Thursday, January 30, 2014

Don't fail me, Mrs. Sumrall...

It was an innocent joke made in an email response. Like most of us, in typing a message response via facebook, a former student had misspelled a word or two and used incorrect punctuation. I could almost hear his laughter as he typed, "Don't fail me, Mrs. Sumrall." So why did that one phrase stick with me days later?

Perhaps it's because I've been thinking about my own children and wondering where did the time go. Maybe it's that nagging feeling of failure that I get when I realize how many opportunities I've missed to live life, waiting for there to be more money or time or whatever lame excuse I wore shackled around me like a weight. Maybe it's because I recognize all the times I have failed - not only those around me, but myself as well.

We all fail, every single one of us. In fact, there is only one who never fails - God. Spouses, parents, children...and yes, even teachers, will fail us. Worst of all, we fail ourselves...but God is still always there. He never wavers. He never lets us down.

Oh, we may THINK He has let us down when life doesn't go according to our plans...just like some of my students talk about that mean old teacher who "failed" them. They conveniently forget the papers they left undone or the nights they should have taken the time to study but chose instead to watch tv, or even the times in class that they decided to pass notes (or texts) to a friend instead of paying attention. You get the picture. We pretty much accuse God of failing us when in fact, once again we did it to ourselves. 

Still He waits there, patiently, ready to take our hand and walk with us through the failure. 

But what about....and all of us could rattle off a long list of things in life that have just not been fair. I get it. Had more than a few of those myself. But it wasn't God that failed us. Maybe it was someone else, maybe it was ourselves, maybe it was simply life. 

The thing is - this is sort of our classroom. I often tell my students if they don't understand something - ASK! Sometimes they can ask those around them, but sometimes the only one who can help them is the teacher...and sometimes as the teacher I don't give the answer directly but allow the student to work through what is in front of them. I know I have students who want me to "just tell them what to put down on the paper." They want me to do the work for them...but that's not what teachers do. They instruct, they guide, they help, and the student works it out. 

Like my students we're constantly learning, growing, and yes sometimes failing...and sometimes it seems that the answer won't come this side of heaven; but through it all, we're not alone. In the midst of our mess, we have a teacher. Better than that, we have a Savior! God is there. He never leaves us...even when we fail.

So, asking me not to "fail you" is a pretty useless request...because I will. I fail students all the time (and I don't mean in the grade book!) I have bad days, weeks, years - I am human. I fail my children and my husband and my friends. I failed my parents when they were still alive...that one stings most of all, cause there are no more second chances for make-up work there. Because of this, I choose to cling to the rock of my salvation Who is never moved by the storms of life that surround me. There is nothing more profound that I can say other than Jesus is the teacher Who never fails His students...not even one.

Here's a link to a song that always encourages me...Your love never fails

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Grammys, doughnuts, and making a choice

I notice there has been a lot of talk lately about the Grammys - specifically about Natalie Grant leaving and her reasons why. Then, this morning I read a blog post by Mandisa as to why she didn't even attend the Grammys this year. Both ladies had, in my opinion, solid reasons for their actions. Neither condemned others - they left or didn't attend because they felt it was the right thing to do for them. Then, this morning I read a devotional (that had been written LONG before any Grammy performance hit the stage) that sort of addressed the same thing - what we spend out times viewing.

All this has me thinking. There are some things in life that are like roads I just don't need to go down. Take for example food. Early on in my journey as a diabetic, I sat in a class where the instructor told us there was no such thing as "good" or "bad" foods. While I completely understood what she was saying, I spoke up and wholeheartedly disagreed! Some foods are nothing but poison to our bodies - and for me at least, highly addictive! All it takes is one step and before I know it I am awash in a sea of sugar and the resulting negative effects! While I may say, "I'll just have a half a doughnut - that's not so bad", I know I am lying. Once that "half" crosses my lips I am like an addict looking for my next fix! I know that is a bit of an exaggeration - but only a little bit!

I convince myself that it's "safe" and a little won't hurt. I am reminded of the student I saw once who was having a high blood sugar episode - the second one I'd seen her have in two weeks. Seems that since her numbers were so good that morning, she'd taken advantage by having pancakes and syrup for breakfast. Seriously? Just because you are doing good you think you can overdose and it won't hurt? You'll just "adjust your meds"? Am I the only one who sees a problem here? Needless to say, she had an extremely high number and was then trying to figure out how to bring her levels back down to earth. I understand....been there myself, and not just with my blood sugar!

