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.

Friday, April 14, 2017


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

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!)
Tomorrow I'll try to write about that thief and the rest of today's Kids' Church lesson.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


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.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A dry and thirsty land...

Last week, I had the opportunity to go with a team to Guatemala on a working mission trip. This was my first time on a construction trip and anyone who knows me might wonder what use I might be on such an endeavor. To be honest - I was wondering that as well. Still, I signed up and thanks to so many friends who believed in me (thank you! I'm not sure I believed in me that much!) I was able to fly to a country I've only heard about to try to share the good news of Christ. This is a recount of a part of what I learned. (It may be a bit long - sorry in advance for that!)

The flight to Guatemala was uneventful. As we met in the airport with people from two other churches, all of whom had had little or no sleep the night before, we all stumbled onto the flight into our adventure. I stood and looked at the behemoths of men that stood around me and wondered what in the world I was doing going on a construction mission trip. These guys were huge with muscles that bulged in their t-shirts so that even in their sleepy state, they were impressive. Watching them squeeze themselves into the middle seat of the airplane was actually a bit painful. They smiled and laughed and acted as though it was a privilege to be squashed into an area that made even me feel a bit confined. I was impressed already.

When we got to Guatemala, I was having a great time looking at all the sights and sounds. This was my first trip to Guatemala and my first time to travel on a mission trip with my daughter. I had to work hard to not treat her like "my child," and remember that she is an adult quite capable of doing this without me. (Best part of my trip was watching her minister to those around her and grow in the process! But that's for another blog.) The people I was meeting were so kind to this "little old lady" and I was excited to be there!

We boarded the bus, all of us - a very tiny bus - and they tied our luggage on top and we began our journey to the small town we where we were going to stay. Well, after we ate lunch, that is. Even the adventure to the restaurant was exciting with luggage falling off the top into oncoming traffic as we made our way up the steep roads of the city. We salvaged the suitcase thanks to a passing water truck and continued on our way. Already, the theme of water was weaving itself into my story.

We were warned weeks before the trip that we should not, under any circumstances, drink the water while we were there. Even in the restaurant, we asked for bottled water. We could not rinse our toothbrushes with water. Over and over, they reminded us - the water from the faucet here was NOT safe to drink. Even the locals don't drink it!

Once we got back onto the bus to make our way around the mountain for the 5-hour journey to the small town we'd be staying, I was fascinated by the scenery we passed. Beautiful flowering trees, buildings in bright colors next to shacks and graffiti, and all surrounded by block walls and barbed wire. I was beginning to wonder what I'd gotten myself into!

As we rode away from Guatemala City, the scenery changed - to brown. Everything was brown! Now, I realized it is the dry season there, but even in the driest winter in Mississippi, you still see lots of green! The only green I seemed to see was the occasional tree and a house or two that sported a bright mint green paint contrasting with the landscape surrounding it. The phrase, "a dry and thirsty land" kept rolling around in my head. My heart hurt as I watched even the animals trying to graze on land that was parched and hard.

We finally made it to our hotel, and unfolded our legs after our long journey. By now, we were becoming friends with those we had not known previously. The missionary greeted us with open arms and we began to learn more about our "mission" on this trip. Not only would we be working with a feeding program for children and the elderly nearby, our primary goal was to work on a partially constructed house for a family. The whole story of this family could take a while, but in a nutshell, we were to work on putting up a roof and get the home livable. Great! I had no idea what I would be able to do next to those standing around me, but I was ready, willing, and able! Okay - maybe not able, but definitely ready and willing!

The next morning we arose early, ate breakfast and after church, we made our way to the worksite. We walked about a mile to get there and I was having a great time saying "Hola!" to everyone we passed. Those who spoke Spanish quickly taught me how to say "Buenas Dias" as well. Then we got to the work site. I'm not sure what I expected, but looking at that partially constructed building made me wonder once again why I was there. 

Our foreman - "Captain Cook!" as we called  him on this trip, met with the foreman from the country that had been hired to help us since he knew the codes and regulations of the country and we awaited our first instructions. It was already getting warm and again I was struck by just how brown everything was. We were reminded to drink water often and then given our first task. Move a pile of dirt out of the road. Okay...I could do that. I, along with others, started shoveling while "Cook!" assessed the situation and figured out how to get all 20+ of us working in an area not much bigger than my classroom. We finished moving the pile and then reported to find out our next task. 

