Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A.D.D. or A.W.D....

Today in worship, I became acutely aware of God's presence and I thought about how often I go through my days wishing I could sense His presence more. That's when I started thinking about how A.D.D. I tend to be and decided that in spiritual matters, perhaps I suffer a bit from A.W.D. - Attention to the World Disorder.

Since I am a teacher, I am well aware of how difficult it can be for a child who has A.D.D. to focus on what is important in the classroom. An overload of stimulus makes brains take a detour from what they should be concentrating on just about everything else. They often become frustrated and act out...or they withdraw from the very things that could help them. I heard the lead singer from Casting Crowns say he suffered from dyslexia and ADD which meant it was hard for him to read well and if he somehow managed to read well, his ADD still messed things up. I wonder at times if I am not undiagnosed ADD myself. I find I am easily distracted from what I need to get done, but over the years I have learned techniques to deal with my "random thoughts".....such as using them to write a blog. :)

Back to today's random thought. As I contemplated the fact that God is always with us, but somehow we don't sense it, our pastor began to talk about the very same thing! I was so excited I wanted to raise my hand and say, "I was just thinking about that!" To quote our pastor, "It's wonderful to know God is everywhere, but being in a place where you are AWARE of his presence is a whole other thing. When we focus, we become less aware of our surroundings and more aware of God." Yep, there it is. We are all a little A.W.D. 

A.W.D. is being ADD when it comes to God. Instead of being able to focus on Him, we are so easily distracted by the things of the world. We have allowed the things that are not eternal, things of this world, take our focus off of God....and we start to sink under the weight of it all.

The Bible is full of stories where man got his focus off God and onto the things of the world with disastrous results. One of the most evident was when Peter stepped out of the boat and tried to walk toward Jesus. He did just fine as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, but the moment he lost focus and started looking at the waves (the things of this world) he started to sink. 

It happened to others as well. Different things pulled their focus from God...sometimes they were problems, sometimes they were things we'd think of as blessings, but once they lost focus - their troubles really began!

To paraphrase today's sermon, when our focus is right, we sense His presence and with that we find Purpose, Power, Protection, and Provision. With these come the greatest benefit - Peace. The key is to FOCUS!!!

I tell my son all the time...Focus Levi, focus! He's a lot like me, easily distracted by the shiny and new, or overly occupied with the one little thing that seems wrong. Once our focus is off, it's really tough to get us back to where we need to be. We're a little like the dog in the movie "UP" who could barely finish a sentence if a squirrel ran past within a hundred yards of him. Before you know it, we're off chasing something that is irrelevant in regards to what we're supposed to be doing! Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to shift our focus from Sunday morning worship when we felt God's presence, to a place where all we can see are the things and problems of this world.

Yep, I admit it. I have A.W.D. but the good news is, G.O.D. is much bigger than any other letters of the alphabet combined! He is patient and willing to help me focus on Him. His GOODNESS OVERCOMES DISTRACTIONS....(G.O.D.)

When I wonder why I don't sense His presence, I can check to see, have I just lost focus. Am I seeking Him in the every day of my life? In His presence, there is fullness of joy!(Psalm 16:11) If I'm not sensing His presence, I'm not experiencing true joy! It doesn't mean that life will suddenly become a big picnic, but it does mean that nothing the world uses to distract me can separate me from Him or His joy if I will keep my focus right....if I'll keep my focus on God.

Psalm 51 gives us a prayer that we can use to help us "re-focus". "Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And renew a right spirit within me.

I don't mind being a little A.D.D., but I surely don't want to have A.W.D. As the old song says: Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Take time to focus today. He is with might just suffer from A.W.D. 
Repost from 2009

Photo by RayBay on Unsplash 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What not to wear...

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

I will admit it. I would gladly go on national tv and be humiliated about my bad clothing choices in order to get rid of my old stuff and be shown what to wear...and given the money to buy it!

I used to love the show "What Not to Wear." I didn't always watch the entire program, but I did like to tune in to at least see the "tips" and the final transformation. I was amazed at the difference you could see in the people by the end of every program - a difference that seems to be not only in their appearance but in their whole being. Can what you wear really make that much difference?

Honestly, I know clothes make a difference. Once, many years ago, I prayed about why it seemed that people did not take me seriously and felt that nudge in my heart to look at how I was dressed. At the time I had on old jeans and a sweatshirt. I remember praying, "but God, the Bible says man looks on the outward appearance but YOU look on the heart!" Then I 'heard' the reply - "What is the first part of that verse?"

Well, man looks on the outward appearance....

"I see your heart but as long as you are on this earth, you will deal with 'man'. How you carry yourself makes a difference."

After that conversation with God, I did change the way I dressed and I did see a difference in the ways others reacted to me; but I'm not sure if it was because I dressed differently or because when I dressed differently, I acted differently as well! Sort of like what you see on that program. I carried myself differently, I walked in more confidence and assurance and people reacted to that difference.

