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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$5 kickoff

A five-minute restroom break during our Spring Break road trip resulted in the $5 kickoff to my 2014 effort to raise support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in honor of my 6-year-old niece Belle.

generous, St. Jude, marathon

The $5 bill the man from Illinois gave Aunt Jen Jen to kick off her 2014 fundraising effort for St. Jude in honor of Belle.

It is my fourth year to participate in the St. Jude Memphis half-marathon, and I had not even signed up yet when I ran into the man from Illinois. He didn’t know me nor did he spend more than two minutes with me, but he sized up my St. Jude T-shirt, asked about my connection and pulled out his wallet.

I knew then that my efforts had begun, and now I’m seeking 499 more $5 contributions. Please consider supporting me in my run in honor of Belle. Whether you can give one $5 donation or more, each dollar helps with research for childhood cancer and helps families not to have to worry about finding the resources to pay for treatment.

Click here for more details and to donate … and please continue to pray for Belle in her fight against cancer.

Aunt Jen Jen

 

 

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Redeeming the time

It has been almost a month since I declared war on multitasking, and so far, so good.

I have slipped back into the old habit a few times, but I recognized it quickly and pulled myself back out.

The effort it takes for me not to live there means I am learning to carefully think through requests before agreeing to them. I must understand the commitment I am making and determine whether I can truly take it on.

I don’t like to disappoint people, and it seems that is exactly what I’m doing right now as I set boundaries, but I also know myself in that when I commit to something, I give it everything I have.

Of course, that’s also the problem if I’m overcommitted. The intention is always to give 100 percent to the effort, but with too many slices of the pie doled out, the intention doesn’t always result in as successful of an ending as I intended.

So it’s not necessarily an easy transition I’m making, but I’m encouraged by the richness and depth of the new world I am experiencing.

I’ve also been a part of several conversations related to the March 27 Rashional Thoughts column “Move over multitasking; singletasking finally wins out.” It seems I am not alone in this battle. Everyone I talked with related to the examples in some way and shared some of what they are facing.

We all expressed a desire to make sure we make the most out of each day.

So as I continue to learn to singletask, I’m strategically working to ensure I am consistently redeeming the time, even when that means making time for proper rest or recreation in which I’m completely there in mind as well as body.

A new friend of mine depicted a good example of redeeming the time recently when a group of Baptist communicators were embarking on a day trip. When he learned the trip was four hours round trip, he hurried back to his room to grab a graduate studies book.

I teased him about how awful it would be to spend the time getting to know his new friends and that he should definitely get the book, but in reality, he was wise. He could still take some time to socialize and then spend the rest of the time studying. It was a smart way to redeem the time.

Another idea is to keep information needing read or reviewed with you for times you are waiting or flying.

If you are responsible for taking minutes during a meeting, then schedule an appointment with yourself right after the meeting to prepare and finalize the minutes rather than waiting until later to do them. You will be able to knock them out in half the time because they are fresh and you won’t have the pressure of writing them hanging over your head.

Take 10 minutes to think through all the errands you need to run this week and group them according to similar sides of town or in order of how they fall on your route.

Fold laundry while watching TV. Do leg lifts or stretches while talking on the phone (if it is a casual conversation, probably better to stay totally focused if it is a professional conversation).

What about doing something else besides strictly driving and focusing on the vehicles around you on road trips? Obviously talking on the phone, texting and plugging in coordinates on the GPS shouldn’t be done while driving. But is listening to a sermon podcast or the Bible on CD redeeming the time or multitasking?

In a brief Internet research on the topic I found differing views. Some say driving is one of those tasks that requires our full attention. Others say it would be similar to folding laundry while watching TV. The verdict is still out for me. What do you think?

And what are other ideas of redeeming the time? Comment below or email them to me at jrash@thealabamabaptist.org.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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Move over multitasking; singletasking finally wins out

My sweet friend was more gracious than I deserved. She shrugged it off and said not to worry about it.

I had basically insulted her in a group message on Facebook; how could I not worry about it? It wasn’t intentional and I certainly didn’t mean it. I was trying to do too many things at the same time, and thus a reply to a message came out wrong.

