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

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!

Sorry for the lack of posts last week. It's been a crazy week to say the least. Our return to school from Spring Break included 3 track meets, my beginning the Insanity workout program, church on Wednesday night, and keeping our 4-month old granddaughter this weekend. Yes, we've been busy, but in it all, we've been blessed! And today is Easter, the absolute, without a doubt most important holiday for Christianity.
" 1On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” " -- Luke 24:1-7

And that's the story of our hope, that we can forgo the trappings of this world because our faith tells us it matters not what our station in this life is, because Jesus Christ came, lived, died, and rose again so that we might all have eternal life. Our God loved us so much that He sent His Son to earth to teach, then to suffer, then to die, then to rise so that we can one day spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

That's how great our God is and HE IS ALIVE!

For years I tried to find peace and happiness through material things and worldly possessions. I learned that none of those things are guaranteed or permanent. Only after the loss of Amanda did I truly realize what I had been missing all those years. Now I have peace, now I'm happy, even when things don't go my way, when it's hard to pay the bills, or when everything around me seems to be falling down.

You can have that peace too. If you haven't placed your faith in Jesus, He's waiting for you. He wants you. He loves you. His outstretched arms are reaching for you now. Accept the gift. Know the peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ!

May God bless you and your family on this Easter Day!

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, March 22, 2013

Sometimes You Gotta Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

The Run

This morning I woke, looked at the temperature, and decided my run could wait. It was 320 outside with a heavy frost and I had 6 miles planned. Normally, I'd have sucked it up and hit the road, but today I decided to wait. I mean, it's Spring Break and it wasn't like I had anywhere else to be. So I figured I'd wait until this afternoon.

That turned out to be a good decision. The temps had risen to 500 by the time I started the timer on my Garmin and stepped off under beautiful sunny skies. The run turned out to be my best since Sunday's marathon and one of my best in a really long time.

I averaged a 9:50 pace over the course of the run with only 11 seconds separating my fastest and slowest miles. For me, that's extremely consistent! Even on these daily 6 mile runs, there's usually a spread of 30 seconds or more between my slowest and fastest miles. When it was over, I felt great too. So, even though it was an afternoon run, which is usually outside of my comfort zone, it ended up being a fantastic run to end the week with.

You might now be asking, "End the week? On Friday?"

Well, yes. Tomorrow I'm headed back to Arkansas, home after spending Spring Break in North Carolina with my in-laws. The best part...I'm bringing my wife back with me! And that's where today's message comes from.

The Message

You see, my wife and I have been separated for much of the past 5 months. Not separated as in not getting along and thinking about splitting up. It was nothing like that. She's been spending the last several months taking care of family out here.

"Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." -- 1 Timothy 5:8

There was a need and she had an opportunity to address that need. And while living 1000 miles apart for the past several months was a bit of a hardship, it was our duty to set aside what would have been easiest for us and do what we could to care for family. The thing is, in the long run, not only will our family members be better off, but so will we, because we set aside what would have been easier for us in the short run and did what we knew was right instead.

It's kind of like that run today. On any given day you ask me, I'll tell you I don't like to run in the afternoons. But today, I had one of my best runs in a long the afternoon. Sometimes, we just have to step out of our comfort zone, and when we do, we can be pleasantly surprised by the results. I can almost guarantee if I'd have hit the pavement in the cold this morning, my run wouldn't have gone as well.
"If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them." -- James 4:17

And the same would be true for our future if we'd have ignored the call to help out these past couple of months. If we'd have just turned our heads and did what was easiest for us, we'd have paid for that eventually. Because as the verse above points out, if we know what we're supposed to do and we choose not to, we've sinned against God.
"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

So we spent a few months apart. Tomorrow that separation ends and we're headed back to Arkansas together. In the long run, we'll be happier and get along better than if we'd have refused to answer the call to help out. We've been married for almost 19 years and we look forward to many, many more. Those will be better years because we chose to do what's right instead of what would have made us more comfortable in the short term. In other words, we'll be better off because we stepped out of our comfort zone.

The next time you're faced with a tough decision, where you know the right choice but you also know it's going to take you out of your comfort zone, remember these verses, and remember today's run. Stepping out of my comfort zone ended up being the best decision that produced the best results. It's the same with tough life choices.

When you know what the right thing is, just do it, even if it makes things a little tough for a while.

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, March 21, 2013

Staying the Course, 6 More Miles Today

The Run

Today's running weather was perfect for a long run, or even a marathon. Temps in the low 30s early, not even reaching 60 by 11:00 am, but I was only running 6 miles this morning. My first thought was, "Where was this weather on Sunday?" I wrote earlier about the difficulties I faced at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon, and I have to believe things would have gone much better if the weather had been more like today's.

I'm still recovering from Sunday's run. My legs are still a little stiff and I just haven't built my energy level back up to where it was before. So today wasn't the best of runs for me, but the Good Lord got me through it. My average pace was 10:12 for the total distance, which isn't too bad in and of itself. I'm usually pretty satisfied with a 10 minute pace on a 6 mile training run. The thing about today was my lack of consistency. My slowest mile was at a 10:45 pace, my fastest a 9:54.

The best thing about today's run though was no sign of injury. Two runs after the marathon and my joints and muscles aren't screaming for me to quit. I've logged more than 450 miles in 2013 already, including two marathons, a half marathon, and a 15K race, and we're not even a fourth of the way through the year! The Good Lord blessed me with PRs at everyone of those distances too!

So I'm not going to complain when the weather isn't perfect for a race. I'm just going to be happy and thankful that Jesus let's me keep getting out and pounding the pavement!

