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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Closing the Door on 2012

Good bye 2012!

This morning I finished my last run of the year, a 12-miler to close out 2012. I finished the run with an average 9:55 pace, the best I've managed on a long run since my October knee injury. The injury set me back for a while, but Jesus Christ brought me back and helped us meet our running and fundraising goals for the year.

It never fails. God delivers even when I doubt.
"...'At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,' says the Lord." -- Zephaniah 3:20

As December approached, I didn't think it was possible for me to accomplish my running goals, or for us to reach our fundraising goals. The first two weeks of November I was still not running due to my injured knee. We were also nearly $1000 short of our fundraising goals for St. Jude and Arkansas Children's Hospital.

I had three full marathons scheduled in December and wasn't sure I'd be able to complete even the first one. Two weeks before the St. Jude Marathon, I strapped on a knee brace and made my first 3 mile run since the Soaring Wings Half in October. The pain was gone, but the many weeks of inactivity were obvious in my slow time and lack of endurance. I had two weeks to get back in shape to complete the 26.2 miles.

Easing back into it, I never did a long run in those two weeks. But when race day came, I was feeling good. It had to be Jesus, because it certainly wasn't training. I was feeling so good, I caught a couple of friends at mile 4 and decided to run on in with them.

I had come into the race with the hope of a PR, a sub 5 hour marathon. But around mile 14, my friends began to struggle. We pretty much walked it in from there and finished at 5:52, my slowest yet.
" 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." -- Matthew 6:31-34

All the time I had to take off, all the time I couldn't train, all the time I wished I could run, I worried, "How am I going to be in shape to finish the marathon?" I knew better. I knew what the Bible says about worry. Still, my imperfect humanity left me wondering...did God not want me to finish these scheduled marathons?

I decided, training or not, I was going to show up for the race, pick up my packet, and start the race. If Christ didn't want me to finish, I'd DNF. But until then, I was going to step out on faith.

And Jesus got me through it. His strength, not mine. He kept me going, and by the time I finished, I realized He ws already working to help me finish the next two I had scheduled for December.

The End of the World and Day After the End of the World Marathons were December 21st and 22nd, back-to-back, one on Friday and the next on Saturday. After walking the last 11 miles of St. Jude, I realized that Jesus was training me for what I'd need to do to finish the next challenge.

Three weeks after St. Jude, the End of the World Marathon proved more challenging than I expected. It ended up a trail marathon, 4 seven-mile loops. That's right, 28 miles. So that Friday, I ended up doing my first trail race and my first ultra marathon at the same time. A lot more challenging than I expected.

But just like at St. Jude, Jesus gave me the strength, the discipline, and the ability to finish. The second day was no different. In fact, the first 20 miles proved easier than the day before. I walked the last 7 miles of the second race and the last 9 miles of the first race.

That's exactly what Jesus knew I'd need to do when I was running St. Jude, and that's why He put me in a position to walk so much in that race. He was in total control from the start. I was worried and didn't need to be, because God had everything in His hands.

I had also run the Little Rock Marathon in March, so Jesus let me finish the year with 4 completed full marathons. Not my strength, but His. Not my ability, but His. He made it possible to reach my running goals for the year, and He deserves whatever glory comes from every run, from every mile, from every step I managed through the year.
"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:10

Our fundraising goals looked impossible to reach too. We had reached our goal for Soaring Wings earlier, but in November we still lacked almost $1000 to reach our goal for Arkansas Children's Hospital, and another almost $1000 to go for St. Jude. Until two days ago, we had made a little progress, but not much.

Again, I doubted we would reach them. I wondered if I had set them too high, and had plans to lower them for next year. But God again had it all under control.

This time, Ms. Barbara Wood stepped in and, with amazing generosity, made donations through our fundraising pages that allowed us to achieve our goals. We are extremely grateful for every single donor, every single dollar, that our supporters gave to Soaring Wings, ACH, and St. Jude. These donations save kids' lives and I can't think of a better way to honor Amanda's memory.

We have been truly blessed, by God for giving us a reason and a role to keep going in the wake of Amanda's death. We have been blessed by all our wonderful supporters who help us stay motivated through their prayers, donations, and encouragement.

We couldn't do what we do, we couldn't be where we are without you all. We hope and pray you'll stay with us as we enter year three Running with Amanda.

God has laid it on my heart to shoot for 13 miles tomorrow, the first day of 2013. So today we close the door on 2012 and tomorrow we open the door to a brand new year.

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, December 29, 2012

Run Out the Old and Run in the New!

let's run out the old, and run in the new...year that is! Only two more days before we close the books on 2012, and open them to the new year, 2013. God has laid it on my heart to run 12 miles on New Year's Eve and run another 13 miles on New Year's Day to close out 2012 and open up 2013.

For us, 2012 has been another challenging year. Sometimes, it seemed the downs were much lower than the highs of the ups. From loss of loved ones to severed ties with once close family, we've definitely been challenged.

But like He did when Amanda was killed, still definitely the toughest challenge we've ever faced, Jesus Christ remains the rock to which we cling when buffeted by the winds that Satan hopes will dislodge our faith. The hope of His promise gives us a reason to keep going, a reason to keep putting one foot in front of the other, regardless what tragedies and obstacles life throws our way.
" 1 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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." -- Hebrews 12:1-3

Though there are times I've felt like giving up, Jesus always shows me a reason to keep going. Almost always, it's that great cloud of witnesses mentioned in the verse above. There are always people watching, watching every single one of us. These folks have hard times too, and many feel like giving up at any given point in time.

Part of our purpose here on earth is to give these ladies and gentleman a reason not to quit, a reason to keep going, a reason to put one foot in front of the other, even when the race seems pointless. Many of these witnesses don't know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They haven't accepted the gift of salvation, of eternal life. Some don't even believe in Jesus and others don't know what to believe.

Through studying scripture and much prayer, I've come to realize that how we react to the tough situations in which we find ourselves, can bring people closer to Christ, or not.

It's really simple. If we persevere, make the right choices, and keep marching forward, even in the face of the most difficult trials, those watching will want what we have. They'll want to know what keeps us going and they'll want us to share it with them. That great cloud of witnesses will want Jesus because they see what He does for us!

We've got to keep running, even when the race seems impossible. And the only way we can, is by fixing our eyes on Jesus, letting Him be our pacer, letting Him lead the way. If we keep our eyes on Him, and live our life for Him, Jesus will get us through the roughest seas, over the steepest hills, and through the most severe storms.

I don't know if 2013 is going to be any easier by earthly standards, but I do know that Jesus will be there beside us for whatever struggles we face.
"For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." -- 2 Corinthians 4:17

The apostle Paul called the troubles of this life "light and momentary." He called them that and he was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, and tortured. "Light and momentary."

What he means is, compared to life after this, these trials that make us want to throw in the towel will seem no more harmful than a mosquito bite does today. If you've accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior, if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that He is the Son of God, born of a virgin, was crucified and buried, then rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father, the afflictions of this life will be overwhelmed by the pure joy and glory of life in Heaven.

If you don't accept God's gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, the trouble you face in this life will pale in comparison to the absolute misery and suffering you'll experience for eternity in Hell. The worst experience on earth will seem pleasant beside the easiest day you'll spend in Satan's lair.
"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:10

Every single one of us was created by God, in His image, to do His will. Whether you believe or not, whether you accept His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, you were created to do just that. God created you with the plan that you would know and love His Son, accept Him as your Savior, and do His will.

He has a plan for your life, a good, pleasing, and perfect plan that will be far better than anything you can come up with on your own. If you don't know Christ as your Savior, make 2013 the year you accept Him. Live your life for Him and see what great things He can accomplish through you!

May you and your family be truly blessed in 2013!

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, December 28, 2012

I am officially a maniac...Marathon Maniac that is!

At every marathon you see them, usually before the race taking a group photo. Then many of them are easy to recognize along the course, wearing the Maniac logos emblazoned on their apparel. It's a coveted title by many addicted to running marathons...Marathon Maniac.

After last week's double, I qualified! Two marathons or ultras in two days gets you into the club at the Iridium level, that's 4 stars on a one to ten star scale. Each level has specific criteria to qualify. I doubt I'll ever go higher, but the cool thing is, you can't go lower. Once you reach a level, you're there for life.

As a Maniac, you get a registration discount on certain races, access to Members Only pages of the Maniac webpage, which includes a forum, race calendar, Maniac gear, and other cool stuff for folks addicted to marathoning. You're also assigned a membership number.
"8 He said, “Surely they are my people, children who will be true to me”; and so he became their Savior. 9 In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old." -- Isaiah 63:8-9

I was accepted and assigned Maniac #6389 after last weekend's races. Like I do with bib numbers at races, I decided to see if I could find a verse or passage in the Bible that would correspond. When I look back over the struggles that brought me here, Isaiah 63:8-9 seems to fit perfectly.

It wasn't long ago, that I could never have pictured myself running marathons, especially not 2 in 2 days. A lot of my life passed with no thought of running marathons in my mind. I have to hang my head in shame when I admit that a lot of my life also passed with no thought of Jesus Christ. I didn't seek His will. I didn't pray for guidance. I just went through life day-to-day seeking little more than self gratification.

Even so, Jesus Christ never gave up on me. He must have been shaking His head in disgust often over the years, as I fought to serve myself and refuse to submit to His will. But still he waited...waited on me to come around and turn to Him.

When at last I realized the folly of trying to live a life without Christ, He was there. I remember well the day I was driving down the dirt road in front of our farm, discouraged and disheartened because I was working as hard as I possibly could and losing money through a hard winter. That's when I cried out to Jesus, asking for His guidance for the first time.

He was there, instantly planting the idea of becoming a teacher in my head. I worried that I couldn't make it work, but everything worked out and everything fell right in line.

Jesus was there...waiting...waiting right there for me to reach the point where I'd cry out to Him.

I didn't realize it, but He was distressed when I was distressed. Jesus always wanted to reach down and lift me to my feet. Maybe He wasn't shaking His head all the time I kept trying to do things my own way. Maybe He was standing there the whole time, His hand outstretched with tears pouring down His cheeks, disappointed that I was being so stubborn.

Still...He waited. He waited to become my Savior. He waited while I lived out my rebellious years. He waited with His hand outstretched for me to reach up and take it. He waited and became my Savior!

Since then, through all the ups and downs, His love and mercy redeemed me, lifted me up, and carried me. Through tough times on the job, through tough times with the kids, through Amanda's death and through our current struggles, His love and mercy redeems me, lifts me, and carries me.
"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" -- Matthew 19:26

I wouldn't be here today, doing what I'm doing, if He hadn't waited. Without His love and mercy, I'd have fallen into a pit I couldn't get out of long ago. Especially after Amanda was killed, but even under the far less tragic struggles before and since, I couldn't have gone on if Jesus hadn't redeemed me, lifted me, and carried me.

Once again, running parallels life. I could never have reached this level of running without that same outstretched hand, His hand.

Almost two years ago we lost Amanda. At that time, I thought running a marathon was impossible. I had no intention of ever trying. I had run two halves at the time, and felt I couldn't have gone another step after both of those.

But just like in life, Jesus redeemed me, lifted me, and carried me to a level I could not have accomplished on my own, without Him. Now, thanks to Jesus, I am a Marathon Maniac.

I hope and pray that I'll never forget, that I'll always remember, that it wasn't my strength or my ability that got me here. It was His love and mercy, the same love and mercy that are responsible for all the good things in my life.

If your life seems filled with struggle, if you find yourself down all the time, seemingly unable to succeed at anything, look up and take His outstretched hand. Jesus is patiently waiting to redeem you, to lift you, and to carry you. If you trust Him, He will take you to heights you never imagined were reachable before.

If you never trusted Him before, and your life is less than what you wish it was, give it a try. Reach out. Take His outstretched hand. He's waiting, patiently waiting.

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, December 27, 2012

Race Recap: Day After the End of the World Marathon 12/22/2012

The good news: We survived what was supposed to be the End of the World according to the Mayan calendar! The even better news: That meant we got to run the Day After the End of the World Marathon!

Yes. We figured, what a better way to end life on earth as we know it than with a marathon, and, if the world didn't end, what a better way to celebrate than another marathon! So we signed up for both, the End of the World and the Day After the End of the World Marathons.

My friend Jesse Hardy and I ran the first one together, while our wives, Heidi and Janice, did the halves. That was Heidi's first half and Janice's second. For the Day After the End of the World, it was Jesse, Heidi, and I all running the full, and Janice doing the half.

I have to brag on both our wives. Janice's first half was at St. Jude, earlier this month. Only three weeks later she completed a double half for her second and third. Amazing! Then Heidi's first half was on Friday, and her first full on Saturday! Again, amazing! We are both blessed with absolutely amazing wives. :)

Now let me describe my race experience.

On this day, I'd wear bib #14. As always, I searched for a Bible verse to correspond. It's amazing how God's word can work through something as simple as the bib I wear in a race, but it does! Once again, I found a verse that fit fantastically.
"Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." -- James 1:4

Talk about a perfect verse to meditate on for the second marathon in two days!

As I went to bed the night before, after the first one, my legs were stiff and sore, so much so I wasn't really sure about the next morning. But, as I tested them out when I woke they weren't quite as sore, still sore, but not quite so sore. After walking down and back up the stairs to get a cup of coffee, they were quickly loosening up.

Still, I didn't know how they'd react when I hit the trail to run.

But the Good Lord had it all worked out, like He always does. As we crossed the timing mats that marked the start line, my legs actually felt better than they had 24 hours earlier when we started marathon #1.

Jesse had decided he and Heidi were going to use a 10/3 rotation, 10 minutes running followed by 3 minutes walking, to get through this race. I'd never tried this before, always going to a run walk when I HAD to late in a race. Never before had I started alternating like this. I went back and forth a little bit on whether to try it with them or go on ahead.

But try it I did, and it actually worked pretty well. We finished the first loop in 1:35, on track for a little over 6 hours to finish. The second loop we completed in 1:33, a negative split! Things were going great! The third loop took a little longer, 1:38, but we had walked the last 3/4 of a mile in on that one.

I (we) had finally hit the wall toward the end of the third loop. When I started up the last little incline on the loop, my body told me it was time to walk it in. But still, for the 2nd marathon in 2 days, things had gone really well. We'd kept up the 10/3 split, and a respectable time, for 20 miles of the race!

We walked the entire last loop, but I was pretty happy when we crossed the finish line only 14 minutes later than we had the day before. My chip time was 7:04 at the finish line and I was ready to be done.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." -- 2 Timothy 4:7

And that's what it was really all about, finishing the race.

The surprises that made the race more difficult, the long course on trails, the day before didn't catch me off guard on this day. We knew of them all too well by now. In fact, the only surprise on the 2nd day was the course had been shortened a little overnight. Instead of the previous day's 28 mile race, we ran a 27.2 mile "marathon" the 2nd day.

But the Good Lord above kept us going, finishing what so many thought was impossible, two marathons in two days. It wasn't any power of mine that got me through them. Having Jesse and Heidi there helped, but that wasn't enough either.

Just like in so many other things, from Amanda's death to finishing other races, Jesus Christ was the only reason I could keep putting one foot in front of the other until the very end. He kept me going when my body wanted to quit.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

Two marathons (trail ultras really) in two days. It certainly wasn't in my humanly power to finish them. It was Jesus Christ who pushed, pulled, and carried me, once again. I can't explain it any other way.

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, December 24, 2012

Race Recap: End of the World Marathon 12/21/2012

Here it is, finally. The race recap everyone thought they may never see...I mean...the world was supposed to end that day, right?

On Friday, the last day on the infamous Mayan calendar, we decided to run the End of the World Marathon in Humble, TX. Advertised as a four-loop, hard-packed dirt road course, we ended up with some surprises. All-in-all though, it was a great race and great fun.

So let's give you a recap.

I started out with ideas of a 5-hour finish time, but that wasn't to be in this race. Two big surprises made that goal unattainable, but those same surprises made it hard to be disappointed with my 6:52 finish time.

Surprise #1 was the course turned out to be much more trail than hard-packed dirt roads. Some parts actually resembled a motocross track for short spans. Others included deep ruts, 12-18 inch tall grass, huge mud puddles to detour around, patches of loose sand, and really narrow stretches bounded by heavy brush. The terrain definitely slowed me down.

Surprise #2 was the distance. Instead of 26.2 miles of trails, we got to do 28. That's right. It turned out each of those four loops was 7 miles instead of 6.55. The extra 1.8 miles was certainly a contributing factor to the slower finish time.

That said, the race was extremely well organized. Water stations at every mile with plenty of volunteers, water, and Powerade. At the turn around for each loop was also a well-stocked snack table with apples, oranges, bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, crackers and nuts. Portable bathroom facilities were available at the start/turn around, and two other spots along the course.
"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," -- Psalm 1:1

My bib number for this race was 11, and as always, I searched for a Bible verse that corresponds. We didn't get to pick up our packets until race morning, so I couldn't do it before the race. But after the race, with all the surprises, Psalm 1:1 seemed fitting.

I realized how blessed I truly am, just to be able to run races like this is a blessing. Running has probably been the thing that kept me from walking with the wicked, or letting my heart turn black and hard. After Amanda's death, it would have been so easy to turn to the bottle, or drugs, or even murder. But instead, Jesus showed me a way out, and that was to run.

This race, with all its surprises and unexpected difficulties, in a lot of ways, symbolized my journey. It wasn't what I expected. It was a lot more difficult than I anticipated. At times it made me want to quit and take the easier way out. But instead of leaning on my own strength, I leaned on the strength that only comes from Jesus, that strength that keeps you going when all you want to do is quit.

I am blessed, regardless what any race or life throws at me. I am blessed because Jesus showed me a path that kept me from walking with the wicked. Some might have been upset with the surprises this race threw at us, but it's just another race that proves how much running parallels life. Yes. I am blessed. Blessed to run and blessed to live.
"Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." -- Matthew 5:15

I had the chance to tell Amanda's story too. On the second loop of the course, a woman was passing us and slowed down to ask about the sign on my back. In all our races, I run with pictures pinned to my back. It's a collage with Amanda's picture and several other young people whose deaths were in some way a result of teen substance abuse. There are overdoses, DUIs, violence associated with drug and alcohol abuse, and others. The pictures, along with their stories, are intended to draw attention to the dangers associated with teen substance abuse.

This lady, after hearing Amanda's story, told me she had a son who is a freshman in college. She said she would be telling him the story of Amanda's death this week, and believes it's more likely to hit home because it's a story of someone she spoke with, actually met, instead of just read about in a paper or online.

That's one of our major goals, to get parents to talk to their kids about the dangers when they or those around them lose their minds on drugs and alcohol. We hope and pray that somewhere, at least one will get the message and avoid a tragic death.
"Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced," -- Psalm 105:5

A cool thing about the four-loop course was that you got to see people you wouldn't normally see. Faster people passed you (sometimes more than once), you passed slower people, and you met faster and slower people coming the other way. This gave me a chance to meet and talk to people I'd never have an opportunity to converse with on a regular marathon.

Besides the lady I mentioned before, there were others we met on the trail with interesting stories.

One lady who passed us toward the end told us she was 60 years old and how it's a miracle that she's even alive. She told us when she was born, her mother was hemorrhaging badly. The doctor delivered this woman, told the nurse to abandon her and try to save her mother. This now 60-year-old marathoner was tossed in a bassinet and left for dead at birth by the doctor. But she said an intern ignored the doctor's order and began working on her.

She told us she considers every day a blessing and her very life a miracle. I'd have probably never seen or spoken with her at a normal marathon, but this conversation was certainly a blessing to me.

Another interesting story of an older man who passed us on a narrow part of the trail. He wore a 50 States Marathon Club t-shirt and told us his amazing story. I can't exactly remember what brought it up, but he mentioned he was addicted to marathoning, but that it's a better addiction than the one he gave up.

He had spent time in prison years earlier. Busted for dealing cocaine, he faced a maximum sentence of 70 years when convicted. At the time, he thought that meant he was going to serve every day of that 70 years. He admitted he was "addicted to the needle" in those days and lived hard and fast. I never learned exactly what his sentence was, or how much time he actually served, but he did say it turned him off the drugs.

You never know what kind of people you'll run into at a race. All kinds of people take up the sport for all kinds of reasons. One thing's for sure though, there are a lot of very interesting stories along the course. Slowing down to learn a few can make for an interesting and educational race.

I'll close with a few pictures I took along the trail. There were more, but apparently AT & T couldn't get them from my phone to my email as quickly as I expected. Thinking they'd already sent, I deleted several from my phone while the message was still in my outbox.

Some of the best missing pictures are of 1) Janice poised to throw a rock at me on the course, 2) a sign in front of a large patch of loose sand warning of "dehydrated quick sand," 3) 2 little hills that looked like a double ramp on a motocross track (they didn't seem so little by the end of 28 miles.) There were some others too, but here's what made it through the airwaves to my email.

1) A picture perfect place to start the End of the World Marathon.

2) A few pics along the trail.

That's all the pics that made it through. I hate it that some of the roughest parts of the course weren't captured in these pics, but that's life.
"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." -- Proverbs 27:17

I was blessed to run this race with my friend, Jesse Hardy, who challenged me to run my first marathon after Amanda's death. That challenge is what started me on the road to the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011, took my running to a whole new level, and really laid the foundation for this ministry. I believe God sent him to my home that week after I lost her to do just that.

Jesse and I ran MCM 2011 together. This was his 14th marathon and my 4th, but only the 2nd we'd run together. Running with a friend most certainly helps, and Jesse kept me going at times I wanted to quit. Yes, iron sharpens iron and a friend sharpens a friend.

We ended up finishing in 6:52, together. That wasn't so bad, given the extra distance, the fact the course was a trail instead of a road, and the fact we had the Day After the End of the World Marathon to run the next day.

That's right! We were signed up for double, back-to-back, 2 days in a row, marathons. That's what made us decide to walk the last 9 miles of this race, and really slowed us down. But it might have been the best decision I'd ever made in a race.

We finished the Day After the End of the World Marathon the next day, so I'll be posting a recap of that race soon too!

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, December 23, 2012

2 Marathons (and More) in 2 Days!

This weekend Janice and I had the pleasure of running with my good friend and Marine Corps brother, Jesse Hardy, and his lovely wife Heidi. It was a scheduled double marathon. Back-to-back 26.2 mile races on consecutive days. Definitely a challenge, in more ways than we expected.

Only a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure I could do it. I just kept telling myself, "Keep going, and if it's the Lord's will, He will get you through them." So I kept going, trusting only in Him, because my training was nowhere near where it should have been.

But Jesus got me through more than I expected, and in better shape than I expected!
"5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:5-6

First, I signed up for the End of the World Marathon and Day After the End of the World Marathon last spring. I had just run the Little Rock Marathon and stumbled on the website for these races while I was running a super high marathon fever. The allure of a once-in-a-lifetime double marathon was too much to resist.

The website promised a four loop, out and back course on hard-packed dirt roads. Going over an out and back course four times, eight for both days, was a bit worrisome, but not enough to keep me out. Things turned out a bit different than I expected though, making the races even more challenging than I expected.

It was four loops, but that part wasn't as bad as I thought. What really caught me by surprise was the "hard packed dirt roads" ended up being a lot more trail and a lot less road. Most everyone there, and a lot of them were really experienced marathoners, classified this a bona fide trail marathon. My first trail race (and my second) ever!

Running trails is a lot different than running on the road. Dips, holes, steep inclines, roots, puddles, loose sand, gravel, and rocks make for an entirely different experience than the smooth surface of a paved road. Dodging, slipping, leaping, twisting, and turning to avoid obstacles all utilize muscles you don't even know exist in your legs when you're running on the road.

I learned a little about trail running on these two days. Mainly that you cannot maintain the same pace you do on the road! All those obstacles I mentioned before, they slow you down too. So trying to maintain what I considered a respectable marathon pace on day 1 turned out to be a mistake.

Turning into a trail race wasn't the only surprise we had in store though. In addition to running my first trail races, these back to back runs also became my first ultras! (For those who don't know, an ultra is any race longer than the typical 26.2 mile marathon.)

That's right! Those four loops turned out to measure 7 miles each on day one. That made for a 28 mile race. They did cut a little off the course on day two. The second race ended up 27.2 miles. Still an ultra, but I promise you, by the end, I was glad they chopped off that extra .8!

What's amazing is, like I said earlier, I was never sure I could finish these races. Last week I wasn't sure. On the drive down I wasn't sure. After the first race, I wasn't sure I could make it through the second. And after mile 20 of the second, I was wondering if I could make it to the end.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

That's because I COULDN'T! Not by my own strength I couldn't! If I was counting on my strength and my ability, I would have dropped out when an injury kept me from training for two months in October and November. If I was counting on my strength and ability, I would have dropped out when I fell ill after the St. Jude Marathon. If I was counting on my strength and ability, I would have DNF'd in the first race when I realized I was going to have to do 28 miles, or at least would have chosen to not attempt the second race on day two.

But it wasn't me I was counting on. Not on my strength and not on my ability. As each new challenge reared it's head, I knew I'd only make it through these two races by leaning on the Lord. Letting Him push me, pull me, and carry me when the going got tough. And it worked!
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

Jesus got me through in better shape than I ever hoped. I'd never done a double before, and when I went to bed after day one, my legs were killing me. I had no idea what they would feel like in the morning, but it didn't look good.

I woke on day 2 a little stiff, but with less soreness than I expected. After moving around a bit, the legs actually felt pretty good. That lasted the majority of the race, until about mile 20 my legs were holding out. The last 7 miles on day two were tough, no doubt. And after the race, I was stiff, sore, and exhausted.

But this morning, I again woke feeling much better than anticipated. After the 7 hour drive home, I felt pretty stiff and sore when I piled out of the vehicle. But again, a little moving around and things felt fine. I even had it in me to do a brake job on Janice's car this afternoon!

A lot of people told me it was a crazy idea to try to run two marathons in two days. They told me I needed time to recover. They told me I was going to injure myself. I even heard I was likely to die!

Maybe, just maybe they would have been right if I had depended only on myself to get through. But anything's possible with God, and this weekend proved that! Thank you Jesus for getting me through my first double (trail-ultra) marathon! I couldn't have made it without you!

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.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Only Jesus can get me through 2 marathons in 2 days...

This weekend we'll be in Humble, TX to run the End of the World Marathon and the Day after the End of the World Marathon. That's right, two marathons in two days. 26.2 miles each on one day, then the next.

It's a new challenge for me. The longest double long runs I've ever done were back to back 13 mile runs last summer. But months ago when I first saw this race scheduled, I signed up. The races are named to coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar--the day many have decided will be the last day we'll enjoy life on earth--and the day after.

A once in a lifetime opportunity to run these races. I mean, there will never be another end to the Mayan calendar. And with a bit of shame, I must admit that's why I signed up for these races, because it's an opportunity I'll never have again.

I said with shame because I didn't register for this race with God as my primary focus, my number one reason for running it. No. My reasons when I put my name on the roll were vanity, pride, and selfishness. Not exactly qualities that align with our mission here.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." -- 1 Corinthians 10:31

You see, I had let myself get caught up in running, not for the glory of God, but for the glory of me. I was really liking the idea of doing marathon after marathon, hearing people tell me it was amazing and heaping praise on me. I'd let myself forget that God had told me two marathons per year, for His glory, to accomplish our mission here at Running with Amanda. I'd let it become all about me.

So God sent me a little reminder in the form of a pretty tough injury a few weeks ago. Around the middle of October, my knee began to hurt so bad I couldn't run. I spent two weeks with no running, then ran a previously scheduled half marathon. That left me on crutches for one week, then still no running for two more weeks.

Finally, two weeks before the St. Jude Marathon, the Good Lord figured maybe I'd learned my lesson and let me hit the road again. I wasn't sure I could finish St. Jude, and certainly wasn't sure I'd be able to run this upcoming double.
"in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6

But once He got my attention, once I was convinced that my injury was a little discipline from God for leaving His will to pursue my own, once I admitted my mistake and set about getting back on the right path, He made my path straight.

After weeks of shooting, stabbing pain whenever I tried to run even a few steps, I could suddenly (but slowly) run without pain. I had only two weeks to get back in shape for St. Jude, and knew I had to take it easy getting there. I still wasn't sure I'd be able to finish.

It turned out the slowest of the three marathons I've run, slower by 24 minutes than my previous slowest, but Jesus pushed me, pulled me, and carried me through the entire 26.2 miles, without a hint of pain from my injury.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

Not long ago, I didn't know if I'd be ready to run a marathon this week, let alone two marathons in two days. But now I'm back on track, doing it for His glory, and trusting in Him to get me through.

It won't be easy, and it likely won't be fast, but this weekend me and Jesus have two marathons to run. Just like the others, He brought me to it and I have faith He'll bring me through it.

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, December 18, 2012

Bring on the end of the world...

We're only three days away from the last day on the Mayan calendar, a day that many believe will be the last day of life on earth. The 21st of December, the year 2012. It's almost here.

It may seem hard to believe, but there really are people who think the Mayans stopped adding days to their calendar because they had some future-predicting gift and knew exactly when life as we know it would end. I don't know what will happen on Friday, or if there will be a Saturday, but I'm not buying the whole end of the world thing based on some ancient pagan culture's calendar.

I'm not buying it because the Bible guarantees me that nobody will know. No person on earth will have prior knowledge of when the end will come. The infallible Word of God promises it will come without warning, without foreknowledge. Could it be the world will end on the 21st? Certainly! Just like the end could come tomorrow, or 1000 years from now. We don't know, and we won't know!
"42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." -- Matthew 24:42-44

Like a thief in the night...without warning...when you least expect...that's what the Good Book says.

But it's interesting these verses point out that we should be ready, always ready for the end. But here Jesus isn't talking about stocking up on canned goods and ammunition to be ready. He's not talking about preparing a shelter in an unpopulated area, a place to hide during the rapture, then emerge to rebuild in the aftermath. He's not talking about making physical preparations...not at all.

No, He's talking about preparing ourselves spiritually.

You see, the reason I'm not worried about the end of the world...on the 21st or whenever it because I know what comes next. I know where I'm going when life on this earth is done. I have complete confidence that, if the world ends tomorrow, the 21st, or any other day, I'm going to Heaven when my time on earth is done.

I'm not worried because I'm certain the world will be here on the 22nd. Honestly, I think the odds of the world ending on the 21st are the same as any other day, the 22nd, the 31st, some day next year, or some day centuries in the future. I'm not worried because no matter when life on earth ends, if I last until the apocalypse, or leave this life before then, I'm headed up to see Jesus and Amanda and all the rest who are already in Heaven!

That peace, that comfort, that confidence is available to any and all who believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that He came to earth, was killed and rose again to save us from our sins. It's available to anyone and everyone who truly believes it in their heart, and who confesses it with their lips.
"38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." -- Romans 8:38-39

The great thing is, once you've accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, once you truly believe and allow the Holy Spirit to take control in your life, there's no going back. You're saved forever! Paul said in his letter to the Romans, there's NOTHING that can separate us from His love...NOTHING!

That's where the peace that passes understanding comes from. That's where the strength to endure life's trials and tribulations come from. That's where the hope that keeps us moving forward when others quit or fall back comes from. That's why, when wave after wave keeps crashing into us, knocking us down, trying to drown us, we can hold onto the hope we have in Jesus' promise...that one day, we'll trade in the suffering of this life for a life without tears, pain, or heartache.

So I say bring on December 21st! Whether the world ends or the sun rises on the 22nd, I'm ready for whatever happens, and that's because I know the Lord, Jesus Christ as my Savior.

If you don't have that peace, if you don't have that hope, if you don't have the comfort that comes with a personal relationship with Him, click the link below to learn how it can all be yours.
"for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" -- Romans 10:13

Don't worry about December 21st, or the end of the world whenever it comes. But be prepared...spiritually. Call on the name of Jesus. Believe He is the Son of God, sent to save us from our sins. Really believe! And you will have no need to worry, whenever the end comes.

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, December 17, 2012

There is no denying the existence of evil...

Last Friday proved that! If you didn't believe in the existence of evil before the 26 innocents, including 20 precious children, were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, pure evil reached out and slapped you in the face. Hopefully it did anyway.

After the tragedy, I saw and shared pictures on Facebook of a fictional conversation that's been circulating probably since Columbine. Someone asks God, "Why weren't You there to stop the killings at the school?" God replies, "I'm not allowed in school."

When I shared that picture, several commented that God is in the schools, in the hearts of every child, every faculty member, and every staff member who believes. I understand that, and certainly agree. God is omnipresent, everywhere at once. He lives within all of us who believe, and travels with us in our daily walk.

Still, the point emphasized in that short conversation is a valid one.
"16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." -- 2 Timothy 3:16-17

We agree that taking God out of schools is impossible, but our society has done everything in its power to take the teaching of Godly morals and Biblical principals out of our schools. From lawsuits to remove the 10 commandments to lawsuits to stop schools from saying the Pledge of Allegiance because of the "One nation, under God" line, a small minority has successfully forced districts across the country to remove any reference to God or Christianity from school campuses.

I remember last year, a very devout Christian student came to my classroom for the first time. He was a senior in high school. When he saw the Bible on my desk, he asked, "Isn't that illegal for you to have here?"

It's not illegal to have a Bible on my desk, just like it's not illegal to wear a cross or other religious symbol at school. But so much of our society has been convinced that outward expressions of Christian faith are banned from our public schools, that a virtual ban exists.

Teachers fear reprisals if they display a Bible or other evidence of their faith. Schools have removed posted Bible verses that teach the very morals and character our nation was founded upon. The Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory are taught as fact in the science classrooms of our schools in spite of the fact that major flaws exist that make absolute proof of either impossible.
"20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith." -- 1 Timothy 6:20-21

Even 2000 years ago, Paul recognized the attempts of scientists to undermine the Word of God. But still, our nation was founded on Biblical principles 1700 years later. Judeo-Christian values were taught in our schools, represented in our laws, and observed in most of our homes for the first 200 years of our existence as a country.

