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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Trust in the Lord...

The Run

This morning was another 6 mile run, a little earlier than usual because I had to get to work early. I woke at 3:30 instead of 4:00 and headed out at 4:30. I took it a little slower than yesterday, and plan to not push the pace the rest of the week. Right now my plan to finish the week is another 6 miles tomorrow, 6 more on Friday, then an easy 5 mile bike ride on Saturday. The Little Rock Half is on Sunday and I plan to shoot for a sub 2 hour finish if everything feels right at the start.

The weather looks perfect for a PR, but it's almost too great a forecast. Last year we started in the low 50s and temps had risen to the low 70s by the time I finished the full. This time looks perfect and I'm only running the half. The race directors are accepting transfers right up to the expo and it's really tempting to switch, but I've got to remember why I signed up for the half in the first place...because I felt like that was what God was telling me to do. So I'll resist the temptation and just shoot for a PR in the half, but that weather forecast still looks mighty inviting!

And that brings today's message on resisting temptation...

The Message

It wasn't really too long ago when I finally figured out that God speaks to us all the time. Most of my life I spent wishing God would just spell out exactly what He expects of me so there would be no doubt. It always seemed like following His will would be easy if I just knew for sure what His will was. What I didn't realize was that He's been speaking to me my whole life. I simply didn't recognize it because I really wasn't looking for it.

For as long as I can remember, there's been a little voice inside my head that warned me when I was about to do something wrong. The same voice also pointed out the right choice when I was faced with a decision between what I wanted to do and what I should do. That little voice is what we call our conscience and it took me 40+ years to figure out it's the number one way God speaks to me.
" 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:5-6

A lot of times our conscience tells us to do exactly the opposite of what we want to do. Someone invites us somewhere we know we shouldn't go, but it sure sounds fun. We see a chance to get something that's not quite on the up and up, but it sure would be nice to have. There are lots of other similar scenarios, but you get the point. We have a choice to make between what we know is right and what seems more attractive at the time. These times are when God is speaking to us through our conscience.

Our understanding is of the flesh. What appears to be most pleasing right now? What would make us feel satisfied this instant? These are the questions our understanding brings to mind. The answers to these questions often conflict with what's right and good, but those are the answers we'll follow if we lean on our own understanding. But following our conscience, doing what's right even though we know it won't feel as good in the short term, that's trusting in the Lord. That's trusting Him to follow through on His promise.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" -- Galatians 6:9

That's the promise. That if we do good, what's right in the sight of God, we will be rewarded one day. It's hard to work for a delayed reward in this day and age. The world tells us we should be gratified instantly for our efforts or we're being wronged. But God never promised instant gratification. His promise is that whatever we go through on this earth will be insignificant compared to what we'll enjoy afterward.
"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." -- Romans 8:18

Think about that. Our suffering on earth will be insignificant, it will pale in comparison, to the glory we'll see when our time here is finished! That's a promise that our reward may be delayed, but it will be oh-so-worth-the-wait! And that's the hope we have to hold to in order to resist temptation here in this life.

If we really believe Jesus will follow through on that promise, the promise that our eternity will be spent in such a fantastic place that all the suffering we endure here on earth will seem like nothing, it's a lot easier to forgo the momentary pleasures of the flesh. It makes it a lot easier to avoid the temptation to go against God's will for some temporary pleasure.

In my mind, that huge finisher's medal for the marathon would look a lot nicer hanging in my house than the smaller medal I'll receive for the half. Finishing the full would be a lot more impressive to others than finishing the half. Completing the 26.2 mile course would seem like much more of a personal accomplishment than finishing the 13.1 miles of the half. All of this makes it really tempting to ignore that little voice through which God's been speaking to me. Add in that this is the first year the race directors have allowed transfers this late in the game, add in the perfect running weather predicted for Sunday, add in..., add in..., just keep adding all the things that point to pretty much perfect day to run a full marathon, and it's really hard to resist the urge to switch.

But I've got to keep my eye on the prize and remember why I'm here and who I serve. It's not about me, my pride, or my vanity. It's all about glorifying God. He's the One I'll kneel before when my life here is over. He's the One I'll have to answer for when I draw my last breath. He's the One I should be working to

Looking at it through those glasses makes it a lot easier to resist the temptation. It makes it a lot easier to follow God's will and not my own.

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, February 26, 2013

Struggling? Accept the Gift. Renew Your Strength. Be Content.

The clock keeps ticking and those days just keep getting marked off the calendar. Race day approaches!

On Sunday I'll be running the Little Rock Half Marathon. Three years ago I ran this for my very first 13.1 mile race. It took me 2 hours and 28 minutes to finish that race, coming off 5 weeks of almost no running due to injury. When I crossed the finish line, I somehow managed to keep moving through the chute and into the finishers' area of Riverfront Park. I sat down on the hill above the amphitheater and immediately my legs seized up in terrible cramps. For at least an hour I writhed in pain.

Three years now seem like forever ago. That day, I doubted I would ever again run another half marathon. I was certain the 26.2 mile distance didn't lie in my future. Now I've lost track of the half marathons I've run since, and I have 6 marathons under my belt. Two weeks after Little Rock, I'll be running my 7th full marathon at Wrightsville Beach in Wilmington, NC. So this half marathon on Sunday is really a training run for the North Carolina race on the 17th.

It seems almost crazy to think of a 13.1 mile race as a training run, especially recalling how I felt three years ago after my first time to hit that mark. It seems even more crazy to think of 26.2 miles as something to look forward to, when it seemed no less than impossible after that first half in 2010.

So what made the difference? What changed between March 2010 and now? I've thought about this a lot and there's only one explanation that makes sense...I've turned my running over to Jesus Christ.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

Back when I started running again at 40, and still when I ran my first half marathon at 41, I was running for me and nobody else. I wanted to get fit, to get back in shape. Pride and vanity drove me and that was all that fueled me on my runs. And I was running. I ran a few 5Ks, some 10Ks, and even that first half marathon at Little Rock. But I wasn't improving, and it would have been a stretch to call it enjoyable. (I mean, can't you tell by my post half marathon description above?)

It was really when Amanda was murdered that I cried out to Jesus and really turned my life, including my running, over to Him. And that's when things really turned around. Suddenly, half marathons weren't nearly killing me. I was running stronger, farther, and faster than ever before. And I ran my first marathon, Marine Corps 2011.

The first several marathons still beat me up pretty bad, but the long training runs weren't hurting nearly as bad as before. More and more miles not only became doable, but enjoyable too. As I grew in my walk with the Lord, what had inflicted insane levels of pain first became tolerable, then enjoyable. Last month, I ran my first full marathon during which I felt good the entire distance. Kind of like the verse above says, I ran and didn't grow weary.
"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 1:17

But don't think my new found strength comes from anything I have done. My ability to stick with it for longer distances isn't coming from me. On my own, I couldn't run a marathon, a half marathon, or even a 10K. Really, without the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, I wouldn't be able to run a step. It took me a long time to realize this, but every step I take, every mile I run, every race I finish is a gift from God.
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." -- Philippians 4:12

The really great thing about what I've learned is that now I'm happy regardless of how fast or far I run. In December it took me nearly 6 hours to finish the St. Jude Marathon. Last month I hit my marathon PR when I ran a 4:43 at Mississippi River. In between those two I ran back to back marathons on consecutive days, finishing the first around 6:55 and the second around 7:05. But I was thrilled just to finish each and every one of these races.

By handing everything over to God, I reached a point where just serving Him is enough. It's enough to keep me satisfied. It's enough to make me happy. He's enough. Jesus is enough!

These past few days I've been reminded just how important that realization is. I've been in contact with two former students this week, both in major life crises. The first contacted me via Facebook asking me to call. When I did, he burst into tears to tell me he was hooked on drugs and wanted to quit. The second is going through a bad end to a relationship. Talking to her, she told me she felt like her life "had no value" without the boyfriend who left.

Both of these folks are at a place in life where I was with my running not long ago. I placed my hope and trust in the ability to become more fit, to become faster, and to run farther. My results were less than favorable back then and I was anything but content. It wasn't until I placed my hope and trust in Jesus, turned my life over to Him, that I came to realize none of that stuff was what really mattered. It was then I realized it didn't take fitter, faster, farther to make me happy. Once I got my priorities straight, I was just happy to be out there running. In my conversations with these two young adults, I explained this to them.

The one was trying to fill a void in his life with drugs, the other with a boyfriend. I've heard it said (I believe first by CS Lewis) there is a God-shaped void in all of us, and He is waiting for our invitation to fill it. The void they are trying to fill is that God-shaped void. It took me more than 40 years to invite Him to fill mine.

