Saturday, June 24, 2017

Over the hill...


I was sitting in a meeting and made the statement, "I'm not over the hill yet..." and one of those random thoughts hit me. If this "hill" is my life and I'm around the halfway point, then yes....I AM over the hill.

Okay, this may be elementary stuff to a lot of people, but truthfully I had never thought about what the term "over the hill" actually referred to. It was something that came up at birthdays....usually in the form of black balloons and obnoxious black decorations...usually brought by a much younger, yet equally obnoxious friend. Still, I never really had connected it to any kind of real meaning. Now I'm starting to realize that "over the hill" refers to reaching the halfway point of your life, the top, and then starting down the other side. Since I am now 58, I guess it's pretty safe to say I am "over the hill".

Think about it. If you have ever run up a huge hill, you know what I mean. It seems to take FOREVER to reach the top and the idea of going down the other side never really crosses your mind. You're just trying to conquer the hill. When we are younger, we are trying to make our way in the world, conquer our fears, and reach the pinnacle of our success. If we are lucky, the top of the hill plateaus for a while and we get to jog along at an easier pace allowing our heart rate to adjust....but for every up there is a down.

When you first start running down, you kind of like the new feeling of speed you are experiencing. You actually look kind of fast, maybe even cool! Then, after a few more steps you find yourself accelerating toward the bottom at such a lightning speed you worry a little that you might fall (and can't get up...) The bottom is coming at you MUCH faster than the top ever did....sort of like the feeling you get when you say "time is passing so fast". No, time isn't moving faster, you're just getting closer to the end of the hill. (I heard once that life was like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. This "over the hill" run is just the same thing.)

I guess that in this analogy, my daily appointment with the treadmill or the track must be my attempt to run up the down escalator....slowing down my descent to the bottom. I know I can't stop it, but I'm in no real rush to get there. I don't really want to just "sit and ride" on this trip. I have no idea when I will reach the base of this hill, but when I do I want to be giving it all I've got.

Sitting down and just waiting for the bottom of the hill is, however, not an option. Each new day brings with it a work that needs to be done. In John 9, you find the story of the blind man whom Jesus healed. the disciples were asking their usual stupid questions (which makes me feel much better when I have to do that) and this was the response: Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world's Light." (emphasis mine)

When I finally reach the bottom of this hill, my workday will be over....but for as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light....cause I'm supposed to allow the light of Christ to shine through me. There isn't really time to sit and wait for the bottom to arrive....as long as I'm on this hill, I'm supposed to be doing the work of the One who sent me.

So there you have it. My version of over the hill. No matter where you find yourself on the hill of life, I hope you are shining His light for all to see. We'll work together and I hope I can safely say..."See you at the bottom" when we run into the arms of Christ and hear "well done, my good and faithful servant."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Journey Back to Running...Again

It's hard to believe that I started running over 10 years ago...while I haven't been consistent, it is still a part of who I am.

I am a runner...really I feel like that should say "I WAS a runner" because right now I'm not so sure I can claim that title...and the journey back to running is a hard one.

When I first started running in 2006, it was a new experience for me. While I had run a little in high school, I was really never much of an athlete. There was one race I won simply because no other school had anyone to enter into the mile event. They put their best sprinters in, but they didn't know how to keep plodding along for an entire mile. That race looked like a real live "Tortoise and Hares" kind of race. I was thrilled, but even I knew I wasn't really much of a runner....they were just unprepared.

Fast forward 30 years (yes, it took that many years before I started running again.) We had just come through Hurricane Katrina and I was discovering a new lifestyle of fitness that I really enjoyed. I had gotten used to the heat, thanks to no electricity for two weeks, and I was losing weight, thanks to reduced food being readily available....did I mention we'd had a hurricane? I even was getting used to exercise thanks to having to haul limbs and trees from my front yard, wet clothes from my destroyed closet, and construction debris from my house while we tried to repair the rooms. In the midst of all this, I discovered the program "Biggest Loser", thanks in part to only having one station that would come in clearly after the storm. That show became my inspiration and motivation to hit the gym.

After about 7 months of exercising on a regular basis, I  decided to enter a race to celebrate my 48th birthday, (was that really 10 years ago???) It was a 5K and it seemed like such a HUGE distance, but I was determined to give it a try. I signed up and then started increasing my time on the treadmill in hopes of not being too embarrassed at the race. Truthfully, I still had no thoughts of myself as an athlete. I was just having fun.