The Message

Like I mentioned above, my first thought was to complain that this perfect marathon weather waited until after the race, that on race day the temperatures made for a really tough run. But then I have to remember who controls the weather, and that He has a plan that's greater than I can comprehend. If I'm really going to practice what I preach, practice what the Bible says, and really trust Jesus in every situation, I don't have a right to complain when things get a little tough, or when His timing doesn't seem right for ME.
"For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter, though a person may be weighed down by misery." -- Ecclesiastes 8:6

That's what we have to remember, even when things don't go our way, or when God's timing doesn't seem to fit our schedule. We have to trust that His timing is proper and perfect, timed not for our comfort or glory, but to accomplish His will. Just like the other day at the marathon, all those people who passed me who read my shirt and saw the sign on my back. How many of those would never have passed me if I'd have had a "better" race? And what about the lady who volunteered at an aid station who emailed me about her struggles with faith? Would I have passed when she was busy with something or someone else if I hadn't struggled that day? Who knows?
"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

So often when things don't go our way, we choose to give up, to stop and wait for a better day to keep going. But the Bible tells us to keep going, even when the deck seems stacked against us. We can't "weary" in doing God's will, not even when everything looks to be working to stop us. Best of all, we're promised all our efforts, our perseverance will be rewarded in God's time.

If you're in God's Word, listening for His voice, and following His will, everything will work for the best, for your best and the best for others you influence. But don't be surprised if you're giving it your all, doing your very best to please God, and things don't come easy. Stick it out though, stay the course, and know that if you're in God's will, everything will work out.

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, March 20, 2013

Back on the Road--After the Marathon

Sunday was my toughest marathon in quite a while, for a number of reasons I detailed the other day. So, for the first time this calendar year, I took off two days in a row from running, Monday and Tuesday. But this morning I made it back out on the road, with still-stiff legs when I started. Before the miles were done though, the Good Lord had me feeling good and ready to get back at it.

Two days of sitting around, doing little to nothing, may not sound too bad to many, but it's kind of tough on me. This morning, my body and mind were trying to convince me that 3 days in a row wouldn't hurt anything. "Why not take today off too?" that little voice inside my head was whispering. (You know, that little evil voice. Not the Good one.) When the alarm went off, I turned it off, rolled over and went back to sleep. It looked like the little voice had won.

But an hour later (thank God for Spring Break this week!) I did climb out of bed, let the dog out, and prepared to run. Better late than never, right?
"No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." -- 1 Corinthians 10:13

Temptation! That's what it was. That little voice inside my head was the devil trying to throw me off track, trying to convince me that I didn't need to get out there on the road. It happens to us all, in running and in life. We're tempted by the Evil One who seeks to draw us away from the will of God.

The thing to remember is this promise from God--that we are not alone. Others battle the same temptation, the same demons that work against us. And more important, that He will not give us more than we're capable of handling, and that He will ALWAYS provide us a way out. He always provides us a way out!
"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." -- Ephesians 2:10

God wants you in His will. He wants you to do the things He has assigned you to do, good works he puts in your path to do, for His glory! Yes, we will be tempted to stray, to turn away and take another path, away from those good deeds, away from glorifying Him, but we have a choice.

We can choose to turn away, or we can choose to turn and follow Him. Today I was tempted, but I thank Jesus for giving me the strength to get back out and hit the road, so I can follow His will.

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, March 18, 2013

Why do we run? Here's one reason.

Yesterday, Janice and I ran at Wrightsville Beach, NC. I ran the marathon and she ran the half. As I do in all my races, I wore my Running with Amanda shirt and the collage of pictures on my back. Those pictures are of kids from around the country who perished in some way or another as a result of teen substance abuse. The shirt and the sign are meant to draw attention to our story, the story of Amanda's death, and to the fact that our faith in Christ is the only reason we can go on.

I had several comments on the shirt, with Philippians 4:13 emblazoned on the back, and on the sign, more than I ever had in previous races. I was able to tell Amanda's story several times and testify to God's grace and mercy that allow me to keep going. After arriving at back at my mother-in-law's home, getting cleaned up and a nap, I sat down at the computer to write my race recap. That's when I found an email waiting that let me know God is using us and this ministry to reach others.

I won't copy the email, because I don't want to reveal the identity of the sender, but I will summarize and I want to post an edited (again, not to expose anyone's identity) version of my response. The sender wasn't a runner in the race, but a volunteer who saw my shirt as I passed by. She visited this website and read our story, and wrote, "I admire your faith in God and I am working hard on finding it myself." She went on to explain that she believes in God, but struggles with the question, "Why do bad things happen?"

I responded to her question, explaining what I've learned as I study the Bible following Amanda's death. Knowing many struggle with this question, I thought I'd share with readers here what I shared with her. Please, if you agree with what I say here, share this with others you know who struggle with this question.

Why do bad things happen?

Before Amanda's death, I tried to always do what I thought was right, but I didn't do much of anything to honor or glorify God. I took my girls to church most Sundays, but that was really about it. I didn't know much of the Bible, never could seem to understand much when I tried to read it. But as soon as she was killed, I knew I had to find a reason to go on. Because losing her left me feeling so vulnerable, so inadequate, so incapable of protecting that which I was entrusted with to protect, that I couldn't see a reason to keep going. I know people who reached for a bottle, of booze or pills, to cover up the pain. To say those thoughts didn't cross my mind would be a lie, but closer to hand was a Bible and I reached for that instead.