If you are finding yourself struggling to find purpose in your life, if you're seeking something you can't quite put your finger on, if your life seems to be falling apart, and you haven't asked Jesus to fill that God-shaped void, He is exactly what you need. Jesus is the key, waiting for you to accept Him and unlock the door that will allow you to be content in any situation. The peace that comes from accepting Him as your personal Lord and Savior is the result of the greatest gift God ever gave mankind, salvation through His Son.

So hope in the Lord and renew your strength. Soar on wings like eagles. Run and don't grow weary. Walk and don't faint. Accept God's gift that will get you through anything and everything! It's waiting. He's waiting. All you have to do is ask.

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, February 25, 2013

How Far We've Come...

The Run

It's here! It's here! It's finally here! Race week in Little Rock has begun!

This morning I kicked off the final week before I run the Little Rock Half Marathon with a 6 mile run. I took it nice and easy, averaging just barely over a 10 minute/mile pace. There's really not much to say about the run. It was on one of my much traveled 6-mile routes from my house, one of the easiest.

The only thing that made it tougher than normal was the wind this morning. The temps were comfortable in the low 40s, awesome for February. But the wind was a gusty 15 mph blow that seemed to always be in my face. I'm sure it slowed me down a little, but I was in no hurry today anyway.

I felt great before, during and after the run, so that makes it a fantastic workout!

We're now 6 days out from race day and the weather is looking fantastic for Sunday. The Weather Channel website's 10-day forecast is showing a low of 34 and a high of 52 that day. That's a big improvement over last year when I ran the full. The day started in the 50s and had reached the mid 70s by the time I finished.

Whatever the weather, we'll be out there. Hope to see a lot of you in Little Rock.

The Message

Yesterday a member of one of the running Facebook groups I'm on posted that she'd run 2 miles. She was excited as this was a major milestone in her journey to her first 5K she'll run on March 16th. The group is made up of runners of all ability levels--fast and slow, short distance and long distance. But in the post she said, "Don't all you marathoners laugh..."

She didn't know it, but laughing at her was the farthest thing from my mind. I told her so in a comment on the post, and I told her the thoughts her post did send racing through my mind. As I read her words, beaming with excitement at her accomplishment, I went back in time to when I was at the same place in my journey, and before.

It's important, I believe, to go back and revisit where we were in the past. Not to dredge up old grudges, or long for the good old days, or to remind ourselves of missed opportunities. All those are there, if that's what you're looking for. But the thing I believe we need to go back and do from time to time is look at where we were and how far we've come.

While some people may have been born with a natural talent for running marathons, most of us who love the 26.2 mile distance weren't. For those of us who aren't natural born runners, the journey began with only a few steps running at a time. Every one of us has a story, a story that describes our personal adventures (and misadventures) that brought us to where we are. These stories are much more than a list and description of individual training runs and races. So much more.

Something got us started lacing up the running shoes. Something motivated us to keep going, to reach farther, to push harder. And something gave us the strength to endure the endless hours of training and its effects on our bodies. There may be someone out there, but I don't know anyone who woke up one day and said, "I think I'll run a marathon today," and did it.

No. It's a journey that started with putting one foot after the other for just a short distance.
"Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”" -- Matthew 19:26

I remember well a discussion with my Marine Corps recruiter back in 1990. He told me I'd never score well on the run section of the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT). He looked at my not-very-slim build and decided it simply wasn't possible for me to run well. At that time, I didn't really know how I'd do at the 3-mile distance. A perfect score meant covering it in less than 18 minutes, but I'd never run that far before. The recruiter was convinced I'd never reach anywhere close to that goal, but God knew even way back then that one day I'd be running.

My best 3-mile time as a Marine came at the School of Infantry in San Onofre, CA. For 3 months, we humped (what civilians call a hike loaded with gear) everywhere we went. I mean, we NEVER traveled by vehicle, and there were mountains everywhere! Big mountains, steep mountains. And we didn't go around them, we went up and over every single one of them. You might be getting the picture that traveling in this manner all the time, loaded with a full pack, carrying weapons and other gear was doing a pretty good job of strengthening my legs. Anyway, near the end of the 3 months, we ran a PFT. My official time was 17:23 to finish the 3 miles.

I never repeated that time, or anywhere even close to it, but that one time I busted through that 18 minute goal! My recruiter didn't believe I could do it. I had no idea if I could do it. If someone would have taken odds, I bet I could have gotten 5-1 that I'd never do it. But God made it possible. He made it happen, because He knew that one day I was going to be a runner.
"He must become greater; I must become less." -- John 3:30

Back then, I was into seeking glory for myself, without even so much as a thought toward glorifying Jesus Christ. So when I ran, I ran for me. This continued long after I separated from active duty. At 40, two years after I began to teach, I decided to take up running again, this time in an effort to get back in shape. I'd been riding a desk for the previous two years and it had taken its toll on my fitness. Honestly, I was pathetically out of shape.

Always before it had been fairly easy for me to get back in shape and lose some of the weight I'd gain during extended periods of avoiding physical activity. But this time was different. This time the weight wasn't coming off and even a half mile running seemed nearly impossible! I couldn't understand, and just kept beating my head against the wall (No, not literally.) trying to find my way back to a suitable level of fitness. It just wouldn't come.

It was during this time that I began to hear God calling me, telling me He would let me run if I ran for Him. I was confused though. How would I, how could I, glorify Jesus with my running? I had no idea! So I pretty much ignored that call for quite some time. I kept running for me, maybe even running from His call.

During that period, there was little improvement in my running. My times weren't improving. I'd registered for my first half marathon and begun training. The long runs weren't getting easier and I was just struggling at every turn. Then, 5 weeks before the big race, I stepped hard on a rock hidden under the snow and got a stone bruise on my foot. I tried to run and couldn't. For those 5 weeks, I put in virtually no miles on my feet. None. I made it through the race, but I've never run that far behind in any half marathon since.

I registered for my 2nd half marathon to be run 6 months after the first. I was still ignoring God's call and still struggling to improve. Again, only a few weeks before the race, injury struck. This time my knee blew up, with no explanation, only yards from the finish line. Once again, the several weeks preceding my big race saw me sidelined with no running. When race day came, I strapped on a brace and battled through the 13.1 miles.

By now I realized I had to find a way to follow God's will if I was to keep running. I had to make it about Him and not about me. He had to increase and I had to decrease. When I finally realized that, this ministry was born.
"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

A year after that second half marathon, and 6 months after beginning this ministry, I ran my first marathon. With Running with Amanda emblazoned across the front of my shirt and Philippians 4:13 across the back, God pushed me, pulled me, and carried me through 26.2 miles. That evening I registered for my 2nd marathon.

Now, with 6 marathons under my belt, the Little Rock Half Marathon scheduled for this coming Sunday, and Wrightsville Beach on the calendar for number 7 two weeks later, I understand that God knew all this was to be, even way back when nobody thought I'd ever be able to run. He saw it coming and put all the pieces of the puzzle together so this ministry could sprout and grow.

No. I won't laugh when someone boasts they just ran 2 miles, or even 1 mile, for the first time. I'll just drift back in time and revisit the milestones along the way of my own running journey, never forgetting that God's grace and mercy are what kept me going, kept me striving, kept me reaching farther and farther and farther.

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, February 23, 2013

8 days 'til the Little Rock Half Marathon!

The Run

Today's run was the last long run before race day! Next Sunday I'll be running the Little Rock Half. Since everyone is asking, "The half? Why?" I'll go ahead and tell you that story is coming with the message that follows. :) First though, let's go through today's run.

A change of scenery today. Earlier in the week I saw a friend post in one of the Facebook running groups I'm a member of that he and a few others were planning to run the 2nd half of the Little Rock Marathon course today. Since I was planning on a long run today, and am going to be deprived of running on the back half of the course next weekend, I decided I'd join them.

We started at the Arkansas State Capitol, the halfway point for the LR Marathon and followed the course for a couple of miles. Our trek included the ominous-looking-on-the-elevation-profile Kavanaugh section of the course, a two mile climb that begins around mile 14. It was a climb, but nowhere near terrible starting at mile 2 of our run today. We didn't go all the way up because there was no traffic control. Taking the actual course all the way to the top would have put us on Lookout for the descent back to the river, a road with no shoulders, lots of curves, and a few sort of crazy drivers. So we detoured and took a safer way to the bottom.

Just after mile 3 on our run today, we popped out on what I consider the toughest part of the marathon course, the River Trail portion. It's the flattest part of the course, but still the hardest to endure. Not because of the terrain or even the strain on your muscles. It's more mental than anything. You hit this part of the course around mile 18 and don't leave it until mile 24. It's an out and back section with virtually NO crowd support, and it's a long and straight stretch. It seems like you're forever watching the other runners fly by you going the other way, but it takes forever to reach the turn back to the east when you become one of them. It's just a mentally draining part of the course. But we made it, and again, it wasn't nearly as bad for miles 3 - 9 of our run today as it is for miles 18 - 24 on race day.