Knowing that people (including me) react to others according to outward appearance, shouldn't it then be very important what we wear? Now, I am NOT the person to give fashion advice, but perhaps I can find a guideline that even I can use on a regular basis on what TO wear. The Bible has some really good advice in that area. "Clothe yourself in righteousness", and "Put on the whole armor of God" are good places to start. Then today I stumbled across this verse: 

Colossians 3:12-14

The Message (MSG)
 12-14So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Finally - fashion tips that even I can understand. 

You know, one of the biggest things I noticed about that show is that they didn't really focus on what NOT to wear...oh they showed the contestants how bad their choices had been up to this point, but the rest of the show was spent showing the people what TO wear. As a Christian, that's how I want to spend my life - not spending all my time shining a light on what others do WRONG, but shining a light on how good things can be.

You know, one of the biggest words used by people at the beginning of that show is "but it'scomfortable" or "that won't be comfortable"...focusing only on physical comfort. By the end, they find something they desire far more than that physical comfort - they find something within that is willing to leave their comfort zone and move into a new comfort - comfort with who they were meant to be. They also usually discover that the new way of dressing isn't really uncomfortable at all!

Don't know about you, but I think I'll have some new things to think about this morning as I get "dressed" to face the day. I have been given a new "wardrobe" and the best part of it all - the price has already been paid. 

Oh, and on a side note, I often tell my daughter, "You are a precious jewel, a gift from God. Don't dress in such a way that it looks like that jewel is displayed on the reduced for quick-sale rack."  You get my point.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Have we bought the lie???

This was written quite a few years ago, but I vividly remember the encounter with this woman. I think it was the first time I really stood up for what I believed in such a vocal way. 

Tomorrow is the 4th of July...a time of celebration! There will be hotdogs, apple pie, and probably a few impromptu baseball games. Water slides, watermelon, and water....okay, I don't have another water word. There will be laughter, honoring of veterans, and hopefully, prayer for our nation, because no matter who you ask, you'll probably hear that despite our celebrating, our nation is in trouble.

Some will say the problem arises from recent court developments. Some will say the problem arises from our lack of reverence for human life. Many will point at the prevalence of government in our lives. Some will say it's the liberals. Some will say it's the conservatives. I'm thinking it may be something different. I'm thinking it goes all the way back to Genesis and a tiny little lie. A question actually.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who is MUCH more educated than me. She is, no doubt, a wonderful person. Very intellectual and has a heart to help others. I will not say a bad thing about her...but we definitely did not agree. To be honest, I'm not even sure how our conversation took the turn that it did, but within moments it became evident that she believed in evolution as opposed to creation. Her arguments were that while God created, He used evolution to do it. (I've heard this argument before.) She also believed much of the Bible to be metaphorical in nature. Needless to say, we disagreed.

Since that conversation, I seem to see articles on creation everywhere I turn! You see, I believe that TRUE science points TO creation...and while I am not a scientist, there are many scientist who agree with that point of view. If one buys into the idea of evolution for creation, there are a number of issues you must then wrestle with. For one, how then did sin enter in through one man? How did Jesus come as the second Adam and die as a sacrifice for that sin? (We disagreed on this as well, by the way.) How can you deal with Jesus speaking of Old Testament writings as fact? Either He was ignorant or a liar...neither of which I can agree with. But all these arguments are really not the purpose of today's random thoughts. It's identifying the root of our problems....

Is it possible that we bought the lie? You know, in the garden that's what started the ball rolling. In Genesis 3:1, "Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? Did you get that? It started with questioning what God said. The enemy craftily inserted doubt into the legitimacy of God's Word. It was the meshing of an idea that was NOT of God with something that IS of God. Verses 4 & 5: "“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Seems he forgot to include the part about the knowledge of good and evil being because they would experience separation from God's presence and the beauty of the life they knew.

Is it possible that the "problems" our nation, even our world...and yes, we ourselves face are due to buying the lie that has woven itself into our books, our tv shows, and our minds. It's a subtle one...just a little bitty question. Did God really say? Or, the idea that God's Word is a collection of metaphors, not to be taken literally? Yes, I realize there are some pretty hard parts of the Bible. I'm thankful that God does not require me to gouge out my does not sin so getting rid of it really wouldn't fix the problem. Plus, and far more importantly, Jesus died for my sin. Yes, that literally happened. It's not a metaphor or just some feel good story. Nothing I can do would "fix" the problem anyway.

I'm sure there's more to all of this than my puny little mind can embrace, but this is really just a collection of MY random thoughts. Maybe we allowed the "lie" to weave its way into our lives and before we knew it, it was like the ferns that looked so lovely in my yard until they took root everywhere and started to choke out my rose. I really didn't think it was any big deal to begin with. It was so tiny and looked entirely harmless. Yeah....tell that to my rose that it killed. (Check out my previous blog, "The Pruning Process...")

I don't want to buy the lie. I believe God's Word is true...and I want it to shape everything I do. I know I have a long way to go...but recognizing that truth is truth is the first step. Maybe then, we can truly ask for God to bless America.

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 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 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-
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 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.