For the first time in my life, I began searching the Bible for answers with a completely open soul. I was willing to accept whatever it revealed, because I had reached rock bottom, completely shattered with no strength of my own left. In this state, unlike the times before when I'd tried to read the Bible, answers came rather quickly. Pertinent verses seemed to leap from the pages, as if God was turning the pages himself, right to what I needed to read. I really think the difference was that I had reached a point where I was no longer looking for the Bible to justify what I believed, but to tell me what to believe. Some of those verses I found during that time are directly related to your question on why bad things happen.
"When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;" -- James 1:13

God is good, all the time. That's what we're taught. That's what we're told. And it's true. But it's hard to rationalize how such horrible things happen in a world where an omnisicient, omnipotent, omnipresent God could reach down and stop every tragedy before it stops. What happened to Amanda was an act of pure evil. So when I read James 1:13, I realized that God didn't take Amanda. It wasn't His will that she die such a tragic death. God is incapable of evil, that's what James tells us. So it wasn't God that did this. It wasn't His will. It was the work of Satan, who makes it His mission to separate us from God. But that raises the question, "Why doesn't God stop it from happening?"

The best I can come up with to explain this is to compare it with our role as parents. We do our best as parents to teach our children right from wrong, to encourage them to make good choices and decisions. But, in our roles as protectors, their comes a time when we have to step back and let them make their own mistakes. I remember the first time I ever let Amanda drive away by herself. I just knew I'd never see her again. All the times I rode with her, every mistake she made scared me to death, not for me but for her. Still, I had to come to the point when I turned her loose to learn some things on her own. Without experience, she'd never have learned enough to drive in a way I'd consider "safe enough." Similarly, I came to a point when I had to trust her to make the right decisions. My alternative was to keep her at home or with me all the time. When she made bad decisions, I punished her, but not forever. I had to loosen the reins enough to give her a chance to make her own mistakes and learn from them. I never would have "allowed" her go to that party if I'd known that's where she was going, but I had to let her out and trust her to make the right decisions. Technically, I could have prevented what happened that night by keeping her with me, not allowing her to go out. But I made the decision to let her go out, and trust her to make the right decisions. She made the wrong decision to go to the wrong place with the wrong people, a decision I could have prevented. I loved Amanda dearly and was devastated when we lost her. I think God feels the same way when things happen to us. He left us His word, our instruction book on how to live according to His will. He loves us enough to turn us loose and let us make our own choices, hoping always that we will make the choice to turn to Him, and broken hearted when we don't and He loses one of us.

Not every situation of bad things happening falls into this category though. What about sickness and tragedies over which we have no control?
" 1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. " -- John 9:1-3

I think sickness and illness are sometimes consequences of our sins, but not always. I think God allows Satan power over this earth, and the devil inflicts us with tragedy in the hopes of separating us from God, the way He tried with Job. But, if we place our faith and trust in Jesus, our hardships can be the strongest witness to others whose faith is weak. How we react and deal with tragedy can strengthen their faith and bring others into the fellowship of believers. Several have contacted me since Amanda's death, some turned their lives around because of what happened to her, others because they saw how we dealt with her loss. I believe God is using us and our loss to accomplish His will. He uses those ailing from things beyond their control too.
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." -- Romans 8:28

Just the other day, working with the junior high boys in our church's youth service small group, a young boy testified to such a case. His older sister was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in the 8th grade. She is a senior now, cancer-free but suffering from the effects of years of chemo and radiation treatment. She and her family have been a source of inspiration to so many as they've held strong to their faith in God. Only two weeks after Amanda died, his sister sent me a message on Facebook to encourage me. I was inspired that someone so young, who had been through so much, could have the strength and desire to reach out to help me and my family. Her brother told another inspiring story I mentioned earlier. He said they thought, after the first surgery and round of treatments, his sister had beaten the cancer. When the cancer came back, they were devastated, but their faith remained strong. He said at church the entire family came to the alter to pray and ask for prayers, vowing to remain strong and serve God regardless of what the eventual outcome would be. That night, a family of 5, walked down the aisle to give their hearts to Jesus. This young man asked the question, "If not for our tragedy, would that family have come to be saved?" Even the things we suffer, no matter how bad they are, can be used by God to bring about good.
"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

These were the words of Jesus to his disciples. For a long time I thought if I found God's will for my life and followed it, I'd live a happy, healthy, trouble-free life. Had I really opened myself to the Word of God, I wouldn't have been so misled. Jesus didn't promise us any of these things in this life. In fact, He promises us we will have trouble. Our lives on earth will be characterized by challenges, but we can have hope because the next life will be for eternity without pain, suffering, or any of the struggles we face here.

My reading of the Bible, REALLY reading it since Amanda's murder, has convinced me that God doesn't want us to suffer, but He has to let us suffer. Just as we parents must sometimes do with our kids. When a child takes his first steps, we let them fall. Because if we don't, they'll never learn to walk on their own. When they're learning to ride a bike, we eventually take off the training wheels, knowing they're going to crash, but knowing they have to learn. Raising kids presents these dilemmas over and over again as they grow up, just as we put God in this position over and over again as we go through life.
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." -- 1 Peter 5:8

God doesn't want us to suffer, and just like James 1:13 says above, He doesn't tempt us through suffering. And I believe that's what suffering is, a temptation to become angry with God, to hate Him even, to drive us away from Him. Knowing that God doesn't afflict us to tempt us, that leaves Satan as the culprit. He's the one who constantly seeks our separation from God, so it makes perfect sense that he would try to drive us away. Thinking along that line, it also makes perfect sense that we see people who seem to be the worst and the meanest suffer the least. Why would Satan want to change the hearts of those doing his will, who are separated from God? Why wouldn't the devil seek to reward their ungodly behaviors to encourage others to follow their path to Hell and destruction? This is why I believe some of the worst people seem to have the best of lives here on earth.

