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.
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.