When we left the River Trail we again diverged from the course to make our way back to our vehicles. The detour did take us up a pretty killer hill (that is NOT on the marathon course), but again, we made it. By the time we reached the Capitol and our cars, we had 10 miles in. I was feeling good enough that I thought about tacking on another 3. But instead, I stood around and talked to the others who joined us today. A nice bunch of folks I hope to get to run with again.

It was a nice, slow, and easy 10 miler, but I feel really good now. So we'l keep on doing what we do, training and racing and hoping to see you all on the course somewhere.

The Message

Now that we have that out of the way, it's time for today's message and, as promised, an explanation for why I'm running the half at Little Rock next weekend instead of the full. The short explanation is that I'm listening to God and following His will.

Last fall, my addiction to running was getting really, really bad. I'm talking like bad the way a crackhead needs drugs. By September, I was registered for a 5 marathon streak starting in December and ending in March. The first was to be St. Jude on December 1, and the last of those 5 was Wrightsville Beach on March 17. At that time, I had plans to run the Little Rock full this year too. I was just waiting a while to register for LR because I knew about when it would fill up. Worse yet, there were two Arkansas marathons in November and I had just begun to seriously contemplate running at least one of them. Then disaster struck!

Disaster in the form of an injury, an injury I couldn't explain. I didn't step in a hole, twist anything, pull anything,..., I didn't DO anything that I could point to and say this or that caused an injury. Still, only 5 weeks from my next major race, my knee felt like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. I couldn't explain it at first, but as the days ticked by without being able to run, the scales fell from my eyes, and I began to see.
"because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." -- Hebrews 12:6

It dawned on me that my injury wasn't caused because of training. It wasn't caused by a misstep or over training, but caused by my own pride and arrogance that led me away from God's calling to pursue glory and praise for myself. I had grown fond of the comments by those amazed by the distances I ran and the races I described. It had become all about me and practically nothing about God. That wasn't the way this was supposed to work. When God called me to this ministry, it was clear that I was to give Him the glory and the credit for anything that was accomplished. I had become distracted, wandering, and lost sight of His will. So He found a way to get me back on track. I'm convinced now that my injury was God's form of discipline, discipline to turn me back from my will to His.

Jesus got my attention and reminded me that I'm running to glorify Him, to spread the message He put me on the road to spread. The reason I run can't be about pride or vanity or medals or travel or anything else. This journey has to be about serving Him! If I stray from that purpose, the Good Lord will do whatever it takes to get me back on the right path.
"He must become greater; I must become less." -- John 3:30

Jesus wants me working for Him. He wants all of us working for Him, spreading the Good News that eternal life awaits all those who place their faith in Him as their Savior and Lord. It's not possible to glorify Him through vanity and pride. "He must increase, but I must decrease," are the words from this verse in the King James version of the Bible. When I stopped running for Him and started running for me, it was me trying to become more while making Jesus so much less. That just won't work.

When I realized my injury was meant to tell me to back down and get things back where they're supposed to be, I knew I had to slow down some. I didn't have to run as many marathons as possible to do God's work. I was registering for all those marathons for my glory, not His. When I realized this, I knew that I had to become less so that He could become greater. So I signed up for the half instead of the full.
"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

Jesus doesn't want us to stray. He doesn't want us to wander. He wants us to do the right thing, to honor Him with all we have, in all we do, and wherever we go. He wants us to do His will, and He wants to bless us. His plans are to prosper us and give us a future, not to harm us and make us despair. But He will do what's necessary to bring us back into the fold when we separate ourselves from His flock.

I was forced to stop running for weeks, for weeks right before the St. Jude Marathon, forced to stop so that I might once again regain the focus I'm supposed to have. This blog and my running are supposed to be dedicated to God's work, not mine. I lost sight of that last year and God reminded me.

I can't promise I'll never lose sight of what I'm supposed to be doing here in the future. I'm human and I'm a sinner who fails God every single day. But I thank Jesus He doesn't give up on me when I do. I thank Him that He loves me enough, cares about me enough, to discipline me and guide me back to the right path. Who knows where I'd be if He didn't?

But now I'm healthy, feeling great. I feel blessed to run each and every time I step on that road. And I hope and pray that every single day God can find a way to use me to do His will. So next weekend I'm running the half at Little Rock, because that's what God told me to run. Last fall was enough to teach me that I don't want to wander aim. Whatever happens next weekend, whether I'm fast or slow, I hope and pray that in some way, my effort will glorify Jesus!

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, February 15, 2013

Persevere and Be Blessed

The Run

Finally! Had a great run today. After two days of struggling through shorter runs, I finally got back in the groove and had a really good 6 mile run today.

Wednesday I had to be at work early. I forgot and woke at my normal time, so I didn't have time to get in my planned 6 miles. That was probably a good thing, because the 3 miles I did run that morning were an absolute struggle! Thursday's morning run wasn't much better. I planned to run with my Tuesday/Thursday group, but woke up late. This time it was because I'd forgotten to switch my phone from silent. So I didn't hear it when it tried to sound at 4:00 AM. When I did wake at 4:30, I didn't have time to prepare and get to our meeting place on time. Therefore, I sent a text saying I wouldn't be there and got a later start than normal. I still had time to get in 4 miles, but again, every step was a struggle.

But today was completely different! As I switched on my Garmin, I felt the first raindrops of the light shower that would continue throughout the 6 miles. Still, I felt really good as I climbed the quarter mile long hill leaving my driveway. When the watch beeped after the first mile, I looked down and saw I'd completed it in 9:43. Nothing fabulous, but so much better than any mile I'd run in the last two days. And it got even better!

I knocked the next mile out in 9:11, then the third mile in 9 flat. The fourth, fifth and sixth miles went by in 8:51, 8:53, and 8:47, respectively. When all was said and done, my average pace was 9:04 for the entire distance. After the last two days, I was absolutely thrilled with that.

We're barely over two weeks away from the Little Rock Half Marathon, a race I'm hoping to complete in less than 2 hours. My goal is to average a 9 minute mile, 10 seconds faster than required to finish in exactly 2 hours. That gives me a couple of minutes cushion to beat 2 hours. I was starting to worry earlier when the runs weren't going well, but now I'm feeling a little more confident.

The Message

Once again, running simulates life in so many ways. So often, when we hit a rough patch in life, we get worried, maybe even scared, that we're going to fail. We fear that we won't measure up. We won't be good enough. We won't be successful. God takes such good care of us, blessing us with so much, so often, but it only takes a short time in a difficult situation to shake our faith and forget that God is going to always be there, looking after us and taking care of us.
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -- Isaiah 41:10

God tells us never to fear, because He will always walk with us. His promise to strengthen us and hold us up will never be broken! If we trust in Him, place our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, we have absolutely nothing, no reason, to fear anything. Nothing the world can throw us is stronger than our God. That means through Him we can endure anything, any situation, life throws at us.

Just as a couple of bad runs don't make me a failure as a runner, a rough patch in life doesn't doom me to suffering and misery for the rest of my life. In fact, we are also promised that will not be the case, as song as we place our faith and trust in Christ.
"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

Our God promises His plans for us are good! Hope and a future are promised to us, not hopelessness and helplessness. With such a promise, how can we lose hope? How can we give up?

But every day, all around us, people do give up. They lose hope. All it takes is a rough patch, a time of struggle, sometimes even just a little discomfort, that causes them to throw up their hands and throw in the towel. Really though, if we'll just persevere, usually for a very little while, we'll come out of the dark times and see the blessings God has in store for us.
"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." -- James 1:12

Persevere. That's what we have to do when life throws us a curve, when times get tough, when we feel like we're just getting beat down by one blow after another. The bad time usually only lasts a little while. Then, when the clouds roll away, the bright and beautiful sunlight breaks through to reveal the good that God has in store for us. Persevere. Just persevere.

God doesn't want you miserable. He wants you to receive that crown of life. He wants you to love Him and enjoy all the peace and happiness that comes with that love. So when you have a tough run, don't give up. Know that on the other side are the blessings God has for you.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Good Enough?

The Run

This morning I got up with plans to run my normal daily 6 miles. But as I was getting ready, I remembered I had to be at work early for our weekly Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. Because I had forgotten, I didn't wake early enough to give myself time to do both. I had to make a choice, cut the run short or not be there for the kids.

I chose to shorten the run. Instead of the 6 I'd hoped to get in, I managed 3. And somewhat surprisingly, they were 3 hard miles. I just never got into a rhythm, had to make 2 pit stops, and just basically struggled to get through. After last weekend's marathon went so great, and my Monday and Tuesday runs having gone well, it was kind of surprising.