Race day came and I not only ran part of the course, I actually won my age division....thanks once again to no one else in my age bracket showing up for the race. Still, I didn't care. I was hooked. I was so proud of my first place medal that day. I still, however, didn't really consider myself a runner.

For the next few weeks, I continued going to the gym to run/walk on the treadmills. Then on my way home one day, I saw a woman at our school track setting up cones so I decided to ask what she was doing. She was from the local runners club and they were beginning a 12 week training course for 5K's. She encouraged me to come. I gave her the old, "I'll try", and went home. It had been a particularly tough day and I just wanted to collapse on my couch and feel sorry for myself. Somehow, her encouragement kept ringing in my head and before I knew it I was lacing up my shoes and heading back out the door.

I came to the training pretty faithfully. To be honest, I remember being amazed at myself. I had never been that consistent with any form of exercise in my life! Each week I could see a bit of improvement in my abilities...but I still didn't see myself as a runner, especially not since I was out there with people who were running 5K's so much faster than me. Looking back, I realize that during those beginning days at the track, I was surrounded by some of the most encouraging people I had ever known in my life. Each runner was working on becoming better, and eager to help others do the same. They kept me coming back. The most encouraging person of all was our "coach." She was a few years older than me, but able to run faster and longer than women half her age. She saw in me what I could not see in myself.

I distinctly remember the race when I signed my name as Donna "the runner" Sumrall. I did it as a joke, but also as a motivator to myself. Coach had been telling me for weeks I had to start seeing myself as a runner; on that day, as an act of will, I decided to do just that. I don't remember if I even placed in that race, but I do remember how I felt when I crossed the finish line. I felt like I could do anything I put my mind to.

With each week, I continued to run, even setting my sights on a half marathon. I ran that half marathon and had a blast....and then I quit running. No, I didn't quit running as much. I quit running. One week turned into one month that turned into one year that turned into two. I'd make sporadic attempts at getting back into a routine, but something was different; something was missing.

Over the next two years, I continued to occasionally run, but not with the joy or success I once knew; and I miss that. So now what do I do? Well, like most people who somehow get off course, I've decided to go back to the beginning and start again. For me, that means hitting the gym and joining others training for a 5K. Last night was the second meeting of the training group, and I was there. Once again I found the joy that I have been missing! It was found in others who were also learning to love the run...or at least were determined to learn to love the run. The training was broken into small, do-able steps. With every pound of my foot on the pavement, I felt the renewed joy of the journey. In the words of Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride) “I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have.” Hopefully, this time I won't "quit".

For those in the Hattiesburg area, the Pinebelt Pacers have begun their beginner 5k training on Tuesdays at the Thames track. Come join in what some of us call "fun". 

Hebrews 12:1, GOD'S WORD® Translation (©1995)

"Since we are surrounded by so many examples [of faith], we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up."

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day for those who don't really like the day...

I originally wrote this five years ago. While I've gotten more comfortable with the day, I really can't say I look forward to it. This is for all those who, like me, don't really like Mother's Day.

I have a confession to make - I don't like Mother's Day.

Don't get me wrong - I absolutely LOVE being a mother, I just have always hated this day. (Yes, I know I'm not supposed to "hate" anything, but the feeling I have for this day is pretty darn close!) Mother's Day for me seems to always be filled with regrets and should-have-beens.

My own mother has been gone for quite a few years now, and in the weeks leading up to Mother's Day I am constantly reminded of how I did not honor her in the way she deserved. I could make a lot of excuses, but I guess it really boils down to I just didn't understand. I had no clue as to what she really wanted or needed as a mom....to be noticed and told thank you.

I also never really appreciated who she was. I have always taken a bit of pride that I was "just like my daddy" and never really understood how to appreciate how opposite my own mom was. Her strengths were very different from his and at the time I just didn't see it. Honestly, I still don't understand her but at least now I can understand that different isn't necessarily wrong.

Mother's Day reminds me of all the last minute gifts I gave her due to obligation or guilt. It reminds me of how I never really did enough. 

Mother's Day also is a slap in the face when it comes to my own children. For years this day was so difficult because I had no children, and now that I do have them...well, it's still tough. I look at my growing children and realized I am so blessed to be allowed to be their mom and so unworthy. They really do deserve better. I am not fishing for compliments here, just expressing what I think a lot of moms feel sometimes. I have blown it so many times....Why is it so difficult to remember anything I did RIGHT but so easy to remember all the times I absolutely did it wrong?

