My name is Ashley Cunningham and I am a control freak.

20130709-172317.jpgNow that we have that out of the way, here is the deal today. I wanted to post something and had nothing. I also was past due for my scheduled run and have been wanting to hit the roads but it’s HOT so I started up my hamster wheel (aka treadmill) and instead of being struck with inspiration I hurt. Every step of the first two miles.

Before I even made it through the first mile, through gritted teeth, I said “Ok God. I have nothing here. Please pour your Spirit out and fill me. ” I had nothing to give physically and no divine inspiration. I was ready to quit and then my mom’s favorite song came on and I closed my eyes (you can do that when you are running on a treadmill) and just took a deep breath and let the song wash over me. It was like a fist that had been wrapped around me was releasing and when the song was over I played it again.

As the miles continued to pass my brain was lighting up with ideas like fireworks on the 4th of July and I was trying to type and run and be sure I didn’t forget any of them. I had been trying to force this, trying to do it on my own and I should know by know that every time I try to do it that way I will fail. This is what happens when I try to take the reigns. But as soon as I stopped and asked God He was right there. When we ask for more of Him, He will never disappoint us.

Today I just want to encourage you, take a deep breath, then close your eyes and let the grace of God wash over you from the song that saved my run (and my writing) today. I hope that it blesses you as much as it did me.

When The Last Thing You Need Is A Band-Aid Verse

20130708-130722.jpg“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them”. (Romans 8:28)

Has anyone ever quoted you this bible verse as if to say, “Don’t worry.  Everything will be fine.  God will take this situation and make it all better.  He will fix whatever (insert sickness, grief, problem here.)”  This bible verse is very often quoted by Christians as a band-aid, as a promise that everything will work out for good. I have had my world crumble around me in death and in sickness and many times questioned where the goodness was in that.

Today I am not going to tell you that everything is going to be ok but I will instead share with you the lesson that I have learned about this bible verse and challenge your way of thinking.

Roman 8:28 isn’t a promise that the bad will go away, or even that you will be protected from the bad.  Instead it is a promise that everything in our lives, the good and yes, the bad, will come together for good.  You may be asking, how can God take what I am going through and make it good, there is no way that this can end well. You don’t understand the depth of my loss, the magnitude of my hurt.  I have been there and I would tell you that when you find yourself at that threshold of helplessness and hopelessness, if you choose to turn to God as your source of comfort and strength, your source of help and hope, you have found the good.  If, in your losses you can learn to trust God for everything, you have found the good.  The situation may not end immediately but in the very act of turning to God, you have found the good.  In leaning on God and allowing His grace to carry you through you have found the good.   This is a choice we must make, it is an all-in attitude. Because I have chosen to live this way in spite of the curveballs life has thrown me I have come to personally understand God’s purpose in our trials. He desires to create Christ-like character in us, to bring us into harmony with His will for us.  He is interested in a “better us,” not in providing an easier path.

Notice how this works though, God causes…this is not about us.  This is about God.  He is the one who takes the bad and makes it good, takes the ugly and makes it beautiful, takes my mess of a life and creates a story that glorifies Him.  We can’t do any of this on our own. This is a position of total surrender, of dying to yourself, when we stop wrestling with the will of God and start walking in it, whether we like where the path is leading or not.  If we can just let go we can have so much more.  Much easier said than done, I am the first to admit.  I am a work in progress…

David Jeremiah said that “God is up to something when He sends trouble our way…When you have the wisdom borne of suffering, you begin to have the tools to accomplish something in the world.”  This is how when things are falling apart, they may truly be falling into place.

 

Just Wondering – Is Anybody Out There?

ImageFor many months as I ran God continued to lay this blog on my heart and continued to bring it to the forefront of my mind until I finally relented and said, “Okay, enough badgering, I will become a blogger.”  (Not really but I did drag my feet for quite awhile.)  So I wrote my first blog, then my second, and on and on and while I didn’t know what I expected I didn’t quite expect this…

silence.

(Thanks to my four, yes that’s right, dedicated readers!)

Sometimes it seems like God asks us to do things we don’t understand and then it doesn’t end up looking like we thought it would.  It all boils down to our obedience and His timing. I believe that I am supposed to keep writing, even through the silence and maybe one day I will understand why.  In the meantime I am reminded of the story of Joshua and Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho.  (If you aren’t familiar with the story, the Israelites had to get through Jericho on their way to the promised land and God’s victory plan was a little unorthodox.  Picture this, big strong warrior types, marching silently around the Jericho city walls behind a group of priests carrying trumpets.  They do this for six days and on the seventh they march around seven times and then the priests blow their trumpets and the warriors yell.  I really think I would have been saying, “Really, God.  You are sure you don’t want us to use weapons and our training to attack Jericho.  You are sure you just want us to march around the city and dodge insults and everything else they are throwing at us and then yell?”  Spoil alert if you haven’t read the story (It’s in Joshua 6) because of their obedience to God, they yell, blow their trumpets, the walls fall, the Israelites win.  Just like that.)

“So, let us not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

So here I am, trying my best to follow God, not always understanding, and waiting. This has always belonged to Him but today, I say it out loud, Lord, this is yours., make it as great or as insignificant as your plan calls for it to be and quiet my wondering heart in the meantime.

Monday Morning Pop-Up Blocker

Monday Morning Pop-Up Blocker

“You’re calling me to lay aside the worries of my day. To quiet down my busy mind and find a hiding place. Worthy, You are worthy.” Jason Morant, Unashamed Love
It’s Monday morning and the to-do list for the week is stretching out endlessly before me. I have found Jason Morant’s words to ring especially true and crave the peace that they provide…quiet down your busy mind. Sometimes it’s my mind that wears me out. It tends to race, sparking new projects faster than my hands are able to complete them and thus adding to my to-do list and making me feel overwhelmed, and even incompetent sometimes as I never quite accomplish everything that I would like to. Hiding and soaking in the peace of Christ’s presence has become essential for unscrambling my thoughts and smoothing out the path before me, as well as providing insight into what God’s priorities are for me. This quiet rarely comes easily. I think that, like our computers, we need personal “pop-up blockers.” How many times do you find yourself interrupted when you are attempting to spend time with God? (Can you guess how many times I have been interrupted as I have worked on this post? It has taken me most of the morning!) These pop-ups come in many forms, either your own thoughts drifting or through someone else’s intrusion. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just put ourselves in a little protective bubble when we are spending time with God and block out all of the other distractions? We need to find our own “prayer closet.” For me this is running, but it could be your daily commute, a bench in the back yard, or the kitchen table. Jesus usually went to a secluded hillside. John Wesley’s mother is said to have sat in a chair and thrown her apron over her head as a sign to her kids to leave her alone. (I don’t know about any other moms out there but I have wanted to do this before and it had nothing to do with prayer, just escaping the kids bickering 🙂 ) The point is that the “closet” is free from interruption, distraction, and listening ears.

Stressed? Overwhelmed? Searching for something? I don’t know your struggle but I can PROMISE you if you spend time in the word of God you will find an answer and more than that, peace in that answer.

20130625-095928.jpgI press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus is calling us. (Phillipans 3:14, NLT)

Pastor Naeem Callaway, author of the blog “Spiritual Inspiration,” shared this and I found it so poignant I wanted to pass it along…
“One thing I’ve learned is that whenever life seems extra difficult, whenever it seems like the intensity has been turned up, that’s a sure sign that you are close to your victory. Whenever negative thoughts are bombarding your mind, or you’re tempted to get discouraged, that’s not the time to give up! That’s not the time to back down. That’s the time to dig your heels in. That’s the time to press on with a new attitude because you are closer than you think to your victory.”