But, as I struggled through the 3 short miles, it dawned on me there was a message here. I might not have reached my goal mileage today, but I didn't just throw in the towel when I saw it wasn't going to happen. I might not have been fast this morning, but I did get the run in. It wasn't anything close to even a comfortable run, but I didn't let that make me quit.

If someone who didn't know me saw me run for the first time today, they would have likely thought I was pretty pathetic. But the simple fact is, we can't be perfect, and we can't even be good at everything all the time. We're going to have off days. We're going to have bad days. We're going to have times we want to quit, and times we wonder if it's all really worth going on.

But as long as we do the best we can, that's all we should demand of ourselves, and anyone else has a right to demand of us. Sometimes circumstances will change. We'll have to adapt, improvise, and overcome obstacles life throws in our way. We just have to make the best we can with what we have, our talents, abilities, and the environment in which we find ourselves.

Today I did just that. I found myself in a position where I couldn't accomplish everything, so I made the most of what I had. So I thank the Good Lord I was able to make it through 3 miles today.

The Message

This week I was talking to a student who told me they felt "inferior" to everyone around them. Struggling in classes and feeling "not good enough" as an athlete, this student couldn't understand why their hard work didn't seem to pay off. But I know this kid, and I know they put their best effort into everything. I know their heart is good. This student isn't out partying or acting a fool. This is a good kid! I know this student is "good enough" and is not "inferior" to anyone.

Today's run reminded me of that conversation. Though my performance today was substandard, I gave it my all. And while that may not be good enough by the world's standards, the world which judges a runner almost by speed alone, it's good enough for God. And His standard is all I really should be worried about.
" 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." -- Colossians 3:23-24

This passage pretty much says it all, give your very best in anything you do. It doesn't matter if it's cleaning your house or working at your job. It doesn't matter if you're a physician or a student. It doesn't matter if you're a master at your trade or a novice. It doesn't matter what it is you're doing, as long as you do it to the best of your ability!

That's God's standard. The world's standard says you have to make lots of money so you can buy name brand clothes, expensive jewelry, fancy cars, and big houses. The world demands you not only succeed, but excel at everything you do if you want its approval. But not God. God wants your best effort. God wants nothing more than the very best you can do.

The world tells you you're a failure unless you have a high GPA so you can make it into a prestigious college. God doesn't care if you get a full ride scholarship to an Ivy League school or if you have to scrape by on student loans at a state college, as long as you try your hardest and do your best. God doesn't care if you have a PhD or work at a gas station, as long as you make your best effort.
"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." -- John 15:19

Unless you put your hope and faith in the things of this world, the material possessions, power, sex, drugs, and alcohol, unless you love the things the world loves, they will despise you. They will judge you. They will tell you you're not good enough, that you're inferior. They will look down on you because you don't have what they value, you don't love what they love. The world can't understand you unless you conform to it.

If you're not as rich as everyone else, if you're not as pretty as everyone else, if you're not as "fun" as everyone else, the world will hate you. But YOU.ARE.NOT.OF.THIS.WORLD. Jesus said it, "You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world." When you put your faith and hope in Him, that's all it took for the world to hate you, but it's all it took for Jesus to save you.
"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

You, I, and everyone were created by God to glorify Him and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. To do that, we are set upon this earth to love our neighbor and do good deeds so that others may see the love and hope we have in Christ, so they will thirst for it, and so they will hunger for it. Jesus knows you, He knew you before you were even born, and He knows exactly what opportunities you have in your life to do good. He expects you to do them, but He doesn't expect you to do them perfectly.

He knows what you're capable of. He knows when you're doing all that you can do. He knows if you've given your best effort. And that's all He expects! You are not inferior!

No matter who you are, no matter what you do, Jesus Christ loves you. He wants you, and YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH for Him!

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, February 11, 2013

Impossible? What's that?

The Run

Saturday I ran the Mississippi River Marathon and really enjoyed it. Some people think one has to be crazy to enjoy running 26.2 miles, and maybe I am. Maybe we all are. All of us who get excited about covering the distance, that is. But what we're really crazy about is running. We all have our reasons for hitting the road, what motivates us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Mine got me back on the run today, just two days after the race.

I didn't run yesterday, the day after the big race, but I did ride my bike 8 miles. Some might think rest is in order, and I mean the kind where you just sit on the couch and do absolutely nothing, using only the muscles it takes to work the remote control. But that's not what folks who run marathons typically think of as rest. So I had to get out and do something!

Today, two days after the 26.2 mile race, and one day after the 8 mile bike ride, I got back into my routine. At 4 AM the alarm sounded. I let the dogs out and went back to bed until it rang the second time, at 4:15. I was wide awake then so up and out of the bed I went. The 45 minute routine that precedes every morning's run went like clockwork and I was out the door at 5.

I took it slow and easy this morning, finishing the 6 mile run with an average 11:10 pace. I took about the easiest route available from the house and enjoyed the run. The first two miles were a little stiff, but the legs loosened up pretty well after that. Not a bad first post-marathon run at all.

When I think about how I felt after my first one, it's almost impossible to believe I've come so far. Not to say I'm an elite marathoner, or even an expert, but to feel this good after 26 miles is a blessing I never thought would come. When I finished my first one, the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011, I felt near death. It was so bad, I had barely made it to the family link-up area when I laid down in the street, curled up and passed out. My friend Jesse told me later he thought I might die. (I think he was really kidding about that.) It was pretty bad. But Saturday afternoon I made the 3 hour drive home after this latest race, felt good enough to get on the bike yesterday, and today made it 6 miles on my feet.

That's a long way from where I started and I have to give the credit to Jesus Christ. Without His grace and mercy, I'd have never made it.

The Message

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" -- Philippians 4:13

The Good Lord took a lowly shepherd boy and made him king of Israel. Christ took a persecutor of Christians and made him the greatest evangelist of all time. He specializes in taking those who nobody thinks can accomplish anything and gets them to accomplish what those others think is impossible. I can't tell you how many people tell me they could never run a marathon. I tell them nothing is impossible, not when you have Jesus Christ in your corner.

My friend Rick Karampatsos, author of Heading Toward That Final Finish Line, was told twice by doctors he'd never walk again. He credits Jesus Christ for giving him the strength to have run marathons in all 50 states. Late last year, he finished 7 marathons in 7 days. (Yes. 7 marathons in 7 days.) Last year on his 67th birthday, he ran 67 miles. Next month, he's planning to do his first 100 mile road race at the Graveyard 100.

Another friend, Chris Gillespie, was terribly injured while running when a ping pong table flew from the back of a pickup truck and struck him in the back. Ten years ago he founded TEAM 413, the worlds largest ministry serving the endurance athlete community. A little over a year ago, he completed what he called the Gracerunner Challenge when he ran 413 miles in only 10 days. In January, with a bad hip that demanded major surgery, he completed the Goofy Challenge at Disney--running a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday of the same weekend. Two weeks later he went under the knife to repair his hip. On April 13 of this year, 4-13, the first TEAM 413 sponsored race, the Get There & Share Half Marathon will be held in Homewood, AL to celebrate 10 years of his ministry.

These are awesome stories of God's grace, inspirational and undeniable evidence of the power God has to enable anyone to accomplish great things in His name. So anymore, I don't believe there's anyone out there who can't accomplish something. As long as you have God in your corner, nothing is impossible.

For me, the Little Rock Half Marathon is less than 3 weeks away and the Wrightsville Beach Marathon is less than 5 weeks out. Less than a month after that is the TEAM 413 race in Alabama. I still remember when I thought running a marathon was impossible, but I am so grateful for His mercy and grace that allowed me to accomplish more than I thought I could.

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, February 10, 2013

Mississippi River Marathon Race Recap

The Message & the Run

Well, it was just pretty much an awesome day! I ran the inaugural Mississippi River Marathon that started in Lake Village, AR and crossed the Mississippi River to end in Greenville, MS. It was a fantastically organized race that benefits a great cause. The weather wasn't the best, but not the worst either. It was my first marathon as a Marathon Maniac and my first sub-5 hour finish. To top it all off, I got to run most of the race with some great friends and met quite a few other great folks on the course. Like I said, just an all around wonderful day!
"The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part..." -- Job 42:12

Before we get to the race report, I just have to explain that it wasn't very long ago, just two or three weeks at most, I was wondering if I'd ever PR anything again. I was still trying to build back up after last fall's knee injury that sidelined me most of October and November. As last month whizzed by, I was running, but it didn't seem like I could get up any speed. Then, just like the Lord blessed Job with more than he had before his trials, he poured out His blessings on me and things began to click again. Last week He let me PR the 15K distance by almost 4 minutes, this week the marathon by 25 minutes! I give all the credit to Jesus Christ, because it certainly wasn't happening through my effort alone.