We were going to dig a trench. What? I thought we'd be building, but it wasn't yet time for that. No worries. I knew how to work a shovel. Well, I thought I did. It soon became very evident that simply shovels would have no effect on this hard dry ground. Here's where the guys with all the muscles really came in handy! Using pick-axes, they broke through the hard "fallow" ground that had not been touched in so long and then we could shovel up that which was broken and haul it to another area. I say the guys - but honestly, every woman with us also used those pick-axes with great skill...all but me. I tried, but it was obvious to me that while I had the heart, I simply did not have the strength to do much damage with that pick-ax, except maybe to myself. So I stuck with my shovel. I had found a short one that enabled me to crawl down into the trench and get the broken ground out of the way so that the "real work" could be done. And I wasn't the only one - others grabbed shovels and as fast as they could break the ground, we were ready to get it moving. We worked till dark that first day and the trench was only about half finished. Oh, and they had us move that original pile of dirt again to a different place. Gotta love construction.

The next day, we showed up bright and early to resume our task only to discover we'd have to continue the trench down the road about another 50 yards - through concrete. I watched in amazement as each of the guys (and girls including our amazing interpreters) broke through that concrete (and a water line or two!) so that we could lay the pipes for water to the home. Then we resumed work on that trench in the front yard. It took twice as long to dig! I'd love to say that once we finally completed the trench our digging was done, but it wasn't! We had to level out the front yard so that water would not run into the house during rainy season. (They assured me they do get rain there, but I was still skeptical.) We literally dug and broke up hard ground every single day we were there. Some worked on laying block, but most of us dug out hard ground. And the people on the street watched...some by peaking out their doors, some by standing in their windows, and a few children stood down the dusty road and chanted out "gringos" and made up some sort of song. Evidently, a bunch of Americans coming and working from early morning to late afternoon each day digging up hard ground was good entertainment! 

During all this, I wondered what use I was. I worked as hard as I could, but I knew my strength was nothing compared to those around me. They always let me work, but I knew they could have done it much better and faster. Still, we all laughed and encouraged each other, and I smiled and waved at the passersby with Hola, or Buenas Dias, the only Spanish I knew. Some would go to the feeding center each day, and I went as well, but I knew my "place" was somehow at the building site.

We managed to lay the lines for water and sewage to the home, level out the ground, level the floors within the home in preparation for concrete, begin the kitchen add-on (it was not a part of the original structure), and get the roof on the home. The people on the street went from peeping from their doors to watching from their windows, to sitting on the side areas watching, to joining us in the work. One lady who passed by daily started talking to me - I had to get the interpreter to figure out what she was saying. She wanted to know if I was tired. "Si!" Funny - she asked me that every time she passed. I guess I looked pretty silly out there with all those athletes! 

By the day it came for us to leave, we had a crowd! We prayed over the home where we'd worked so hard, over the home of one of the workers (which was little more than a shack itself), and over the people on that street. I'm not exaggerating when I say they were crying as we prayed for them. One lady asked me was I sad to leave, and with tears in my eyes, I had to say "Si." They spoke over and over again about the unity and love they had seen among us. They had never seen a group work that way before. They could tell we cared for each other and them. Keep in mind, some of us had never even met before that week! The missionary was wonderful at letting the people know, it wasn't because we were Americans that they saw this - it was because we are children of God. 

The final morning, it was my turn to share the devotion before we packed onto that tiny bus for the 5 hour trip back to Guatemala City. I knew I had to keep it brief, but one thought had been burning in my heart for days. 

When we arrived, all I could see was a dry and thirsty land. We had dug and dug and dug into that fallow ground, breaking it up for the first time in a very, very long time. (There weren't even any grubs or worms in that ground! People from Mississippi can't imagine that!) We had broken up that hard ground and moved it out of the way. It was good earth, but hardened over time and circumstances. That's where the lesson came. We were only there for a week, doing manual labor - but we had done something that would allow others to come in and finish the work. We had broken through not just physical hard ground, but spiritual as well. Those who watched us are now more willing to listen to the missionary and the Good news. The hard soil is prepared for what is to come. 

As for me, I'm not sure I did much good to the team as far as moving earth, but I know God allowed me to be a part of breaking up that fallow ground spiritually...and all who helped send me there have a part in that, too. We were there only a week, but perhaps now the planting and watering and weeding that follows us won't be quite as hard as before. Short term mission trips sometimes get a bad rap. Yes, it cost us quite a bit to make this journey and perhaps someone from the town could have done the same thing to the ground if we had instead simply sent them the money...but I'm not sure that just moving dirt was what we were there for. We were there to break up the fallow ground. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of this and for allowing me to share it with you.

I know this blog was long...but I hope you can see how God can use even that which you think you're not very good at to make a difference long after you are gone. We can each break up the fallow ground and help bring water to a dry and thirsty land, both on the mission field and right here at home. Grab a shovel, my friends. We've got work to do!

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
 O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 (NASB)

"Sow for yourselves righteousness,
reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
and showers righteousness on you." (Hosea 10:12)