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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Back in the Game: Sole to Soul 5K on Saturday

The running game that is.

Some of our newer followers might wonder why we call ourselves Running with Amanda. For the past month, we haven't posted much about running here. But that's about to change.

Today is the last day of an extremely busy month for us. We normally enter and run one race a month in our quest to Reach, Raise, and Remember, but this month we didn't enter any. That's because we had five high school graduations to attend, some as far as 150 miles away in the middle of the week. We knew trying to schedule a race would be extremely difficult so we did two in April instead of our usual one a month. But God has blessed me and helped me keep my eye on our goals.

"The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him." --Psalm 28:7

I have continued to train, but didn't have much time to write about it with all we've had to do. I've made a couple of good long runs this month, and last week logged my best training week in a long time--38 miles. Praise Jesus, that's nearly the 40 I'm shooting for! Yesterday I was blessed to run with the Cabot Country Cruisers on their Memorial Day run. We made a 6 mile jaunt out and back from Southside Elementary to the Cabot Veterans Memorial.

Now it's time to get back in the game!

Yesterday I signed my wife and I up to run in the Sole to Soul 5K next Saturday in North Little Rock, AR. The race benefits St. Andrews Church youth missions, so it complements our mission. If you're there, look for us wearing our white running shirts with "Running with Amanda" on the front and Philippians 4:13 on the back.

We'll be there looking for opportunities to Reach people for Jesus at the race. You can help us with the second part of our mission, Raising money for charity, by donating to Arkansas Children's Hospital through our fundraising page. Together, we'll be keeping Amanda's memory alive, Remembering her through our efforts.

Don't forget, if you can't support our charities with a financial gift at this time, you can always help us by following us on Facebook and Twitter, and sharing this post with your friends.

God bless you all and thanks for doing all you can!

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.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dakota: A "Heart"-ening Story from Arkansas Children's Hospital

Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) is one of the charities we raise money for here at Running with Amanda. From time to time, we like to share a story from the hospital that illustrates why we chose it as one of the three we support.

"And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. --James 5:15

The four videos below tell the story of a beautiful little girl, Dakota, who was born premature, with a congenital heart defect. When her heart began to fail, she went to ACH. During her 7 month stay, she received a new heart and was finally discharged in September 2010.

Please take a few minutes and watch this series, then make a donation to Arkansas Children's Hospital. ACH takes patients without regard to their ability to pay, and Dakota's story reveals the special qualities common to the doctors, nurses, and support staff who are so devoted to these kids!

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Please donate to Arkansas Children's Hospital, whatever you can afford. Every little bit helps and even a small donation can make a difference!

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.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Bible on the End of the World

There was a lot of talk about Harold Camping's prediction that the beginning of the end was to take place last Saturday at 6 pm, but his deadline came and went without bringing about the apocalypse foretold by Camping.

Most people never believed Camping anyway, but others did. Back in March, a California woman tried to kill herself and her 11- and 14-year-old daughters because she wanted to "prevent her family from suffering." She cut their throats and wrists with a boxcutter and a paring knife because she considered this a better end than enduring Camping's predicted rapture.

In New York, a man spent most of his life savings, $140,000, on an ad campaign to educate others about the May 21 end of the world. "When we know this truth about the time of the end, God’s people are obliged to get that out," he said in an interview with the Toronto Star. According to news reports, he stood in Times Square on the 21st and looked confused and bewildered when the apocalypse failed to occur.

These two weren't the only ones who fell for Camping's scam. Listeners to his radio program sent him millions of dollars to broadcast his doomsday message. To most of us, it's amazing that so many are so willing to believe someone like Camping.

All of these victims could have saved themselves the pain and suffering resulting from their being misled if they would have spent just a little time reading the Bible. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the answer to every dilemna is contained in God's Word. There's not a situation on earth it doesn't address, and this is no exception.

"But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." --Matthew 24:36

"Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come." --Mark 13:33

I don't know how much more clear the Bible can be. "No one knows." "You do not know." If these people would have just taken the time to read God's Word for themselves, even if they'd only read the first two books of the New Testament, they could have saved themselves a lot of time, money, and trouble. Two little girls might not have been traumatized.

The Bible also tells us many, like Camping, will come teaching false doctrine. Sent by Satan to mislead the masses, to divert them from following Christ.

" 15 Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them." -- Matthew 7:15-16

Camping is, without a doubt, one of these false prophets. His "fruit" is the suffering he brought on his followers. Two young girls brutalized and nearly killed by their own mother. Many left penniless after spending everything to spread this man's lies.

God left us His Word, and sent His Son, so that we can have eternal life. We're fortunate enough to live in a country where we are free to read and study, and believe the Truth God left us. Still, so many are so easily misled.

Ladies and gentlemen, don't allow yourselves to be misled. Read and study God's Word, His Holy Bible, for yourselves. Don't depend on the wicked, false prophets for your information. Take advantage of our freedom to inform yourselves. Remember what God told us in the very first psalm...

" 1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night." --Psalm 1:1-2

Today, Camping is claiming the world did not end this weekend because he made a mathematical error. Now he says he's recalculated and the world will actually end on October 21. This man has done enough damage. Please, tell anyone you encounter who might believe this man to read the Bible for themselves. Do not take the word of this man or others like him.

"Blessed" is the one who meditates on the Biblical Word of God, day and night. Not the one who believes a false prophet like Camping. Read and study the Bible for yourself and you will not be led astray. Set aside a few minutes each day to spend in God's Word.

