Category Archives: Encouragement

Tiny But Mighty – An update on Hannah

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“Though she is small, she is but fierce.” Shakespeare

20140204-184424.jpgThis is what it looks like when your heart is no longer your own. This is what it looks like when you hold your baby according to a schedule, not according to her cries. This is a picture of lives consumed with the beeps, wires, and medical jargon of life’s Plan B. Each of us has our own path to walk, and while it may be rocky and terrifying at times, most of us will never know the anguish and helplessness that Hannah’s parents have lived for the last two months. Nor will we ever experience the depth of peace and comfort that has been poured out from Heaven to fill and cover that fear and anxiety. There is one other thing that they have experienced in the days since Hannah’s birth, the power in prayer. This tiny little miracle, this sweet little baby, now two months old, is doing great work for the Lord.

Yes, it has been 2 months since Hannah Kay, our little tiger, graced this world with her presence at only 26 weeks into her momma, my sister-in-law’s pregnancy. (Read We interrupt this Christmas celebration for part 1 of this heart-tugging story) Two months… 1488 hours…89,280 minutes and every single one of the seconds that make up that time, this little family has been uplifted and supported by an invisible scaffolding of prayer. Prayers offered up by you and I. Prayers offered up by complete strangers. Prayers that have changed and affected the lives, of not only Hannah and our family, but the lives of those who have prayed for Hannah as well. On behalf of the family, let me say how grateful we are for every single prayer offered up on our behalf. Your response has been humbling. This is what your prayers look like…
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In those same two months there have been middle of the night calls from the hospital that have produced bleary eyed mornings. There have been tears of fear, joy, and exhaustion. There have been moments when they thought their hearts would absolutely break. They have been doing the dance of two steps forward and one step back, all the while pulled ever closer towards God’s promise of rest and protection. There are days when They are discovering exactly what it is to be held by God.

“From the depths of despair, O Lord, I call for your help. Hear my cry, O Lord. Pay attention to my prayer.” (Ps 130:1)

The Lord has heard, and he has answered. On Monday, Hannah took one big step towards coming home as she was moved from NICU to the step-down unit. Born at 2 lbs 6 oz and 12 in long, Hannah is now 5 lbs 12 oz and 18″ long. She is taking bottles three times day and receives the remainder of her feedings though an NG tube. She’s on a low flow nasal cannula, on the lowest setting (0.1) Hannah loves her binky, and has a dimple the nurses (and her aunt) adore. Hannah has captured the heart of everyone who she has come in contact with. Hannah has a very special place in my heart. She is, in a way, a beautiful answer to so many of my “what ifs.” (Read My story)
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A beautiful story, inspiring faith. But we cannot tell it without acknowledging what lies beyond a frosting of good news and answered prayers. Acknowledging, instead of ignoring, what’s found just below the surface, where heartache resides and reality nags. None of us know what tomorrow will bring. A phone call, a knock on the door, a doctor’s report, a life altering event that changes a life in uncountable, unimaginable ways. This is what I have come to call “the valley.” Deep, dark, and dreadful. But in the mess, in the heartache, in the realizing that we cannot save ourselves from the despair that clings to our heels, this is ultimately where we finally find Jesus…

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You .
(Matt Maher, Lord, I Need You)

Are you in a valley? You are not alone, so do not be afraid and cling to the grace of God, find your inner “Hannah-tiger” and be assured you can make it through.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. (Psalms 23:4 NLT)

Still Moments – Let the games begin

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It’s Monday morning-let the games begin.

We will all face burdens this week, each in our own way. As the load you bear, whether physical or mental, begins to feel cumbersome and you begin to stoop under the weight of carrying it remember these words.

We weren’t created to do this on our own. We need each other…

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NLT)

And one of my favorites, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4 NLT)

And we need to seek out Jesus. He already knows what our week will contain. He is there waiting for us, He is by our side ready to guide us. Don’t wait for the week to overcome you before you seek Him.

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7 NLT)

“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” (Psalms 55:22 NLT)

May you allow God to help you shoulder whatever the week brings. You don’t need to do this alone!

God works at Target

You don’t have to try to force things to happen. Stay faithful and you will walk into God’s blessings for your life. ~Spiritual Inspiration
I love a good story. I love a good God story even more and the one I got to be a part of today will, I am sure, continue to unfold. You could call it a series of random events or view it through the lens of being orchestrated by God’s almighty hand. I prefer the latter. I have already told this so many times today and hope that in writing it down it doesn’t betray the magic of the story.