Mother's Day is the day when all the wonderful things are said about "Mom's" and gifts are given and (hopefully) lunch is served - and cleaned up after - by someone other than her. But if you are a mom, I wonder if you, like me, hear all the words and feel woefully inadequate. I am not that Proverbs 31 woman. I am not the mom who cooks the wonderful meals that one day my son will compare his own wife's cooking to. I am not crafty or good at cleaning or in a thousand other things. I simply am not....

But I am thankful. Thankful for my own mom who, bless her heart, believed in me far more than I believed in myself. Who loved me despite my lack of "display" on Mother's Day. Who, even now, probably looks down from heaven and understands that I don't make the 3 hours trip to her graveside to  give her a Mother's Day bouquet because I'll be spending the afternoon with my own daughter trying desperately to find a dress for graduation and make last minute prep for the next step of her journey.

I am thankful - that God in His infinite mercy and grace allowed me to parent two beautiful children that are both so like, and so different, from me. I am thankful when I fail, and I do that a lot, He has already made a way because He loves them so much more than even me. I am still amazed that God allowed me to play even a small part in raising His precious babies, even though He knew just how often I would mess things up.

I really just don't like Mother's Day. It's a made-up holiday to get us to do what we should be doing all year long - thanking God for giving us the family He did - no matter how messed up I think they may be.... Now that I'm older with kids of my own, I can truly say, "Thank you, Mama." I think I'm starting to understand. I guess your grandkids took up where you left off in raising me and teaching me what life is all about.

With apologies to all the women like me who look at this verse and only feel more inadequate, I'm adding Proverbs 31. The good news is - God sees us as we are and loves us anyway....and so do our kids.


Proverbs 31:10-31 (Msg) 
A good woman is hard to find,
   and worth far more than diamonds.
Her husband trusts her without reserve,
   and never has reason to regret it.
Never spiteful, she treats him generously
   all her life long.
She shops around for the best yarns and cottons,
   and enjoys knitting and sewing.
She's like a trading ship that sails to faraway places
   and brings back exotic surprises.
She's up before dawn, preparing breakfast
   for her family and organizing her day.
She looks over a field and buys it,
   then, with money she's put aside, plants a garden.
First thing in the morning, she dresses for work,
   rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started.
She senses the worth of her work,
   is in no hurry to call it quits for the day.
She's skilled in the crafts of home and hearth,
   diligent in homemaking.
She's quick to assist anyone in need,
   reaches out to help the poor.
She doesn't worry about her family when it snows;
   their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.
She makes her own clothing,
   and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
Her husband is greatly respected
   when he deliberates with the city fathers.
She designs gowns and sells them,
   brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops.
Her clothes are well-made and elegant,
   and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.
When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say,
   and she always says it kindly.
She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,
   and keeps them all busy and productive.
Her children respect and bless her;
   her husband joins in with words of praise:
"Many women have done wonderful things,
   but you've outclassed them all!"
Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.
   The woman to be admired and praised
   is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-
God.
Give her everything she deserves!
   Festoon her life with praises!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Open wide...

This is one of my tulips. It doesn't look like what I always thought tulips are supposed to look like. Oh, it did at first. Perfect little pink blossom waving on a slender green stalk...but now it looks quite different. It is older, and the bloom is nearing its end, drooping a little...and I think it's looking a lot more like me.

When I was younger, I was concerned about how I looked to others...to God. I wanted to be perfect, but in doing so, I was closed up pretty tight. Like those early blooms, I was protecting my heart, keeping it closed off from others so I couldn't be hurt. Keeping it closed off, even from God.

Now I'm a bit older. Hurts have already come and gone. No need to worry about appearance anymore...I'm pretty much open to the world as old and getting older by the minute. I am no longer perfect - as if I ever was. Only now, I've accepted my imperfections and I'm finally standing with arms and heart open wide. 

I recognize that time is not on my side. How is it said? "None of us are getting out of here alive." So I might as well spread out my wings and fly...or my petals and just be.

It's Easter, my friends. No matter if you have a new outfit for the day or if you're dressed in hand-me-down jeans, we can open wide and let God in. Receive what He has done for you. Live with arms and heart open wide.