It seems like sometimes we find ourselves in Satan’s cross hair, we are under direct spiritual attack.  Let me encourage you to keep fighting, keep running when you find yourself there!  Satan is a very strategic enemy but in studying God’s Word we can begin to understand the timing and strategy behind these attacks.  One of the prime times for Satan to attack is immediately before  a great blessing.

Satan knows he can’t stop your blessing but he won’t stop trying to spoil its arrival for you.  When he attacks you, his goal is to distract you from the course that God has placed you on.  He wants to discourage you, take your eyes off of God, off your victory.  With this understanding it becomes easier to see Satan for what he is, the great deceiver.  Instead of getting discouraged, I encourage you to begin to declare, “I’ve come too far to stop now! I’ve been through too much to turn back now. I realize the reason the intensity has been turned up is because I’m about to give birth to my dreams.”  Tell Satan to go to hell!

Friend, don’t allow the enemy to steal from you any longer! Instead, press on toward your finish line because you’ve come too far to give up now. Remember, God Almighty is with you, and He is leading and guiding you down the path of victory in every area of your life!

I’m Only Half Crazy

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."
“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”

On Your Mark:

The countdown is on. Only 81 days until I have committed to run a half marathon and let me just share one lesson I have learned…training is hard! When I mapped out how far 13.1 miles really was I was astounded! Building up the endurance for not only 13.1 miles but hours worth of running takes more than just physical endurance. It takes mental preparation as well. I love the caption on the picture to the left… “It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” I have understood wanting to quit, but the feeling at the end finish line wipes away anything other than a divine sense of accomplishment.

My son has a shirt that says “Practice is hard. Four quarters are easy.” I understood what it meant but I never really got it. Until now. Practice and training aren’t fun. To most athletes they are just a means to an end. Good athletes are able to see practice as much more than that and while they may still hate it they understand that it isn’t just the best way, it is the ONLY way to build their endurance, improve their skills, and become competition ready. We are only as good as our practice.

Get Set:

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” (Romans 5:3-5, NLT)

Living for God takes practice. To live the life He has called us to, we must work hard. Chances are one day you will wake up and find yourself running… running straight into the problems and trials mentioned above. During trials, God builds our endurance and character. In practice we strengthen our bodies, in times of trials we have the opportunity to strengthen our hope in Christ. Trials, again like practice, can also be long and difficult. We may even question if continuing to live for God through them is worth it. When I have found myself running with trials as my weighted companion I found myself unable to muster the energy from within to continue for very long on my own. With heartache, I have felt beyond exhaustion, my feet blistered and aching, gasping for air as my heart raced and all I wanted to do was to stop running. The little voice is saying “quit,” but that was when my training kicked in. This kind of training comes in the form of a relationship with God, digging into His word for nourishment, and spending time in prayer, communication with our Father, allowing Him to pour down endurance for us, physically and mentally, in order to continue on. Endurance doesn’t come without training.

I found the following on a sign and it struck a particular chord with me. See if you find it true in your life as well. Welcome to God’s Training Camp…

I asked for STRENGTH and God gave me DIFFICULTIES to make me strong.
I asked for WISDOM and God gave me PROBLEMS to solve.
I asked for PROSPERITY and God gave me BRAINS AND BRAWN to work.
I asked for COURAGE and God gave me DANGER to overcome.
I asked for LOVE and God gave me TROUBLED people to help.
I asked for FAVORS and God gave me OPPORTUNITIES.
I received NOTHING I wanted…I received EVERYTHING I needed.

TRUST GOD!

GO!

And with the proper training, when you reach the finish line, no matter what the race may bring, exhilaration awaits!

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

“The greatest s…

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him with their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” DC Talk

…the introduction to “What if I Stumble” and a challenging thought…to live as I claim to believe…ALWAYS!

Cease Striving…Be still…Know God (Ps 46:10) Sounds peaceful, right? Peace-filled is more accurate. "Still" has little to do with activity and everything to do with state of mind. Welcome to my crazy life!