The morning started typically enough with a two hour delay for school. (With the weather we are having that has become the norm.) I also had to have my monthly blood test today and had an afternoon appointment for work. The facility where I get my blood tested is very close to a Target and it’s become my reward after being jabbed to wander the isles of Target looking for clearance deals.

Today, as I was near the front of the store, I glanced over at the ATM and saw money sticking out of it. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing and looked around for the person that it belonged to. No one was anywhere even close! I walked down the isle and pulled the stack of bills out of the machine and continued to look for the person who frantically must be missing what I determined to be $200!

After 10 minutes of wandering and waiting, I had to leave. I didn’t turn the money in. The cynic in me was afraid once I turned it in it would disappear. As I left, I kept looking over my shoulder for a camera and waiting for the “What would you do?” host to pop up and ask why I didn’t turn the money in. I also felt a little like a thief, while wondering at the same time if it was my lucky day. My plan was to call Target after my appointment and ask if someone had reported any money missing. Then let them tell me how much and where. Almost three hours after I left, I called the store and was transferred around a few times. Finally I was connected with a manager who said indeed $200 had been lost near the ATM today and, in fact, the woman who lost it was standing in front of him right then. How is that for timing?!

She asked to speak to me, thanked me profusely, and proceeded to tell me a little about her week. She had been diagnosed with cancer on her face yesterday and then lost $200 today. She also told me that the whole way back to the store she was praying that someone would be honest and turn the money in. She was so overwhelmed and upset and completely blown away that I was calling to return the money, especially while she was standing right there. Random? Good luck? I tend to believe it is something a bit bigger. So we set a time up for me to drive back the 45 min to the store. As I was retelling the story for the first time, I was urged to give her one of my books, Run and Be Still. After giving it some thought, it seemed after the week she was having it might provide some comfort and encouragement, so why not?

She was waiting at the door when my daughter and I walked in. She hugged me as if I was a long lost friend and thanked me at least a dozen times for returning her money. We signed the proper forms that the store required through their lost and found and continued to talk and share. I did give her my book and she teared up while the store manager looked on and didn’t quite know what to make of us. She entertained me by telling me about how she had the other store employees looking through her purse for her and patting her pockets down to make sure she didn’t put the money somewhere and just couldn’t find it. She said she felt like she was losing her mind and didn’t trust herself to have not overlooked it. I have had days like that too! (I have been known to look for things that I am holding in my hand…I am not proud.)

I had to ask her the burning question that I had and that was of course, “How do you walk away from your money in the ATM?” She laughed and told me it never came out while she was standing there. She waited and waited, got her receipt, figured it wasn’t working and walked away. It must have been on some kind of delay. At this point, I began to sense even deeper that our meeting wasn’t just happenstance. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. She walked out the door and I had a couple of things to pick up. I grabbed snacks for the kids, checked out, and got in line at Starbucks for what I deemed was a necessary afternoon treat.

I glanced over at customer service and saw my new friend looking through her purse and my immediate thought was “Poor woman. Did she lose her car keys now?” The employee she was talking to pointed her in my direction and she came over with my book in her hand, obviously in disbelief and said, “You wrote this? You really wrote this?” I assured her I did and she wanted to know how long it had been out and then she asked for my phone number. She said she was going to read the book tonight and wanted a way to be in contact. As best I can figure, she went to her car, read the book jacket, and had come back in to try to find me or a way to get ahold of me. It seems that the book struck a chord with her. I guess this story is to be continued but God has orchestrated an amazing beginning.

You know, I could have just claimed finders keepers. I could have said, “Thanks God for the sudden cash flow.” I could have tried to convince myself that it was ok. That it was all right. But I didn’t and the story I have tonight is such an amazing beginning. So much cooler, and immensely more gratifying than $200 could ever be.

God knew exactly what I needed today. I needed to see Him. I have been working on living, as one dear friend has said, within the confines of today, and looking for Him in today, in the big and the small. This is sometimes so frustrating because on the mundane, typical day in the life of Ashley Cunningham, I don’t feel like I can always find Him. On the house-bound-snow-days when I am drowning in laundry and dirty dishes, I don’t feel the sparkly freshness of God moments. That’s not to say He isn’t there. I know He is and I know life is sometimes mundane and typical. But God also knows that I am struggling with a need to continue to share my story. A need to understand the plans He has for my book. Ten years in the making, a surprise publisher that came looking for me, a speedy publication process, and now a beautiful finished product that I hold in my hands and wonder, “What now?” How do I get God’s message of hope, peace, and comfort from my hands into the hearts of those who need it most? This question has been so heavy on my mind and heart and then God shows up at Target with $200 that needs to be returned to a woman who needs more than just the money. She needs Him!

