On a scale of puny to healthy

0520932978003Think all that is good related to Thanksgiving and know that is where I am, breathing in the warmth of family, good food and a slower pace.

And while this blog isn’t really holiday related, the topic did spark a funny memory from Thanksgivings past — the “healthy” versus “puny” grandmother test.

Once I left for college I only saw my grandmothers at holidays and on special occasions and of course they both were quick to assess the weight situation the minute they saw me.

I remember one Thanksgiving when Grandma Davis told me she was going to tie rocks to me because she was afraid I was going to blow away. And Granny McCaig rated me as “puny” once or twice. Admittedly these were the grandmother evaluations I preferred.

However, the more consistent assessment from both grandmothers was “healthy” — not what I wanted to hear but always honest and accurate.

Do I really want to know?

It’s never easy to have our less than successful areas pointed out but it does provide an opportunity to improve.

Still we all handle critiques differently. Some welcome feedback and soak up every word tossed their way. Others dare you to say one thing that indicates they aren’t perfect. Many people fall somewhere in the middle with a healthy or semi-healthy view and application of constructive criticism.

The Alabama Baptist editorial staff and the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions communications staff are currently working together to broaden the evaluation process for work done among Baptist communicators.

The rating scale ranges from “needs improvement” to “excellent” with “good” falling in the middle. Someone receiving a ranking of “good” on this scale means they performed at an acceptable level. Their product or project was adequate.

Go big or go home

I’m sure you can guess by now that I’m not happy if my rankings aren’t tipping the scale off the right side. Not only do I want the “excellent” rating, but I also want a note indicating that my effort was beyond the scale.

Of course, I can’t achieve this in every area but it is still hard for me to receive an evaluation of “good” much less anything less than “good” — at least in the areas that are officially rated.

What about the parts of life that flow along rarely evaluated? Our time with the Lord, having clear minds during our time with the Lord, the amount of sleep we get, our stressed-induced appetites that keep us from being truly healthy, our quality of life in general.

And what about our knowledge level of areas in which we should be informed?

Are we faking our way through conversations?

A work colleague recently described how most people 45 and younger listen to or read news headlines only to be able to stay afloat in conversations they may find themselves in. He said they (we) really aren’t interested in understanding the full story or knowing all the details, they (we) merely want to know enough of the main points to contribute to the conversation.

That made me think of the latest election and how much time I spent researching the candidates and amendments on the ballot. I did some reading and research, but I certainly didn’t have a thorough understanding of the full ballot when I walked in to cast my vote. But sadly I was ahead of so many others my age who didn’t even slow down long enough to vote, much less register to vote.

Skimming the surface

And if this is how we are living life in general, what keeps us from skimming the surface of God’s word in the same way? Are we living on past encounters with the Lord rather than experiencing fresh ones every day? Are we consistently seeking Him at deeper levels?

My grandmothers would likely both agree my evaluation in spiritual disciplines would be “puny” and this time “puny” is not the desired ranking.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Disciple-making one step at a time

My entire house was spotless. I had cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. I even took each potted plant and cleaned its pot, freshened up its soil and wiped down each leaf individually.

Granted that isn’t the way my house looks right now but there are moments when it definitely shines, and this was one of those times.

I tend to obsess about cleaning when I’m overly stressed or overwhelmed about projects or assignments that are weighing heavily on me. The closer the deadline comes for the project, the bigger and more impossible it seems. That’s when I can only focus on cleaning.

Odd ways to procrastinate

It’s actually kind of humorous to me how I will procrastinate on cleaning my house or organizing my office because both of those projects seem overwhelming at the time. It is only when I’m procrastinating on an even bigger project that I’m all of a sudden ready to tackle the cleaning project that should have already been done anyway.

I’m sure you have experienced those moments from time to time — staying busy working on something but not necessarily what should be priority at the time.

For instance, I’m writing this column several weeks ahead of the deadline, which is good in and of itself, but not the best idea because I set aside this time to write a paper for my Old Testament continuing education class at Samford’s Ministry Training Institute. (Ahem, don’t mention that part to our instructor, Dr. Norris.)

Comes down to discipline for me

While there are likely as many different reasons for procrastination as there are different personality types who procrastinate, I know for me it comes down to discipline.

One of my mentors in my mid-20s (the late Eleanor Terry) taught me about backcasting and how to start with the end date of a project and work backward with small goals to achieve between now and then. Working on a project in bite-size pieces is much more manageable and less stressful. It also keeps you focused so you are working efficiently and in proper order and allows for lots of moments of achievement rather than waiting for that one large moment that seems so impossible to reach. It also prevents the famous all-nighter so many of us have pulled more than once to meet a deadline.