Loving God, trusting Jesus, and following Him is no path to a trouble-free, worry-free life here on earth. On the contrary, it's declaring yourself an enemy of the Evil One and almost guaranteeing you will be assailed, assaulted, and attacked in an effort to turn you away and to turn others away from following you. But, the reward for staying the course will come when our time here is over, an eternal life without the pain and suffering we experience here. An ETERNAL life, for all eternity, forever and ever! That's what gives me hope, what keeps me clinging to Jesus in the midst of this seemingly never ending storm called life--the promise, the guarantee that when my time here is up, I'll spend far longer on the other side with Amanda than I would have even if we both lived long, full lives here on earth!

So regardless what trials and troubles this life brings, I'll trust in Him and look forward to the day I get to see Amanda again. Then I'll run to her, hug her, and hold her and never have to worry about losing her again!

Sorry this is so long, but I felt a need to address your question the best I could. I really appreciate you giving me this opportunity and for taking the time to look us up and read our story. Through folks like you, my beautiful daughter lives on. God bless you ma'am. Please let me know if I can help answer any other questions you may have. :)

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, March 17, 2013

Race Recap: Wrightsville Beach Marathon 2013

Today was marathon #7 for me and half #4 for Janice at the Wrightsville Beach Marathon in Wilmington, NC. Several things combined together to make this the toughest race I've done in a long time. It wasn't my best race, not by far, but the Good Lord brought me to the race, and He definitely brought me through it. So here's how it all went down.

Before the Race

Several days ago the Weather Channel was predicting much warmer temps for race day than what I've been training in. That's always a bad sign. I wasn't expecting a PR, and I told myself I was just going to take it easy and enjoy the run. The temperature was approaching 70 by the time I crossed the finish line, a long way from the 30s I've run most of my miles in for the last month. The race started before daylight with temps in the low 50s, quite comfortable if they would have just stayed there for 26 miles. But they didn't and that led to problems later.

We started at 6:15 this morning, pretty early compared to most races I run, and even earlier when you consider we're in the Eastern Time Zone. So it was really like 5:15 to me. I usually start all my training runs around 5 in the morning, so that shouldn't really have been a problem, except those training runs aren't preceded by a thousand mile drive the day before. Looking back, I'm pretty sure the long drive to get here this weekend took a toll on me today. I left the house at 4:30 PM on Friday after work and headed east. The long drive was broken up by a couple of naps and a stop for breakfast Saturday. I made it to the expo around noon in Wilmington. Then it was 50 miles to my in-law's where we spent the night before the race. I don't know how long I slept Saturday afternoon, but I do know I had a tough time getting to sleep that night. It must have been somewhere around 11 when I finally dozed up, with the alarm set for 3:15 AM.

Sunday morning we woke and left the house a little after 4, arriving in Wilmington right at 5. We parked near the finish line where shuttles were waiting to take us to the start. We had the good fortune to meet up with a couple of other members from the Red Felt Running Club (previously known as Marine Corps Marathon First Timers), Nicole and Brittany, for a pre-race picture. Another RFRC member, Robert, was unable to make the picture, but I did get to meet him at the starting area before the race. RFRC began as MCMFT with a bunch of folks running the Marine Corps Marathon for the first time in 2011, when and where I ran my first full marathon. After the race, the group changed its name and has continued to grow and thrive as a bunch of folks from all over the country who love to run and encourage others to run. I've only met a few of the members in person, but I really love to have the oppportunity.

From left to right: Nicole, Me, Janice, Brittany

The race started in 3 waves, at 6:15, 6:40, and 6:45, with the slowest of us in the first wave. I was able to meet several Marathon Maniacs at 6:00 am for the traditional pre-race picture, only the 2nd I've been in. I saw more Maniacs on the course, but these were the ones who gathered before the early start for the picture.

Maniacs from left to right: Eddie, Nilda, Murray, Charlotte, Me

The Race

"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

The hour had come! At 6:15 we began, several hundred of the slowest entered in the Wrightsville Beach Marathon and Half Marathon. It was still dark, with first light about 45 minutes away, but it was easy enough to see. I felt really good. The pre-dawn chill made the 50+ degree temps feel super comfortable so all was right with the world.

We got to the first mile marker and I looked at my watch, 9:50. Not good, and I knew it. I told myself I had to slow down, but one thing I couldn't see was my watch in the early morning darkness. So I tried to hold myself back based on feel. The only problem...I was feeling holding myself back based on how I felt didn't work. Mile 2 I finished in 9:52. At this point, I decided I'd run the first 3 miles at this pace, then slow down once it got daylight. As I passed the Mile 3 marker, my watch showed I'd completed it in 9:44. Finally it was getting daylight.

Remember the plan to slow down after 3? Well, it sort of worked. I was still feeling fantastic but I was able to slow myself so that I clocked mile 4 in 10:03. Still way faster than the 10:30 pace I once thought I'd shoot for in this race. But by now that race euphoria was settling in and dreams of yet another BIG pr were filling my head. It was somewhere along here I decided I'd try to hold the 10 minute pace as long as possible. (That would prove to be a big mistake late in the race.)
"for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." -- Philippians 2:13

It was somewhere between miles 4 and 5 when the first person asked me about the sign I wear on my back in races. He was passing me and asked about the pictures, giving me my first opportunity to tell Amanda's story in this race. More people asked me about my sign and complimented me on my shirt today than at any race in the past. A lot of people loved reading Philippians 4:13 as they passed me by, and several passing me must have taken the time to read the sign because they thanked me for running to raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse. It made me feel like I was in the right place today, where I was supposed to be, doing what God wanted me to do.