In that time, we rose from a small band of loosely collected former colonies to the irrefutably most powerful nation on earth. God's blessings were poured out upon us. Yes, evil existed even in those early days. It reared its head from time-to-time. But virtue in these United States was far more common, far more recognizable than it is today.

I cannot help but believe part of the disappearance of virtue and moral character in our society is directly linked to the absence of references to God and Biblical teaching. We have replaced that teaching with "knowledge" that seeks to defy the existence of God, or in some cases, simply a void, a sort of black hole that encourages kids to define their own morality.

In too many cases, the result is a completely self-centered, self-absorbed individual with no consideration or concern with the rights and welfare of others. In the most extreme of cases, an individual who, when life doesn't turn out the way they want, doesn't give them what they believe their entitled to, they seek to exact revenge on society with violence against innocents.
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." -- 2 Chronicles 7:14

We've been turning away from God, as a society, for decades now. Our country and our culture are in a state of precipitous decline, as evidenced by events like the Sandy Hook shooting. Some point to legislation to heal our nation, but I don't believe more laws will help.

Our hope lies in the Lord. Our only hope lies in a return to the Judeo-Christian principles that lifted this country from scattered settlements in the wilderness to the greatest, most powerful nation on earth in less than two centuries. Our only real chance to turn the tide is to once again make Jesus Christ the center of our culture and again embrace the values He preached two millenia ago.

I pray that God will strengthen and comfort the families of those beautiful, innocent persons who were killed last week at Sandy Hook Elementary. And I pray that their deaths will not be in vain. I pray that this senseless tragedy will work to turn Americans back toward Christ and the principles of love and charity He taught, so that we can once again be a nation worthy of God's blessings.

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, December 3, 2012

St. Jude Marathon Race Recap

This race was everything I'd been told! I can't imagine any other race being as well-organized and for such a worthwhile cause as the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. Put that together with the fact my recent injury never reared its ugly head and it made for a fantastic day in Memphis!
"in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6

The Good Lord definitely made my path straight this week!

With only two weeks of very limited running since October 27th, and most of that accompanied by a significant amount of pain and/or discomfort, I wasn't exactly sure how this race would go. I was trusting in Jesus to get me through it, but just wasn't certain what kind of shape I'd be in by the end.

Turns out, God came through with much more than I expected and much more than I asked for. Never, not one time, did my injured knee give even the slightest discomfort. No pain, not a twinge to remind me of the injury, nothing.

By mile 21, my legs were sore, but not a hint of an injury, just the typical soreness that follows long runs. Janice and I actually walked the mile or so back to the hotel after the race.

Jesus really came through and not only got me through this race, he got me through in good shape!
"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" -- Matthew 25:40

This race wasn't about PRs or even a time goal. It was more about the cause supported by the race--St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and the patients it served.

That point was driven home just minutes before the start with the singing of the national anthem. The young voice cracked a little as the 8-year-old girl worked to sing this beautiful, but difficult, song. But as she sang, my eyes began to water thinking of the story the announcer had just told about the young singer.

She wasn't your typical 8-year-old girl. She was a former patient at St. Jude, diagnosed with cancer at age 3, her life saved by doctors, nurses, and supporters of the hospital. Hearing the Star Spangled Banner sung by that little girl put the whole race into perspective.

It was all about the kids of St. Jude.

The tears welled up at least two other times on the course. First, around mile 3 was a young girl holding a sign. A lot of people hold signs on a marathon course that are humorous, and many have motivational slogans on their placards. This one fell in the second category, but it was different than any I'd seen at other races.

"If you think running is hard, try chemo," the sign read. Talk about a tear jerker!

I kept a picture of that sign in my head the rest of the race.

Then, nearing mile 5, the course took us through the campus at St. Jude. The street was lined with patients and parents, a steady stream of the most enthusiastic spectators I've ever encountered on a race course, all out there to cheer us on and thank us for running for St. Jude.

We run lots of races for charitable causes, but this one competes for the top spot on a scale of "worthwhileness."
"And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 4:19

The organization and course support was beyond fantastic! I'd read on the website there would be water stations every mile and a half until mile 20, then every mile thereafter. The weather turned out much warmer than anticipated and organizers made a great adjustment.

The first two water stations were indeed at miles 1.5 and 3.0, but then we were greeted by super volunteers every mile thereafter at stations stocked with water and Powerade. Several stations were also stocked with towels soaked in ice water and several with Gu. The really amazing amenity though, was that every water station also was accompanied by at least two porta-potties.

I'd never been at a race that so accommodated runners.

The course was fantastic too! Not too hilly, and not too flat. I spent so much of the race conversing with friends that I really didn't notice the surroundings so much. But I know over the entire 26.2 miles, I don't ever remember looking up at a hill and getting that feeling of dread that comes when I face a daunting hill in a tough part of a marathon.

All things considered, I know we'll be back for this race every year. I may only do the half most years, but we'll definitely be back. I just can't imagine finding a better race for a more worthwhile cause!

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.