Happy Easter.

John 10:10b (MSG)
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.



Friday, April 14, 2017

Guilty...

Today is Good Friday. As a kid, I never could wrap my mind around how the day Jesus died on the cross could be called "good." I'm not sure I could do it as an adult either. How could anything "good" be found in that day?

Last week in Kids' Church, I taught the lesson on Palm Sunday and Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. As He entered the city, the people called out "Hosanna" which means "save us." I've taught this story many times but this time, it hit me that Jesus was there for Passover - and He had come as the sacrificial lamb. Somehow it struck me like never before. Just as He was born in a stable like the sacrificial lambs were born, He was going to the Passover as the lamb of God...a sacrifice on this day that would mark how God made a way for the Children of Israel to be spared death just before the Exodus. 

Once again, I started pondering something I've heard so many times - Jesus, who knew no sin, hung on the cross. He was not guilty... Then somewhere, I heard a shocking statement. Jesus was guilty - not with his own guilt, but with ours. Just as the lamb that was sacrificed "took on" the sins of the people, Jesus took on our sins that day. But how do you explain that to children? 

That's where the other part of our lesson came in. I wish I had thought of it, but I found it on another site. You can find the original lesson it comes from at this site: Helping kids understand Good Friday  Basically, I had my son, Levi, stand before the group to represent Jesus. In his words, "I don't look like Jesus," but he certainly looked more like Him that anyone else in the room. The lesson suggested this person wear a robe, but we couldn't find one that fit my son, so a really big red shirt would fit the bill. As it turned out, that red shirt was much more effective than any robe would have been.

As my son stood in the front of the room, the children noticed that his shirt had no spots, nothing. It was just red, like the blood of Jesus. Then they each took scraps of black construction paper and wrote one of their "sins" on it, something they had done wrong whether big or small. They came up and taped those black blotches to his shirt; before long it was covered! He then took the shirt and turned it wrong side out. The red completely covered all the sin. Like the thief on the cross that recognized Jesus for who He was, all those who gave their sin to Jesus had them covered by the blood of the lamb.

You know, I've done this lesson before and we put our sins on the cross, but this is the first time I've ever done it where I put them on a person that represented Jesus. Maybe it meant so much more to me because we used my own son as a prop...I'm certain if it had been left up to me, I'd never have allowed my son to carry all those sins of others to the cross. But there he stood, representing Jesus - covered with the "sins" of others. 

This made me look at things in a whole new light. When Jesus stumbled as He carried that cross up the hill, was it because it was so heavy, or because the sins that were now placed on Him were so heavy that the weight of them made it nearly impossible to walk? The one who was spotless was literally carrying what I had done all the way to the altar and then acted as the sacrifice that would cover them all.

I have heard the story of Jesus on the cross in so many ways, but for some reason, seeing those black blotches on that red shirt made me see things in a new light. Jesus was guilty when He hung on the cross - but the guilt was mine. He had taken it on so that I didn't have to. 

Only God could take the horror of that day and turn it into something "good." If He can do that on that day, surely He can take whatever comes my way and turn it to good, too. 

Thankful Good Friday and Easter, my friends. Like the thief on the cross that believed, our debt has been paid, and we are guilty no more.

Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those called according to His purpose.

Isaiah 53:12 (emphasis mine)
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Hebrews 9:28
so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

1 Peter 2:24-25 (Message) (emphasis mine)
This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The color for Palm Sunday is...red?

I love it when I get to teach in Children's Church and I get one of those "I get it" moments. I'm not talking about the KIDS getting it - I'm talking about myself! 

The last time this happened, I was teaching around Christmas and it hit me why Jesus was born in a stable...that's where all sacrifices were born. (Mind blown!) Well, today was another one of those "mind blown" days.

We use a curriculum in Kids' Church, but I often find a little something extra to add. Today's lesson featured the color red as a part of the lesson. Of course, the major point is that it stood for the blood of Jesus, but since it was Palm Sunday, I was having a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around it. After all, shouldn't the color for the day be green? Palms....Green....makes sense, right?

Today's passage came from Luke 23 and focused on the two thieves on the crosses beside Jesus, but I couldn't get my mind off the fact that it's Palm Sunday! So, I decided to go back and look at the part where Jesus entered Jerusalem, Luke 22. That's when the lesson took a turn.