Before the Race

I had reserved a room for Friday and Saturday night when I thought my wife might be making the trip with me. When she decided not to go, I thought it silly to go to the expense, canceled the room and decided to sleep in my Blazer Friday night. That really didn't turn out to be too bad of an idea, and it sounded even better after a friend relayed her horror story of the night before while we were on the course.

Two friends, Elena and Sandra, fellow members of the Red Felt Running Club on Facebook, both from Louisiana, were supposed to be at the race. I'd met Elena at the End of the World Marathon in December, but had never seen Sandra in person. We ran into Sandra on the course and ran with her a while. When she told me where she was from, we realized we knew each other on Facebook. Then she told us Elena friend was sick on the trip up the day before. When they arrived, they were stuck in a smoking room and neither could sleep for the stench. Then, around midnight, one of them found a bedbug in the bed and it took over an hour to get into another room. Not a good night's sleep at all for these girls, so I was pretty happy with my accommodations in the back of my vehicle. :)
"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 4:19

And God is like that sometimes. Every once in a while, something that seems less than a blessing turns out to be a blessing indeed. I love Laura Story's song, Blessings, that does a great job pointing this out. Several people told me I could have stayed with them when they found out I slept in the car, but God knew what He was doing. He showed me this is a way to get to do a few more races without going broke. When all was said and done, this race probably cost me a total of about $200. Staying in the Blazer one more time will have saved me enough to pay for another $200 race trip!

We were bused to the start, with the first buses loading at 6 AM. Parking for the marathon was inside the levee on a huge boat ramp. I waited just in front of the buses until some friends from the Cabot Country Cruisers came over the levee and boarded the same bus with them. It seemed like it took an interminably long time to drive the 26.2 miles to the start, but we finally made it, dropped off in the middle of nowhere on the banks of Lake Chicot. There was a house a few hundred yards off and some grain bins right where we were dropped. That was it. I mean, it was the middle of nowhere.

Waiting for the buses, I saw an older man wearing a "Vietnam Veteran" hat. I walked over and thanked him for his service and we struck up a conversation. He told me this was his first marathon and asked for advice. I gave him a few tips and wished him well before he boarded the bus. Once I boarded with my friends, I was in a seat by myself. A young lady boarded and asked if she could sit with me. Turns out she was from Northern California, but currently teaching in Marianna, AR. She was placed in the delta by Teach for America, the charity this race benefits. We had a great conversation about the state of education in the delta and across the country as we rolled to the start. These were the first two of several interesting people I'd meet before I crossed the finish line.

It was much colder than I'd anticipated (and much colder than the weather channel had predicted), but thankfully the organizers had arranged a bag drop at the start. That meant I was able to wear my jacket and long pants. As the start time approached, I was dreading stripping down to my shorts and sleeveless shirt, but at 7:30 I did. They did have two large fires going. That was a plus. As the sun came up, the wind picked up and made the 30 something degree temperatures feel a lot colder. So the 400+ full marathon runners huddled around the fires and tried to stay warm until the 8 AM start. Finally the time came to drop my bag and head over to the start line.

At the start line, I met another interesting man, Felix, who I sort of knew through Facebook. We're both members of another running group on Facebook. This was to be his first marathon, even though he'd run the 26.2 mile distance on a training run not so long ago. He told me he ran his first 5K last September and now, 133 days later, he was at the start line for his first marathon. It all started, he said, in 2009 when he had a disk removed from his neck. His physical therapist told him later that he wanted him to walk. So he started walking and asked the therapist, "How far?" He was told, "As far as you can." He told me when he reached 5 miles, he just took off running. Now, 3 and a half years later, he ran his first marathon. (He finished in under 4 hours!)

This was my first marathon as a Marathon Maniac, so I got in on my very first pre-race Maniac photo too. That's me on the far left as your looking at the picture. Several people asked us today what the Maniacs were and how to join, so here's a link to the criteria to qualify if you're interested.

The Race

" 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up." -- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

The clock struck 8 and we finally got to start! The first 3/4 of a mile carried us across Lake Chicot on a sort of earthen bridge. There was a stiff NE wind cutting through us and I was in a hurry to get to the other side and head south. It felt a little better once we crossed, but the cold didn't quit biting. About the time we got across the lake, a good friend from the Cabot Country Cruisers, Janna, either caught up with me or I caught up with her (I can't remember which). We stuck together for most of the race after that. It's always easier to run with someone on these long runs than it is by yourself, so the company was a big part of what made this a great race.

By mile 3, two other friends, Carrie and Christie, had caught up with us too. We were clipping along, averaging close to a 10:15 pace, enjoying the company and conversation. A couple of ladies joined us for a while around mile 4, one of whom was running her first marathon. They asked us all kinds of questions, about the Maniacs, about strategies for running enough races to qualify, and several other things.
"Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up." -- Romans 15:2

The funniest thing I saw during this part of the race was at the water stop between miles 4 and 5. It was warming up by now and folks were shedding their throwaway clothes they'd worn to battle the initial cold. We were leaving the water stop when a volunteer, an older man, comes running from the aid station carrying a jacket and yelling, "Ma'am, ma'am, is this your jacket?" The lady had tossed it, but he thought she'd accidentally lost it. He had a sort of bewildered look on his face when she told him, "I don't want it anymore." It was really nice to see that sort of compassion from volunteers at a race, and it's one of the reasons I love living in the south. It's a place where kindness is still considered a virtue.

Miles 1 to 6 skirted Lake Chicot's western bank. A few residents of the homes to our right were out and braving the cold wind coming off the lake to cheer us on. Lake Village, AR went all out to protect us from motorists here, with police or firemen stationed at every intersecting street. Only the northbound lane was closed for runners, but traffic was minimal and very well controlled.

At the mile 6 aid station, I had to stop and use the port-a-john. I had once again over-hydrated. By now, it was just me and Janna running together. Carrie and Christie were up ahead of us. I told her to keep going and I'd catch up. When I came out, she was probably a quarter mile ahead and it took a pretty good pace to catch up with her before mile 7. We were still running along the shore of Lake Chicot, but now on HWY 82. Again, traffic control was fantastic! The westbound lane was closed for us to run in and policemen were alternating letting west and east bound traffic through.

Around mile 7 or 8 we met another first time marathoner. I noticed he was wearing the same brand shoe as I and asked how he liked them. Turns out this was his first time to run in them. He'd injured his foot in training, but wanted to run this race. A friend had recommended the Hoka's and he decided to try them. He said he'd trained too hard and too long to drop out without even attempting to run it. We had a great conversation for a while and offered all the encouragement we could before he dropped back or we pulled ahead (not sure which it was).

Around mile 10, we caught up with the race director and a couple of folks he was running with. We talked about Teach for America and I told him I'd met some of the teachers in the race. We ran together for a while and thanked him for putting on a great race before we moved on. Then a couple from Fayetteville, who were doing a run/walk routine, passed us. We ended up seeing them several times as we passed them then they passed us. Eventually the wife dropped back and ran with us for a while, but we were running from water stop to water stop (a mile apart) and only walking a short distance as we drank. After a couple miles, it was just me and Janna again.

We reached the Mississippi River bridge, the halfway mark, at 2:19 and still feeling good. The bridge is over two miles long and the wind was still whipping. It had warmed up by now though, and the only problem it posed was the resistance pushing against us. As we neared the top of the bridge, Janna and I took each others' picture. You can tell, it's a pretty nice bridge! It was here we met Sandra (the FB friend with the bedbug horror story I told earlier). As I was taking Janna's picture, she passed us and we caught up to her a few minutes later.

As we passed, we struck up a conversation about the wind. I didn't recognize her, but something prodded me to ask where she was from. When she told me, we realized we knew each other and then the bedbug conversation ensued. But she also told us another interesting story on that bridge. She had been talking with a guy we'd passed not long before, and he told her he had donated a kidney three months prior. It's just absolutely amazing the stories you hear on a marathon course. Donated a kidney and three months later running a 26.2 mile race!
"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;" -- Romans 5:3

Another interesting thing about crossing the bridge was the actually felt good going up! I wanted to show you the elevation profile, but I can't find it right now. Anyway, it shows most of the course as absolutely flat, except for the miles from 13 - 15 when running across the Mississippi River. Up and down ~80 feet in that little stretch, then flat again. The course was so flat from miles 0 - 12, it was a relief to be climbing when we started up! If we hadn't stopped for pictures, I'm almost certain we'd have made better time climbing through the 14th mile than we did the flat 13th just before. With the stop, we still only dropped 20 seconds from miles 13 to 14. Once on the other side though, it was flat again.

When we started down on the east side of the river, we picked up the pace a little. The past few miles we'd been averaging just below an 11 minute mile. On mile 15, going down the bridge, we dropped to a 10:13 pace again. At this point it was just Janna and I running together, but we got another pleasant surprise when Carrie caught us just past the aid station at mile 15. We were walking to finish our water and Gatorade when she popped up behind us. Christie had gone on and we were now 3 again.