Living the D-Life

The same concept can be applied to our Bible-reading plan. My pastor is currently challenging all of us at NorthPark Baptist Church, Trussville, to embrace that concept. We are calling it D-Life and wrapping it around the concept of living a full life of discipleship where we commit to becoming disciples who make disciples.

The idea is that we will join or start a discipleship group that meets weekly anywhere, anytime and follow a Bible-reading plan together — one chapter of the New Testament five days a week. Read the Scripture, meditate on what you read and jot down a few things that come to mind about what it said to you. Meet together with your group and discuss a set of study questions.

The goal is that each member of the group will eventually start his or her own discipleship group and continue the same routine, which means the members of the new group will eventually start his or her own group, and on it goes. A larger goal is that each person will develop and grow through the process, leading him or her to deeper studies of Scripture as well as expanded opportunities of service for the Kingdom. And the ultimate goal is that we learn to live out the gospel in all aspects of life, sharing with others as we go about our daily routines.

It’s not the same as a life group or Sunday School class. It’s strictly focused on reading the Scriptures together, growing in the Word and keeping each other accountable. And it’s working — one chapter a day, one discussion a week, one group at a time.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Life lessons lead me back to ‘love’

The date: Sept. 24, 2009, exactly four months after her second birthday.

The report: Rare brain tumor … malignant.

Belle Is HereThe prognosis: Bleak.

And thus began Susanna Belle Mitchell’s cancer journey. We call her Belle, like the princess.

On one hand, she is indeed a princess. On the other, she is a rock star. There are few places Belle goes where she isn’t known, and she achieved the one-name-only status before age 3.

She captivates you almost immediately by her smile, spirit and sassiness. Her sweet giggles and silly nature draw you the rest of the way in.

And for a time her chemo-induced bald head escalated her ability to mesmerize people.

Belle draws a crowd easily, and her friend list is long. If you’ve met Belle, then you are on that list. Even her “frienemy” Sara Beth is her BFF.

Belle loves people unconditionally like … well, like Jesus. He definitely shines through her, and she is a beam of light for His glory.

I can’t imagine life without Belle. I might just be her biggest fan. (I guess I have to compete with her parents and siblings and about 30 other close friends and family members, but I’d sure give them a run for their money.)

Belle-TroubleLearning from Belle

As we approached the five-year mark of Belle’s cancer journey (Sept. 24, 2014), I reflected on five life lessons I’ve learned from Belle.

1. Mommy is impy and other Belle-invented sayings.

Be silly whenever you can and laugh a lot — A LOT. Live life to its fullest and find the joy in everything, even chemo and radiation. Love people and find the good in them. Nurture and protect your relationships.

2. Don’t forget Knuffle Bunny.Belle - Aug 2014

Belle’s go-to stuffed animal, which travels everywhere with her, is a light-green rabbit — the main character in a series of children’s books by Mo Willems. Belle received Knuffle Bunny as a gift not long after arriving at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis in 2009, and he has been by her side through the entire cancer journey.

We all need our own version of Knuffle Bunny — people who will love us no matter what and stick with us through the ups and downs. People who lift us up, make us more secure and give great hugs.

3. Don’t drag the bag of IV fluids alone.IMG_20140704_195726

Make sure Mommy and Aunt Jen Jen are nearby to carry it for you. And keep Daddy close at hand to scare away the monsters.

Share your burdens with others and allow them the blessing of helping you carry the weight and protecting you from what you cannot see coming.

4. Purple Gatorade is the best. Enough said.

Do your research, make an informed decision and commit to the path. Don’t look back and don’t second guess. #WinFromWithin

5. “This girl is on fire.”

Belle loves to sing and dance to many of today’s popular songs.Belle dress up Aug 2014

She practices over and over for her performances and doesn’t settle for a mediocre show. She will start over from the beginning multiple times to get it just right.

She also performs in costume and personally designs individual tickets for everyone attending the show. This girl doesn’t slack.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (Col. 3:23).

A phrase made popular in the past decade — Live. Laugh. Love. — has become a bit trite, but it describes Belle to a tee.

She truly lives life, laughs consistently and loves purely and unconditionally.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

—Jennifer Davis Rash, aka Aunt Jen Jen

(To donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of Belle, click here.)

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Why do some young people get it while others totally miss it?

The two church youth groups had similar missions — feed the families and entertain the kids — but the experiences could not have been any more different.

Both groups helped out at the local Ronald McDonald House on subsequent Saturday afternoons. The families there have children facing life-threatening illnesses who are being treated at a nearby children’s hospital.