Obviously, all this got me to thinking about my "levels" in other areas of my life. It's not just the food I take into my body that affects my life, but also what I take into my mind and my spirit. I try to live my life by the verse that says whatsoever things are honest, pure, lovely, of a good report - think on these things. But it's just so dog-gone easy to come home at the end of a hard day and plop down in front of the TV or computer and veg out. I take that first bite and before I know it, I've spent hours doing nothing but filling my mind and spirit with what could at best be called junk food. At worst, it's poison.

As I write this, I am preaching at no one other than myself. I am admitting that I am so easily led that it is shameful. I take one step and before I know it I've gone down a road I never intended. I don't think I'm the only one. When I was a kid, TV didn't even show Lucy and Ricky in the same bed! (This could explain why I didn't figure out for years where Little Ricky came from!) Now, we get more information in a 30 second commercial than I EVER wanted to know! Progress? I'm not so sure. I do think it's a sign that we started down a road we never intended and found ourselves deep in enemy territory with no clue how to get out. Some have even convinced themselves that they are still walking in the light despite the fact that they can barely see.

I applaud Natalie Grant and Mandisa for recognizing that they were looking down a road they didn't want to be on. They took a step to turn around and not expose themselves to things that they believed would be harmful to their own minds, hearts, and spirits. One of them said something along the lines of not being able to un-see these things. They did not tell others what they should or should not do, but simply recognized that this was wrong for them. Many will be critical, but that's a bit like telling a diabetic they are wrong for not eating a sugar filled doughnut with sprinkles on top! We all have to make choices and recognize what is "poison" to us.

I need to find that strength inside myself. No, I'm not simply talking about walking away from the doughnuts. Honestly, I still do not have even that! If they are in my house, I will eat one...make that three or four. My best bet is to stay away and not go near those delicious devils! I always regret it when I eat them anyway. The sweetness of the moment is always overshadowed by the aftertaste of regret (and that weird taste of yeast and fat!) 

I need to find the strength to recognize and walk away from the things that fill my mind and heart with junk as well. Maybe I could start a group. "Hi! My name is Donna and I am an entertainment-aholic." Or maybe I should stop reaching for the remote and first reach for my Bible.

I've got lots to "chew on" this morning...which is a good thing because since we're experiencing a rare "iced-in" event, I'm stuck at home with LOTS of time on my hands. Yesterday I spent it eating and entertaining myself into a stupor. Today I think I'll turn around and try a different that has more LIGHT! 

Note: This thought hit me after first posting. Maybe instead of feasting on what the world offers, I should reach for some fruit - specifically the fruit of the spirit.

Philippians 4:8 (KJV)

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

1 John 2:15-16 (VOICE)

15 Don’t fall in love with this corrupt world or worship the things it can offer. Those who love its corrupt ways don’t have the Father’s love living within them. 16 All the things the world can offer to you—the allure of pleasure, the passion to have things, and the pompous sense of superiority—do not come from the Father. These are the rotten fruits of this world. 

1 John 1:6-7 (VOICE)

If we say we have an intimate connection with the Father but we continue stumbling around in darkness, then we are lying because we do not live according to truth. If we walk step by step in the light, where the Father is, then we are ultimately connected to each other through the sacrifice of Jesus His Son. His blood purifies us from all our sins.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Today I was listening to a dynamic speaker, Christine Caine (you can find a link to the message at the end of this blog), and she was sharing about the lost sheep. She mentioned that we have the wrong idea about the "lost sheep". We get the idea that they are bad! They aren't bad, they are lost! (For this blog, by lost sheep, I am referring not as much to those who have never been a part of the flock as I am to those who are already a part of the body of Christ, but have lost their passion.)

That lost sheep didn't get up one day and decide to separate from the flock. They just put their head down and were eating and when they looked up, everyone was gone! She compared this to people, saying lost people are like that - they didn't intend to get separated from God, but they were busy dealing with bills, trying to get through life, and they were preoccupied. Next thing they knew, they were lost! This immediately brought to mind a recent field trip I took with our students.

We went to a nearby city to visit two different museums with 3 bus-loads of students. It was noisy, fun, and more than a little chaotic. As always when I am with a large group of students, I am on alert. I feel my job is make sure everyone else is safe (and hopefully not terrorizing those around us!)