This started a 5 mile stretch on the Mississippi side of the river along HWY 82 before we'd turn off into more scenic neighborhoods of Greenville. It was probably the most desolate part of the course. Thankfully, a couple of groups tried hard to break up the monotony with their version of on-course entertainment. The most memorable was the group from the YMCA. As we passed, they put on the (oh-so-appropriate) song, YMCA by The Village People. But, when they tried to do the dance, one of the guys bumped the chair and knocked the CD player off. We didn't stop, but it looked like his CD player was busted up pretty good from our view. We thanked them though, and I told him it was a valiant effort.
"not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." -- Philippians 2:4

It was somewhere around mile 16 or 17 we picked up another guy who was struggling a little. He ran with us for a couple of miles, but his was another interesting story. He told us he was only running to help his 13-year-old son finish, but that his son was "somewhere up ahead." It's amazing to me that a 13-year-old was out there running a marathon, but here it was, another inspiring story we never would have heard except between the start and finish of that 26.2 mile course.
" 6 “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7 But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you." -- Jeremiah 1:6-7

It reminds me of the Lord's call to Jeremiah when Jeremiah tried to back out, thinking he was too young. But God basically told him nothing was outside the Lord's realm of possibility. He showed He could use Jeremiah, regardless how old or young he was. It was just one more example in the Bible that shows nothing is impossible with God. And that 13-year-old boy, running his first marathon, inspires us to remember that all things are possible through Christ.

We lost our new found friend around mile 19 as we headed for mile marker 20. I've heard it said (and repeated it many times) there are two parts to a marathon, the first 20 miles and the other half. Basically what that means is the last 6.2 miles are just as hard (if not harder) than the first 20. This is a pretty typical place to "hit the wall" in a marathon. But today, we passed the 20 mile marker, turned off that long stretch of highway, and I was still feeling pretty good.

We'd completed mile 20 at a 10:47 pace, but we slowed a little after that. We followed that with an 11:13 pace for mile 21 and an 11:46 pace for mile 22. Then, the aid station at mile 22 gave us a real boost. There they were handing out Gu and orange slices and bananas and Skittles and peppermints and I took some of everything. A friend once told me to take everything they hand you to eat at a marathon and I was taking her literally by this point in the race. I figured those folks manning that aid station probably thought I was a homeless person stuffing everything I could into my pockets. As I left there, I thought about Dan Akroyd in the movie Trading Places when he was stuffing food in his coat at the Christmas party.
"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

Just after the aid station, we turned again. Here we met another Maniac and exchanged greetings. When I asked if he was good he replied with "Good is a relative term right now." And oh how true that is after 22 miles of a marathon. I was still feeling good for the number of miles we'd gone, but if I'd been feeling the exact same at the start, it would have been a bad omen. But that's when you dig deep and lean on Jesus. He promised us we'll have trouble in life, and I promise you'll have trouble along the 26.2 mile journey to complete a marathon. But just like He overcame the world, through Him you can overcome the struggles faced on the course. We were now only 4 miles from the finish and I was drawing on His strength more than ever!

We reached the mile 23 aid station, me, Janna, and Carrie. We'd been walking a few steps at every aid station from the beginning and we continued that here. It was now that Janna stressed to me that I could go on. She had told me that several times before, but she was a little more insistent now. She knew I was feeling good and said they didn't want to hold me back. It went against my grain, embedded in me from the old Marine Corps creed to leave no man behind, but I finally relented and left her and Carrie to finish without me. I didn't feel too bad, because both are more experienced marathoners than I am and I had no doubt they would finish. So I took off.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -- Philippians 4:13

We'd finished mile 23 at a 10:58 pace and I repeated that for mile 24. Just a little over 2 miles to the go and I was starting to smell the barn. A little prayer and I began to feel even better. I stepped it up and passed several people in the next mile. Some walking, some dragging. I tried to offer a little word of encouragement to each one I passed. Some responded with a meek smile, some with a look of almost hate. I didn't take offense though. I'd been right where they were. In each of my 5 previous marathons, I was in no mood to be nice at mile 24. But Jesus blessed me with strength on this day and I finished mile 25 at a 10:19 pace.

Mile 25 was the last aid station, then only 1.2 miles to the finish line. I was feeling it now, knew I had a good PR going, and was either pacing or being paced by another Maniac we'd traded places with for many miles on the course. His name was George. I only knew that because Janna had called him by name and run with him before, but we were both huffing and puffing down the stretch. We made the last turn and it was a half mile or so to the finish. About halfway down the stretch, he stopped to walk. I asked if he was okay and he said he was while offering a few encouraging words. I kept going.
"for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." -- 1 John 5:4

Coming into the chute, seeing that clock under 4:45, my eyes teared up a little as I finished. That hasn't happened since my first half marathon almost 3 years ago. Then, I felt like I'd accomplished something great. This time, I thought Jesus Christ had accomplished something great through me. Only a month ago, I never thought I'd PR any distance ever again. But I ended up beating my previous best by 25 minutes at the marathon distance. It was an awesome display of God's power. He certainly brought me back running better than I was before.

After the Race

They hung the medal on me and I grabbed a water, an orange, and a banana. Then I headed back down the road to cheer on my friends. It wasn't long before Janna and Carrie came in, then we stood around and brought in the other Cruisers. The picture below shows most of group who ran the full marathon, but was taken with a couple of folks still out on the course. This is a great group of runners, without whom I don't know that I would have ever been able to run a full marathon.

There was great food and fare at the finish. If you're a beer drinker they had that, but if you're not they had chocolate milk, water, vitamin water, powerade, and I don't know what all else. They had fruit, pizza, donuts, chips, and all sorts of snacks too. There was live entertainment and a pretty good crowd hanging around the finish line to cheer everyone in.

I have to say this was a great race, well run and loads of fun, that I will definitely run again. Thanks to all the organizers, volunteers, runners and spectators for making it memorable and fun! I also have to give thanks to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for calling me and equipping me to hit the roads and run the race He's marked for me.

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, February 7, 2013

Gather Together

The Run

It's Thursday! Two days from the Mississippi River Marathon. This morning I ran only two miles at my goal marathon pace. Yesterday I did the same. These short runs almost feel like I'm cheating, but I know I've got to back off to rest up for the race on Saturday. There's not much happens on a 2 mile run, so it's kind tough to describe it. It's really pretty much over before I even get warmed up.

But Monday and Tuesday I got in my normal 6 mile runs. Monday's was a slow and easy solo run, but I joined my old Tuesday/Thursday group the next day. It was really great running with those guys again and I can't wait to run with them next week. You get some great conversation in on group runs, talking about stuff a lot of folks just don't understand.

Being a runner, there are things you want to talk about that non-runners can't understand or just don't care about. On group runs you don't have to worry about that. And there are times we talk about things other than races, shoes, and other running specific topics. But mostly it's just nice to be around others who understand the passion for running.

And that's the spark for today's message.

The Message

"I don't have to go to church to see God?" How many times have you heard that said? How many times have you said it? Because I can promise you I've heard it and said it more times than I can count. Now, I would agree that God is everywhere and can be seen in everything, but that's not really what most people mean when you hear them use this as an excuse not to attend church. Certainly it's not what I really meant all those times I said it.

What I meant, and the way I take it when I hear it now is, "I don't have to be around church people to be a good Christian. So leave me alone. I'm not going." But I've learned a lot over the years, and have to say now that I don't think I could have made it through these past couple of years if I hadn't been a regular at church.

When I was young, and even when I was not-so-young, I had some bad experiences with people in church. I won't go into details, but let it suffice to say that I began to look at most church members as hypocrites. I saw people, close to me and not so close to me acting one way at church on Sunday and another when I saw them any other day of the week. At the time, I was living the way they were those other days, and I didn't want to be considered a hypocrite, so I quit going to church. For a really long time I didn't attend.

Eventually I decided I probably should go, and started again. I was going for the wrong reasons, but I was going. By this time, I had changed my ways and really was trying to live the best life I could, to do the right thing, and to help people along the way. When I decided to go back to church, it was because things weren't working out as well in my life as I thought they should be. Maybe, just maybe, if I went back to church and got my family in church, things would turn for the better.

So I started going. My wife went with me, and we made our kids go. But I did it not to worship God, not out of gratitude, not to glorify Him. I went back in the hopes of reaping earthly rewards. You can probably guess how that went.

It wasn't until after Amanda was murdered that I began to realize what I had been doing wrong. That's when I really started looking for what God wanted out of me, what He expected out of me. I had lost one of my daughters, both of whom I cherished above all else in this world, and I really needed more than any material thing would ever be able to provide. I needed spiritual help. I needed spiritual growth. I needed spiritual hope.

