pace was loving his friends.

If those were your goals, he was the guy you wanted to stick close to.

The interesting thing about those that set the pace is it’s not just for the group you’re in. As a race goes along, you can measure your estimated finish time based on where you are. You might not be with one group, but you know you’re ahead of another one. When one passes you, you know you’ve got to pick up the pace if you plan to finish in that time.

And this is where I challenge anyone that might read this. Especially the guys….

What I learned from the life of my friend Stef is that each and every one of us is a pace setter. We’ve got a group of people we are leading to a finish line.

How are you doing with that?

To those that feel like you are not leading a pace team but you’re running with someone that is, stay the course. If you’re in between two pace teams, stay the course. If you feel like your goal finish time pace team just passed you, don’t be discouraged. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes we have to adjust our goals mid-race. Keep going. Keep pushing.

If you are the leader of your home and your family, keep a steady pace. As Stef once told me, “you’ve got people counting on you.”

While never saying a word about it and even after he is gone, Stef continues to lead my pace group. I know if I finish this race at the pace he ran it, I will have finished well.

Thank you Stef. Thank you for setting the pace. Save a place for me. I’ll finish this race one day too and can’t wait to see you.