Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Tomorrow's the day, the day we all gather at my sister's house to have Thanksgiving dinner. Then Friday, we'll do it all again at my Dad's. But things won't be the same this year, because we won't ALL be there. I can't say for the others, but for me, my wife, and my surviving daughter, there won't be a moment that goes by these next two days when we're not thinking about who's missing. Still, even though we'll carry thoughts of who we've lost all through the festivities, I count my blessings because I have much to be thankful for.

I am thankful for a God who loved me enough to send His one and only Son to die for my sins, so that I might be saved.I am thankful God gave me my wonderful wife and surviving daughter, Courtney. I am thankful that He gave me the years I shared with Amanda before she died. I am thankful that He gave me a calling and direction that enabled me to keep going after the most tragic of tragedies. I am thankful for the support of family and friends. I am thankful He placed me in a good job with wonderful colleagues and students.

"give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." -- 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Just this week a parent told me how fortunate the kids are to have me as a teacher. I replied that I was the lucky one, lucky to have the opportunity to work with such great students. Before I began teaching, it seemed like all I ever heard was how awful kids are today, to the point that I believed it. But what I found when I entered the classroom is that today's kids are hardly different than we were at their age. They have the same wants, needs, and desires for the most part. I also consider myself fortunate to work with so many great colleagues who love kids and teach for the right reasons. After Amanda was killed, the love and support shown by these students, colleagues, and others in the Vilonia community were amazing! I firmly believe that God placed us in this community so that we would be wrapped in its arms of compassion when our tragedy struck. I will always be grateful for the students, my colleagues, and the Vilonia community.

"If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" -- Ecclesiastes 4:10

The days following Amanda's murder are a blur. I remember a lot of people coming and going, but not much of the particulars of what was going on those days. I'm not even sure I could put the events I do remember in chronological order. But I remember family and friends who dropped everything and came to do anything they could. Family members flew in from as far away as North Carolina and were there the next day. Friends I hadn't seen in 16 years traveled across the country and spent several days doing anything they could to help. I honestly don't know how we could have navigated all the things to be done without their help. I'll be forever thankful for all they did in the days following Amanda's murder.

"in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6

I have no doubt this organization, Running with Amanda, is a gift from God. I started running again about two years before Amanda was killed and for several months felt God calling me to use my running to glorify Him. I had no real clue how to do that. Then, soon after Amanda died, God gave me the vision for this ministry. I call it a gift because I had to find a way to make something good come from her death in order to honor her memory. When He placed the idea for Running with Amanda in my head, things began to fall into place and I was quickly able to see His hand at work, see good coming from the bad, and see Amanda's memory honored. It gave me a productive focus for my energy, energy that would certainly have been channeled in an unproductive direction otherwise. Yes, we suffered a terrible tragedy, but I am so thankful Jesus placed His hand on my shoulder and guided me in the right direction.

Amanda is gone now and I miss her every day. It's hard. Every day is hard. But they are hard because of the memories. Had we never known Amanda, had we never created those memories, we would certainly not be suffering from her loss. But as awful as the pain is, it would be worse if we had never known her. I look upon the pictures and see her smile. They remind me of the happy times we spent together. I loved her as much as a man can love anything or anyone, and as deep as the hole is that was left from her death, it's better than the barren patch of ground it would be if I had never known her. Even as I write this, I can hear her laugh, hear her voice, and see her standing right here beside me the morning before she died. I wouldn't trade those memories, or all the rest, for anything. As bad as it hurts to have lost her, I will always be grateful for the years we had together.

"4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." -- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

We have good days and bad days now. Each of us grieves in our own way and each of us follow a different path to navigate that grief, but I can't imagine passing through this plane without Janice and Courtney. Sometimes we talk about what happened, other times we don't. Sometimes we talk about Amanda, and sometimes we don't, but we all share that common bond of losing her. None of us is perfect, but none of us expect each other to be perfect either. I've heard of many families in our shoes that fall apart. Parents divorce, kids and parents turn to destructive behaviors, anger and bitterness become the dominant personality traits for the survivors. That hasn't happened to us and I credit Janice and Courtney for their love and strength that keep us together. I am so thankful for the love of my family, Janice and Courtney.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -- John 16:33

A woman I met at a workshop last summer, upon learning of Amanda's death, asked me, "Are you turning toward God, or away from Him?" I honestly don't know how anyone could move forward after suffering the loss of a child, or any serious tragedy, without the peace that comes from knowing Jesus. Without His mercy and grace that offer me salvation and eternal life, there would be no hope of seeing Amanda when my time on this Earth is over. If I did not have that peace, if I did not know that after this life I will be rejoined with Amanda, if I thought this life was it and there was nothing more, I don't know where I would be right now. But I can promise I wouldn't be here, doing what I'm doing. I would truly be a miserable creature if I didn't know that Amanda is in a place where there is no pain and no suffering and that I will see her again. That is what I am most thankful for, that blessed assurance that comes from knowing Jesus, assurance that this life is not the end, that eternity awaits, an eternity to spend with Amanda in a place where she will never again be taken from me.

I hope and pray that everyone who reads this finds reason to be thankful tomorrow and everyday. For even in the midst of suffering on this Earth, we have much to be grateful for.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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