I began reading my Bible and understanding it, for the first time in my life. I began actively listening to the preacher's sermon at church and participating in the discussions in Sunday School. It didn't take long for me to learn that I'd been missing out, that through that growth came help and hope that can get you through the toughest times. And I also learned that we NEED to go to church.
" 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." -- Hebrews 10:24-25

Paul was clear in his letter to the Hebrews that Christians need to meet together, not with the expectation of material gain, but spiritual gain. Just like runners can get together and discuss shoes, equipment, injuries, etc. to help each other improve, we gather in church and discuss the scriptures, our fears and our hurt so that we might be encouraged. We all struggle, no matter how old or young you are, tall or short you are, skinny or fat you are. We all have bad days when, like Job, we just cannot understand why we have to deal with the rough patches in this life.

Not only will you find others in church who've faced similar problems, but you'll find others who share your faith and can provide Bible-based counsel to get through them. I'm no doctor, and I'm not advising anyone to follow my lead when I say this, but I think it's important to point out that even with all we've been through these past couple of years, I've never seen a counselor, never taken a pill to block out the world, and never sought solace in a bottle. Jesus, through my Bible and my church have given me the knowledge and strength to battle my demons without those things. They have spurred me on to love and good deeds.
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." -- Matthew 18:20

I think it's important, too, to remember Jesus' own words on the subject, that He is with any group who gathers in His name. I do also believe Jesus is with us always, even away from church, but these words from His own mouth make clear that it's pleasing to Him when Christians gather. And I think if we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came down and dwelt among men, was crucified, died, buried, and that He rose again so that we might all have an opportunity for eternal life, if we believe all that, how can we not want to please Him?

So gather together in Jesus' name, to grow and learn spiritual. Do so and you'll find help and hope among our brothers and sisters in Christ, help and hope that can get you through anything you'll deal with in this life.

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, February 4, 2013

Run to get the prize!

The Run

It's marathon week! On Saturday I'll run the Mississippi River Marathon in Greenville, MS, so this week is a take-it-kind-of-easy week with running.

Since the beginning of the new year, I've been running 40 - 45 miles each week. My goal this week is to keep in that range, even with the 26.2 miles I'll run on Saturday. That means I've got to cut way back on my Monday through Friday miles. I need 14 - 18 miles in before I leave on Friday.

Today I got 6 of those in and tomorrow I plan to get another 6. Then I'll really be cutting back, doing no more than 2 each day Wednesday through Friday. Most all of those runs will be at a nice easy pace, just staying loose for the big race on Saturday. Today I averaged an 11 minute pace, which would give me a good PR if I could average that through the whole 26.2 miles.

Tomorrow's run will likely be the hardest of all this week. I'll be joining my old Tuesday/Thursday group for 6 miles on a course with some pretty good climbs for around here. These are the folks that really made me faster when I joined them last year about this time. Now, when people ask me for tips to get faster, I tell them to run with faster people. It certainly helped me pick up speed.

I'm still not certain how I'll approach the marathon this weekend. Like last Saturday's 15K, I'll probably make the call at the last minute. Though I'd like to PR, there are going to be a lot of friends running this race. A marathon (or any long run for that matter) is so much easier when running with friends. So I may opt to join one or a group of folks I know and just stick with them. It will depend on whom I join as to whether that will make me go faster or slower, but it really doesn't matter. Just crossing the finish line is the main goal.

The Message

In most shorter races--5Ks, 10Ks, 15Ks, or other distances less than 10 miles--only the top 3 finishers in certain categories receive a trophy, or a prize. I don't know if that's because distance runners figure just about anyone can make it through those distances, or what the reason is, but longer races are different. In most races longer than a 15K, every finisher receives a medal or some comparable prize, or "bling," as they are commonly known in the running community.
"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

Some folks will flat out tell you that's why they run, to accumulate as much "bling" as humanly possible. But I think even these folks really run for deeper reasons. You all know why I run, but lots of runners have lots of different reasons for pushing themselves to run distances most non-runners consider either impossible, insane, or both. People run in memory or honor of others. Some run to raise money for worthwhile charities. Others run to prove to themselves and others they can achieve a seemingly impossible goal. If you really get down to details, there are probably as many reasons for running as there are runners.

I can't find it right now, but I remember watching a marathon training video where the presenter suggested running for a reason (and they weren't talking about medals or material prizes.) This is something I suggest to everyone who asks me for advice on how to get started so they can run a marathon...find something important to run for.

The months of training for your first marathon aren't easy. They're long, filled with ebbs and flows of success and failure in training. You'll have good runs and bad runs, days when you feel like you could run forever and days when just getting through a 5K seems a struggle. You're likely to suffer injury at some point or another in training, sometimes serious, sometimes minor. It's a long, hard road to get to that first marathon. Then, you have to get through the 26.2 miles!

Those bad days, those tough runs, are what can really turn folks off. When you struggle through 3 miles and you're 3 months into your marathon training program, you begin to wonder how in the world you'd ever make it through almost 9 times that distance! The injuries, the bad days, and the tough runs make it easy to quit. But if you've got a reason to run, a reason bigger than yourself, that's sometimes just enough of a catalyst to keep you going when all good sense tells you to just give up.

There are lots of great charities out there with programs for distance runners to support them. Many offer incentives for race entries and even hotel rooms. Raise enough money and you might even get airfare paid to your event. Maybe you could race to honor a loved one. There are many, many ways to find an important cause to keep you on the road when you'd rather be somewhere else.
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." -- 2 Corinthians 5:10

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked if I'm going to win a race I'm entered in. When I tell them I'll never cross the finish line first, they ask me, "Why do you run then?" And that's the beauty of marathoning. I don't run to get the prize they're talking about, but I do run to get THE prize that's waiting for me in Heaven. So I'm going to keep running, not for the earthly prize the first place finisher gets, but the prize that all those who trust in the Lord, Jesus Christ, as their Savior will receive when they cross through Heaven's gate.

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, February 2, 2013

River Trail 15K Race Recap: A Message in Every Mile

The Message & The Run

Walking to the start of the River Trail 15K this morning, I was still trying to decide just how I wanted to run this race. I couldn't decide if I wanted to treat it like any other race, where you lay it all on the line and leave nothing on the course, or if I wanted to run it more as a training race for next week's Mississippi River Marathon, just 9.3 miles at my goal pace for next weekend. By the time the race started, I had decided I'd just play things by ear.
" 23 The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; 24 though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." -- Psalm 37:23

A lot of times we're faced with choices in life, choices without an obvious best option. Sometimes either option seems just as good as the other, sometimes both seem bad, and sometimes it all depends on unpredictable events that will determine whether or not we made the right choice. That's why it's so important to trust in the Lord, to trust and serve Jesus Christ. Whenever we don't know what the best thing is to do, what the right thing to do is, Jesus does, and He will lead us if we let Him.

Mile 1

The start of the race was typical, crowded and congested. Instead of my usual dance, weaving and bobbing trying to maneuver around other runners. I just eased along, waiting for opportunities to pass slower runners rather than chasing down openings that might appear to my left and right. I was really surprised when I looked at my Garmin at mile 1 and I'd managed a 9:05 pace. I was still feeling great and decided to see how long I could hold up averaging 9:00 minutes per mile.
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me." -- John 10:27

These past couple of years, I've finally come to realize that God does speak to us. Unfortunately, I spent many, many years unable to hear Him. I was expecting communication from Jesus to come with blinding lights, burning bushes, a thunderous voice, anything that would make His power and might obvious through the form of communication. What it took me more than 40 years to learn, is that Jesus usually communicates in a soft voice that too many never recognize. Now I hear Him speaking to me through my conscience, through results of decisions I make, or sometimes just ideas that pop into my mind without explanation. Subtly, that's how I'd describe how God communicates with me.

Mile 2

I was 5 seconds off the 9 minute pace I was looking for after mile one, so I kicked it up a little, focusing on staying within 15 seconds of my goal pace. Not long before mile two, I caught sight of a friend ahead. My instinct said to catch up to him as quickly as I could, but each time I started to do that, my pace was getting out of my target range. So I backed down and took what seemed like forever to catch up. I finished the 2nd mile of the race at an 8:49 pace and got to run a little with my friend.
"And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised." -- Hebrews 6:15

Patience is a hard thing to come by in a race. It's also very hard to come by in life. When we want something, when we have something that must be done, when we have an opportunity, we tend to want it to happen NOW! Especially when doing a little more, working a little harder, pushing just a little might bring it about just a little sooner. So we charge ahead, trying to force something rather than wait on it. This may not necessarily be bad in some situations, but in many, patience can be a life saver, and a lack of it a life changer. Take driving for instance. How many times have you seen an aggressive driver pass you unsafely, drive at unsafe speeds, run a red light or a stop sign, then turn off the road only a short way farther? In those cases, his lack of patience may have saved him a few seconds or minutes at best, but at the risk of an accident that could hurt or kill the driver or another. The old saying, "Patience is a virtue," we should all take to heart.

