By Tonya Andris
Inside The Pew
Now, Cunningham, 50, is a pastor, a mentor, and an author. His second book, “Lay It Down: How Letting Go Brings Out Your Best,” (Worthy Publishing, $19.99) was recently released. The book takes readers through several episodes in his professional and private life that brought him to rely on God for support and clarification. The most pressing situation – the accidental drowning death of his 2-year-old son, Christian, in 2010. Cunningham fittingly alludes to the death of his son in the title of chapter 2, “The Biggest Hit I Ever Took.”
Instead of showing frustration for his son’s death, Cunningham immediately praised Him. “I got in my car, backed out of the driveway, and began to scream, ‘Hallelujah! Praise God! Thank you! I love you, God.”
“The goal of the book is to allow people to think about life solutions,” said Cunningham, who spent his career playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Baltimore Ravens. “There is no way we could have got through this (the death of Christian) on our own.”
Fittingly, Cunningham uses football-related phrases to frame his story. Nice touch. For further study of the chapter, the book includes reflection questions and epigraphs from the Bible, C.S. Lewis, Tim Tebow, Tony Dungy, Tony Dorsett, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela.
Mentorship takes on a circular meaning in “Lay It Down.” Cunningham said mentors have been “divinely planted” in his life.
“I’ve always had mentors, I just didn’t realize it,” he told Inside The Pew. “When I was in Pop Warner as a boy, there were men who volunteered their time to coach me. When I attended church, I had pastors who would pray for me. There were teachers who took a vested interest in me because if they didn’t I would not have become the man I am today.”
Cunningham credits Troy Johnson and Robert Johnson for introducing him and his wife, Felicity, into discipleship.
In the book, he also mentions how he is mentored by the nearly 12,000 members of his Las Vegas, Nev., church – Remnant Ministries.
As an NFL player, Cunningham considered the late Reggie White as his mentor, among others. Near the end of chapter 4, he speaks highly of hall of fame defensive end. But, before the “minister” began to connect with him, Tom Cameron introduced him how to stand with God and become a born-again believer. The prose here was engaging.
“It was Reggie White who got in my face and told me you better straighten your life up,” he said.
Just as some of the same ways teachers and pastors mentored to him, Cunningham serves the same role to teens who participate in the high school track and field and club track and field teams he coaches. As a coach, he said is able to mentor to athletes, especially those who are fatherless.
Cunningham wrote, “The building block of our culture begins with strong families, and the father is vital to that equation. Children need a father who is there. … Mentoring begins as a father.”
The book can fit into the classifications of a biography and inspirational non-fiction (well-organized story telling in several chapters). Cunningham’s message is clear as the reader closes its covers: set goals, stay focused, and never hesitate to rest on others for support. These attributes have taken Cunningham pretty far.