The same thing happened during an in-person meeting recently. I was attempting to deal with a major organizational situation while rushing through the lunch meeting and making needed announcements. My friend and co-worker asked a simple question and the phrasing of my answer came out all wrong. It wasn’t what I meant at all, and my dear friend assured me she knew what I had intended to say. But I was mortified that my words could have been extremely hurtful.

And there was the time I misread an email, leading me in the wrong direction with an assignment. It cost myself and others many hours of unnecessary work all because I didn’t read the information carefully.

Again a mistake that happened while multitasking — doing the thing that I have taken such pride in since I was a teenager. I’ve always been able to handle multiple tasks at the same time, juggling lots of activities and making consistent progress on all of them.

In high school, I cleaned my room while talking on the phone. In college, I studied while watching friends play baseball. While on the missions field, I had friends help me with work projects so we could have “hang out” time without me having to lose momentum on the projects. And when a guy asked me out on a date, sometimes I would invite everyone else along who had mentioned doing something fun that particular week. That way I could spend time with everyone but do it all at the same time (true story that my husband of nearly 17 years loves to tell on me — it happened on our first date).

Today I can answer email on my computer while talking to someone on my landline and texting someone else on my cellphone. That’s right, I can carry on three conversations at the same time. Of course, you see where it has gotten me a few times!

I have been pretty creative with multitasking through the years, but I’m not sure that has always been a good thing. A recent conversation with my family ended with them all agreeing that I am not always fully present while sitting in front of them. They mentioned how I check my phone constantly for emails and texts. I may attend my nephews’ birthday parties and basketball games, but am I putting my full attention on them and the day’s activities or am I distracted by other things I’m working on at the same time?

My sister-in-law, Amanda, mentioned a new trend she likes where a group of friends or family members meeting for dinner all put their phones in the middle of the table when they arrive at the restaurant. The deal is that no one is to touch their phone during the outing. The first person to give in and check his or her phone has to pay for everyone’s dinner.

Accountability and consequences for breaking the rule — I like it. It is probably something I need.

Visualize an entertainer on stage spinning plates on top of poles attempting to keep them balanced. He adds another, then another, then another. He always seems to stop adding plates at some point recognizing his limit. We all clap in affirmation. Impressive indeed.

But when I think about it in more detail, I realize the fact that he knows his limits is what allows him to keep the plates spinning. I don’t always know my limits and end up adding one plate too many. You can probably hear the plates shattering now.

I also realized that even though the entertainer manages to keep the plates spinning, he can never take his eyes off the plates nor stop tending to them. If he turns his attention anywhere else … crash.

Instead of attempting to spin all the plates at once, it is better to take one plate out at a time, do whatever needs to be done, put it back in a safe place and pull out another plate and continue on in this pattern. Yes I know. All the males out there are rolling their eyes and thinking, “Well, duh! We’ve always known this. What took you so long to figure it out?”

And I guess in general men do have more of a handle on this than many women.

But at the same time I’m not describing being one-track minded to the point where you have to complete the entire project in front of you before you can even begin to think of another project or assignment. There does have to be an ability to ebb and flow between projects, assignments, relationships, work, home, church, etc.

Instead of multitasking — where we work on several tasks at the same time — we should manage our tasks — where we organize our tasks, prioritize them appropriately and focus on the one at hand at the moment — while also making the best use of all of our time.

My editor, Bob Terry, describes it as redeeming the time. If we are organized and prepare appropriately, then we are always ready to work on what’s next and avoid wasting any segments of time.

I may always face the temptation to return to multitasking when life gets overwhelming, but the newfound freedom I’ve found in not multitasking is certainly addictive.

Because I can actually look away from the spinning plates now, I can see the big picture much more clearly (Matt. 22:37–40). The clarity forces me to think carefully before I agree to take on a new project (Col. 3:23). I can better judge the time I have and actually see the boundaries.

And think about the change a newfound ability to focus will have on my spiritual disciplines (Ps. 46:10). God is teaching me so much. I’m excited to discover what’s next.

—Jennifer Davis Rash

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