The world will end one day. The Bible describes the end of days. But it specifically, unequivocally, states we will not know when it's coming. It will come "like a thief," without warning, unexpected.

The best bet is to be prepared, to get ready, and stay ready. The only way to do that is to declare Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior, believing He is the Son of God, sent to Earth to die on the cross for our sins, so that we might have eternal life. Step by step instructions for doing this can be found on our Got Jesus? page. If you're not ready, get ready.

When the end of the world does come, you'll be prepared. But don't count on Harold Camping to let you know when!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A tough week, but we made it through

Well, we made it through one of the toughest weeks we knew we'd ever have to face after Amanda was killed, a week that culminated with the Vilonia High School class of 2011 graduation. Other than her 18th birthday, graduation was one of the topics Amanda talked most about. She was killed four days before her birthday and four months before her graduation.

We were blessed to be able to honor her memory at Saturday's ceremony. The picture you see here is how she was remembered. An empty chair was reserved for her, and Janice and I were allowed to choose what went in that chair. Her gown was draped across the back of the chair. A single red rose in a vase, one of her senior pictures, her class ring, and a poem written by her friend were placed in the seat.

We would all have much preferred Amanda being there, but that wasn't possible. For reasons we cannot understand, she's no longer with us and we are left to complete the tasks God has for us here on Earth without her. Saturday, we remembered her at the graduation ceremony. Today, and every other day God leaves me here on Earth, I will continue to remember her through the work we do at Running with Amanda.

Thank you all! All who read these posts, all who follow us on Facebook and Twitter, all who have donated to St. Jude, Arkansas Children's Hospital, and Soaring Wings Ranch, and all who have shared our posts and our pages with friends. Our reach and our impact is growing rapidly, and that would not be possible without all your support!

Please help us continue to Reach, Raise, and Remember. You can help us Reach people for Jesus by sharing our Facebook page, emailing our posts here to your friends in your address book, and leaving comments on our Facebook page and these blog posts. You can help us Raise money for charity by choosing one of the charities we support and making a donation today. You can help us Remember Amanda by doing all the above.

We're grateful for all you do to help us accomplish our mission. In a little more than two months, we've raised $2,136.17. Almost 700 fans are following us on Facebook, and this website has had over 6200 hits. We've heard stories from readers who are turning their lives around, back to Jesus, after reading here. None of that would be possible without you.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."--2 Corinthians 12:9

Another thing. All you've helped us accomplish keeps us going. Amanda's death was the hardest blow I've ever been dealt. I've been hit, kicked, crushed, smashed, stomped, and trampled, but the death of my daughter hit me harder than any of that. This week was as bad as it's been in a while. But all you're helping us accomplish here is helping us continue to put one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward.

Thank you for that. May God bless and keep you all as we continue to run with Amanda.

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.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Tomorrow's the day--graduation. A day Amanda was looking so forward to for months, even years. A day I wanted so badly to celebrate with her. But that's not to be. Instead, we'll celebrate it for her.

Tomorrow her seat will be empty, save for her cap and gown, a rose, a picture, her class ring, and a couple of poems. I always knew it would be hard when this day came, but the closer it gets the more difficult it seems.

Tomorrow's the day
That we all knew would come.
A day you awaited
For years and for months.

With a gleam in your eye,
And a smile on your face.
You counted the time
Until you'd graduate.

You boasted and bragged,
Both often and loud.
And I might not have said it,
But I was so proud.

So proud of my daughter,
So very far you had come,
So proud and so happy,
The race you had run.

I'm still very proud,
But happy I'm not.
Tomorrow you won't be there
In your reserved spot.

Four months I've tried
So very strong to be,
But the closer it gets,
The more it hurts me.

I've looked at your pictures,
Your things and your clothes,
All these remind me
Of what so long I've known.

Tomorrow you won't be there,
Four months since you died.
Our teardrops will fall
As we miss you and cry.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amanda, We Wish You Were Here (video)

This has been an especially tough week. The seniors in Amanda's graduating class no longer walk the halls or attend classes. Sunday I gave the baccalaureate address knowing she should have been there to hear. Now we're nearing the end of the week that will culminate in graduation on Saturday. I've known this week would be tough since the shock of Amanda's murder wore off and the reality set in. But it's still tough because we all wish she was here.

Last night, I put this video together with Amanda's senior pictures set to Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

The thing that gives me peace is knowing I will see Amanda again when it's my time to make the trip to Heaven. I know the love of Jesus will one day bring us together again! Until then though, we'll always wish she was here.

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.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Secret to Success

Tonight I had the privilege to give the baccalaureate address to the Vilonia High School class of 2011. I was humbled and honored that these great young men and women chose me to bid them farewell. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me to stand before Amanda's class one last time.

I was asked to post the text of the address by some who had trouble hearing because of the ventilation system. So the following is the speech I gave to my graduating seniors, my students and friends.

You are the Vilonia High School class of 2011, a class that will always occupy a special place in my heart, a class that I hope to never lose touch with. You and I, we’ve shared a lot. Many of you were students in my classes for each of these last three years. Some never sat in my class, but you’ve been to my house, you’ve eaten at my table, and even attended church with me and my family.

We’ve shared smiles and laughs when times were good. We’ve shared tears when they weren’t. Some of you, I comforted in your time of great loss. And recently, all of you comforted me and my family in our time of great loss. Over these past three years, I’ve grown to consider you more than students. You are my friends.