Weekends are some of the loneliest moments for the families because there are typically no (or few) medical appointments for those who are not in the hospital. The days can be long without visitors or planned activities.

So organized groups coming in are always a welcome sight. And youth groups are especially exciting for the kids.

Of course, adult leaders tagged along with the youth groups, supervising the afternoon activities and evening meal. And both meals turned out to be very tasty.

The difference came in the interaction with the kids.

The first group was small in number but large in heart. Only a handful of young people helped out, and there was nothing fancy to their setup or delivery. Still they clicked well with the kids. They basically walked around engaging the children until a connection was made. From there, that student would play with the child the rest of the afternoon, even eating with him or her during the evening meal if the family OK’d it.

Lacking in heart

The second group was large in number but not so large in heart, at least as a whole. I noticed a few individuals who were trying to do more, but most of the group spent a great deal of time in a circle chatting and laughing with each other.

They did an amazing job setting the area up like a carnival, but few took time to man the booths. The few activities with a supervisor were fun for the kids, but the other activities were barely touched. Someone nearby would wave us off, saying, “Do whatever you want” when we approached the unmanned booths.

Most members of the group did not even try to interact with the kids, even though the kids tried to pull them into various activities. A few of the students were kind enough to go along with the activities at first, but they were looking to be rescued after a few minutes.

Disappointed kids

I saw several disappointed kids who picked up the vibes from this group quickly. And being a personality type who can’t sit by while such injustice takes place, I had to attempt to remedy the situation. After all, if you came here to minister to kids with cancer, then why are you in a huddle practicing your cheerleading moves or sitting around a table whispering with your backs to everyone else?

I wanted to be frustrated with the students, but as I looked for the adult supervisors I found them in huddles of their own.

So I started introducing children to members of the youth group and suggesting activities they could do together. Some of the youth cooperated but were stiff and barely spoke to the children. Others said they had other responsibilities, so they could not play with the kids. They would tell me this and then walk back over to a group and stand around and talk for 30 or 45 more minutes.

I have to believe this second group was the exception and not the rule, but it gave me a new appreciation for youth leaders who are teaching and modeling appropriate behavior and witness.

It also reminded me to be thoughtful and responsible about the roles we take on to “help” others. We should always make sure our motives are pure and that we are willing to truly participate — not just show up and say we did.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Efficiency … and other stuff

A recent letter published in The Alabama Baptist detailed how inefficiently the state highway department is managed. “Having served as a county commissioner in one of the largest districts in the state, we often had to deal with a slow, inefficient, unmotivated or even adversarial state highway department,” the letter writer noted on page 9 of the July 17 issue.

I have no personal experience with the highway department, but the letter writer’s evaluation could be applied to a number of businesses, organizations and groups with which I do have personal experience.

I’m sure you can think of a few as well. Think about when you drive by a construction site where one person works while four stand around and watch. In the few seconds it takes me to drive by, I can spot six or seven things the others could do to move the project along, and I’m not even part of the process. Why can’t they see those things?

Or what about watching people work behind a counter at a snail’s pace while the line of people waiting to be served grows and grows. No urgency, no spring in their step, just slow and methodical movements.

Built differently

I guess I’m built differently. I would be competing with myself to gain speed, increase accuracy and produce an overall positive experience for every person who stood in my line.

And while it always disappointments me to run across people who spend more energy trying to get out of work than it would actually take to do the work, I recognize this is something all teams face.

In fact, in most work environments you will find yourself in one of three positions — overwhelmed with too much to do, underwhelmed and possibly even bored or balanced just right.

The goal is to move all team members to the balanced category. And with the right attitude and spirit among team members every team can produce a balanced, fulfilled and efficient life for each member.

But how do we get there?

It starts at the top. If leadership allows people to do just enough to stay on the team or keep their job, then some people will do just that. Not everyone is self-motivated and strives to do better.

A good first step

So a good first step is for team leaders to recruit only team members who will commit to doing what it takes to reach the overall goal of the group or company. This does not mean the person must be an extroverted, type-A, take-charge kind of person though.

Several years ago my sister-in-law Katrina helped me understand the difference between introverted with a strong work ethic and quiet with a lazy streak. There were some things that needed to be done related to our family, and it was obvious to me where to jump in and help. She was involved in the same conversations I was and had the same opportunities to help, but she didn’t move. I was confused, so I asked her about it.

She explained that she actually felt left out because she had wanted to help but didn’t think we were interested in her contributing. She was merely waiting to be invited.

If it needs to be done, then do it

Katrina is more than capable and will do top-quality work at anything she puts her mind to, but she works from the premise of not overstepping or doing anything she hasn’t been asked to do.

This was a great lesson for me to learn, because I am of the mindset that if you see something that needs to be done, then take care of it. And because I had experienced similar situations with a few of the student interns at The Alabama Baptist during that same time frame, I decided to make some adjustments.

I started applying the principle of inviting them to join in work projects and helping them understand I wanted them to participate and to take initiative.

From there, everything changed for those students and they developed more in a few days than they had in months. Learning to view the world through another person’s eyes and working to communicate in the language he or she understands is making a difference in the teams in which I participate — whether it be at the paper, at church, in the community or among family members.

But the responsibility of balancing the weight among team members doesn’t fall solely on the team leader. Each individual must contribute to the effort to achieve a positive outcome as well.

Are you overwhelmed?

If you happen to be a team member who is overwhelmed with too much to do, then you will need to determine if you are willing to share some of the load or if you struggle with control issues and have trouble letting go. You also must learn to work as a team rather than a lone ranger or no amount of bemoaning how stressed you are will change things. You have to trust your team members and work to grow them, empower them and cross train them as needed to be able to work together.

However, if you are a person whose plate is piled high and spilling over, it seems easier to keep doing all the tasks rather than take the time to work with someone to take some of them. I truly understand. I fight this every day. But it’s not true. It really is better in the long run to carve out time to train someone and officially hand the responsibility, assignment or whatever it is off to a trusted team member rather than keep trying to throw a tiny bit of strained energy at it day after day.

What’s hardest for me to admit is that in most cases the other person will do a better job with the task than I can because they will have more energy to devote to it.

Are you bored?

Of course, if you are a team member without enough to do, then you must first be honest with yourself and make sure you aren’t hiding from responsibility and purposefully trying not to carry a fair share of the load. If this is the case, then you should evaluate your purpose for being a part of the team. Are you OK with being the weak link? A strong team leader would probably have helped you find another place to go by now, but don’t settle for giving as little as you can even if leadership allows it to happen. You are better than that, plus you are missing out on a fulfilling life experience.

If you are like Katrina in that you want to be an essential part of the team and contribute at a high level, but you are unsure where to show initiative and where to hang back, then observe the environment around you. Who seems to be overloaded on your team? What parts of that person’s responsibilities could you help with easily? What could you learn to do without much difficulty? Those are good places to start.

Observe areas to help and offer to take something off someone else’s plate, even if it is something extremely simple.

Take initiative to grow

Then do it again and again. Don’t do it one time and then fall back. Pick out things you are comfortable with and that are easy items for the other person to hand off. Offer to take them on as your responsibility. Keep doing this with the people who are overloaded until you sense you are making a dent in their load and bringing your load up to a more equal level.

Remind others on the team you want to grow and take on more challenging responsibilities. Prove yourself by being dependable and following through with your current responsibilities and the new ones you take on.

Make sure you are delivering high quality results in all that you do, especially during the times you have more time than responsibilities. Don’t be tempted to rush to complete assignments while not worrying about the quality. If you have extra time, then push the quality up another level.

Taking the initiative to improve your work without someone having to suggest it will speak to the true nature of your intentions, interests and character. Quality and quantity are both important in all that we do, but they must be balanced appropriately.

Well-balanced, efficient team members produce a team that can’t be stopped, but more importantly it is biblical to do, be and give our best.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Allowing others to hold the rope provides blessing both ways

7-year-old Belle Mitchell

7-year-old Belle Mitchell

“Belle will be featured in my prayers this day — for her, for each one who has a part in caring for her and Aunt Jen Jen, may the Lord wrap you in His loving comfort and enduring courage.”

Prayers like this have been coming my way continually through email, handwritten notes, Facebook messages and texts. Friends from around the world are following the cancer journey of my 7-year-old niece Belle (www.caringbridge.org/visit/bellemitchell). They have been such a great support to all of us, especially during the intense moments like now. As I write this column, Belle is having a difficult recovery from her fourth brain surgery.

Each day brings new challenges but also new levels of support.

Many who are praying have never even met Belle, yet they tirelessly secure the rope for us to hold on to during this time.

Along with prayer support, many are doing practical things like helping with Belle’s other siblings, mowing the family’s grass, bringing meals and even sending meals from hundreds of miles away (ordering pizza and having it delivered … a great idea I’m going to remember to use myself).

Showing grace

And so many are helping me personally by taking on extra work assignments, assisting me with my personal responsibilities and showing lots of grace for the commitments I’ve put on hold at the moment.

Some friends are too far away to help clean the house or do laundry, but they sincerely want to help.

“I’m not just saying it. I mean it. Tell me something I can do,” one friend said. Another, “I mean it. We are here to serve.”

And while I know what it is like to be on the other side sincerely wanting to help, it is still hard for us as a family to allow people to do too much. We are always appreciative and even shocked at the care shown by so many, but we start feeling as if we have used up our compassion quota and worry those around us are experiencing compassion fatigue.

Still we are learning to accept the offers more widely and depend on others during the tough moments.

The small things

It is amazing how much someone showing up at the front door with a bag of paper products or a gallon of milk can make a difference. Then there’s the Thinking of You card that shows up with a few $1 bills in it to help with vending machine and parking deck fees at the hospital. (For more ideas on how to help a family in crisis, see Arkansas Christian Parent magazine Fall/Winter 2013, pages 10 and 11.)

Observing the various options for assisting a family in crisis and plugging into those areas seamlessly and quietly seem to make the greatest impact, I’ve noticed.

Even inexpensive gestures that save the family time or make a routine responsibility more convenient means so much.

Above all though, consistent prayer support undergirds the family. It helps even more when specific prayer needs are known. The best way to keep up with these needs is to follow the patient’s preferred communication plan (CaringBridge, Caring Pages, Facebook, a blog, a family spokesperson, etc.). Another ministry to a family in crisis is to protect the immediate family members’ time and energy and work through extended family, close friends or church connections to stay updated and know how to help.

We have a hard time letting others serve us. We are used to being the ones serving, but what a tremendous blessing it is — in both directions — to allow people to minister to us. It is truly a picture of God’s people at their best.

— Jennifer Davis Rash

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Blitzing my way to freedom

With my birthday being the same day as this week’s publication date of The Alabama Baptist, it seems more than fair that I should be featured on the front page, right?

I agree, but I was unsuccessful in convincing others on staff. Oh well, at least my column was scheduled to run in this issue, so I could still sneak in a shameless plug.

And I know you are all thinking I must be getting close to 30 by now, but I will have to admit this is year 43.

Birthdays always send me into reflection mode and make me think about what was accomplished over the past year and what wasn’t. You might even remember that turning 40 in 2011 launched my journey to find balance in life — spiritual, physical, emotional, etc.

Two steps forward, one step back

The journey has been a two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of experience, but I continue to make progress. My most recent single-tasking focus is actually helping quite a bit.

In fact, the overwhelming stack of undone projects is nearing a manageable level. It may take the rest of this year to achieve that level, but I’m encouraged by the ability to see the goal line for the first time.

One way I’m finding success is by using the blitzing method. My friend and mentor Terry Newberry taught me about blitzing in his book “The Boss” (www.terrynewberry.com/the-boss.html).

Bring on the dreaded

“Blitzing the most difficult or dreaded job first provides a huge sense of accomplishment and momentum,” Newberry writes. And he is right.

Once the ball gets rolling, new energy appears to tackle another project and another and another.

I’ve been working on this at home and the office. We even had a Project Blitz Week recently at The Alabama Baptist (see the May 29 issue, page 1).

It was fun to watch the weight lift from everyone’s shoulders and the energy level escalate throughout the staff.

And with new energy comes clarity and focus if we let it.

I gained a new appreciation for seeing clearly after having an allergic reaction in early May that landed me in the emergency room for five hours. My eyeballs swelled quite large and then my eyelids swelled shut — yes you may laugh at the image I’m sure you have of me right now.

Making room to hear

I could not see anyone around me, but I heard the gasps and “oh mys” clearly as I made my way through the ER waiting room. It was hard for me to be so dependent on others and not be able to see. It was an odd feeling knowing so many people could see exactly what was happening to me while I relied solely on the reports of those with me.

And while I couldn’t see at all for a while and then couldn’t see clearly for several days, I realized how much more carefully I listened when I wasn’t able to use my eyes to their fullest ability.

So many things compete for my attention and I’m constantly looking here and there and everywhere to take care of this task and that project and whatever else shows up unexpectedly. But with all the attention to daily life details, it’s sometimes hard to hear God’s still, soft voice.

Can I hear what He is saying?

What is He saying to me today? Am I truly listening to Him? Did I run right over what He was impressing on my heart because I was focused on everything else around me?

And if I’m truly honest, is it possible that I am actually more comfortable staying too busy and being too distracted to really hear Him because I’m not sure I’m ready for what He has to say?

It’s exciting when you know you’ve heard from the Lord, but it also can be pretty scary. Will I be able to follow through with what He is asking?

— Jennifer Davis Rash

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