Mile 3

About halfway through the 3rd mile of the course, we left the road and hit the River Trail proper for a short stretch, popped back out on the road for a quarter mile or so, then back on the paved trail all the way to the turnaround. This is a pretty flat course, but there were a couple of small hills along this stretch. I'd pulled away from my friend by now, but my pace was holding. I was still feeling great when I hit the three mile mark, finishing that one with an 8:48 pace.

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." -- Hebrews 13:8

Just like the course threw a couple hills at us in mile 3 today, life throws hills at us too. Just like the course changed from road to trail, our journey through life alternates through a variety of road surfaces. Today's trail was a nice paved path, easy to navigate, but not nearly as wide and easy to traverse as a road. As we go through life we'll find ourselves on good roads and bad roads, nice trails like we ran on today, or really tough trails that slow us down and wear us out, and sometimes it may seem as if there's no road at all. The most awesome thing in the world though, is knowing that regardless how the road under our feet changes, our Lord and Savior is there, running or walking beside us, sometimes carrying us when the going gets especially tough. And He will NEVER change. He will always love us. He will always be there for us. If you don't have the peace that comes with knowing Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I promise you won't regret it if you decide to make Him Lord of your life today.

Mile 4

The trail had pretty much flattened out by the time we started our 4th mile. Things were still humming along, and I was just waiting for things to turn. Last year on this course, this is about where I crashed. My Garmin was in the shop and I started off way too fast. By mile 4, I was in bad shape. But that wasn't the case this year. After mile 3, I was still feeling good, still maintaining my pace pretty well. In fact, I was still having to monitor my Garmin and hold myself back a little. I finished the 4th mile in 8:48.
" 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead," -- Philippians 3:12-13

I came to this race with a history, last year I had problems. As Christians, we are all sinners who come to the cross with a past. In my case, it was quite a blighted past. The apostle Paul really had a dark past. Persecuting Christians, he was as much an enemy of Jesus as anyone could be. But on the road to Damascus Christ began to transform Paul into the world's greatest evangelist of all time. Jesus takes us all, regardless who we were before we hand our lives over to Him. We have to press forward toward the goal, forgetting what we did and who we were before we knew Jesus, and strive for what's ahead.

Mile 5

Still feeling good. More focused after mile 4. Finding it easier to concentrate on my pace. Constantly checking the Garmin to make sure I stay in the range I'm looking for. Thinking an average pace under 9 minutes is possible for the entire distance. These were the thoughts passing through my mind as I ran through the 5th mile. Somewhere around mile 4 and a half, I ate my energy gel on the go. I knew it wasn't long until the next water stop, and I didn't want to have to walk to eat it and wash it down. Then I got a pleasant surprise at the water stop. My good friend (and President of the Cabot Country Cruisers), Annette handed me the cup of water and added some encouraging words as I passed. It's always nice to see folks you know out on the course. My Garmin showed I finished mile 5 in 8:46.
"Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires." -- Romans 8:5

This is an important question. What do we focus on? After the 4th mile, I was totally focused on the race, on running, and on what I had to do. There were no distractions to pull me away, or if there were, I didn't notice them. If we're focused on worldly things--possessions, money, etc.--we're constantly distracted from God's plan for our lives. We're completely distracted from what God wants and expects of us. When we sell out to Jesus, I mean really sell out, we can be satisfied with less material wealth, because we know there's a reward in Heaven that will make all the gold on earth worthless in comparison. Once we choose Jesus over the world, we've got to make Him our focus if we're going to perform well.

Mile 6

The 5 mile marker seemed a bit out of place when I passed it. My Garmin had been sounding the alarm for each mile about 20 yards before each previous marker. This time it sounded quite a bit earlier than that. I hadn't taken any detours, so I knew that couldn't be the reason. I decided not to let it worry me though, because what could I do if the 5th mile was longer than the others anyway? Anyway, when I passed the 5 mile marker, I knew the turnaround was not too far ahead. I was still feeling good and my pace was holding up. This 9 minute pace was looking more and more doable all the time. When I reached the 6 mile marker, my Garmin and the course were back in synch. Average pace for mile 6 was 8:46.
" 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength." -- Philippians 4:11-13

I could have let that long mile mess with my mind. So often in life, we let things we can't change affect our attitude and that affects our performance. It happens at work, at school, sometimes even at church. If we can recognize the things we can't change, and just be like Paul, content in any situation, we'd be so much better off. Because we can keep going, even when things are tough, even when Satan tries to throw a stumbling block in our way, if we just remember we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

Mile 7

Still on the trail. Things were still going great. After mile 6, I was pretty much isolated on the trail for a good bit. There was a small bunch of racers a hundred yards or so ahead of me, and I could hear folks a ways behind me every once in a while, but I was running by myself. My Garmin kept telling me I was doing well, staying on pace. I was still feeling great. When I passed the 7 mile marker, with only 2.3 miles to go, I was convinced I could clear the finish under a 9 minute pace. I hit the 7 mile marker on a downhill and finished the mile with an 8:45 pace.
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -- Isaiah 41:10

Alone or with a group. Even in the last third of the race, Jesus was with me. Running beside me, encouraging me, strengthening me, He kept me going and convinced me this was possible. It's the same in life. Regardless where you are or what you're going through, lean on Him. He will strengthen and help you, uphold you with his right hand. It doesn't mean it will be easy. Just like the latter parts of any endurance race aren't easy, you will find yourself in tough spots. But if your faith and trust is in Jesus, you've got a friend that promises you will overcome whatever difficulties you encounter.

Mile 8

When I started the 8th mile, my confidence got a tremendous boost. I knew there were only 2.3 miles to go and I was still feeling good. That group that had been 100 yards or so in front of me had started to fracture and I caught up to the one in the rear, then the next one, and the next. That boost of confidence had spurred me to pick up the pace a little. When I reached the 8 mile marker, I got another surprise, two more friends working the water station! I didn't see them there the first time I passed so I don't know if they arrived later or if I was just zoned out. But they were there and more words of encouragement spurred me to keep pushing! Finished mile 8 in 8:37.
"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

In a race, success gives birth to renewed confidence, as it does in life. But sometimes, in a race and in life, things don't go as well as they did today. It's those times that really test us. Today I was having a good race, still feeling great when I began the 8th mile of a 9.3 mile race. But there have been many days when things weren't going so well. In fact, some races I've run I've just had to "get through." Either way, placing one's hope in the Lord gives us strength to keep going. Placing your faith and trust in Jesus means one day, one glorious day, you will soar on wings like eagles. Until then, you go through life, the good times and bad times, armed with all you need to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint.

Mile 9

Off the trail and back on the road for almost all of mile 9. Once I passed the 8 mile marker and started on the 9th mile, I knew the Lord had blessed me with a good race. There was still gas in the tank and I pushed a little harder. Passing people up a hill, I tried to encourage them to finish strong. I was still feeling great, even at the picked up pace. When I reached the 9 mile marker my Garmin said it took 8:35 to complete that one. Only 0.3 to go and I could see the finish line up ahead. Not long ago, I would never have guessed I'd average less than 9 minute miles on a 15K. I didn't think it would ever happen.
"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 1:17

Today was a great day and I had a great race. It was a "good and perfect gift" that I never really expected. Even at the start of the race I didn't think it was possible. Even several miles in, when everything was going great, I doubted I could hold that pace. But this day was definitely a gift from God. I couldn't have come back from my injury this quickly without His help. I couldn't have improved enough to PR today without His help. Even things we think are impossible, Jesus Christ can make them happen. Today I was blessed with strength and endurance that could only have come from Him.

The Last 0.3

Like I said, I could see the finish from the 9 mile marker. A man was there holding a large American flag, shouting out the clock time, and making certain every runner knew we only had 0.3 miles to go. I picked it up again, not a sprint, but definitely pushed the accelerator. That last little leg went by with an average 8:22 pace and it was finished. A friend from my Tuesday/Thursday running group had already crossed the line and encouraged me as I entered the chute. Then, it was finished. And I still felt fantastic!
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." -- 2 Timothy 4:7

I want to finish my life here on earth just the way I finished this race today. Strong, with determination, and better than I started. In my last days, I want to push just as hard as I did to cross that finish line this morning. And I hope and pray that I'll be able to make Paul's words my last words when my time comes. Until then I'll keep running, fighting the good fight to accomplish our mission. And without a doubt, I will keep the faith.

God bless you all. Next weekend, 26.2 miles at the Mississippi River Marathon!

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.