I am a Christian woman.
Born and raised deep in the South, I may not be exactly who you are picturing. I own no pearl necklaces or pastel pant suits. I have never attended a potluck dinner. I haven’t set foot in a Sunday School room since I was 12, and the word “revival” still makes me nervous.
Furthermore, just to make this a bit clearer for you, my first name is Ashley, and it begins with a giant red A. I know exactly what a really bad trip feels like. I’ve been high and left for dead on more than one occasion, and to this day, I would generally consider myself a certified screw up. I have no business claiming to know someone called Jesus Christ. But, nevertheless, I do… I do openly, and proudly, make that very claim. And I have nothing but grace to thank for that.
About 7 years ago, while outrunning some pesky demons in my life, I stumbled into this ridiculous “sport” of running yourself into the ground called ultrarunning. And though it’s nearly killed me more than once, I would just keep coming back for more. Like a scraggly stray cat feeding out of a dumpster. Hooked.
But, why? If my body is consistently obliterated from such senseless acts of self mutilation, why would I instinctively return to do it again?
I would ask myself this all the time. I couldn’t really figure it out. What was it about the insane feat of running a hundred miles that pulled me back like a bug to light? Was it the time alone? Was it the scenery? Was it the accomplishment? All of that was good and dandy, but none of it was fulfilling enough to make me want to do it again.
I shot the breeze about the topic on more than one occasion. I eventually came to the conclusion that my life simply wasn’t tough enough, and I needed to be challenged more. In other words, the struggle wasn’t happening on its own, so I forced it upon myself. I’ve stated more than once that humans were made to struggle and to overcome. I mean, hey, life’s good, who wants to go run a hundred miles over mountains?.. Right?
And for the most part, I believe that my theory is pretty spot on. At least in my case. I found that I’m genuinely fulfilled inside while I’m struggling. But, why? How? How does struggling even make me feel so complete? Makes no sense, dangitt. Ah… but does it make sense? I dug deeper… I always dig deeper.
Perhaps the logic has nothing to do with the act of actually running for an entire day. Maybe it isn’t a physical thing at all, but more so a spiritual one? In that sense, I think I know exactly why struggling hard appeals to me: It brings me closer to God.
And when I say closer, I mean closer.
Trudging up a mountain in the pitch black of night, alone, in the pouring rain, with 80 miles on my feet, begging God to help me stay upright, kind of closer.
I mean training alone in the wilderness for hours on end, out of cell service, and praying continuously that I don’t twist an ankle, step on a rattler, or stumble upon a mama bear, kind of closer.
I’m talkin’ being forced to face who I am in the raw, completely unfiltered, and at my worst, and praying to God Am I worthy of being loved for who I am?.. kind of closer.
I’m saying real one-on-one here. Just Him, me, and the towering trees, and nothing in between.
THAT kind of closer.
I think before I experienced running alone in the wild and tackling ultras, my prayers were less intense. Less raw, maybe. I mean, I prayed for things I needed. I asked for safety for my kids, and for help and understanding through some seriously tough situations in life. But it wasn’t often that I was praying for my own life. Praying to live to see my kids again. That kind of stuff changes you. It leaves a mark, and there’s no turning back from it. God became more real to me than He’d ever been before. No longer just an Americanized perception of this Great being in the sky. He became my everything.
I’ve been through so much now in running, and through each mile, God and I have become so close. I can’t imagine running far without Him. Can’t imagine life without Him. I’ve felt Him gently take that discipline and time spent in the woods with Him to my daily life. Every single morning, I wake up craving to learn more. I want to read my Bible. I want to know more. I want to understand better. I want to BE better.
I’ve seen His realness firsthand. If God can pull me out of a coma during a 100, and if He can help me keep moving up and over mountains when I have no business being in them, then of course He can be here for the other trivial things. And so I’ve learned to bring ALL of life to God in prayer. Everything. Anything. You name it. It’s no longer just God please don’t let me die! It’s also God please help me to truly live.
And to be straight up, I openly admit that I suck in many ways. I really do. This is not some “holier than thou” post. It’s just honesty. I have such a screwed up past, and even as a professing Christian, I’m the first to admit that I’ve done things I am very ashamed of…. In other words, there is a lot for me to pray about, but that doesn’t stop me from growing.
When I get out there on the trails and hit those miles, it all just seems so clear. Everything I stress over, all the baggage I try to carry, it just fades away, and I’m reminded that it’s all so simple. God loves me for me, and only He can give me the strength to be who I’m supposed to be. And with that thought, I feel so free. So dang liberated. ...it’s cool, Ash, He’s got it.
I know my faith is not perfect. I know it is nontraditional. Sure, maybe I miss church on Sundays every now and then. And yeah, maybe my language isn’t always that wholesome.. my Dad keeps telling me “pissed” is a swear word, but I refuse to believe it. Ha…. And no, I still don’t want to join your Sunday School class, sorry. I’ll never be that “perfectly polished Christian woman”. I just wasn’t made to be her, and I’m okay with that. I know now that God is after the real me anyway– the one with not just scraped knees, but deeply hidden scars and bruises. Through all these years of running, I’ve learned that is exactly how it’s meant to be.
I know now that all I need to be is authentically me for God. I will sing hymns quietly alone on a mountain top. I will marvel in His creation while running through trees. I will tell Him all of my thoughts in the wilderness. I will beg him to pull me through the last few miles of an ultra. I won’t hide this reason behind my joy, and I will wake up in the mornings better and hungry for more of it.
When I sign up for my next ultra, I am fully aware of what I’m really doing. I’m throwing myself into the pit. I’m saying “Hey, God, we need a heart to heart.” My soul just craves to battle it out. I want to feel that raw need. I want to be in so much pain and do nothing but beg God to pull me through. I like to see Him in action. Right in front of my face. I like to be reminded that I am only human, and that only He can fill the void in me.
I have finally come to accept that this is my journey through life. This is my passion. This is my faith. God himself has given me all of it, and has cultivated it to what it is now. I am thankful. And with it all, I plan to move many mountains.