Isn’t it awesome when God injects some amazing into the middle of the typical just when we need it most? Feeling truly blessed tonight…

To be continued.

Looking For The Escape Hatch

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Ok…this concept from Matt Chandler blew my mind. The first time I read it I thought “nice quote.” Then, after reading it through a couple of times and allowing it to penetrate through the cliche part of my brain to something deeper I began to really get on board with what Matt Chandler is saying. Let’s call this the head to heart transition.  Take a few moments and reread these words today.  Allow their meaning to seep into your soul.

“Comfort is the god of our generation, so suffering is seen as a thing to be solved, and not a providence from God.”  Matt Chandler

When we are hurting, we want someone to sit down next to us, take our hand, and tell us it’s going to be okay, even if he or she doesn’t really believe it. We want to pretend, at least for a little while, that everything is all right. That in that very moment in time, everything is fine, and all that has happened or is yet to happen will just go away—the hurt, the shame, the fear, the consequences. In the absence of being able to turn the clock back, in the absence of being able to change the course our life has taken, we want comfort. We want to be loved and assured. And many times, the last thing we want to hear is that our pain has a purpose. We want to wallow in our pain; we want to have a pity party for ourselves. We want to scream at God that He has made a mistake and demand that He fix it. God doesn’t make mistakes, and search as we may for an escape route, the nearest exit as it were, from our current situation, it is in these situations that we really begin to understand what God is really like. I have been there, desperately searching for the emergency exit, but though we may not want to accept it, what we are going through has a purpose—God’s Word tells us exactly that. If you are there today, I pray as I write this that God’s words will penetrate your heart and you will be able to see God through the haze of your pain…I have come to realize that sometimes bad things are going to happen. Sometimes terrible, unthinkable, unimaginable things are going to happen, but it is God’s will. He has not turned His back on me, and I can use these things to make me bitter or I can use them to make me better. I love what Charles Spurgeon says; maybe you too can identify with his words. “I bear my willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord’s workshop. I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod. When my schoolroom is darkened, I see most.” (An excert from my book, Run and Be Still. )

When we are suffering what is the first thing we look for?  Relief, an escape, a way to stop or avoid the pain.  That is our human nature.  We need to take a fresh look at Jesus in times of suffering, to understand better the promises He makes us when we find ourselves in the valley.  Let me encourage you that in our suffering, God wants to be our comfort.  Unfortunately, the guarantee for a pain free life comes only as a fairytale so on the bad days, know that God has not left you.  He has not forsaken you.  I encourage you to look again at Jesus with the words from Laura Story’s song, Blessings.

What if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the achings of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

One small step for man…

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A great question posed by Francis Chan in “Crazy Love” made me stop and think, “What are you doing right now that requires faith?”

As I was taking a personal inventory in an attempt to answer that question I was tempted to be discouraged but instead God brought me to a realization.  Not every faithful act has to be earth shattering.  This is where we, or at least I, tend to get hung up.  I feel like stepping out in faith needs to be a major act, an all or nothing, jump out of the boat kind of leap.  I am a fan of the huge gesture and have always in my own mind paralleled big steps with faith.  Neil Armstrong’s famous moon walking words came to mind as I was mulling all of this over.  “One small step for man.  One giant leap for mankind.”  There are definitely seasons in our life when we are called to actions that we feel are great steps of faith.  Today though, I want to encourage you, that even those small steps, prayers poured when you feel like you are stuck in place,  beseeching and waiting on God’s direction, are indeed faith steps.  Inaction is more difficult for me than action.  Sitting still when I would rather be running out into the future instead of waiting for God to work it out and bring it to me goes against every fiber of my being and requires every bit as much (I might even say more) faith as jumping out of the boat.  Listening instead of talking, sitting instead of running.   Doing nothing takes courage; waiting takes faith.

Today I would challenge you to answer the question, “What are you doing right now that requires faith?” And realize that your small steps can be turned into a giant leaps when made in faith.

Chin Up Buttercup

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In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. (1 Peter 5:10 NLT)

Having a rough day? A rough week? This verse holds an infinite amount of comfort and promise within its words. May you believe it and claim it, as I have, and know, if you open yourself up to it, help is on the way! Be encouraged, strengthened, and restored!

A series of small explosions

life easierThis morning while I was breezing through the kitchen I caught sight of a Christmas present.  A sign hanging above the mudroom doorway that says “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” A favorite verse, a needed reminder. As I went about my business and tried to focus my twitchy, squirmy thoughts together I was reminded that “still” is so often harder than it seems when it comes to our minds. (Maybe this is just a phenomenon I suffer from.)  I was breezing through the kitchen with a load of laundry to add to the piles that needed washed, while mentally creating a list of things I needed to get from the store before the next big snow storm hits (new totals up to 10 inches in the next 24 hours with wind chill values of -25.)  I was also digesting the last couple of days while looking around at the Christmas stuff that needs taken down (I feel like I just got it up!) and trying to figure out the upcoming week’s schedule for back-to-school, practices, travel, work, doctor’s appointments, etc.   We ended 2013 and kicked off 2014 with a bang! Actually it was more like a series of small explosions.  Curve balls that life keeps throwing and I try to keep batting away, so as not to strike out.  It is mentally exhausting in addition to being at times physically trying.  I am not complaining (at least not much) and I keep asking, “Really? More?” God really does have a sense of humor and my prayer the last couple of days is “Lord, I really don’t need any more raw footage to write about. Some quiet would be very much appreciated.” I refuse to ask the question, “What else could go wrong?” because I really don’t want to know.  Nothing that has crossed the plate over the last few weeks has been a tragedy or crisis and I am thankful for that.  There have been many stories very close to home over the holidays that are tragic and my heart breaks for families and individuals who truly are suffering right now.  What I am talking about is more like what I would assume Chinese water torture would be like, mentally taxing. After a flu-filled “different Christmas” (3 different strains over 10 days) I was looking forward to escaping for a night to Amish country to celebrate 15 years of being married to my husband and very best friend. (Man, I love that guy!)  We were going to watch some college football (I am a huge fan!) browse the shops and eat some wonderful food that I didn’t have to cook.  Then winter storm Hercules hit and canceled our plans.  Not a big deal, we celebrated at home, still watched football, and enjoyed our kids enjoying the sledding hill. We also had plans to finish Christmas vacation at an indoor water park with my sisters and their families.  We checked in on Friday, the kids took a quick spin on the slides and my husband took our son to basketball.  Five minutes after they left I got a notification from our security company that our the alarm was going off at home.  So after he dropped our son at basketball he returned home to talk with the police.  False alarm apparently, no footprints in the snow, nothing amiss in the house.  Then came the call from the basketball coach, our son took a charge, went knee to knee with another player and his was swollen up like a balloon.  We ended up in urgent care where x-rays were done, our daughter left to play in the water park with her cousins.  The x-rays showed no fracture but a small white spot was discovered on his femur, not common and very disconcerting according to the physicians assistant.  She wanted us to stay and wait while the radiologist read it, hoping to hear specifically about “the spot.”  The official reading came back with no mention of the spot, only the news that nothing was broken.  But what about the spot? What do we do with this piece of information? Is it something? Is it nothing? I guess that’s to be continued.  (This after having a scare at Thanksgiving when he had an ekg because of some symptoms that led to a report of an enlarged ventricle and a thickening of his heart muscle. The report was later discovered to be inaccurate but not after 5 days of prayerful wondering, worrying, and waiting.) Friday’s diagnosis was a severe knee sprain, crutches and a knee brace for a week (which we already had from his prior knee injury 9 months ago) and a follow up for an MRI to make sure everything else is intact. (I am not so sure it is…)  Three days later I am mothering a child who is frustrated about missing out on games, practices, sledding, the inability to walk up and down the steps and bend his still swollen and very sore knee.  Our daughter, and her extremely sensitive skin, came home from the water park with a mysterious face rash, and then, we’ll call it the icing on the cake, the check engine light came on in our car on the way home from our tumultuous waterpark stay.  So, to recap, in a 24 hour period, police, hospitals, rashes, and finally car trouble.  Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip.

Now you are up to speed as I again breeze through the kitchen arms loaded down this time with Christmas things that need to find a home, mind loaded down with family, work, and ministry concerns and to-dos, and sense of being tired instead of rejuvenated after Christmas “vacation.” Drip, drip, drip, drip.

I need to remind myself of my new years resolution already, only 5 days in.  Choose Faith.

And as I sit, finally still, and bring my thoughts from my head to the page, I am reminded of a few other things that I am sure will come in handy as we charge into a new year.

There are days when we need to laugh to keep from crying.  And then there are days when we’ll have to laugh as the tears roll anyway.  But laugh, always laugh.

Nobody likes to be benched but sometimes we need to “ride the pine” and get healthy again.  Interruptions are not part of our plan but they are part of life.  Remember always that God is in control, nothing is an accident. Take a deep breath and rest during your break so when your number gets called you are ready to go back in and give it 100% again.

This is real life, not a fairytale and in that some days are going to be good some days aren’t but don’t forget to be thankful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)   Some days are going to be hard but you don’t need to do it on your own, we can do all things through Christ. (Phil 4:13)  There will be no words for some of the days we will have to face but you are never alone in any of it. (Isaiah 41:10) First, last, and always, prayer. In all of it, quit trying so hard because the Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. (Exodus 14:14)

I leave you today with this, a very dear friend and mentor sent this to me as I was grumbling about everything that had been going on.  A simple, yet effective prayer on days when the Chinese water torture seems to be getting the best of you.

Dear God, I don’t ask you to make my life easier, but I ask You to give me the strength to face every day. Amen

Waiting – Matt Chandler Sermon Jam

After finding myself in another Waiting Room (11/2/13 post) I have been struggling with the heart and head connection and Matt Chandler addresses this specifically in this short video.  It also begs the question when you are waiting, who or what are you trusting? Where are you searching for hope? Both challenging and encouraging, this video is well worth watching.

The Waiting Room

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Trust God when He puts you in the waiting room. He knows what He’s doing.
~Charles Stanley

Waiting rooms can be horrible places. When you are sitting in a waiting room, with very little information, and you are holding your breath in expectation of answers, that wait can feel eternal. Tonight, as I am forced to wait, I have dug back into The Word, reminding myself of all of the lessons I have learned.

History repeating itself…this time with a twist and a slightly new cast. But I know that I can’t be the only one struggling with the wait and the fear and the helplessness tonight. I know that I don’t want cliches, I want answers. I want assurance. I want to stop holding my breath. And I know where to find those answers but that doesn’t mean its easy to let go of the worry and choose peace. So in as much a reminder to myself this evening here is my encouragement.

“Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

“My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:5-6)

“Trust in The Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” (Prov 3:5-6)

It’s easy to read the words but harder to believe them as personal truth when you don’t feel patient, when the ground under you is shifting, when satan’s hot breath is whispering fear into your mind and you just don’t understand!

BUT GOD! He is bigger than any of that. I just need to be still in Him and allow Him to calm my heart and fears.

My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; he is mine forever. (Psalms 73:26 NLT)

Sometimes it just takes awhile for my heart to catch up with my head. In the meantime I will remember to breathe and let go of what I can’t control. Instead, in the darkness of night I will cling to the promises of what I know to be true in the light.

There you go changing my plans again
There you go shifting my sands again
For reasons I don’t understand again
Lately I don’t have a clue

Just when I start liking what I see
There you go changing my scenery
I never know where you’re taking me
But I’m trying just to follow you

It’s out of my hands
It’s out of my reach
It’s over my head
And it’s out of my league
There’s too many things
That I don’t understand
So it’s into your will
And it’s out of my hands

-Out Of My Hands, Matthew West

Praising in the hallway

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“Until God opens the next door. Praise Him in the hallway.”
I love this!  I want to make this my anthem – praising in the hallway! A beautiful picture of praising God while we are waiting. Praising God before He answers. Praising God in spite of our circumstances, in spite of how we feel.
In reading the blog Spiritual Inspiration I came across this. “Remember, a sacrifice of praise is when it costs you something, when you don’t necessarily feel like doing it. Praise Him, not because of how you feel, but because He is worthy!” Francis Chan says this, “The point is not to completely understand God but to worship Him. Let the very fact that you cannot know Him fully lead you to praise Him for His infiniteness and grandeur.” Rick Warren, in his book “What On Earth Am I Here For?” says this, “Don’t be troubled by trouble. Circumstances cannot change the character of God. God’s grace is still in full force; he is still for you, even when you don’t feel it. When you feel abandoned by God yet continue to trust Him in spite of your feelings, you worship Him in the deepest way.”

Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise His holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord, may I never forget the good things He does for me. (Psalms 103:1-2)

We need to learn how to praise the Lord in our darkest hour.  Praise Him, even when we don’t understand, even when we don’t feel like it. We need to praise Him, not because of what He can do for us, but because of what He is to us. And I promise if you can do that, He will lift you out of the darkness. Your circumstances may not change, you may find yourself standing in the hallway for a really long time.  But, if you praise Him while you are there, with a genuine spirit of worship, your heart will be changed!

Lord, I lift my hands up to praise to you this morning.  I take my hands off every problem, every situation and circumstance that I am trying to fix on my own.  Lord Jesus, I cast all of my burdens on you.  Open my eyes to see that you know what is best for me.  Strengthen my faith to take you at your word.  Rise within me that I may boldly declare your truth.  Cast out fear, remove all doubt, block unbelief and cause an unwavering trust to be stirred within me.  Lord, change me.  Amen