By the time I'd hit the Mile 5 marker, I guess I'd forgotten my plan to back things down altogether. I was back at a 9:53 pace. I was still feeling good, but should have had the sense to know this couldn't last. Miles 6 through 11 weaved through the absolutely beautiful Landfall neighborhood. Beautiful homes with well-manicured lawns made for a really pleasant setting through which to run. I slowed down some through here, but was still maintaining a 10 minute cumulative pace, still feeling great. We passed through the gates of Landfall back out onto the highway, headed back to Wrightsville Beach.

When I passed the Mile 12 marker, I was back down to a 9:55 pace, still feeling great. It was along here, just before I started over the draw bridge back to the beach when a passing woman tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a scrap of paper. She had a notepad and marker in her hands, never said a word, just handed me that piece of paper and kept running. On the paper she had circled the number 4 and followed that with the words to Philippians 4:13, the verse on the back of my shirt. I don't know if that's her way of encouraging others, of entertaining herself on the course, or what, but it was certainly a nice and appreciated gesture. I stuck that note in with my phone, meaning to take a picture of it and post here. (I'll explain later why I can't do that right now.) I'd have several similar experiences like this throughout the race, but never had them before. Again, these folks made me feel like I was in the right place and in God's time.

Miles 13, 14, and 15 were run through Wrightsville Beach. By now, the sun was higher in the air and the temperatures were rising. I was still feeling good, crossing the half marathon mark just after 2 hours and 10 minutes, still averaging a 10 minute mile. My pace for Mile 14 fell to a 10:06 because I tried twice to stop at the port-a-johns to find them occupied. It took me 10:45 to finish Mile 15 because I finally got to make a pit stop. I was still feeling good, but the heat and the sun were beginning to work on me.

Mile 16 carried us back across the bridge for the last time, then down a long, straight stretch with no shade. Under the ever-climbing sun and the ever-rising heat, I started to wish I had stuck with my pre-race plan to shoot for a 10:30 pace from the start. I still finished the 16th mile in 10:08, but by then it was obvious that pace wasn't going to hold up.

" 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -- Philippians 4:6-7

My pace fell to 10:44 for Mile 17, and after that I started walking some. Mile 18 dropped to 11:08 and mile 19 to 11:55. I'd been praying off and on throughout the race, for one thing, then another. But around here is where I began to pray pretty much unceasingly, just asking Jesus to get me through on His strength, because I knew mine wasn't going to carry me the distance. On mile 19 another man came by me and patted my shoulder. He commented on the bible verse on my back and pointed to a bracelet he was wearing that bore Philippians 4:6-7. Like I said earlier, I've never had so many comment or speak to me about my shirt as did today. It was very encouraging to know that so many on the course were leaning on Jesus to get them through as well.

By the time I hit Mile 20, I'd decided on a run/walk strategy that I thought would carry me through to the finish. I was running 0.3 miles, then walking 0.2, and it seemed sustainable. It wasn't easy. Sometimes that 0.3 seemed like 30 miles, but it was working at the time so I set it as my goal. Mile 20 came in at 12:46, Mile 21 at 13:36, and Mile 22 at 14:04. Somewhere along here another man passed me, patting me on the shoulder and telling me, "He's always with us," as he showed me a small wooden cross he pulled from his pocket. Again I was encouraged by those surviving on faith to get through this race.
"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

Even my run/walk routine was tougher now. I was praying constantly, knowing I didn't have the strength to finish without Jesus. I could hear in my voice that I was becoming severely dehydrated and somewhat overheated. There were 4 miles to go and I couldn't make it on my own, but with God, all things are possible. I finished Mile 23 in 15:25, the slowest yet, but there was barely more than a 5K to go!

Knowing there were only 3 miles left must have boosted me some, because I finished Mile 24 in 14:50, 35 seconds faster than the previous mile, with nothing else to explain the improvement. I was still feeling really rough, still struggling to keep moving and keep breathing, but I was getting so close to the end! That improvement halted though when we emerged from the tree-lined (and therefore shady) streets of Landfall onto the wide-open highway for the last 2.5 miles. By now, the sun could be considered nothing less than an enemy, out to stop me from completing the race. But God kept me going. I passed the Mile 25 marker after 15:06. A little more than a mile to go.

Nothing was easy by now and I decided to walk the entire Mile 26. I must have looked bad because one of the volunteers on a bicycle passed me and asked me if I wanted water. I told him no because I was feeling sick at the time, like I'd throw up anything I tried to take in. He went on, then slowed down and asked me again a few seconds later. Still out in the blazing sun, I was in pure survival mode, trying to just get to the finish.

At one point, I thought about trying to run again, but only because my watch was showing that I might just come in under 5 hours if I did. I could hear the Lord telling me to not be stupid, that time didn't matter, but the vain runner in me was poking its head out in my Mile 26 delirium. Like He does so many times, Jesus stepped in and convinced me to stick with the walk. This time He used a song. Blaring from the speakers set up at a tent about a half mile from the finish was one of my all-time favorite songs, Three Wooden Crosses by Randy Travis.

I tried to sing along, but at the same time fighting back tears as I thought about the message in the song, the timing of hearing it just at that moment, and about the reasons I'm out here running marathons. The situation described in the song is completely different, but the message that God can make great things come from horrible tragedy came through loud and clear as I cried, sang, and thought about Amanda's death and how God has used it to save others. To hear that song, just then, it wasn't coincidence.

I finally rounded the last turn and saw the finish line a couple hundred yards ahead. It looked like a couple miles ahead, but I started pumping my arms and doing my best imitation of a run that I could muster at this point. It probably looked more like a 90-year-old shuffling through the mall than a marathon runner approaching a finish line, but it was all that was left for this race. When I crossed the timing mat, I didn't care about the photographer and I didn't care that I'd come in over 5 hours. I was just grateful that God carried me across that finish line!

After the Race

They handed me a bottle of water and my medal after crossing the finish line and I continued through the chute toward the finisher's area. I was hot, tired, and feeling extremely queasy. As I passed the medical tent, they tried to convince me to step inside. (I must have looked awful!) I passed and headed through to the food. There was pizza and cookies and pretzels and bananas and soft drinks, but nothing seemed appealing. I took a couple of banana halves and continued on.

I found Janice sitting down in the tent and joined her. I tried to eat the bananas, but only managed to down part of one half. There was no wind moving inside the tent and I needed to cool down, so we headed outside to find some shade. I settled into a nice spot beside a truck and laid down on the pavement. The breeze did it's job and I began to feel better, although post-race cramps were seizing my legs.

After about 30 minutes, I decided we'd try for the car, but on the way began to feel sick again. I told Janice I might need that medical tent after all, so we headed that way. By the time we got there I was feeling better so I didn't go in. Once again, the Good Lord took care of me, just like He always does.

So we headed for the car to make the 50 mile trip back to Jacksonville. Janice offered to drive and I didn't argue, so I got to sleep most of the way back. And now, finally, 12 or so hours after the race, I sat down to write this recap.

I have nothing but great things to say about the race organization, volunteers, and course. Traffic control was fantastic. The aid stations were staffed with enthusiastic volunteers. The course was on good roads and through nice areas. I won't be back every year, but I would imagine that I'll eventually be back to do this one again. The things that made this race tough for me were completely out of the control of those in charge.

Today was rough, but I am so thankful for a God who loves me, whom I can lean on when things get tough, and depend on when I'm not capable of continuing by my strength alone. As tough as today was physically, everything that happened on the course reminded me of why I get out and do this, why God allows me to get out and do this. It can't be for my glory. It can't be for me. I'm out here running marathons not because there's anything special about me, but because this is how God can use me. I don't look like a marathon runner. I'm not built like a marathon runner. Most people who saw me would never believe that I could run 26.2 miles. And they'd be right.

I can't run 26.2 miles, not on my own strength. But God can do what man believes is impossible. He can make the impossible possible. He can keep you going when everyone believes you should quit. He can bring light to a dark world. So I hope and pray that He will continue to use me to spread that message, and continue to carry me across the finish line.

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, March 14, 2013

It's Marathon Weekend Again!

Spring Break is finally here! Well, tomorrow after school it is anyway. That means at 3:15 tomorrow afternoon I'll hop in my car and head back to the house. A quick stop to load up and say goodbye to the dogs, then I'll hit the road and be headed east, North Carolina bound. Sixteen hours of road in front of me, 1000 miles to my destination. I'll arrive sometime Saturday, hopefully going through Wilmington, NC in time to pick up our race packets for the Wrightsville Beach Marathon on Sunday!
"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

I didn't think I'd have time to write until after the race, but like He always does, God allowed me to get everything done in time for this one last post before I leave. It's marathon weekend starting tomorrow and it's going to start as hectic as things have been all week. Starting on Sunday, I haven't made it home before 9 o'clock all week. Tomorrow I'll be up at 4:30 to get in my last little 2 mile run before the race, then to work, then on the road for NC around 4:30 or so. I'll probably drive until around midnight, then pull into a rest area and sleep for a few hours. That should give me enough rest and enough time to make it to Wilmington long before the 6 PM closing of the expo. Finally, I'll make the last 50 mile leg of my journey to Jacksonville, NC, home of my in-laws and where we'll spend Saturday night.

Sunday we'll be up early again, out by 4 to make it around 5 to the shuttles for the starting line of the race. Janice's wave starts at 6:15, mine at 6:45. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 hours later, I should be crossing the finish line of marathon #2 of 2013, #7 since I started. After that, when the race is finally over, we'll make the 50 mile trip back to Jacksonville to spend the rest of Spring Break and hopefully get some real rest for the first time in I-don't-know-when.

It's been a crazy week leading up to race day, and it will be a crazy couple of days before we finally cross the starting line, but now it's here. God's brought everything together and, as hectic as things are, He's going to get me to the race and through it. All I have to do is "throw off everything that hinders" and "run with perseverance the race marked out" for me.

Don't forget we're raising money for charity when we race. We'll have our St. Jude page up in a few days, but right now you can donate to Arkansas Children's Hospital or Soaring Wings Christian Home & Ranch to help us remember Amanda and raise awareness of the dangers of teen substance abuse.

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, March 3, 2013

Race Recap: Little Rock Half Marathon 2013

Today I ran the Little Rock Half Marathon and had an absolute blast! This is where my long distance racing career (did I really just call it a career? Hobby might be a better word.) began 3 years ago. It was my very first half marathon...EVER...and I finished in 2:28:something. I still remember the feeling crossing that finish line, how awesome it was to realize I'd just completed 13.1 miles on my feet. It turned out fabulous to come back and run the same race 3 years later to see just how I've evolved as a runner. Here's my race recap to tell the story!

Before the Race

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect," -- 1 Peter 3:15

The greatness of this race began long before the 8 AM start this morning. I first knew it was going to be fabulous when I learned several members of the Red Felt Running Club were coming to run Little Rock this year. Four friends from Louisiana, Florida, and Pennsylvania would be here at my hometown race! I'd only actually met the two from Louisiana before. Elena and Aimee were at the Day After the End of the World Marathon in Humble, TX last December. At the Expo on Saturday, I met Ashley and Roger for the first time.

From left to right: Janice, me, Ashley, Roger, Elena, and Aimee

Ashley flew to Louisiana to meet the other two ladies, then they all three climbed into the car for the road trip north. Along the way, Elena got lost picked up a "single white female" (see the photo) who was tired and hungry. I got a phone call early Saturday asking if I had a kennel and some food for her new charge to get her through the weekend. Since we have 6 dogs residing in our home at the current time, I was well-stocked with supplies to oblige.

SWF, tired and hungry

Since Elena had to take care of her new dependent and Roger had a ticket to the pre-race pasta party, we decided a group pre-race dinner wasn't going to work. So my Mother-In-Law, Janice, and I prepped for the race at US Pizza Company. We got home around 7:30 and prepped for race day before hitting the hay.

I always arrive really early at the Little Rock Marathon, so I can get choice parking and see off the early starters. Normally I have several friends starting at 6, so I get there around 5:30. This year was no different so I wanted to cheer them out of the gate. I also always offer to hold a pre-race prayer in TEAM 413's name at 5:40 for the early starters and 7:30 for those starting at 8:00. This year it was only myself and my wife for the early prayer, but a half dozen or so were present for the 7:30 round.

After the prayer at 7:30, we made our way to the port-a-potties one last time, then to the start corrals. I met two friends there who were running the marathon and wanted to beat 2 hours to finish. I agreed to run with them since I'd sort of convinced myself to hit the same mark. We slipped into the open corral only a few minutes before 8 and began trying to snake our way as close to the front as possible. We never managed to get as far up as we wanted to be before the race began. We finally gave up on forward progress about 30 yards behind the 4:40 pace group and waited for the start.
" 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." -- Hebrews 12:1-3

The Race

I have to say this race report may be a little sketchy on details. The weather was fantastic, the Good Lord had me in what I believe is my best shape ever for running, and my friends were looking for a PR. So, unlike the last couple of marathons I've done, I wasn't soaking in much of the surroundings. I knew the course well enough that I was pretty much narrating it as we huffed and puffed our way through mile after mile.

The funniest thing I remember on the course was a booth that looked something like a makeshift lemonade stand. Only it wasn't for selling lemonade. Instead, the sign posted above the booth read, "Shortcut Maps, $1." We got a good laugh at that but kept pushing through.

We passed the three mile marker with an average pace of around 8:45, running strong. So focused on the next left turn, I failed to notice the water station set up on the right side of the road until we were running over the cups discarded by other runners. Normally, I never pass up water and sports drink in a race but we were by this aid station before I even realized it. No turning back, we pushed on.

At mile 4 I gulped an energy gel and we did hit the water station just past mile 4. We knocked out that 4th mile in 8:34. The last stretch of mile 5 was going up the Broadway Bridge. The bridge and the water stop between miles 4 and 5 slowed our pace to 8:56. We were still running strong and took advantage of a pretty long stretch of elevation loss to push it closing out mile 6. We crossed the timing mats marking the first 10K with my watch showing we'd been running for 54:30. The race results website shows officially we crossed the mat at 54:35, only 2.5 seconds slower than my 10K PR. Still feeling strong!

Miles 7, 8, and 9 were a little tougher than the course had been to that point. We managed these three averaging right at 8:50 miles. In the 10th mile, going up a long climb, I looked back to see one of my running partners walking. I shouted to her and she waved me on. With only 4 miles to go, I knew she could finish. We'd run 10Ks, halves, and even a marathon together, so I knew she could finish. We were still feeling good, so we pulled away going up the hill toward the Governor's Mansion.

Mile 10 turned out to be the slowest for the race at a 9:12 pace, but when we passed that mile marker, we knew we only had a 5K left to go. That was motivation enough to pick up the pace again. Our mile 11 was back down to an 8:36 pace and we had just a little over two miles to the finish. Added bonus...there was a lot of downhill coming in that next 2+ miles! We took advantage.

12 and 13 turned out to be our best miles of the race coming in at 8:17 and 8:15, respectively. With a little over half a mile to go, we linked up with the marathon course again. Only, we were on one side of a divided four lane, with the marathon finishers on the other. We never saw the leaders. They didn't pass us. But a bunch of motorcycle cops did with lights flashing and sirens blaring. That told us the leaders weren't far behind.

Still pushing hard, we made it into the chute and across the finish line. The clock read 2:10:something, but my watch said we were right near 1:55. Turns out, I crossed in exactly 1:55:00 and my friend was 2 seconds behind. That beat my previous best by 4 minutes and 59 seconds for a new PR!
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.," -- 1 Thessalonians 5:11

After the Race

When I crossed the finish line, I was blessed to see my beautiful wife waiting. She had finished the 10K not long before. We posed for a photo op that I'll probably pay to get when they're available. I don't buy race photos often, but this one should be pretty good.

We passed through the area where they handed out snack cakes, goldfish, fruit, etc, grabbing everything we could hold. Then we made our way over to the bag check area to reclaim my drop bag. We loaded the bag with all our loot we'd gathered. But we weren't planning to stick around the finish area. Instead, we walked back to the 25 mile marker on the full marathon course.

Our local running club usually sets up a cheering station on the famed "Dillard's Hill" at mile 25, to cheer on the runners as they face the last tough climb of the course. We got there in time to see the 3 hour pacers come by, but we were the only ones there. We hung out there for about 3 hours before we packed up and headed back, but we had a blast!

We cheered for everyone, those we knew and those we didn't as they headed up the dreaded hill. Some were really appreciative, some didn't acknowledge us, and some acted as if we were on their nerves. I didn't take offense at the latter two categories because I know exactly what they were feeling. I've been there. At mile 25 of a tough race, you really can't expect someone to be themselves. But most were in the first category, friendly and grateful.

We stayed until we'd seen almost everyone we knew come off the course, then walked back to the finish area to see our out-of-town friends off, then headed for home. All-in-all, this was a fantastic experience! Next year I plan to run the full and I already can't wait!

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, March 2, 2013

Time for the Home Game! #blessedtorun

That's right! The annual "big" marathon of central Arkansas, the Little Rock Marathon, is tomorrow! For those of us who live in the center of The Natural State, it's like a home game in any other sport. We get to sleep in our own bed the night before, and the night after. It's a short drive from home to the starting line. We don't even have to eat in a restaurant if we don't want to. When you run marathons, days like this seldom come more than once a year. But our annual home game is tomorrow and that's exciting!

Today I had the pleasure of meeting some Facebook friends at the Expo, only two of whom I'd met outside of cyberspace before. Janice and I first met Elena and Aimee at the Day After the End of the World Marathon in Humble, TX last December. Today we enjoyed meeting two more, Roger and Ashley, in Little Rock! All four of these fine folk are members of an online running group I belong to, the Red Felt Running Club (formerly known as the Marine Corps Marathon First Timers Running Club).
" 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. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." -- Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

From left to right: Janice, me, Ashley, Roger, Elena, and Aimee

The MCMFT was formed in the months leading up to MCM 2011, my very first marathon. It quickly grew to hundreds of members before that big race a year and a half ago, some who were running MCM for the first time but had run other marathons before and some like me, who were running their very first 26.2 mile race. Once the race was over, the former name no longer fit so the group began proposing and debating various new monikers. Eventually it was decided to rename the group the Red Felt Running Club.

If you're wondering how we went from MCMFT to RFRC, I'm about to quench your curiosity. Before the big race in 2011, someone figured out that a group of hundreds from around the country were going to have a difficult time recognizing each other along a 26.2 mile course amidst 20,000+ other runners. Ideas were floated to remedy this dilemma and it was decided members would make red felt squares with the letters MCMFT and our names to be worn on our backs to make it easy to identify each other. And that's the story of how our online running club came to be known as the Red Felt Running Club.

The club remains extremely active today with members joining each other for races around the country. Many group members compete annually in the Marine Corps Marathon, including some of the folks I was with today. It's really pretty neat that people who would never have known each other except for our shared love of running and an online group can meet up at a race and get along like the best of old friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with these great people today and look forward to seeing them and meeting other RFRC members in the future!

Now I'm back home with my clothes all laid out for tomorrow. I've got an early and long day tomorrow so I'll be headed to bed shortly. I'll be up at 4 AM to leave the house by 4:50 and get to the starting corrals by 5:30. We'll meet all who want to join us at 5:40 for a TEAM 413 pre-race prayer in front of the Perks tent near the open corral. That's so the early starters can join us, then we'll hold another pre-race prayer at 7:30 AM for the regular starters at the same location.

I'm meeting a friend and colleague in the corrals so we can keep each other going in an effort to run the half under two hours. My wife and I will meet up after she finishes the 10K and I've finished the half, then make our way to the 25 mile marker of the full marathon course. There we'll join members of our local running club, the Cabot Country Cruisers, to cheer on runners in the closing stretch of the big race. I've never participated in this before so I'm kind of excited about getting in on it, especially since part of our duties will be to run alongside our friends who get to this point struggling to finish, helping them through the final 1.2 miles of the course.

It's going to be a long, but rewarding day tomorrow and I'm super thankful God has given me the ability and desire to run and race. It's a wonderful community, this family of endurance runners, filled with so many great and interesting people. I am truly #blessedtorun!

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.

TEAM 413 Prayer Before Little Rock Marathon

Race weekend is finally here! Sunday morning we'll be at the Little Rock Marathon where I'll run the half and Janice is running the 10K. So now we're making all the final preparations for the big day.

Little Rock last year was my first marathon as a member of TEAM 413, the world's largest ministry targeting the endurance athlete community. Myself and about 4 other members of TEAM 413 met for a pre-race prayer. This year we decided to make this a tradition at the Little Rock Marathon.

We want to invite EVERYONE to join us tomorrow morning for a TEAM 413 pre-race prayer at Little Rock. We'll meet at 5:40 AM (so the early starters can join us) and at 7:30 AM (for those who won't be at the race 2 hours early) in front of the entrance to the Perks tent. You are welcome to join us for either prayer, or both.

If you're worried about getting to the start on time, don't be. This won't be a long, drawn out prayer and we're meeting only about 50 yards from the starting corrals. I promise we'll get to the start with time to spare.
"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." -- Philippians 4:13

Since we're on the topic of TEAM 413, I can't close this post without mentioning the upcoming TEAM 413 "Get There and Share" Half Marathon and 4.13K race in Homewood, Alabama. (That's the Birmingham area.) This year TEAM 413 celebrates its 10 year anniversary with its first ever sponsored race on 4-13-13. That's barely more than a month away and registrations are pouring in. There are caps on the number of participants for both races, so REGISTER SOON to guarantee your bib for this great event!

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.