In a few days, you will celebrate your successful completion of 13 years in public school. A transformation will take place when you make a short walk across a small stage. This chapter of your life is coming to a close, and I am honored that you have chosen me to bid you farewell.

But the end of this chapter is not the end of your story, not by a long shot. Beyond this final page of your high school career is a new chapter, one not yet written. This chapter you’re completing was penned largely by others. While you had choices to make, you made them largely under the watchful eye, and sometimes heavy boot, of your parents and school authorities. But the author of this next chapter will be you, without the omnipresent authority looking over your shoulder and breathing down your neck.

Once you make that walk, once you accept that diploma, once you turn that tassel, once you throw your cap into the air, the responsibility for your future falls squarely on your shoulders.

Think about that for a minute. If you mess things up, your parents will no longer be responsible. They’ll no longer be under any obligation, legal or moral, to bail you out. Not to bail you out of jail, not to bail you out of debt, not to bail you out of whatever trouble you get yourselves into. The choices you make will get you into trouble or keep you out of trouble, lead to a life of happiness or to a life of despair. Choices YOU make will determine your future.

Honestly, it’s a little frightening.

Of course, you’ve all made choices that determined what you’ve accomplished these past 13 years. You chose to study or not to study, to pay attention or not to pay attention in class. You chose to obey the law, or to break it while out with your friends on Saturday nights. But all of these choices, for most of you, were made with your parents, your teachers, and school officials holding something over your heads if you chose wrong.

Some of you made all the right choices, and others have sometimes taken the wrong road. Some of you have learned a lot in your 13 years in public school, and others chose to blow school off and devote your time and energy to things other than studying and learning. Some of you haven’t gotten so much as a speeding ticket, and some of you have spent time behind bars.

Some who made all the right choices may find the road ahead easier. Those who didn’t choose well are likely to find the going more difficult. In fact, your parents, teachers, and others have likely formed their own opinions on whether you will succeed or fail. These expectations for you are based on choices you’ve made throughout your career as a student.

But whatever others are predicting for you, nothing is set in stone. I went back to college at the age of 35. I had a class with a kid who had been awarded the most valuable scholarship offered by Lyon College—a full ride worth about $30,000 per year at that time. He had the ability to be successful, but I never saw him in class. He sat in his room all day and played video games. By the end of his sophomore year, he flunked out and lost his scholarship. On the other side of that coin was a kid I had in class my first two years here. In Algebra II, he barely passed with a low D. In my Trig class the next year, it was nearly impossible to get him to work. But last year he came back to see me, and I was surprised to learn that he was working for HP in Conway. He was back in school, in their training program, and even admitted that he was using the math we studied in our classes.

Everyone expected the first to succeed and he failed. Most thought the second would fail and he was well on his path to success. Nothing is set in stone. From this point on, your decisions will determine your destiny. It’s an awesome responsibility you’re about to assume.

But that’s good news, because I know that each and every one of you CAN be successful. Not one of you is predestined to fail! Now that doesn’t mean you’ll all be doctors or lawyers or CEO’s of huge corporations. Because, success for each and every one of you will be defined differently. For some of you, success will mean great wealth. Others will be successful and waiting every week for that next paycheck just so you can pay your bills.

How is it that success can be defined so differently for some than for others? Good question. It took me a very long time to understand it myself. For years, I defined success by the number of dollars I made or banked. I chased the almighty dollar and was always focused on making more. Much of the time, if success for me had been defined by making money, I would have been successful. But I eventually learned that wasn’t the definition the word held for me.

It took me years to learn, but I finally figured out that my definition didn’t come from Webster, and it didn’t come from me. I was 38 years old when I began teaching, and for the first time started to understand what it meant for ME to be successful. It took me 38 years to learn that success, real success for me as an individual, was defined by God. I wasn’t truly successful until I was finally in God’s will, fulfilling His plan for me.

You see, no matter how much money I made, no matter how big my bank account was, I was never satisfied before. For several years I worked seven days a week, 365 days a year and made good money. But I was always looking for ways to make more. This lust for money was like a thirst that couldn’t be quenched, a hunger that couldn’t be satisfied. That’s because I was trying to work my plan, not God’s.

When I started teaching, I immediately began to feel more satisfied. Making less money than I’d made in many years didn’t bother me. It was an amazing feeling to have time to spend with my family. For the first time ever we were able to take trips to see the Four Corners, to Hannibal, MO, to travel the Western states, and to visit family out of state. These are times I’ll forever treasure now, more than I ever realized until this year. These were all things I’d missed out on, we’d never been able to do, when I searched for success using my plan and ignored God’s will for my life.

That’s what it takes to be successful, and that’s the message I want to send you off with as you embark on the next leg of your journey—to be successful, you must find and implement God’s plan for your life. I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that you cannot achieve real success if you don’t.

But knowing God’s will for your life isn’t always easy. In fact, I’ve heard many adults, long entrenched in their careers, wonder if they were living in God’s will. So I want to tell you what it took me four decades of living to learn.

We’ll start in Romans 12:2. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

This verse tells exactly how to find and identify God’s will for your life. First, it’s imperative that you don’t let the world seduce you. If you want to be successful, you have to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Second, God doesn’t send you a letter with your orders. You have to seek and find His plan for your life. And third, His will for you is “good, pleasing, and perfect.” If you take this verse to heart, and set about finding God’s will and following His plan for your life, you can’t help but be successful. So let’s look at it, piece by piece.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

This couldn’t have been more critical when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans than it is today. Ten minutes spent watching the ABC Family channel or network television is enough to convince anyone who has ever heard a Bible story that the pattern of today’s world is anything but Biblical. Society works hard every day to separate you from God and His plan for your life. When I went to elementary school, the day started with a student reading a Bible verse over the intercom, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance every day. In high school, every football game started with a prayer over the PA system. Those days are gone now in the American public school, even in our school. Even our moment of silence to start the day makes us an anomaly in today’s world. Most schools are afraid to even give you a time you might use for prayer. These changes, from the time I was in school until now, are examples of how the world is working to separate us from God and His word.

To counter the effects of the world, to remain close to God, we must renew our minds. If you’re wondering, “How do we do that?” it’s right here in this book. Two thousand years ago God gave us the instructions on how to renew our minds, and they’re still with us today. The entire manual is contained in His Holy Bible, everything you need to know how to deal with any situation is right there. Psalm 1:1- 2 says, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

That’s how we renew our minds. We contemplate and reflect on God’s word as we go through life, day and night, all the time. Doing so transforms us, prepares us to find and do His will. Until your mind is transformed, you’re not ready to find His will for your life, let alone live out His plan. And until you are, until you do, true success will forever elude you.

“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is”

It would certainly be easier if God would just tell us what His will for us is. If we received a letter that said, “God’s will is that you go to that school and study this, then go to work there.” Wouldn’t that be easy? But it’s not that simple, and it does require work on our part. So I’m going to tell you at 18 what it took me 20 years longer to learn about finding God’s will, identifying His plan for your life.

I’ve come to realize that fulfilling God’s plan will most certainly cause three criteria to characterize your life. You will be challenged, you will be content, and you will convey the gospel to others around you.

Those of you who have had me in class have heard me say it a thousand times, and many of you who I haven’t had in class have heard it a few less than that, but anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy. That includes walking in God’s will. Second Corinthians 12:9 says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.” Trials will come, and your weakness will be exposed, whether you’re fulfilling God’s plan for your life or not. Even walking in God’s will, you will be challenged, and it won’t always be easy. But if you have transformed yourself with the renewing of your mind, in times of trouble you will call on Him and His grace will be sufficient for you.

This year, our school, our community, our family, has been dealt some severe blows. Not long ago, violent storms wreaked havoc on our little community. Several of you had homes destroyed, many suffered catastrophic loss of property, and a few tragically lost loved ones to one of nature’s most destructive forces. Though these blows knocked many of us to the ground, God’s grace picked us back up. These storms challenged Christians alongside non-Christians, those doing God’s will and those doing their own. So don’t think for a minute that doing God’s will, living His plan for you, is going to keep you from being challenged.

Working the cleanup after the storms, I saw a lot of people in tears as they worked to pick up the pieces of their shattered and scattered lives. Some were angry, and some in a state of shock or disbelief. But as I worked throughout this community during the days following the tornadoes, the most common expression I heard was, “I’m just glad we’re okay.”

But people whose entire material wealth is spread across an open field, we expect to see them angry and hurt, sad and resentful. We don’t expect to see them “glad” to be okay. Philippians 4:12 says, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Ladies and gentlemen, friends, I promise you, when you find God’s will, when you are fulfilling His plan for your life, you will be content in whatever situation you find yourself.

This next part was the hardest, and took the longest for me to learn. In fact, I’m still working to get better at it. But, when you’re in God’s will, when you’re fulfilling His plan, you will spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean you have to be a preacher, it doesn’t mean you have to work at a church. It doesn’t mean you have to deliver a sermon in a crowded gym. I know nurses who share their faith with coworkers and patients. As a teacher, even I’ve found opportunities to share the gospel. If you’re where God wants you to be, regardless what earthly job He has you doing, there are going to be opportunities for you to tell others about Jesus.

Anything worthwhile isn’t going to come easy, and finding God’s will for your life, figuring out what His plan for you is, is worthwhile. You’ll try things thinking, “This is what God wants me to do.” Then it will be time to “test and approve” it to find out if it’s His plan or yours. When you find it, when you are finally in His will, living God’s plan for your life, you will be challenged, you will be content, and you will be conveying the gospel to others.

”his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

God’s will, His plan for your life, is “good, pleasing, and perfect.” God isn’t going to will you to be a bank robber. His plan isn’t for you to be a murderer. God’s plan is for you to be a good person. When you find your calling, you will be doing good deeds. You’ll be doing good for your community, your friends, your family, and yourself. First Timothy 6:18 says “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” Here, Paul is training Timothy to teach others how to live as followers of Jesus, to live in God’s will. God’s plan for your life is good, without a doubt.

God’s will is also pleasing. When you’re fulfilling His plan, it will be pleasing: pleasing to you, pleasing to those around you, and, most importantly, pleasing to God.

Remember though, this doesn’t mean you’ll never endure hardship. Even following God’s plan, you’ll tread on rough and rocky trails. Times will be tough. But rather than wallowing in self-pity and despair when you get knocked down, you’ll find pleasure in God’s grace that gives you the strength to get back up. You’ll be the person who sees a glass half-full instead of half-empty. You’ll be the optimist instead of the pessimist. Walking in God’s will allows you to see the silver lining in the clouds, to eagerly await the rainbow while being drenched in a storm. God’s promise in Romans 8:28 is true and you’ll recognize that when you’re living His plan. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” God’s plan will be pleasing to you.

But there’s more. When you’re living your life for Him, when you’ve answered His call, when you’re working in His plan, your neighbors will experience the same sort of pleasure. They’ll enjoy being around you. The old saying is so true, that misery loves company. Miserable people make others around them miserable. But the inverse is true also. Pleasant people are pleasing to those around them. A smile is contagious. If you’re happy, you’ll make others happy. Living God’s plan will be pleasing to you, and that will be pleasing to those you come in contact with you.

And last, but certainly not least, when you’re in God’s will, living His plan, you will be pleasing God. Romans 14:18 says, “because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God…” I can’t think of a better reason to seek His will, to live His plan, than to please Him. God, who cared so much about you and I that He sent His Son to die so that we might live, wants you to live a life that’s pleasing to Him.

When you’re implementing God’s plan, you’ll be pleasing yourself, your neighbors, and God.

And finally, God’s will for you, His plan for your life, is perfect. Perfect here means, it doesn’t get any better than this. You’ll never be happier than when you’re walking in God’s will, when you’re living His plan for your life. God’s plan for your life is perfect. There’s nothing better. Another job won’t make your life easier, more money won’t make you happier, and another place to live won’t give you better opportunities to share the Gospel.

Class of 2011, my students, my friends, each of you can achieve real success. I pray that every one of you will seek, that you will find, and that you will implement God’s plan for you, His good, pleasing, and perfect plan. He has one for each of you. Seek it, find it, live it, and you will be successful. Every single one of you.

Good luck my friends. God bless you all.

Class of 2011, thank you so much. You may never realize how much it meant to me to have this opportunity. I will forever be your teacher, and your friend.

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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

You will be a part...

This week would have been the last that Amanda Marie Allison roamed the halls of Vilonia High School as a student. Or should have been. The class of 2011 has finished the year, and commencement exercises will take place next Saturday. But Amanda will not be present, in body at least.

Today, was the last day members of her graduating class had to attend VHS. The rest of this school year will be completed without seniors present. Amanda so looked forward to this day. She was practically counting down when the year began, and she gloated about being so near the end almost every day. But she didn't make it. This day, these events were stolen from her.

But even though we won't see her there, Amanda will be a part of the VHS class of 2011 graduation ceremonies.

So full of life and vigor,
You'd come bouncing down the hall.
Without a care or worry,
Your presence blessed us all.

All the time you spoke of
Getting out of school.
The freedom you saw coming
To make up your own rules.

Now that time's upon us,
The one you waited for.
But you're no longer here,
And won't be evermore.

Today your classmates left us.
From school they did depart.
But each of them is leaving
With not a quite whole heart.

A piece of theirs is missing,
Just as it is with mine.
You took those pieces with you
When you left this world behind.

Next Saturday they'll graduate,
Wearing tassels, caps and gowns.
Though you won't be walking,
I hope you'll be around.

I know that we won't see you,
Or hear your name aloud.
But I know you'll be remembered
By most there in the crowd.

A few months shy you left us,
Too soon without a doubt.
But you will be remembered.
You shall not be left out.

For in the list of graduates,
All will find your name.
A chair amidst your classmates
Will hold your picture in a frame.

Of the day that you so longed for
You will be a part.
Today, tomorrow, and always
We'll carry you in our heart.

We would like to thank all those who worked to make it possible for Amanda to be remembered. Several students, parents, and school officials worked together to make sure this happened.

We would like to remind everyone that we consider the steps taken to recognize and honor Amanda sufficient and adequate. Commencement exercises are a celebration of the achievement of every member of the graduating class. We do not want the 2011 graduation ceremony to become more of a memorial service than a celebration. Therefore, we respectfully ask that all students and those attending refrain from taking any further steps to bring attention to Amanda's death at graduation.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

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.

The Gathering Donates $1006 to Storm Victims

Last Saturday, a local worship band called The Gathering held a benefit concert to raise money for victims of the recent storms that tore through Vilonia, Arkansas last month. First Baptist Church agreed to allow the band to use their facilities at no cost. Forty to fifty people attended, passing two hours listening to the young men play contemporary Christian music. Donations were accepted, t-shirts and refreshments were sold, with all proceeds going to help those whose lives were turned upside down when tornadoes tore through this small Faulkner County town.

We were blessed to be a part as well when I was asked to speak at the concert. During the band's break about midway through the event, I stepped to the microphone and spent about 15 minutes giving my testimony on surviving the most devastating storm in my life, the death of my beautiful daughter. I was honored to be invited to participate in such a worthy cause with such a great group of young men.

Today Colton Johnson, Cody Goff, Brent Burroughs, and Tyler Couch [pictured from left to right] gathered at Centennial Bank in Vilonia to deposit the proceeds. "I thought we might raise $300-$400," said Couch. "I was amazed when I learned we had raised over $1000!" The final total came to $1006. The money is now in the Faulkner County Red Cross for Vilonia Relief account designated to help ease the suffering of those who lost so much in the recent storms.

We thank God for allowing us to be a part of this wonderful demonstration of Christian love, and for putting us on a path where we travel in such great company. These young men put their talents to use Saturday to serve God and bring hope to a suffering community.

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.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I wish you could've been there

There's no good time to lose a child, but I'm convinced that every case brings its own unique suffering to survivors. My wife, surviving daughter, and I all work or attend the school where Amanda was a senior, in her last semester before graduation. We had already ordered yearbooks, cap and gown, and all the other trappings that come with the end of a high school career and the beginning of life as an adult.

Because Amanda died in January, most of these things were not yet delivered, but they're coming through now. The other day, yearbooks came out. It's a day that's usually filled with joy for me. I love watching the kids peruse the pages, find themselves, remember the year, and sign for their friends. But this year, the day brought sadness and tears.

This poem came to me tonight as I thought about all the things Amanda was so excited about in her senior year, things she'll never get to experience now.

I wish you could have been there,
But you just couldn't go.
Yearbooks came out
And you didn't show.

Kids laughed and smiled
As they always do.
The year they remembered.
I wish you could too.

But yours came to us
Because you weren't there
And again came the pain
We haven't yet learned to bear.

Behind a closed door
the pages we turned.
Until we found yours
And again our eyes burned.

Your beautiful face
Brought tears to our eyes
You were so happy
When you were alive.

If you could've been there,
I wouldn't have cried.
Because that would mean
You wouldn't have died.

But no matter how much
I hope and I wish,
Forever and always,
You I will miss.

Every day's hard
But some are more tough.
Days like this one
Are especially rough.

I wish you could've been there,
But you couldn't go.
You would've loved it,
But you couldn't show.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vilonia Relief Fund Benefit = Success!

Last night, we helped out at a benefit concert where The Gathering performed. These are four guys from three different churches in our little town of Vilonia. They attend our high school and got together to form this worship band.

A few weeks ago, they asked if I would come and speak if they put on a benefit concert. This was about two weeks before the storms that tore through Vilonia, Arkansas. They had seen what we were doing at Running with Amanda, and we agreed we'd help out and the proceeds from the concert would benefit Soaring Wings Ranch, one of the three children's charities for which we raise money.

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." --Psalm 100:2

But after nature had its way with our community, with so many residents, friends, and family suffering from their recent losses, we decided to donate the proceeds to the Faulkner County Red Cross fund to benefit victims of the storms.

Forty to fifty people showed up to hear the guys play almost two hours of great Christian music (along with a couple of humorous songs about Taco Bell and Chick-fil-a) and listen to me give my testimony. It was a pure joy to see people, as young as four or five and as old as...well, we won't hazard a guess there...come out and give up a Saturday night to praise Jesus, even in the wake of destruction like this town had never before seen.

I was truly blessed.

We ended up raising $960 that will be donated to the relief fund this week, along with a few canned goods and other non-perishable food items. Praise Jesus!

These young men did a great job and we'd like to thank all who came and all who gave to help make this event such a huge success. Your generosity has glorified God and will help build His kingdom! And we couldn't have pulled this off without the generosity of First Baptist Church in Vilonia which allowed us to hold the event in their facility. A big thank you to them!

Thank you, Father, for working through us, using us as tools to accomplish your goals and bring glory to you. Please continue to lead us, guide us, and direct us so that we might continue to please you and bring you glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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.

A Special Prayer for Mothers Who've Lost a Child

This year our family will encounter many firsts. We've already hit the first Valentine's Day, first Easter, and first birthdays for my wife and I since our beautiful Amanda was murdered. Later this month, my youngest daughter Courtney will celebrate her first birthday without her sister. There are still many special days and holidays to come before the first year without Amanda comes to a close. I have no doubt they'll all be hard.

"Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."--Proverbs 31:29

But today is the first Mother's Day, and it's especially hard on Mothers who have lost a child. So today I wanted to say a special prayer for all those mothers who have to face this day having outlived a son or daughter. This is that prayer.

Dear Lord,

Today is Mother's Day, a day set aside by society to honor the ladies who nurtured us when we were too little to care for ourselves, who loved us even when we seemed unlovable, and who for the other 364 days each year get too little recognition for everything they do. Though they deserve it every day, this is a day marked on our calendar to remind us to make them feel special and appreciated.

Most mothers will experience that love today. Husbands, sons, daughters and grandchildren will go to great lengths to make them feel special, appreciated, and in some cases, pampered.

Jesus, you above all others know how deserving they are, but today I want to ask your blessings on a special class of mothers. I must be honest. Before this year, they never crossed my mind as we celebrated Mother's Day. On this special day, they weigh heavily on my heart. Because this is the first Mother's Day my wife will endure without Amanda, our beautiful daughter who died in January. I want to ask your blessings, Lord, for every Mother who has outlived a child.

On this day, please wrap your arms around them. Please give them strength and peace. Let them know their child is in a better place, a place with no suffering and no pain. Let them know there will come a day when all of YOUR children will be reunited. There will come a day when everyone who believes in you will come together and be joined again for eternal life.

I pray, Lord, that you will help them discover that their children are still with them. Though they may be absent in the body, every mother can keep her child with her always in her heart. If they don't already have it, I pray that you will send a messenger and open their hearts to receive your message that brings peace amidst turmoil, love even when we are surrounded by hatred, and strength when we have been beaten down.

I hope and pray that you will make it possible Lord, for every mother who has lost a child, to find a reason to smile today, to feel loved, and to feel appreciated.

Jesus, in your name I pray. Amen.

All of you who have lost children will remain in my prayers throughout the day. May God give you peace and strength.

Friday, May 6, 2011

An exceptional act of Christian love

Yesterday, a student of mine posted the following Bible verse on Facebook:

"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth,"--Proverbs 24:17

Today, the Vilonia School District saw our arch rivals take this verse to heart.

Only a few miles to the north and a little west of our little town lies the community that's home to our bitter enemies on the field and on the court, Greenbrier, Arkansas. Every game in every sport between our two teams is a hard-fought battle with the victor claiming bragging rights for the time being. Our students have fought each other off the field, acts of vandalism have been committed against both schools by the other's fans, and insults are hurled at every event that pits one against the other.

Last week we described the destruction of life and property in our tiny town when terrible storms brought tornadoes ripping through. And today, the natural animosity between rivals was set aside and a true act of love and compassion by Greenbrier was visited upon Vilonia.

Students in the Greenbrier School District spent this week raising money to give to students in Vilonia schools who were victimized by nature's wrath the other day. Today, our number one rival in all things school related sent representatives to our school to hand over the proceeds from their efforts.
"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,"--Matthew 5:44

The students of Greenbrier handed a check for $10,000 over to VHS students and principal Andy Ashley. "This is the golden rule and just what you did for us really showed you know how to practice the golden rule," said staff member Donetta Stone.

"Greenbrier students in all six schools were asked to bring their pennies or whatever amount they wanted to give for the effort ... and they sure brought their pennies. In all six schools, on the same day, during the same second hour, one school even collected $4,000.00. Little kids and big kids all gave what they could, some emptying their pockets and apologizing that was all they had that day. The sum came to $10,000."

This Vilonia High School teacher would like to extend a big thank you to everyone in Greenbrier who took part in this effort. You have demonstrated kindness not often seen in this day and age. Though we will again be enemies on the field and on the court, this act of love and compassion will not be forgotten. You have shown the world today an example of true Christian love and we are extremely grateful.

God bless the students of Greenbrier School District!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thank you! We're making a difference!

When Amanda was killed, nothing about it made sense. It was only four days before her 18th birthday. She had her entire life ahead of her. She had it all planned out. She was going to go to college, major in criminal justice and be a police officer. She'd wanted to be a cop since she was four. All year long she had eagerly anticipated turning 18, her senior prom, and graduating from high school. When she died, she was only days away from the first, about 6 weeks away from the second, and 4 months away from the last. But when she was shot that night, she and all her dreams died.

I had no idea what the right thing to do was. How does one properly react to the death of a child? One thing nagged at me though, almost from the very first moment when I learned of Amanda's death. I had to find a way to honor her memory.

The idea for our little project, Running with Amanda, and it's mission to Reach, Raise, and Remember slowly came to life over the following 8-10 weeks. A piece here, and a piece there, until what you see here fell into place. As the idea for each component came to me, I truly felt God was leading me and this was what I was supposed to do.

But I couldn't do it without all of you who read this blog, who follow us on Facebook and Twitter, who give generously to the charities we support, and especially those who pray for our family and our ministry every day. Without your support, we would not have more than 600 Facebook fans only two months after we started, we would not have already raised more than $1500 for charity in the same amount of time, and we would not have had as big an impact on the lives of others.

That last might be wondering, "What impact?" I mean you can see the number of Facebook fans we have, and the amount of money we've raised. So those two are no surprise. But the difference we (all of us--me, you, and Amanda) are making in others' lives isn't always so obvious for everyone to spot.

" 4 Such confidence we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God." --2 Corinthians 3:4-5

So I thought I'd share a few stories I've heard recently from some of our readers and supporters. I do this, not for any personal accolades or congratulations, but so that all of you who helped us get this far and grow this fast can see that together we really are making a difference. God's grace has used me, you, and Amanda to grow our ministry and increase its impact.

The first comes from a young man who graduated last year.

"It's only human to mourn and I know that you and your wife are always going to but I read your posts all the time. Tonight was the first time I read your post or blog about Romans 5:3-4 and it touched my heart. I have been having some trouble lately with finances and such (the usual for everybody). And I have been so caught up in it I have barely had time to take in the little joys that God has given us. I'm sure you hear this all the time but I couldn't imagine the thought of losing my son. But I know that if it was in Gods will for him to be in heaven with Amanda n all the angels that it's for the best. And just watching you and your faith brings a calming feeling to me that is indescribable. No human being knows how God will unveil his plans to us but you have helped me spiritually in so many ways, and I am one of hundreds, if not thousands or millions who God has spoken to through you. Mom was telling me that the yearbooks had come out n Amanda's page was submitted already. It's gotta be hard but it is just great memories of her during her time here on earth but look at them as a reminder that she is in the glorious place of no suffering sickness stress or any of the other earthly worries and through her n Jesus she has helped the spirit fill the souls of many. U have helped me in many ways and I hope that if u ever have any doubts or sadness you can think about how you have affected my life and always keep faith in the lord."

The second comes from a young lady, a freshman in college, who reads the posts we make on Amanda's Facebook page.

"I know you have no idea who I am at all and I know this is going to come off very random to you.. I didn't know your daughter either .. I'm from Conway but I have a few friends from Vilonia and I see them post on her wall as well as you do.. Actually I go to her facebook everyday to just read all the post she gets.. But the ones that stick out to me the most are yours. Mr. Allison, I've been struggling with my faith for the past year.. It was my freshman year of college and I gave into the partying and the downfalls of everything that comes with college .. But you honestly have gave me hope that I can change my life around. Seriously reading your post to Amanda's wall gives me goose bumps and makes me think how great God is. How much I have missed this past year and how much I wanna get back into church.. And i have you to thank. I know that you had no idea that you were doing this for me but I seriously don't think I can ever thank you enough. Your words are so encouraging and they make me realize how precious life is. It's too short to be doing wrong."

And the third comes from an email I received recently.

"so glad I got your blog! I sent it to my 17 year old daughter who had run away. Last Friday we picked her up and brought her home. She is doing much better and God is obviously at work, though I'm sure there are more hurdles to clear. Thank you for putting Amanda's story out there. I know that has to be so hard and I wanted you to know that you and Amanda are making a difference."

My friends, this is why we do what we do, and your support is an integral part of that. Without you, our impact would be greatly diminished! Your support--whether you support us financially, by spreading links to our posts and pages, or by praying for us regularly--makes it possible to reach people who need encouragement, and people who need Jesus!

"Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." --1 Corinthians 15:58

Sometimes, when we can't see the effects of our efforts, it's easy to get discouraged. But the truth is, in this kind of ministry, we'll never really know exactly how many people we're reaching. We'll never get an exact count of the people who were encouraged by something they saw or read here. Only a small minority are likely to write us a note or email us like these. Most likely, for each of these stories posted here, there are several others we'll never hear. But these are evidence that we (you, me, and Amanda) are making a difference. God promises when we give ourselves "fully to the work of the Lord" our labor "is not in vain."

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere." --"2 Corinthians 2:14

God is using us. He's using me, you, and Amanda to spread the Good News of the gospel of Jesus Christ! Every time you give to one of our supported charities, every time you "Like" or comment on a post, every time you share a link from our pages, you are being led by God to spread the gospel. And the stories above show that your sowing is bearing fruit. We are making a difference!

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." --1 Corinthians 10:31

So let's keep doing what we've been doing these past two months. I'll keep running and posting. You keep "Like"-ing and commenting on our posts, keep giving when you can, and do it all for the glory of God. If we do that, if we each do our part, if we each do what we can, there will be many more stories like those above as time goes on.

Thank you for helping us grow so quickly. Thank you for giving to our supported charities. And thank you for everything else you've done to help us make a difference. I pray that God will bless and keep you all.

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.

Saturday's Fundraiser Changed to Benefit Storm Victims

In light of the devastation visited on our friends and neighbors last week, it has been determined that our upcoming concert will be devoted to raising money and supplies for storm victims of Vilonia instead of our previous plan to take donations for Soaring Wings Ranch.

Running with Amanda will continue, as before, raising money for Soaring Wings. In fact, you may still donate to the ranch via our online fundraising page. We just believe it best to devote all funds raised at the concert to local victims of the terrible storms.

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." --Psalm 100:2

We'd love to see as many as possible turn out. Join us for great Christian music and fellowship while we raise money for our less fortunate friends and neighbors!

Vilonia Red Cross Storm Relief Fundraiser

When:Saturday,May 7, 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Where:Vilonia First Baptist Church
Hosts:The Gathering & Running with Amanda

If you can't make it to the concert, you can still help out. You can donate to Soaring Wings Ranch online, and you can become a fan of the The Gathering and Running for Amanda on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Benefit Concert Still On for Saturday!

That's right! Saturday night, May 7, from 6:00-8:00 PM, we'll be at the First Baptist Church in Vilonia with The Gathering, who will play a concert held to raise funds for Soaring Wings Ranch (SWR). We hope all will come and enjoy some great gospel music and Christian fellowship.

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." --Psalm 100:2

The Gathering will be selling t-shirts, we'll sell concessions, and take donations with all proceeds going to SWR. I'll serve as MC, speaking and sharing my testimony during the intermissions. Please join us in raising money for this Christian home for troubled youth. Your donations, even small ones, will help provide children a loving, stable, Christian home.

But even if you can't donate right now, we hope you'll come and enjoy the show. It will be a great time for all ages!

Soaring Wings Fundraiser

When:Saturday,May 7, 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Where:Vilonia First Baptist Church
Hosts:The Gathering & Running with Amanda

If you can't make it to the concert, you can still help out. You can donate to Soaring Wings Ranch online, and you can become a fan of the The Gathering and Running for Amanda on Facebook.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thanks to all who've helped us so far!

For starting less than two months ago, we've accomplished a lot, and all the credit goes to you, our loyal supporters! Without you, we'd have done nothing even noticeable, let alone spectacular. So let's take a look at all we've accomplished together.

We've raised more than half our fundraising goal already! We started with a combined goal of $3,000, $1,000 each for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Arkansas Children's Hospital, and Soaring Wings Ranch. Already, you've given $1,636.17: $1,101.10 to St. Jude, $277.78 to Arkansas Children's Hospital, and $257.29 to Soaring Wings Ranch. So you've helped us surpass our goal for St. Jude, and carried us to more than 25% our goals for ACH and Soaring Wings. All in less than two months! That's fantastic!

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."--2 Corinthians 9:6

You've also been great about spreading the word! Our Facebook page today has 565 fans and continues to grow. You're from all over the country and that didn't happen by chance. It's because you've been so great at sharing our posts and our links! You've helped us grow and you continue to help us by spreading the word of our mission to Reach, Raise, and Remember!

We'd also like to thank the musicians with The Gathering who came to us with the idea of a benefit concert for Soaring Wings Ranch. Next Saturday, May 7, the concert will take place from 6:00-8:00 pm at Vilonia First Baptist Church. We'd love to see a lot of you there to enjoy some great Christian music and fellowship!

So a big thanks again to everyone who has pitched in and helped us get where we are today. With your continued help, we'll not only succeed, we'll excel in our mission to Reach, Raise, and Remember! Reach people for Jesus, Raise money for charity, and Remember my beautiful daughter, Amanda Marie Allison!

To God be the glory of all we accomplish together!