Earlier this week, one of my students asked why Easter is in March some years and in April on others. I mentioned that it had to do with Passover and discovered that many of my students had no idea what I meant. 

Just a quick refresher for anyone that has gotten a bit rusty on their Old Testament Bible accounts - Passover has to do with the account in Exodus when Moses went to Pharoah and told him that God said to let His people go. Pharoah, of course, was more than a bit stubborn and it took 7 plagues before he relented and released the Israelites to go into the Promised Land. The last plague was the worst - the first born in every household died, except for those who had followed God's directive to sacrifice a lamb and paint the blood of the sacrifice over the doors. The Israelites slept that final night as captives undisturbed. The angel of death "passed over" their dwellings. 

Exodus 12:12-14
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.
“This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. "
So Easter is based on Passover. Why? Well, when Jesus entered into Jerusalem on what we now refer to as "Palm Sunday" it was because He was there to celebrate Passover.
According to a message by John Piper, "Our English word "hosanna" comes from a Greek word "hosanna" which comes from a Hebrew phrase hoshiya na.
And that Hebrew phrase is found one solitary place in the whole Old Testament, Psalm 118:25, where it means, "Save, please!" It is a cry to God for help." 
Let that sink in for a moment. Passover...which commemorated when God had heard the cries of His people and saved them with the blood of a lamb painted over the openings of their home so that the angel of death would pass over. Once again the people cried out to God for help...and Jesus came.
Palm Sunday - when the Passover "lamb" came into the city to be sacrificed so that all who believed in the power of the blood of that sacrifice would be saved. 
Just like that Sunday when I realized that Jesus was born where sacrifices were born, today I realized anew that when He rode into Jerusalem, He came as a sacrifice. 
So maybe the color for Palm Sunday is red after all. (Mind blown!)
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Tomorrow I'll try to write about that thief and the rest of today's Kids' Church lesson.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Comfortable...

Today is my 58th birthday and like most days, I woke up with a word/random thought on my mind. The word today was "comfortable".

I love being comfortable. I wear comfy clothes, eat comfort foods, have friends I'm really comfortable around...I'm pretty sure I would never make it on a make-over show because they would never be able to tear my comfortable shoes from me! In fact, if you look up 'comfortable' in the dictionary, you might find my picture. One benefit of getting older is that I'm finally "comfortable" in my own skin, despite its wrinkly appearance. Yep, comfortable is a pretty positive word.

But lately I've started seeing the word in a not so positive light. You see, as I get older, I find that once I get "comfortable," I don't want to move. I just don't want to put forth the effort. I just got "comfortable." In fact lately, I find that when I sit in my favorite chair after a long day at work and get comfortable I fall asleep! While it's still light outside!

It's not that I can't move - I just don't want to!

It's as if I'm becoming like one of those characters on Pirates of the Caribbean who slowly melds into the ship and becomes a part of the background...powerless to move. It takes REAL effort to pull away and stand. I don't think I've ever thought of getting older that way before...but those who cease to make the effort to move seem to simply sink into their chairs and fade into the background till they are unable to do anything else.

They simply get OLD! (That's such an ugly word.)

That's the thing about getting comfortable. It's so...comfortable! You don't want to do anything that takes you out of that "comfort zone"! And as I get older, I find that it seems to be harder and harder to get moving again once I get "comfortable."

I want to find ways to push myself to break out of the comfort zone. The working mission trip to Guatemala was one attempt to get out of my comfort zone and do something that didn't necessarily come naturally. I have to say, that was one of the best choices I've made in a while. I got out of my comfort zone and discovered I kind of LIKE being uncomfortable! What started as a challenge actually turned into something that fanned the flames inside me to DO something! My muscles hurt and I was tired and I felt ALIVE!

It is easy as we get older to feel like our time has passed. We look forward to retirement when we can finally just SIT...but maybe we've been looking at things all wrong. Maybe instead of retirement, it's supposed to be a time of re-fire-ment. Instead of striving to be comfortable, maybe we should be stretching ourselves to try new things, learn new things, take a chance and believe God for dreams we thought were long gone.

Yes, comfortable can be a good thing but sometimes we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Maybe it's time to look at birthdays as another reminder that we're not finished yet. This is not the time to get "comfortable" in this world...after all, it's not our home.

Psalm 63:4New International Version (NIV)

 I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.

1 Peter 2:11The Message (MSG)

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul.