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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

End of Janathon and Back on Track!

The Run

Finally! For the first time since my October knee injury, I ran with my old Tuesday/Thursday running group this morning. There were five of us who met at 5 AM, two of them folks I'd run with before, and two others I met for the first time.

I had 6 miles planned, but they were running a little shorter this morning. So I ran the first 4 and a quarter with them, then finished the 6 on my own. I didn't realize how much I'd missed running with these ladies and gentlemen, but the miles flew by as we ran and visited. I finished the entire run with a 9:39 pace and felt great the entire time. Running just isn't quite as tiring when you're with great company.

The group run today was fantastic, but there's somewhat of a sad side too.

This month I've been a participant in Janathon, a challenge to work out and blog about it everyday for the entire month of January. Today's the last day of the month, and that means the last day of Janathon. I've run 6 days a week all month, and biked on Sundays, 31 straight days without a day off. And it feels great.

I ended the month with 192 running miles and 42 biking miles. That's more than I've ever run in a month, and probably more than I've biked in a month too. We had good weather and bad weather over the past 31 days, warm and cold, wet and dry, cloudy and clear, but the Good Lord blessed me with the strength, determination, and energy to get out there every day through it all.

I don't know if I'll keep the daily workout streak up through February right now. I'd like to, but it has left me a little drained. A true rest day might not be such a bad idea. In fact, next Friday is the day before the Mississippi River Marathon and that just might be a fantastic day to pick for my first in a long time with NO workout.

Janathon helped me not only with motivation to workout, but also to remember exactly why I do this, and exactly who I do it for. And that's the thought for the message today.

The Message

When God laid the idea for this ministry on my heart, I had no doubt it was less about running than it was about Jesus. Running would be the venue to spread the word about the other parts of our mission, the venue to do God's work. For quite a while, I did it that way. I posted a Bible verse every day on our Facebook page, and usually wrote a devotional at least once a week. Updates on my runs and races weren't the main focus of this blog.

But along the way, I began writing more posts about running and fewer about spiritual things. I told myself I had simply run out ideas for sermons. Sometimes, I even passed it off to God, telling myself when He got ready for me to write a sermon, He'd put it on my mind. The result, a dearth of posts praising God and sharing the Gospel and a steady supply of posts devoted almost entirely to running.

Last year around this time I was at the top of my game. I PR'd at almost every race I ran in late winter and early spring of 2012. I'm pretty sure that started getting to me, enticing me to build myself up and push God out. I began worrying more over the time it took me to run a race than spreading our message at the races. My times got slower with the spring and summer heat, and gave me less to pride myself in.

That in itself might have been a message from God to remember what I was supposed to be doing, but I didn't take it that way. Instead, I looked for other ways to fulfill myself with running. Before October, I was registered for 5 marathons and considering more, all running before the end of March. When I couldn't impress with my times, I decided to impress with the volume of marathons I'd run.

I had completely lost track. What few devotionals I posted I had to really sit down and work at them. Before they flowed freely and easily from the tips of my fingers, but no longer. It was a laborious process to just get one out. So I wrote about my runs. And that's when God sent me a message I couldn't ignore--my knee injury.
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." -- Hebrews 4:12

I knew immediately it was God trying to get my attention. Nothing happened to cause the injury, but suddenly I found it nearly impossible to walk. I knew I had to get back on track, but the inability to run made it even harder to motivate myself. In October I only posted here three times. I had three marathons scheduled in December and wasn't sure I'd be able to run any of them.

If you've read here much, you know the story. A long break and God did allow me to run them, very slow, but I did finish all three. I have no doubt finishing any of them was all because of God, but He even let me finish three of them. Right after that, up popped this Janathon challenge. I can't remember exactly where I heard of it, but I signed up, hoping it would motivate me to get my running back where it was before the injury. I never counted on it doing more, but it did.
"Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is." -- Ephesians 5:17

As January 1, the day to begin running and blogging, neared, I felt God calling to me. This time I was being called to incorporate a spiritual message into every daily blog post. I couldn't see how that was going to happen, no more than I'd written for the last several months. But I prayed about and decided I would make an effort to do just that.

Well, today is the 31st day, and the 31st blog post, with the 31st message for January. I can't say that I came up with all those messages, because I couldn't have. But God supplied the words, sometimes just a few lines and sometimes a complete essay, but a message for each and every day. I didn't do it. I couldn't have done it. But Jesus could and He did.
"For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." -- Luke 21:15

So the point of today's message is, don't ever doubt you can accomplish what Jesus asks you to do. If He assigns you the task, He will equip you to get it done. I was at a point where I couldn't find the words to write 10 posts in two months last fall. But Jesus gave me the words to post 31 times this month, each time with a Biblical message.
"in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6

Once I decided to heed His call again, he brought me back, back to where I'm supposed to be. The strength, motivation, and ability to run 192 miles this month all came from Him. The words to post 31 devotionals in January were all supplied by Jesus. Once I acknowledged Him again, He definitely made my paths straight!

Thank you Jesus for getting me through Janathon, for getting me back on the road, and getting me back on track!

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, January 30, 2013

So Blessed to Run!

The Run

Another 6 mile run today, trying to finish strong for Janathon. One more day and the challenge is over. This morning I needed to be at work by 7, so I rose 30 minutes earlier than normal. At 3:30 I was up and moving to dress, stretch, eat a quick bite, and prepare to step off at 4:30.

The weather was better this morning, but still a little warmer than I'd like. My route took me by a church with a sign that showed the morning temperature as 550, not at all bad, but I still like it a little cooler. And I guess I'll get it cooler. Looks like this will be the last day of running in spring-like temperatures though. On the way home from church a sign showed the outside temperature already down to 370. Instead of wringing sweat out of my shirt tomorrow, I'll likely be peeling the frozen shirt off after my run.

The route I chose this morning we know locally as "Cherry," so named for the street at the halfway point. It's a loop course with pretty much a 3 and a half mile climb on the way out, and a 2 and a half mile descent on the way back. I don't run it often because miles 0.5 to about 2.0 are run alongside a highway with significant traffic and just a sliver of pavement serving as a shoulder. Leaving the house at 4:30 though, I doubted traffic would be too bad, and it wasn't.

I ran a little slower this morning, with average pace dropping to 10:22. Part of it could have been that I was up earlier than normal, but more than anything I think I just needed to back down a little and take it somewhat easier. I have the River Trail 15K to run on Saturday and the Mississippi River Marathon next Saturday. So far this month I've logged over 180 miles. If all goes according to plan tomorrow, the Good Lord will have permitted me 192 running miles when January comes to a close.

That's a long way from the weeks I sat out late last year due to injury. It is significantly higher though than the typical 150 or so miles I average most months. I'm not as fast as I once was, but I'm blessed to just be able to run!

The Message

Today's run and the miles I've put in this week, how far I've come since my injury, and the upcoming races I'm registered to run, thinking of all these things today reminds me of just how blessed I am. I'm blessed to be able to run, blessed to have a wonderful wife who tolerates my addiction to running (and even participates in most races with me), and blessed to serve such an awesome God who calls me to serve doing something I absolutely love.
"We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us..." -- Romans 12:6

God gives us all some ability or another. Some are artists, some are musicians, some are great orators, others writers. When the word athlete is spoken, a picture of a muscular man in his 20s usually comes to mind. But it doesn't take a young, strapping, cut young man to make an athlete. Even us fat old bald guys (and, yes, that's plural because I know others like me) who run marathons are athletes. We won't make the cover of Sports Illustrated and you won't see our picture on a cereal box, but we are blessed with the ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other for 26.2 miles or more. I don't have a lot of other abilities, but I am certainly blessed with the ability to run.
"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD." -- Proverbs 18:22

There is no doubt I've become addicted to running. If I could afford it and it wouldn't interfere with work, I'd be running races nearly every weekend. But I can't, and it would. So I run as many as I can. And while most people think a person must be crazy to even WANT to run 26.2 miles, my wonderful wife not only accompanies me to most races, but participates in them as well. Without a doubt, I am a very, very blessed man to have such an understanding wife. I can't imagine living this life without her.
"but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." -- 1 Corinthians 1:24

Called and empowered by Jesus Christ! I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. I still remember hearing a little voice inside my head telling me that I had to find a way to glorify Jesus through my running. That came soon after I started running again at 40. That was God letting me know that, if He was going to let me run, I was going to have to run for Him. Once I finally responded and answered that call, my running went to a new level.

Now I realize that I couldn't run a mile without the grace and blessing of my Lord and Savior. If Christ doesn't want me to run, it wouldn't matter what I wanted. Every step and every mile is a gift from Him, a gift I'm expected to use for His glory. I'm doubly blessed because I actually love to run, so I love what it takes to answer God's call.

I'll say it again. I am an extremely blessed man.

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, January 29, 2013

The Best Laid Plans...

The Run

...sometimes just aren't meant to be.

Today's run didn't exactly go as planned, but it did go pretty well. I decided yesterday to try and hook back up with my old Tuesday/Thursday running group. They're a great bunch of folks, and stronger runners than I am, so running with them pushes me to get better. But I drove to the location where we always started and nobody was there. So I came home and ran one of my 6 mile routes from the house.

The run went well, not nearly as fast as yesterday, but still good. I averaged 10:14 minute miles, with every split no more than 13 seconds either side of that. If I could manage to keep mile splits that close for an entire marathon, I'd be tickled to death. Still, I was a long way off the 9:11 pace I ran yesterday that made me think I was ready to rejoin my friends. So maybe I wasn't as ready as I thought I was...

Storms are passing through tonight and the hourly forecast is calling for clearing skies and 500 by 5 AM. Looks like perfect running weather for tomorrow! Only 2 more days of Janathon

The Message

A lot of times we make plans, usually with the very best of intentions, that just don't work out. If we tell the truth, that's likely to set us off, make us angry. But sometimes, maybe not every time, but sometimes I think it's divine intervention to keep us from doing something that we're not supposed to do.
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:10

God has a plan for us. He created us for a purpose. He knows all. He sees all. He controls all. He expects us to do good works, not so we'll be appreciated or praised, but to bring Him glory. He prepared all these good deeds in advance, for us to do, so that He will be glorified. But He gave us free will, and that's often what gets us off track.

We can choose to live for God, or we can choose not to. Just like we must choose to receive the gift of salvation, that free will allows us to follow God's calling or take our own path. I know because I'm one who took the long way, my own way. I first felt the calling to teach when I was 20 or 21, but I didn't want to teach. So I ran the other way and did just about everything else I could think of before I finally decided to heed that call. I was 38 when I landed my first teaching job. For 17 years I wandered the earth doing my will and avoiding God's will.

At times while I did my own thing, all seemed well. But no sense of contentment ever filled me, even when things were going smoothly. It didn't matter how much money I made. It wasn't enough. It didn't matter how good I did my job. I could do better. I was never satisfied and I could never find the peace it would take to just be happy with what I had.
"in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:6

That's because I was living for me and not for Jesus. I couldn't see the road I was supposed to take because I was out doing everything for me. I was living for me...when I was supposed to be living for Jesus.

It wasn't until I chose to change, decided to live according to His will, that I could see what I was supposed to do and see a way to accomplish it. Once I chose to devote my life to serving God, that crooked path I'd been following, so full of curves I could only see what was just in front of me, that crooked path straightened out. And suddenly, I could see exactly what God expected of me and how to work toward it. The twisting, curvy path I'd been following was all of a sudden straight.
"Do not conform any longer 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." -- Romans 12:2

Before I decided to turn my life over to Jesus, to let Him lead me, I was conforming to the world. I was chasing money and possessions, things that the world tells us are important. The decision to turn loose and give God the reins transformed me, renewed my mind.

Today I thought I was ready to run with my friends. I thought that's what I was supposed to do. I drove to join them, testing what I thought was God's will for me this day. But they weren't there. In fact, nobody was there. So I turned and went home. Only after I ran did I realize that was God's way of keeping me from jumping in with the group before I was ready.

God has a good, pleasing, and perfect plan for each of our lives. It's a plan that goes along with His good, pleasing, and perfect will. If we set our sights on the Cross, make it our motivation for everything we do, that will shall be revealed to us.

So plan according to what you think He wants of you. If you're living for Jesus, He will reveal to you whether or not you're doing what God wants you to do. So plan, but be flexible, just in case you realize it's your plan you're working with and not His.

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, January 28, 2013

It's another sweat-soaked Monday!

The Run

A six mile run day!
I wish it was Saturday.
Gonna run a 15K.
But it's another sweat-soaked Monday!

I guess you've figured out by now my mind was wandering this morning as I was getting my 6 miles in. I don't know if it's the 28 days straight for Janathon or the crazy warm weather for this time of year, 600 at 5 AM when I left the house. The humidity was 98% but didn't stop me from a great run, my best 6 mile run since my Fall 2012 knee injury.

My route was neither the easiest I run from the house, nor the most difficult, but I managed to complete it with an average 9:11 pace. Three of those miles came in under 9 minutes and the first warm up mile was at 10:16. I'm pretty tickled with it, and convinced it's time to try to get back in with my Tuesday and Thursday running group.

I've held off rejoining them because I doubted my ability to keep up. But today's run convinced me I'm close enough to give it a try again. I haven't run with them since my October knee injury. There were times when I thought I'd never get back enough speed to rejoin them, but thank God I think I'm there now.

And guess's message I learned from my run! Go figure...

The Message

When I injured my knee, I could have given up. I could have quit. I could have decided I'm too old to run and it's just not worth it anymore. But I didn't. Thankfully, God made me more hardheaded than that. Yes. I thank the Good Lord for the stubborn streak that kept me going.

But that stubbornness wasn't the only thing that got me through the injury and back out on the road. No. Jesus also sent messengers who convinced me to lay off running for a few weeks and let that injury heal. These were friends who had far more running experience than I did. It was just after I finished the Soaring Wings Half Marathon in October. My knee was swollen and stiff, so much so I could barely walk.
"Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise." -- Proverbs 19:20

As I hobbled over to join my friends at a table, they immediately began to chastise me for running with an injured knee. One very experienced running friend asked, "Do you want to run when you're my age?" She didn't wait for an answer, because she already knew I did, and added, "Then take a month off and let it heal." There were several ladies at that table, all experienced runners giving the same advice.

I'd always run through injuries before, but this one felt a lot more serious. I still didn't want to stop. It was only 5 weeks to go to St. Jude and I desperately wanted to run it. But I did stop. Maybe because I didn't have a choice. I mean, I left the race and drove straight to Fred's where I bought a pair of crutches. I'm telling you, I couldn't walk. I parked next to a buggy at the store and leaned on it to make my way through the store to find the crutches.

It was still with reluctance that I took their advice, but I did. And sometimes we just have to listen to the voice of reason and wisdom from our friends. I'm convinced God sends them, along with their advice, to help us discern what's best. And I'm very grateful for their advice now, even though I was chomping at the bit for weeks waiting to be able to get out and run again.
"All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." -- Proverbs 14:23

I didn't exactly take off a whole month, but I did stop for a whole 3 weeks. It was then I tried a tentative mile and ran it gently, without pain. The next two weeks I picked up the miles, working as hard as I dared to get in shape for the marathon. Jesus rewarded the hard work with a finish, a very slow run, but a finish nonetheless.

Again, I continued to pick up the mileage in preparation for my first double (back-to-back marathons on consecutive days) only three weeks after St. Jude. And again, God rewarded the work and allowed me to finish both.

Since then, I've worked even harder to get back what I lost when injured. I have been blessed to be able to increase my mileage and my speed this month, and am now almost back where I was before.

We've got to be willing to listen to advice. We've got to be patient sometimes. But we also have to work hard when we can. On days when everything goes right, we have to work hard. And on days when everything goes wrong, we have to work hard. That hard work will yield a profit, but sitting on our haunches wishing things were different will yield nothing.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -- Jeremiah 29:11

God wants us to listen to wisdom. He wants us to work diligently to improve. He wants us to succeed. But if we choose ignorance instead of wisdom, if we sit back and wait for success to come to us, we may be waiting on something that never comes. We are expected to do our part.

So listen to wisdom, and you'll discern God's will for your life. Once you know God's will for your life, work hard to make it happen. Not trusting completely to your own devices, but doing your very best with what God gives you. Get out there and break a sweat. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Follow God's direction and pursue the success He has planned for you, the hope and the future He has in store!

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, January 27, 2013

Go the extra mile

The Ride

It's Sunday again, my day off from running. Before this month, most Sundays I just took off completely. Then I joined up for this Janathon challenge to do some sort of workout every day of the month of January and blog about it. Today is the 27th day of the month, the 27th consecutive day I either ran or rode, and this will be the 27th daily blog post in January.

Like I said, no running today, so I climbed on the bike. Every other Sunday this month I rode 10 miles, but I got an early start today. (No football to watch when I came home from church.) Still, I had my mind set on 10 miles, until I started to ride. The skies were overcast and the wind a little gusty, but the temperature was nice enough for shorts and a t-shirt. So I decided to stretch it out a little.

The past couple of weeks I'd considered going on at the turnaround of my out-and-back course, but decided better because the daylight hours were quickly departing. But today I had plenty of time. The 10 mile route had what felt like a pretty fair climb the last half mile or so, and I knew going on would mean more climbing. But I didn't realize how much more of a climb it would be.

That last mile was really tough. Honestly, I'd rather climb a hill running than on a bike any day. It's just a lot easier for me to run up a hill than bike up it. Now, that may be because I don't have one of those fancy road bikes. My $100 Wal-Mart mountain bike may be the source of difficulty. But I just can't bring myself to pay more for a bike than I have for some cars. (And yes, I've driven some pretty cheap jalopies.) Besides, I like to run more than bike anyway. So I'll just stick with my Wal Mart special.

That extra mile made for a tougher workout, but I'm sure it will pay dividends in the long run. (I know technically I went two extra miles, but it doesn't have the same ring to it.) And of course, that's what inspired today's message.

The Message

You know, sometimes we get in a rut. In everyday life and in our Christian life. We just develop a routine and almost go through it each day nearly without even being conscious. The routine becomes comfortable and easy and we reach a point when we don't believe the risks of varying are worth taking.

We get up every morning and go to the same job and do the same thing, five days a week. Saturdays are spent doing the same thing every week. On Sunday we go to church where we sit in the same pew in the same spot. We might go out to eat at the same restaurant after, with the same friends. It's just...comfortable...and we don't want to change.

The job thing might be a little hard to change, except that a lot of times in this rut, we never put anything extra into it. We've got the tasks that we consider "our job" and the rest are all for someone else to do. If we do volunteer to do a little extra, it might just become our job permanently. We don't want to risk that, so we stick to the routine.

I'll skip the Saturday routine because everyone's will be different, but Sundays are pretty common. We get up, have breakfast, or not. Then we head to church where we don't dare try to sit some place different. We even get a little peeved if someone beats us there and takes "our spot." If we have to sit somewhere else, we may be able to see or hear as well. We might end up beside someone who annoys us. So we never risk it.

But what about the potential good things we're missing out on if we never do anything extra, if we never go that extra mile?

At your job, you could be taking up the slack for someone who's going through a rough time. Rebellious kids, a divorce, a death in the family, or just struggling with any of a thousand issues that can throw a wrench in the gears. At church, you might end up beside a potential new friend, or someone you can counsel or witness to.

If we only ever do what's expected of us, we're right, there's very little risk. But we're missing out on so much potential reward!
"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

Even though good deeds won't get you into Heaven, God expects His people to be doing them. And that means going above and beyond the call of duty sometimes. When you have an opportunity to do something good and let it slip by, that's a missed opportunity to glorify God. He places those opportunities before us so that others will see us go the extra mile, doing good in God's name.

And that's the key. Sometimes we won't feel the benefit of doing extra. Sometimes the immediate effects may even be negative (like the extra mile on the bike today, or the extra task that suddenly becomes a permanent part of your job), but we don't do it for us. We go the extra mile, not for our glory or our benefit, but to glorify God, so that others, especially the lost, will see us doing good in the name of Jesus.

They'll see us doing things others won't do, things others think they can't do. And they'll wonder, why? That's when the opportunity arises to tell them we go the extra mile for Jesus, for the glory of God. That's when we get to tell them of the peace that passes all understanding, the promise of eternal life, and the precious gift that God gave to us all, His Son, Jesus Christ, for only the price of faith and believing.

So the next time you have an opportunity to do a little more, lend a hand, or go the extra mile, think about what we're really here for, who we're really here for, and just go for it. Give God the glory and have faith that the promised reward will come in His time.

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, January 26, 2013

Why We Do What We Do...

The Run

You know, when people find out I run, they often ask, "Why?" It's been a while since I posted our mission on here, and today turns out to be a perfectly fitting day to write about just that.

The day started with 15 miles through a neighborhood known as Greystone. Non-runners know the place for its two golf courses and super nice homes. But runners know it for its hills. Rolling hills, some short, some long, some steeper than others, but a constant series of them. With VERY few exceptions you're either going uphill or downhill at any given point in time.

Even though it had a lot of hills though, it turned out to be a pretty good run. Overall, I averaged an 11:07 pace. If I could average that pace for an entire marathon, I'd finally break 5 hours. The last mile was my fastest time, averaging 9:27. With that strong of a finish over the course of 15 miles, I'm feeling pretty confident in running a sub-5 at Mississippi River in a couple of weeks.

The best part about the run was the company. Several there I already knew well, and run with quite often. Others I kind of knew by sight, but never really knew them. Then a couple of folks ran with us I didn't know at all. But most of the time, runners get along, especially when they're running as a group.

We started out about 5:20 AM and managed to get in 9 miles by the end of the first loop. We had to come back to the cars because others were coming to join us at 7:00 AM. We hung around waiting for just a bit, then launched, or maybe stepped into it.

I ran the first 3.75 of this leg with the cruisers, then turned back to finish. I only needed 15 miles and the group was looking for 20. The way the course looped, it allowed me to continue that extra .75 and still run 15 when I arrived back at the vehicles.

This was my first long run in my new Hoka One One Evo Stinson running shoes (you know, the new shoes I've been so happy about this week), and they didn't disappoint. After 15 miles of hills, my legs feel surprisingly...well...great! I'm becoming more and more of a believer with every run.

That's pretty much it for the run, but the rest of the day is what really inspired today's message.

The Message

Like I said, it's been a while since I wrote about our Mission here at Running with Amanda. But today I had a chance to share it with hundreds of people and decided it would also be a good day to share it here. So here goes...

Two years ago, we lost our beautiful daughter, Amanda Marie Allison. She was at a party where she shouldn't have been, with people she shouldn't have been with, doing things that she shouldn't have been doing, but certainly didn't do anything that would warrant taking her life.

Yet, that's exactly what then 19-year-old Cody Gorecke did when he became angered that she turned down his sexual advances. He walked into his bedroom, retrieved a double barrel sawed off shotgun, came back out, and killed her.

In the hours after we learned of Amanda's death, things were foggy. I don't remember a lot about what happened in that time. But the next day, I remember that one of the first things I reached for was the Bible. I began to read the book of Job. I wasn't looking for answers so much as I was reason to go on.

This was pretty surprising really, because I'd never been one to read the Bible much. Oh, I'd read through it, read at it, every once in a while read a little when I was going through a rough patch, but never sat down and just studied it.

You see, I'd always believed in God, never doubted that Jesus was sent, died, and rose again, but I'd never fully placed my faith and trust in Him. I always thought I could handle things myself, without help, without anyone's help. I didn't ask for my parents' help. I didn't ask for friends' help. I didn't even ask for God's help. I'd always believed I was strong enough to handle anything on my own.

When Amanda was murdered, I immediately knew it was more than I could handle. I knew I couldn't get through this on my own. I didn't know if I could get through it at all. But in short order, I began finding verses that showed me there was hope that would allow me to go on, verses that I continue to lean on to this day.
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -- John 16:33

John 16:33 is one of my go-to verses now, and it was one of those I found early in this struggle. It made me realize that nobody is exempt from trouble. I guess before this, I always thought if you were a good person and tried to do the right thing, you could avoid trouble and it would even avoid you. But when I read this verse, I learned that none of us, not Christians, not non-believers, not good people, not bad people, nobody, can escape. In this world you will have trouble...but take heart, because there's a better place when we leave here.
"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." -- Romans 8:28

One of the things that haunted me from the start was the thought that Amanda's death would have been in vain. It was important to me that it meant something, that others would learn from what we did wrong, and turn their lives around before something similar happened to them. This verse gave me hope that good things could come from our troubles, and it also motivated me to ask God to let me be a part of that. I wanted to be a vehicle God used to make good come from the evil we suffered.

And He allowed me that. For the past three years I've preached the sermon at our high school's baccalaureate ceremony. I've preached several times at the youth service at our church. And just today I had the opportunity to share this message with so many at the Upward Basketball program. A couple of people even came to me and told me they were going to try to get me to speak at their youth groups.

As you've probably already inferred, this ministry is also a way God is making good come from evil. But it's an interesting story just how it came to be. I had started running again a couple of years before Amanda was murdered. But two friends, Jesse Hardy and Patrick Kent, neither of whom had I seen in 20 years, dropped everything and crossed the country to spend a week here helping me adjust. We had served together in the Marine Corps all those years ago and that's how strong a brotherhood the Marine Corps is. But while he was here, Jesse challenged me to run the Marine Corps Marathon that year.

I didn't accept his challenge right away. I'd never run a marathon before and had, in fact, sworn I never would. I'd run two half marathons and felt near death at the finish of each. I was convinced that another 13.1 miles would be just pure misery if it could even be finished. But his challenge motivated me to push myself and get back to running sooner than I might have. It didn't take long before I realized God wanted me to accept that challenge and that I needed to accept it.

Now, I realize that God sent my friends, my brothers, and God tasked Jesse with issuing that challenge. More than I needed to run a marathon, I needed to train a for a marathon. I needed a goal to focus on, a goal that would require many hours of hard, physical training.

I needed it because as the shock of my daughter's death wore off, anger and resentment began to build. If allowed to flow freely, that anger and resentment would have likely been channeled into an unproductive path. I could easily have killed that young man who murdered my daughter, but that would have sent me to prison and left my wife and younger daughter alone. I could have reached for a bottle, or pills, or some other substance to block the pain. But instead, God gave me the motivation to run a marathon, a feat that consumes enormous amounts of energy and leaves you totally exhausted, not only during the race, but for many months of training also.

And during all that training, God laid it on my heart to begin this ministry, Running with Amanda. Over the course of a few weeks, He revealed to me a four-part mission.
"...Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." -- Luke 16:28

First, to raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse. Before Amanda was killed, Janice and I had often said, "If they only drink and smoke a little pot, we'll be lucky." We thought that because there is so much other stuff out there that's worse. We thought that because so many only do that and grow out of it. Well, that's all she ever did, and we weren't lucky...she never got a chance to grow out of it.

Until then, we thought the danger was restricted to drinking and driving. And we covered that. We harped on it. We warned our girls. We thought we had them convinced to never drink and drive and to never get in the car with someone else under the influence. But we never envisioned Amanda's fate. Never in a million years did we expect her life would end the way it did.

The dangers of teen substance abuse are real. Many are unseen. We want people to know, parents and teens, that this is not something to be tolerated, to be ignored, to be allowed. Thinking, hoping, even praying, that kids stop drinking and using drugs isn't enough. If you as a parent even suspect your kid is using, intervene! If you as a kid are using, stop! There may not come a chance to "grow out of it" or come to your senses later on. We learned this the hardest way possible and we don't want anyone else to have to walk in our shoes.
" 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." -- 1 Timothy 2:3-4

Second, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 1 Thessalonians, Chapter 4, we find the promise that we will see our loved ones again in Heaven. Throughout the New Testament, we are promised eternal life if we accept God's gift of salvation. Without that hope, I do not see how anyone can survive the loss of a child or many other tragic losses. I could not be where I am now, doing what I'm doing, without that promise, without that hope. And now I consider it my job to tell our story, in the hopes that others will hear it and seek the gift that God offers to us all, the gift of peace through salvation, through His Son, Jesus Christ.
"And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." -- Hebrews 13:16

Third, to raise money for charities devoted to saving the lives of children. The Upward Basketball program in Vilonia raised almost $200 for St. Jude Children's Hospital yesterday, to be donated through Running with Amanda. We raise money for St. Jude, Arkansas Children's Hospital, and Soaring Wings Christian Home and Ranch. St. Jude and ACH are both non-profit hospitals who treat kids without regard to their families' ability to pay. They accept whatever insurance pays, and they accept patients who don't have insurance.

Both have amazing research centers dedicated to eradicating childhood diseases, and both have fantastic treatment centers. I spoke with a man today whose son was treated for cancer at St. Jude when he was 3. A year and a half ago, he had a son, a son that would not have been born except for the life saving treatment he received at St. Jude.

Soaring Wings Ranch takes in abused and neglected children, giving them a stable, Christian environment to grow up in. In some cases, SWR might save the physical life of a kid, but most certainly it saves the spiritual lives of many. Removing these kids from unstable, dangerous, and ungodly environments, and teaching them Christian morals and principles, and sharing the Gospel with them offers these kids a chance many of them may never have otherwise had, a chance at eternal life with Jesus Christ.
"hank my God every time I remember you." -- Philippians 1:3

The fourth part of our mission is to remember Amanda Marie Allison. On of my biggest fears, from the moment I learned she was murdered, was that she would be forgotten, that one day, I would wake up and the world would go on as if she'd never lived. It terrified me, the thought that her death and her life would have been in vain.

So we run in her name. We do all this in her name, so that she won't be forgotten. She was a beautiful young lady with a really big heart, and we run so that her memory, her story will continue to live.

These are the reasons we run. These are the reasons we do what we do.

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, January 25, 2013

Run in such a way as to get the prize

The Run

It's a wonderfully welcome Friday! And a beautiful day for a run!

Now, most people might not agree with that last statement. At 5 this morning I left a warm, dry house to run in 340 temperatures in a misting rain. I had a 6 mile run planned, so I set my Garmin to training mode, clicked start, and trotted up the street.

I slowed down a bit today, already thinking ahead to tomorrow's 15 mile run in an area much more hilly than I typically enjoy. I finished the 6 miles in 1:02:27 for an average 10:24 pace. My mile splits ranged from 10:10 to 10:34, a pretty narrow range compared to my usual training. When I finished, I was soaked from the sweat and rain, but feeling grateful for and satisfied with the run.

My route today was a little easier than the previous two. I needed to back off the difficulty to leave a little something in the tank for tomorrow's 15 miler. One thing that was pretty cool though, this morning's run put me over 150 miles for the month of January, with 5 running days left in the month. By the time February rolls around, I should break 180 miles in January!

With this month being an easy month to slack off, I'm thrilled to get in that many miles. God has really been good to me and I now feel recovered enough from last fall's knee injury to hit it pretty hard.

The Message

It's the 25th day of Janathon and I haven't missed a day, not a day working out and not a day writing about the workout. But it's been more and more tempting lately to turn off the morning alarm and crawl back in bed. We've had cold mornings, windy mornings, rainy mornings, but rarely a nice morning (weatherwise) for a run. So, as the month wears on, it's getting tougher and tougher to rise, dress, and stagger out the door into the cold, windy, wet, or whatever pre-dawn morning.

But God tasked me to run, to run with a mission. If I let a little weather sideline me, what am I telling God? What I'm telling God if I roll over and go back to sleep is, "I'll do what you ask, but only when it's convenient, or comfortable for me."

Is that good enough?
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." -- 1 Corinthians 9:24

Think of everything God has given us, everything on earth, but most importantly eternal life. God gave His only Son as a sacrifice to pay the debt for our sins. I am a sinner, doomed to spend eternity in Hell except that Jesus Christ payed the debt for my sin! That's the prize, eternal life spent in Heaven where there will be no tears, no pain, no suffering, no misery... And it's mine. And it belongs to whomever else accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Every Christian is promised the prize, and every Christian will spend eternity in Heaven.

In a race, only one runner wins, but in life, we all have the opportunity to receive the prize. Does that mean we have the luxury to go through life working only halfheartedly to please God? To do His will? If that is an option, and we can still get to Heaven with minimal effort, is it okay to take it easy? To roll back over and wait and run on a warmer, calmer, drier day?
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." -- 1 Corinthians 10:31

I say Jesus Christ deserves better!

Even though we're guaranteed the prize of salvation, purchased with His blood and His suffering, we should continue to run and give it our best effort. Did Jesus let the pain and agony of death on the cross stop Him? Did He turn back and say we're not worth the agony He knew He'd endure?

No. His suffering was immeasurable so that we might live, and we owe Him our very best effort, all the time. If putting forth that effort means a little discomfort, or even a little suffering, we have a duty to get up and do what we're called to do, for His glory, so that others can see Him through us!

A little cold, a little rain, a little wind? So what. The discomfort we'll experience cannot even compare to the suffering He did for us when He hung on that cross. We owe Jesus Christ a debt we can never repay, but we still have a Christian duty to do what He calls us to do, even when it gets tough.

Not so that others will look at us and say how good we are, how tough we are, or anything along those lines. No, so that others will wonder, "How can you do that?" A question that we can answer in a way that glorifies our Lord and Savior!
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

When people ask how you get up so early to run in the rain or cold or wind, tell them it's the strength and motivation given by Jesus Christ. I can't run a marathon, a 5K, not a mile, or even a step, without Jesus Christ giving me the strength and the will to do it.

So I'm going to keep getting up and I'm going to keep running no matter what the weather throws at me. I owe it to Jesus Christ!

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, January 24, 2013

Running in the Dark

The Run

It's a new semester at school. For our seniors, it's their last semester of high school. It's also when our school offers its AP Calculus class. I don't teach the class, but a lot of my students take it, and I do love the subject. So, I get lots of opportunities to help those kids when they're struggling.

Well, today was their first test, and last night a mom texted me to relay a request from her daughter, "Could you come in at 7 and help us with Calculus?" Since I'd rather do Calculus than eat, I said I would. Going in early meant I had a choice to make, cut this morning's run short, or get up earlier than usual. (This Janathon challenge takes the choice to not run off the table.)

So my day began at 3:30 instead of the usual 4:30. I hit the road at 4:30 instead of the usual 5:30. And I returned home at 5:30 instead of the usual 6:30. All so I could come in early and help some kids study for their Calculus test. And I'm so very glad I did! (I know it sounds crazy to most, but I really do love Calculus.)

When I let the dogs out this morning, I noticed it didn't feel as cold as I expected. But, by the time I stepped out the door for my run, the wind was whipping and I felt a pretty cool chill. For a second, I thought about grabbing a jacket but decided not to. That turned out to be a really great decision.

About 3/4 of a mile into my run, I passed the marquee at a local church. The sign showed 480 for the temperature. The wind was still biting and I still felt chilled, but decided leaving the jacket was the smart thing to do.

This was a pretty tough route, and one I don't run very often. It's tough because it's pretty much another 3 mile climb to the top of the same hill where I turned around yesterday. But instead of an out-and-back course, this one's a loop. The difficulty isn't so much why I usually avoid it though. It's the traffic.

Early in the run, for more than a mile it runs alongside a pretty busy highway with almost no shoulder. In the dark, I carry a flashlight to let drivers see me, but it's still a little hair raising sometimes. I figured I could survive today since I was leaving even earlier than normal though. Surely at 4:30 traffic couldn't be to back. I did survive, and had a pretty good run in the process.

I finished the 6 miles in 59:59, an average pace just under 10 minutes/mile.

The Message

The majority of my running takes place in the dark. Mainly because I'm a morning person, but also because I have so many other things going on during daylight hours. The early morning hours are just the best time for me to get out and hit the road.

When others find out how early I rise, I get varied responses. The most common, though, is, "You're crazy." It's hard enough for them to understand that I get out of bed that early, but it seems worse to them when they realize I'm up that early to run. They just can't understand it. So today, when I had reason to rise even earlier than normal, I thought about all those people and found yet another parallel that yields today's message.
" 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:8-10

Paul makes it clear in his letter to the church at Ephesus that good works will not get us into Heaven. Doing good deeds is not the key, it's not the pass, it's not a ticket that allows us to pass through those pearly gates. Plain and simple...I can't do enough good deeds to earn my way to Heaven.

My salvation, my ticket to Heaven if you will, comes only through placing my faith in Jesus Christ. Accepting the fact that God sent His One and Only Son to earth, born of a virgin, that He lived a blameless, faultless, sinless life, that He was crucified, died, and was buried, and that He rose from the dead, ascended to Heaven where He lives forever. Having the faith to accept all that, and admit that I am a sinner, and that Jesus' death was a sacrifice to pay for my sins, these are the things that gave me a ticket to Heaven. The faith to accept and believe all that returns the gift of eternal life. And having that faith, accepting that gift of salvation, invites the Holy Spirit to enter your heart and dwell within you.

My works cannot earn me a spot in Heaven, but Paul goes on to say we were created to do good works. God places the opportunity before us to do these good deeds and He expects us to do them. So, if we're already promised a spot in Heaven, and doing good deeds isn't the requirement to get that spot, what does it matter if we do or don't do those good deeds?
" 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -- Matthew 28:19-20

The Great Commission. A direct order from Jesus to His followers, an order to get out and actively work to spread the Gospel. We are tasked by our Savior to spread the Good News, to let others know the source of our salvation, to teach them what we have learned. And there are many different ways to accomplish this.

Direct witnessing, I mean sitting someone down and just telling them the Gospel, is definitely on way. But it's not the only way to share our faith. Another way to let others in on the secret to eternal life is by doing those good works God "prepared in advance for us to do."
" 14You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 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. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -- Matthew 5:14-16

The world is a dark, dark place with evil all around. That evil was evidenced last month when a deranged killer busted into an elementary school in Newtown, CT and murdered 26 children and teachers. One of the best ways for us to witness, to adhere to the Great Commission, is to let our light shine in the darkness of this world.

We have to run through the darkness, doing the good deeds God gives us the opportunity to do, so that others can see that the Holy Spirit lives within us. Not to bring attention to ourselves, not so others will praise us, that's not why we run and let our light shine.

We do good deeds, we run in the darkness so that others will ask, "Why would you do that?" or "How can you do that?" We don't want them to ask these questions so that we can boast or gloat or pound our chest. We want them to ask so the door will be opened to tell them why and how, what motivates us to do good even while evil lurks around every bend, what motivates us to keep running through the darkness of this world.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

We do it because Jesus Christ lives within us. He is how we can do those good deeds even when everyone else around us is doing bad. He is how we can make good choices when we're surrounded by others making bad choices. He is how we can find the motivation to get up and run in the dark.

Why do we do good deeds? Why do we make good choices? Why do we get out and run through this dark, dark world? Not for pride, not to boast, but to glorify Jesus Christ.

So when you see me running at 5 in the morning, know that it's not my strength, or my will that gets me out of bed and on the road. It's the strength that comes from Jesus Christ and the motivation to glorify Him.

If you don't know Christ as your personal Savior, you can accept God's gift of salvation. Click the link below and find out how!

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, January 23, 2013

Janathon and How It's Blessed Me...

The Run

The 23rd day of Janathon, the second day running in my new shoes, and all is well. Today's run was another fantastic one.

I picked one of the hardest 6 mile routes from my house and stepped out 30 minutes earlier than usual. That's because I needed to be at school by 7:00 for our weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. Surprisingly, it started better than I expected.

I knocked out the first mile before I glanced down at my watch...finishing it at a 10:16 pace. Not terribly fast, but pretty good for what I've been running lately. It only got better from there for miles 2 and 3, which I ran in 10:13 and 10:05, respectively. It got even better after that.

The first three miles of this out-and-back route trend uphill, with the turnaround at the peak of the biggest hill along the way. The best thing about going uphill on the way out on an out-and-back course is you're going downhill on the way back, for the second half of the run. So I ended up with a negative split and an average 10:04 pace for the entire 6 miles.

Once again, I'm feeling pretty good after my second day on new shoes. Still way too early to cheer about them, but so far so good. If they still feel this great after a couple of months, I'll be really singing their praises.

The Message

For 23 days straight, I've completed some sort of workout every single day. And every day I've written a blog post about it. That was the Janathon challenge, to work out and blog about it every day. When I signed on for this challenge, I was hoping to motivate myself to stay after it during the month of January, but I've reaped a lot more benefit than I anticipated.

January is usually a tough month to stay focused on a workout program. It's right after the Christmas Break, a time which discourages working out on its own. The weather almost never seems conducive to getting outside on the road. It's cold and rainy...a lot! Since I hate the treadmill so much, it makes the first month of the year one of the hardest to maintain my running routine.

Janathon helped me beat that, and even do more than I normally would in other months. I'm not a big cross trainer. Yes. I understand the benefits, but always find some excuse to stick with running. Maybe because I really enjoy running, maybe because on my days off from running, I really just want a break. Not sure exactly what the cause is, but it usually stops me from other forms of exercise. This month, instead of my usual 6 mile runs on Monday through Friday, and a long run on Saturday, I've added a 10 mile bike ride on Sundays. That's something I doubt I'd have taken up if it weren't for Janathon!

The most important gain I've made through this challenge this month though is getting back to what I'm really supposed to be doing with this ministry. Almost two years ago, when God laid it on my heart to start Running with Amanda, running was only a part of the equation. The most important task Jesus had assigned to me was spreading the Good News of salvation through Him.
"But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." -- 2 Corinthians 11:3

I'd really fallen away from that lately...until this month.

When I started this blog, my goal was to write a devotional at least once a week. But it quickly became a lot more of a blog about my running than about the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. I guess it was just easier to write about my runs than it was to really sit down and dwell on the Word of God, letting it speak to me, and transferring it for publication.

But I knew God wanted me to use this site to glorify Him, not me. I'd sit down and write post after post about my runs, the miles I'd logged that week, race recaps, etc. But I'd only slip in a good sermon every once in a while. I'd tell myself that I was just waiting for the Spirit to take over, waiting until God put the words in my head. But that's not what it was. I was taking the easy way out.

I convinced myself that I just couldn't come up with a message every week, or even every two weeks, or then even every month. The posts dedicated to spreading the Gospel became fewer and farther between. Until finally, they were just pretty much nonexistent.
"Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" -- Acts 9:6

Then I accepted this Janathon challenge...and God spoke to me again. But this time He told me that every post needed to include a message. Now I'm not talking of a Moses-type burning bush experience. That's not how He spoke to me. It was more that little voice inside my head, whispering the same suggestion over and over and over. It's taken me years to learn that little voice IS God speaking to me, telling me what the right thing to do is.

So I listened, and I decided I would work to come up with a message for each post I wrote. To my surprise, it really hasn't taken much work to think of a message each day. And I've finally figured out that's because God is giving me the ideas to type on the keyboard.

This is the 23rd consecutive day of Janathon, and the 23rd consecutive daily message stemming from this challenge. Maybe before I'd come to the point I only wanted to write about me. Or maybe I just wasn't wanting to listen to God. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but I wasn't fully trusting Him and I hadn't really 100% turned myself over to Him.
"For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." -- Luke 21:17

But through this challenge, Jesus has shown me that, if I open my ears to hear, He will give me the words to write. I can't promise you a message every day when February rolls around, but you'll definitely still be seeing a lot more of them than you did before.

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, January 22, 2013

Sometimes you need to make a change...

The Run

This post will be kind of short tonight because it's late and I just got home from a basketball game. If I'm going to be up early enough to get in 6 miles tomorrow before school, I don't have time for a long post. So here goes!

Today was the 22nd day of Janathon and the first run in my new shoes. So far it seems like the shoes are going to be a good change. (Hence the title of this post and the idea for the message.) I'm not ready to divulge the brand and start singing their praises because I've only put 6 miles on them. Who knows what I'll have to say once I've pounded the pavement in them for a while longer?

But...I do have a really great first impression. Let me start by saying I've been running in the same brand of shoes for a long time, really since I started running again, so about 4 years. I've tried several models and some were better than others. Until last fall, I was running in a great model. I went through 3 pair of them over 9 months without injury and without pain. But that model was discontinued.

The newer version just wasn't the same. There's a huge trend in running toward a "minimalist" shoe. It's almost like they're trying to make shoes that are as close to barefoot running as possible when you have them on. That's the problem I've been having with the newer version of my old shoes.

I'm a pretty big guy for a runner, 225 pounds. So there's a lot of shock to absorb when my foot hits the ground running. Shoes without much padding or cushion in the soles leave my feet to take all that pounding. For a long time, I've had significant pain in my lower legs and knees after runs, even shorter 5 and 6 mile runs.

But today I ran for the first time in these new shoes, and I loved it! After 6 pretty good miles, I had NO pain in my feet, my calves, my Achilles, my heel, or anywhere in my leg below the knee! I can't tell you how long it's been since I could say that. Once last year my principal asked me if I was hurt because he saw me limping. I replied, "No. I just ran 6 miles this morning."

I was convinced the pain was just something I'd have to accept if I continued to run. I figured I am getting old and there's just going to be pain, and limping. But today was different.

I didn't limp and my feet didn't hurt and my calves didn't hurt and my ankles didn't hurt and...well, you get the picture. So far it looks like this change to a new shoe was a pretty darned good idea!

The Message

Sometimes, change is a good thing in our lives too. Sometimes we need to make small changes, and sometimes really big ones. Too often, we refuse to make changes that will certainly make our lives (and the lives of our loved ones) a whole lot better.

I'm a completely different person than I used to be. I've changed drastically, and I believe it's for the better. Even when I wasn't a "bad" person doing "bad" things, I had my priorities in the wrong place. I spent years and years thinking, believing the key to happiness was in material wealth. Then, the more money I made, the more money I had, the more money I wanted, and the more money I thought I needed. There was never enough. I always needed more.

I couldn't be satisfied and I was never really happy back then. Now, I make less than I did all those years ago, but I'm content. I'm not stressed and I have time for things more important than chasing dollars. That was a change I needed to make.

A lot of people resist change like the plague, even when there's nothing to like about their current life. They can be completely miserable with where they are and get offended when you suggest changes that could make them happier.

I've been reading the book of Jeremiah for a while now. For quite few chapters lately, I've been studying a period in the history of Israel where God's people were in open rebellion against Him. God was speaking through Jeremiah to tell His people they needed to make a change. He told them what would happen if they didn't, and he promised to forgive them if they did.

But they refused to listen. They refused to make that so needed change.

"...For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." -- Jeremiah 31:34

I know quite a few people right now who need to make a change. Their choices and their lifestyle have them plodding down a path of misery and hopelessness. They're not happy at all, but they don't want to change. They refuse to listen to others' suggestions, others who are content, who aren't miserable. Instead, they continue trudging down that same destructive path, complaining the whole while they're charging down the road that brought them to where they are.

If you find yourself in that position, or you know someone in that position, there's a change you can make that I promise will lift you out of whatever miserable place you may find yourself in. That change is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. There's a link at the bottom of this post that gives more detail on what exactly that means.

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." -- Romans 10:13

But if you make that change, it won't matter what material state you find yourself in, because there's hope, hope for a future without pain, without suffering, without death, and without misery.

Sometimes you need to make a change...and for some...that sometime is now.

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, January 21, 2013

When it's's God

The Run

Day 21 of Janathon and I did not want to get out this morning. I woke up on time. I didn't have to get in to work quite as early as usual. I got dressed, and then looked at the weather. 350 and a wind chill of 260.

Ugh! That meant pretty miserable wind. The 350 temps wouldn't be too bad, but the wind was going to make it miserable. So I stood here looking at the weather on the computer...I guess hoping it would take some miraculous turn. The thought crossed my mind to wait until this afternoon. I'd had some really nice (short) runs last week in the afternoon.

But today I had 6 miles planned, and I knew it was going to be tough to get those in after working all day. So, somewhat reluctantly, I geared up and stepped outside. I must be getting wimpy, or maybe just old, because I put on a jacket, a knit cap, and gloves. It wasn't long ago, 350 would have only called for a long-sleeved tech shirt and shorts. Today I wore the shorts, but bundled up otherwise.

I opened the front door and couldn't help but notice the lack of frost on the cars. Yep. That meant it was pretty windy, and it didn't take long running to see just how windy. The first mile or so I was glad I had the jacket, gloves, and cap on, but then the sweat started. It didn't matter much when I took off the cap. That just meant I had to keep wiping the sweat from my head with my gloves. Under my jacket I was drenched by mile 4. But, even with all that, this turned out to be a fantastic run.

I didn't even look at my Garmin for the first mile. When it beeped, I looked down and was shocked to see it reading 9:52. It didn't feel like it, but that was one of the best miles I've had to start a run in a really long time. The great thing was it didn't feel like I was pushing too hard.

My knees weren't hurting. My legs weren't hurting. And I wasn't really all that winded. Don't get me wrong. I didn't feel like I was out for a leisurely stroll, but it just felt like everything was kind of clicking. It just felt...right.

I decided to see if I could keep it up. I mean, it's been a dream of mine for a while now to one day finish a marathon with a 10 minute pace. So why not start working on it when I'm feeling good?

The second mile on this route is quite a bit easier than the first. So I tried to maintain the pace without looking at my watch. The Garmin beeped again and I glanced down. 9:44 for that mile. I decided to keep the same strategy in the 3rd mile, maintain the pace and not look at the watch. This part was a little tougher than the 2nd but not as bad as the 1st. When the Garmin rang out 3 miles, I'd completed it in 9:37.

Yeah. I was cold and sweaty, but the running part was going great! I just kept it up on mile 4, pretty much all flat. I don't know why, but for some reason I pushed harder on this one. Maybe it was the long, straight stretch of road that usually has the most traffic on it this time of morning. But whatever, I was breathing a lot heavier when I heard the Garmin tell me I'd finished 4 miles. 9:11!

Now I decided I was getting a little carried away and I'd better back off before I re-injured myself. I was still feeling good, but the first half or so of mile 5 was a slight incline anyway. It made it easier to back off the pace. With one mile left on my workout, my watch said the last mile was completed in 9:35. That seemed a good pace to try to finish with.

Boosted a little by the down grade for the last 100 yards, mile 6 came in at 9:33. Overall average pace, 9:35! This was the best 6 mile run I've had since coming off my knee injury last fall.

The Message

Praise God, some days are just like that! Everything clicks and it seems like the cards are stacked in our favor. They may be few and far between, but they do occur from time to time. It's those days we have to be especially vigilant and ready to work for the glory of God.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:10

Days like today, when everything goes great, might be the easiest days to forget exactly what we're supposed to do. When everything's going well we like to pat ourselves on the back, in self-congratulations for working so hard to produce such results. Believe me, that was my first instinct this gloat over coming back and working hard and not giving up and on and on and on...But is that how I'm really supposed to react? Is that reaction an example of the good works that God prepared for us to do?

If that's the way we deal with such blessings, is it doing anything to bring others closer to Jesus Christ? I don't think so. These are the times we've got to lift our hands and praise Him for GIVING us such a great experience.
" 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." -- James 1:16-17

That's what I have to remember. It wasn't my effort. It wasn't my work. It wasn't my ability that gave me such a great run this morning. It was all a gift of the holy and loving God who blessed me this morning. I don't deserve a pat on the back. I don't deserve congratulations or blessings of any kind. I owe it all to Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow may be the exact opposite. Every step of my 6 mile run tomorrow morning may be exactly like today, or it may be a struggle to put one foot after another. I won't know until it gets here. But what I do know, is that today my run was blessed by God. For every step, every breath, every mile, He deserves the glory.

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, January 20, 2013

Choose to be happy...

The Workout

Normally, I take the day after a 20 mile run off, and I almost did so today...accidentally.

It's another unseasonably warm day here in Arkansas, really nice weather and I decided early to take advantage and wash our poor filthy vehicles. I got home from church around one or so, ate a quick lunch, and saw the NFC championship game started at 2:00. So I changed, set the DVR, and headed outside to scrub our rides clean.

I worked as quickly as I could and finished about 45 minutes after the game started. That worked out well, because it allowed me to skip through commercials and half time. But, about 4:00 it dawned on me that I'd failed to log a workout today. No workout would mean I fail the Janathon challenge to workout and blog about it every day, all month.

So I slipped on some shoes and rolled the bike out of the garage.

Now, I'm no fancy biker. My bike is just a $100 Wal Mart mountain bike. No frills, nothing much more than a frame on two wheels. But, it works to give me something to do when I don't need to run. So quick 5 miles out and 5 miles back gave me my workout for the day.

I'm still on the Janathon wagon!

The Message

Today it wasn't so much the workout that led me the day's message, but everything that happened as the day progressed, everything I saw and everything I thought.

Our Sunday school lesson today was about the promise of God's judgment, addressing specifically those who seem to have everything going for them here on earth while living an ungodly lifestyle. The preacher's sermon was titled, "Whose fault is it?" It was a message on personal responsibility, stating plainly that if we find ourselves in a miserable, rotten state, it's because of our choices. We live in a world that wants to name a syndrome as the cause for any person's bad choices, but the fact is people who make bad choices do so of their own free will.

I agree with that. People who make bad choices do HAVE a choice, and they chose wrong! But what about people who suffer things that truly aren't their fault? What about the person diagnosed with cancer who never smoked or did anything else to increase his risk? What about the lady driving down the road who gets hit and paralyzed by the drunk driver? What about the guy whose company laid him off just before he was to retire and draw his pension? What about the parents who lost a child? The preacher's message is hard to swallow for these folks, unless you dig a little deeper.
" 1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." -- John 9:1-3

It's not necessarily that everything that happens to us is because of what we've done. Our suffering here on earth isn't always a result of choices we've made, or a punishment for sins we've committed. But everything that we go through here on earth is a chance for God to be glorified.

Sometimes, it's not what we're suffering that's our responsibility, but how we choose to react to that suffering. We can choose to be miserable, focus on the bad thing that happens and resent it. Or, we can choose to focus on what good there is in our lives and be happy for the blessings we have. Whether we're rich or poor, healthy or not, with or without something or someone important to us, we choose how we react to that condition, whether to be happy or sad, grateful or resentful.

But does that mean God sits around thinking up bad things to do to us so He might receive glory from it? No.
"When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;" -- James 1:13

God doesn't do evil. If something evil is vexing you, it's not the work of God, but the work of Satan. I've written before that the devil is the one who afflicts us as he did Job in the hopes of drawing us away from God. I've told you before of the church sign I passed for weeks when I was going through a particularly hard time that read, "When Christians serve, Satan attacks!"

Lucifer knows that it's easy to praise and honor God when things are good, when everything's going our way. He also knows that, if our faith isn't genuine, we'll turn on God when things go bad. So we have a choice.

When the devil attacks, when things don't go your way, when bad things happen to you for no apparent reason, how will you react? Will you accept responsibility and be grateful for what blessings you have? Or will you choose resentment and misery?
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." -- Romans 8:18

After Amanda was murdered, and with all the bad things we've dealt with since, I had a choice to make too. Would I turn to God, or turn away?

If I'd turned away, right now I would be totally miserable, focused on all I'd lost. Instead, by turning to God, by studying His Word for answers and guidance, I've come to understand that none of us are guaranteed happiness and joy and blessings from things of this world. Therefore, we have to be grateful for what we have, or had, while we have it, or that we had it.

I don't curse God for every day I don't have Amanda. Everyday I thank God for the time He gave me with her. I'm not angry at God that my younger daughter has cut herself off from our family. I'm grateful for the time I had with her. I choose to focus on the good and not the bad.

Yes. Our condition is our responsibility, our personal responsibility. Not necessarily what happens to us, but what we do with what happens. We're not promised good things on this earth, but beyond. If we place our faith and hope in Jesus Christ, accept Him as our Savior, there will come a day with no more pain, no more suffering, no more death, and no more evil.

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, January 19, 2013

20 miles for 20 years you should be celebrating.

The Message

Today, Amanda would have turned 20 years old...if she'd lived. But two years ago, she was shot and killed by 19-year-old Cody Gorecke, who was drunk and stoned, when she turned down his advances. I lost my little girl 4 days before her 18th birthday because an underage idiot was out of his mind on pot and alcohol. She wouldn't have sex with him, so he shot her.

That's hard to picture. It's hard to swallow. It's hard to believe. It's especially hard to live with.

While our girls were growing up, we often said if the worst they did was drink a little and smoke a little pot, we'd be lucky. Never did we condone it and we punished them if we caught them. Never did we tell them it was okay, but with so much harder stuff out there, we really felt that way. We believed the big danger was drinking and driving and thought we'd adequately covered that. Never in a million years would we have envisioned our daughter dying the way she did. That is, until we had to.
"When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;" -- James 1:13

I remember, in the moments after learning of Amanda's murder, thinking that I could not blame God. Honestly, I can't explain how that thought popped into my head except that Jesus Christ Himself put it there. Sometime in the days that followed, I remember picking up the Bible and beginning to read the book of Job, and telling myself that my only hope to survive losing Amanda was going to be found in God's Word.

Before, I'd never been much of a Bible reader and I didn't pray much. I considered myself a Christian, but I wasn't one many would have called a "good Christian." On Sunday, for a couple years before we lost Amanda, we went to church and Sunday school, but I never studied outside those Sunday morning hours. I just never put much effort into being a Christian.

Now, two years after Amanda's death, I can honestly say the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ are the things that saved me, that kept me from taking a path that would certainly have led to my destruction. You see, I didn't stop at the book of Job. I felt led to continue studying and now have a daily quiet time, when I read and contemplate the meaning of God's Word. I've learned so much. All the answers I needed to keep going I've found there.

I DON'T KNOW HOW ANYONE COULD SURVIVE SUCH A TRAGEDY WITHOUT JESUS! The peace of knowing that one day, one glorious day, Amanda and I will be reunited and we'll spend eternity together is enough. It's enough to keep going.

Another thought that haunted me in the days following Amanda's murder was I had to find a way to make Amanda's death, and her life, count for something. I had to do something to keep her memory alive, to keep her alive in the minds of those who knew her, and even the minds of others who didn't. I had to find a way to make good come from the evil we'd suffered.
"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." -- 2 Corinthians 9:7

When my grandmother died, she asked that donations be made to St. Jude and Arkansas Children's Hospital in lieu of sending flowers. Since 2005, I'd regularly given to those two charities, hospitals 100% dedicated to saving kids' lives. I also ran the Soaring Wings Half Marathon in 2010 and became intrigued by this local charity, a ranch that takes in abused and neglected kids, raises them in a stable, Christian environment, and gives them a chance at a good life. One could say Soaring Wings may save kids' physical lives in some cases, but you can certainly say it saves their spiritual lives.

So I decided, or God laid it on my heart, to raise money for these three charities through my running, in Amanda's name. Good can come from the bad. Lives can be saved because of what happened to her.

So Running with Amanda was born in the months after my daughter was killed. It was born with the mission to raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse, let people know what Jesus has done for us and how we couldn't have survived this without Him, to raise money for the three charities listed above, and to do all this in honor of Amanda, to keep her alive in the minds and hearts of others.

We run to accomplish this four-part mission. And today, the day on which Amanda would have turned 20, I ran 20 miles, a tribute mile for every year she should be celebrating today. This run was dedicated to Amanda, but also to accomplishing our mission here at RWA.

The Run

God blessed me with a beautiful day, a glorious setting, and an amazing group of friends for the run. Instead of our usual Saturday long run in Cabot, the Cabot Country Cruisers (our local running group) planned a short drive to Little Rock for a long run on the River Trail, a paved loop trail that goes for miles down the Arkansas River, both sides. The north and south side trails are connected by several bridges, including the mile long Big Dam Bridge on the western end of the loop.

Stepping off from the River Market in downtown Little Rock, we headed east and crossed the river at the Clinton Presidential Library. An old railroad bridge converted into a walking/running/cycling kept us from having to swim or ferry ourselves across. As we hit the midway point on the bridge, we witnessed a beautiful sunrise downriver to the east.

Once across the span, we were on the North Little Rock side and turned west for about 8 miles, almost always with the water no more than 20 yards to our left, sometimes much closer. It was still early, but there were a few runners on the trail already. The temperature hovered in the low 30s for the first 4 miles or so, until the sun rose high enough to start warming the air.

As the mercury rose, so did the number of runners and bikers with whom we shared the trail. About mile 8 we arrived at the foot of the Big Dam Bridge and began the climb to the halfway point. I didn't remember it being so long and such a climb, but I should have. As we pushed to get to the top, the memories I guess I'd pushed to the back of my mind returned to the fore. Memories of races and long runs where the biggest and by far toughest elevation change was crossing the river there.

But we made it to the top and were blessed with the downhill to the south side of the river. At the foot of the bridge we were at about mile 9 and our group split. Only 5 of us decided to go on for the whole 20. From here we had about 5 miles to get back to downtown. We needed 5 more if we were going to get 20. So we headed west again, away from downtown, toward the Two Rivers Bridge.

I'd never run on this part of the River Trail so everything was new to me. It wasn't quite as crowded as the part of the trail we'd been running, and that was kind of nice. Not so much dodging bikers as we'd been doing. We arrived at the Two Rivers bridge and crossed to the island on the other side. My first time running on the island too. :)

We did about a mile loop on the island and again crossed the bridge and headed back the way we came. Where we'd left the foot of the Big Dam Bridge, we were now over 14 miles and it looked like we'd added on just about the right distance to finish with 20. But we were about to find ourselves on the dreaded stretch known and hated as THE River Trail.

I say known and hated because this is what most of us consider the absolute toughest part of the Little Rock Marathon course. It's part of an out and back stretch that starts at mile 18 and ends at mile 23 of the race. Elevation's not the problem, it's as flat a stretch as you'll ever see on most marathon courses, but it's long and it's LONELY!

You can see forever because it goes on forever. It's the longest 5 miles on the whole LRM course! It's worse psychologically than the 2 mile climb from miles 14 - 16. It's worse than Dillard's Hill at mile 25. It's just the absolute worst and toughest part of the course. It's so bad that, when we were discussing how to get that extra 5 miles we needed, I jokingly suggested we repeat this stretch. If looks could kill, I would have been dead when I mentioned that at mile 8. It's that bad.

Fortunately, we only had to do it one way, and we survived. It was still tough, but hitting it from miles 15 - 18 weren't quite as bad as hitting it out and hitting it back on miles 18 - 24 like we do in the marathon. We made it, and we only had 2 more miles to make our 20.

Remember that Dillard's Hill at mile 25 of the Little Rock Marathon that I mentioned a few lines ago? Yeah, well, we had to hit that too. And even though we walked it, it just about finished me. One mile to go and I was done in. We ran on in that last mile, but it was definitely the toughest of the 20 for me.
"If either of them [friends] falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." -- Ecclesiastes 4:10

But we got it done! 20 miles for Amanda's 20th birthday! I can't thank my friends from the Cruisers enough for running it with me. I was going to do 20 today no matter what, but having company sure makes the miles easier to get through, and so much more enjoyable. I also have to thank some friends from the Red Felt Running Club, a Facebook Group that I've been a member of since I was training for the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon. The group has members from all over and some of them were running in honor of Amanda's birthday too.

So Happy Birthday in Heaven Amanda! I hope you had a great seat and saw all of us running to remember you. Can't wait to be up there with 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.