On this particular field trip one of my students, who is in a wheel-chair, was on my bus. Now, there were adults who were helping make sure she got off the bus, strapped into the chair, etc. but for some reason I felt responsible as well. So, as the other adults lined the children up and got them to the museum, I stayed and helped get my student into her chair. The problem was, none of those working with this student really knew where we were going, and when we looked up - everyone else was gone! We had gotten separated and they were no where in sight! We weren't being "bad" or disobedient, we were just busy! We were doing what we were supposed to be doing, but we got separated. The entrance to the museum was NOT where we parked and despite looking everywhere, we couldn't figure out how to get inside!

I left the other adults with my student and sprinted down the sidewalk, around the building, testing every door. Finally I found someone who could direct me to the entrance (on the OTHER side of the building) and I went back to get the rest. Once we got inside the museum, I found one of the other leaders. They had no idea we had been lost.

As this new year begins, even as believers, I know that we will find times when we feel "lost" - separated from the rest. We get busy and when we look up we wonder where everyone else has gone! I recently had a conversation with a friend where we asked, "What happened?" What happened to our passion? We looked at friends we'd served with years ago who had gone on to great things...and yet here we sat. We had been traveling together for so long, having fun - excited about the journey, but when we stopped, we got separated. We weren't bad. We didn't even decide to separate. We just got busy trying to survive and when we looked up, everyone else was gone! 

There are two groups in this picture...the ones who are lost, and the ones who moved on. At times, I think I've been both. As the "lost" person, I have to look up and realize I have gotten separated; but when I am the person who has moved on, I need to look around and realize, "Wait! We've left someone behind!"

This year...I want to be different. I want to look up. If I have gotten separated, I want to make the effort to catch up; and if I notice that someone is missing, I want to help find them. I want to act as that "sprinter" who can run ahead and find the way and then return to guide the others. I want to find the passion once again.

Luke 15 (MSG)

15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.
4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

For the full message by Christine Caine, you can go to this link:  Christine Caine: A passionate life

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It's a new year...

For those of you who have been living on some remote island without communication or falling crystal balls or even Moon Pie Drops, you might not realize that today is the first day of 2014...a new year. Let me begin by saying Goodbye 2013 and Hello 2014. I've noticed that a lot of people have very strong feelings about both of you!

I started my year the way I have for the past few years, with a New Year's Day run, the Steamwhistle 12k. I am by no means the fastest out there - in fact, I was very near the end of the pack, but I ran it all the same. Today's blog is a compilation of thoughts from the first run of a new year.

To begin with, I had some trouble finding the race. Mind you, it was at the same location it has been at for YEARS, but due to some road construction and a wrong turn, I almost missed the race. I finally called a friend who gave me directions and I arrived just in time to line up at the start. 

As I ran, I couldn't help but see how the start of this New Year was a lot like I had been feeling lately - a little lost. I was wandering around, not quite sure how to get my focus and direction until I finally called out for help. Hmmmm, wonder if that's a sign of what this year will be like. If so, I'm okay with that. Asking for help isn't such a bad thing.

I ran along thinking about a lot of things and praying for family, friends, and the coming year. Each year, I choose a word that will help me focus. (For more on how to choose one word you can go to This year, my word is "Joy" and I mulled over my word as I ran. Just three little letters that mean so much. It's not happiness - that is fleeting. Joy lasts. Circumstances cannot change it.

I was thinking about all this and nearing the half-way point. As I usually do, I try to get those who are running opposite of me (meaning they have already made the turn at half-way) to smile. I don't know why, but it just energizes me to get others to smile! I was having fun. Then I made the turn myself and it was time to head back. Wow. I was only half-way done and I was tired of running. It was about then that I decided to slow walk. (I run so slowly that the only way to go any slower is to walk!) 

I had only made a few steps when another runner came alongside me. She motioned for me to come on, run. I could tell she was talking to me so I took out my earphones to better hear. She urged me on. I think her exact words were, "Come on. You've been encouraging everyone else, don't stop now!" Wow. Someone noticed. 

We ran along together for a few minutes and then she wished me Happy New Year and she ran on ahead. I told you I was slow. I just kept thinking about the fact that, just when I needed it, someone came along to encourage me. It was as if God was sending me "help" just when I needed it most. 

This year my one word to focus on is "Joy." To be honest, I've been apprehensive about this because I know that to REALLY test out joy, you've got to take it through some pretty tough spots. But, just like I needed help to find the race and just like I needed help to keep going, God will provide someone to help me find and keep joy. He'll do the same for you.

So there you have it. It's a new year, a new word, and a new adventure. 

I'd love to hear what YOUR word for 2014 will be....and don't forget to encourage those you meet. You might just be helping them keep their joy!

John 15: 11-16 (MSG)
11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.