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

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.

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